I met Malthus at a house party at my place in Dalston. Blond, slight and self-styled like an alt-90s movie part, he’s quiet with a strong presence. At some point towards the end of the night we had become friends, sprawled on my bed discussing boy-dramas and life.
As the years (and boy-dramas) passed, I became more and more aware of Malthus’ existence as an artist. From music composition to film direction and choreography, he’s creative in a sort of intense and urgent way. Nothing shows this better than his latest EP ‘CONVULSIONS’; five innovative tracks of experimental electronic music produced by Sid Quirk and Malthus, out now with a series of music videos following soon.
Filled with raw emotion, this is a trip to the darkest corners of the artist’s mind. In our exclusive interview for F Word, we get personal to understand how the work reflects his life.
Lily Bonesso: If you had to assign a temperature, a colour and a taste to ‘CONVULSIONS’, what would they be? Malthus: Feels like cold sweats, looks like hallucinogenic iridescence, tastes like iron.
LB: Which track means the most to you and why?
M: Probably Unhold. It feels the most immersive and definitely holds the most emotional weight for me. It was a track I wrote last year after losing someone close to me. The vocal take on Unhold is the first recording we did - it’s imperfect, and really stained with sadness. I tried to re-record it a few times but never quite got it as raw and honest as the initial delivery, so we used that take. It still makes me emotional to listen to. Releasing the track feels like gently closing the door on that period of my life. I’m really happy to be able to put all of those feelings into something of substance and start to let go.
LB: How has your background influenced the work?
M: It’s funny because I spent a lot of time trying to distance myself from my childhood and my hometown in Skelmersdale, West Lancashire. But as an adult I’m a lot more attached to it. I’d say the biggest influence from my upbringing, is a sense of escapism. I think it stems from a need to imagine more for yourself when you live somewhere that feels like a forgotten place.
I was around a lot of male aggression as a kid and I started to make work related to violence a few years back, when I started to process those experiences. I’m a pacifist at heart, so in my work I would tend to construct submissive protagonists who are surrounded by an external violent force. Interestingly this has slowly shifted towards the protagonist dominating. I think you can really feel that shift in ‘CONVULSIONS’.
There are definitely a lot of textural references to where I grew up too. Skelmersdale is really interesting architecturally - there’s a lot of open air countryside mixed with odd concrete and metal structures throughout the town. My first EP “COUNTRYCIDE” lent more into the natural landscapes, and “CONVULSIONS” touches more on these metallic forms.
LB: What was it like growing up as queer in this environment?
M: I definitely found it hard. Expressing queerness in a very masculine and working-class environment was impossible so I wasn’t really able to explore who I was fully until I moved away. It definitely left me with a bit of a distorted sense of self. I was also very much an outsider when I first came into the music industry and didn’t find anyone I could really relate to. I think I was afraid of alienating people so I tried to be what people wanted me to be, or what I thought I should be, rather than who I am. It feels so stupid saying it now because I’ve become really proud of who I am, but it’s been a process.
Recently there’s been quite an active conversation about working-class artists' struggle to break into the music industry. It’s great to see this being addressed, and I’ve been so, so inspired by seeing a wave of working-class artists becoming the zeitgeist of UK music. That said, I don’t personally know many queer musicians from working class backgrounds who’ve made it in the industry. Queer artists are also often neurodivergent, which comes with its own set of barriers. Making these distinctions can end up sounding like box-ticking a bit, but I think it’s worth reminding young queer people that it’s possible.
LB: How has London’s queer rave scene influenced you?
M: There are plenty of artistic references that have developed during my time in London. I leaned into dance music and industrially-tinged sounds and explored opportunities like dancing and DJing. I’m really grateful to have been given that space to develop myself. At the same time, London’s queer scene can be all consuming and there is definitely a darkness to it. Experiences of addiction and solitude that I experienced as a kid really fed back into who and what I surrounded myself with as a younger adult. It took a lot of untangling and unlearning to start to let go of those things. But, in a way I feel blessed now to have so much raw experience to draw on. I think people can feel that honesty in my work.
Starting the LAZARUS party series with my friend Magnus Westwell was an important step in this process. We created a space that felt comfortable for us to exist in, so that we could stop trying to fit a mould. The impact of that on this record, I think, shines through in really just allowing the raw feelings to come through. I didn’t want to sugar coat anything or try and make anything palatable. Writing the record and improvising a raw performance throughout the film felt like a love letter to the years I’ve spent finding myself in those spaces.
LB: What have you been doing aside from working on the EP?
M: I’ve been writing and directing a lot of film work over the last year. It naturally evolved from making my own music videos, to collaborating with some of my favourite artists on other types of film. I’m so in love with the process of creating film and seeing how I can inject bits of Malthus in there through my movement style and music scores. I’m really biting my nails waiting for it all to drop so I can get on with making more.
Outside of film, I’ve been DJing more, and developing a practice within dance and movement. I never trained as a dancer so it always felt like it wasn’t really my lane, but over time it’s become a huge part of my work.
The Littledoom record label that I run with Sid Quirk and Mercedes also contains Littledoom Studio. This is a creative production studio where we can have our work produced under the Littledoom umbrella. I’ve had a lot of brands and artists over the last year come to the studio for work. It's been great having a hand in building other people’s worlds as well as our own.
LB: How do all these different types of work connect?
M: All my work comes from the same artistic place - it’s a response to personal experience and emotion presented through animalistic movement, primitivism and, most importantly, sound. The colour palette, lighting design, industrial locations and styling are the visual strands to connect these ideas.
At the moment I’m really enjoying exploring horror through different mediums too. Last year I created this weird choreography inspired by The Human Centipede. It got a lot of attention at the time so I’m pushing it further in the videos for “CONVULSIONS”. When I directed the Arakhne fashion film I worked with movement director Ekin Bernay and we explored this same style of animalistic movement. So, it’s been coming up in various ways.
LB: What advice do you have for yourself for tomorrow?
M: Keep going and stay grateful.
LB: What’s your favourite F-word?
M: I’m wracking my brain trying to think of anything other than… fuck.
GET TICKETS TO MALTHUS’ DEBUT HEADLINE SHOW, 27 April 2023 HERE