Photo by Jack Latimer
Describing themselves as an “anarcho-pagan-gothic-stoner-witchpunk band”, Rites of Hadda formed as the result of a weekly jam night in a North London squat. Originally a seven-piece, but now down to a core membership of four, the band define their sound as “a blend of heads-down occult-tinged punk rock with a melodic, pop edge”, with their lyrics taking in everything from social commentary about capitalism and government, to much more personal and visceral subject matter. Led by former drag artist Wasp, the line-up of Rites of Hadda is completed by Alex (guitar and bass), Tom (bass and guitar) and Matthias (drums).
The band has been active since 2015, and in that time they have played with the likes of the Hawkwind-affiliated band Krankschaft, electro-rock band Electric Cake Salad, and Active Slaughter (the punk band that reformed after a six-year hiatus in 2016). They have gigged around the country and have played at festivals including FRIEND Festival (a benefit for the Friend Farm Animal Sanctuary in Peckham), and Queer Spirit. Witchpunk was recorded in London in 2018 and was produced by Tom Shot, who had previously worked with punk band the Exhausts. The album was preceded by a CD single, From The Blow.
The seven tracks on Witchpunk reminded me immediately of both Hawkwind and the Sisters of Mercy, had either of those groups been led by a queer drag artist! It makes a nice change for the usual mix of autotuned dance music I get sent, and its yet further proof that there are out-LGBTQ artists working in every field of music.
“Before the band, I was living in a squat and being an activist,” Wasp explains. “During that time my health collapsed, and I needed an outlet to express myself. A friend of mine I knew from our long term involvement with Queer Pagan Camp encouraged me into jamming and singing and I just thought, ‘fuck it’!”
Established in 1998, Queer Pagan Camp (QPC) is a self-managed annual camp based on the principles of inclusion and honesty. Queer pagans come from a variety of pagan paths and from all forms of gender identity and sexuality: the camps welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (LGBT), heterosexual, gender-queer, asexual and non-binary people, in fact however you choose to identify you are welcomed. QPC looks at pagan practices from a queer perspective, exploring and creating queer myths and mysteries and challenging practices which do not fit within queer pagan, earth-honouring values. It’s a safe environment that gave Wasp opportunity to discover his muse.
“I had found my voice chanting queer pagan chants round the fire into the nights at QPC,” Wasp tells me, “so that kind of vibe remains a big influence on me. A combination of things had stopped me being creative in the past but the experience of being ill drove me to write more and to ignore a lack of confidence to get on with doing what I wanted to.”
Photo by Jack Latimer
Although most of the band is heterosexual, Wasp himself identifies “as queer: it would be fair to say we could be described as queer-fronted, but the rest of the band put as much into this project as I do, and I feel there needs to be an identity for such allies, beyond just allies!” It’s true that the band is very much a collective affair, each musician bringing his own experience and influences to the group, including everything from punk bands Crass and The Poison Girls to the space rock psychedelia of Spacemen 3, and heavy metal in the guise of Motorhead and Judas Priest, another act fronted by a queer singer.
The band is currently planning the follow up to Witchpunk, and recently issued a digital-only two track single. Recorded in March this year, and again produced by Tom Shot It's Time to Riot is a punk/metal thrasher, a musical incitement for queer kids to rise up against the system. The Right Time to Die is a dark confessional, with a saxophone break that reminds me of X-Ray Spex or similar 70s punk acts. Have a listen here. “It has been picked up by lots of podcasts and punk radio stations that aired songs from Witchpunk,” Wasp explains, saying that the new EP should follow before the end of the year. To hear more, catch them at the Gunners pub in Highbury on August 16, or at the Punk For The Homeless benefit in Nottingham on October 26.