A night with Softcult: empowered alt-rock to bridge divides
“It feels like we’re writing from experience, but it doesn’t feel as vulnerable because you know so many other people have experienced it.”Mercedes Arn-Horn, Softcult
As I came to know their melting pot of shoegaze, grunge and pop-punk, I was not surprised to learn that Softcult are already catching the alt-rock world’s attention. From the New Romantics to ’90s rock, riot grrrl and nu-metal, Toronto-born twin sisters Mercedes Arn-Horn and Phoenix Arn-Horn pull their musical inspirations from many regions and historical periods. The band’s output includes two EPs, Year Of The Rat (2021), Year Of The Snake (2022) and a handful of singles to date, expanding their explorations of genre and theme with each new release.
Previously interviewed by the likes of Kerrang!, DIY and Gay Times, we caught up with Phoenix and Mercedes for a chat about their work and upcoming gigs. Watch my interview with the band below, along with my review of one of their recent London shows.
CW: misogyny, abuse, assault, femicide
When sudden rainfall hurried me towards a light above the train station, I clutched the three zines hidden under my jacket a little tighter. I scanned my ticket, made a run for the closing doors and sunk into the closest seat. My little collection of zines was safe now, so I drew one out: ‘Scripture: Vol. 10. A zine by Softcult’.
On the evening of May 15th on the black-walled first floor of Camden Assembly, London, Softcult stepped up to the stage. Standing at the helm were Canadian twin sisters Mercedes Arn-Horn (vocals/guitar) and Phoenix Arn-Horn (vocals/drums), who expressed their awe and disbelief that this was Softcult’s very first sold-out gig. Supported by Brent McSwiggan (guitar) and Oliver Burdett (bass), the band opened with “Another Bish” and the similarly upbeat “Young Forever”, winding down with the wistful “Gloomy Girl”.
The influence of Nirvana’s classic grunge sound grew evermore apparent during an extended intro to “Spit It Out”, and of course, their overdriven cover of “Been A Son”. Mercedes and Phoenix passed harmonies back and forth throughout “Take It Off”, “House Of Mirrors” and “Gaslight”, all brimming with shoegaze sensibility and female rage against the sadistic scorns of the patriarchy. Softcult then shifted gears with the lilting “Bird Song”, transposed up a few keys to send the duo’s vocals to dreamy new heights.
On a black and white negative projection behind them, Mia Farrow’s bewildered eyes fell across a room filled with her manipulators in a video clip from the cult horror classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968). It felt pertinent following the band’s explanation of the song’s meaning — “when where you come from feels inescapable”. The band’s well-defined sonic and visual aesthetics continued to merge in the introduction to “Perfect Blue”. A haunting audio clip repeatedly asked the question: “excuse me, who are you?”, perhaps inspired by (or extracted from) the psychological thriller of the same name, Perfect Blue (1997). Only then did I hear the band’s interpolation of the opening lyric to “Change (In the House of Flies)” by Deftones in the chorus.
“Uzumaki” billowed through the stifling room with an atmospheric intro of broken chords and high reverb — a crushing solo sent Mercedes to her knees. Before Softcult rounded out their set, she brought the room to a halt. “I want to tell you a story,” she says, except it was not a story. Mercedes recounted the assault and murder of Sarah Everard in 2021, underlining the critical right to consent and how its dismissal will only send society deeper into cycles of violence and abuse, circling around, again and again. Their final track of the night, “BWBB”, was announced with a scream.
Reflecting on a gig which emphasised inclusion regardless of identity, I closed the first zine ruminating on the future for riot grrrl music in the 2020s. Following their May dates in UK and Bangkok, Softcult embarked on a tour of the US with the equally exciting Soul Blind and Teenage Wrist in June. This week, the band announced their return to the UK to support Incubus this September and October. I’d recommend getting your ticket now — before their next gig sells out.
Check out Softcult on Spotify
Huge thanks to Mercedes and Phoenix for taking time out of their busy schedule, and we’re super excited to be seeing them live again later this year! Meanwhile, readers can find more from Softcult on their website, Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and all the major music streaming platforms.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, feel free to read more of our special features. You never know who you might discover – they could become your new favourite artist!