Shopping are a trio in the best sense: it’s nearly impossible to imagine the group’s distinctive sound without the presence of any of its members. Guitarist Rachel Aggs, bassist Billy Easter and drummer Andrew Milk all trade off vocals; the result allows for multiple perspectives to bounce off one another in their songs, creating an expansive and complex sound. This allows them to grapple with big ideas: questions of identity, desire, and politics abound in their music, including their latest album, The Official Body, released earlier this year.
The thing is, though, Shopping is also an incredibly fun band to listen to and to see live. Their OctFest set inspired blissfully frenzied dancing in the audience. As we sat backstage, Aggs and Milk opted for Virtue Cider Rosé, while Easter preferred a nonalcoholic option. For my part, I was drinking a Lord Hobo Boomsauce IPA. Our conversation touched on unlikely musical influences, IPAs and the set they’d just concluded.
The last time I saw you play was in New York a couple of years ago with Priests in a more DIY venue. What’s it like to go from playing more of a space like that to playing more of a festival stage? Is this more akin to venues you've played in England or is it its own thing separate from all of that?
Milk: I guess we have played a bunch of festivals before, but yes, similar scale to this one. It's a different thing, being at a space to play for like 2:00 p.m. People are like outside in the daylight—less likely to dance, less likely to be going crazy, so it's really amazing when they do, which they did today. Some people were vogueing down the front and stuff, absolutely incredible.
Aggs: I think it's definitely a rhythm that you have to get into, the festival thing. Being like, ‘Okay, we're on,’ instead of the slow buildup of a normal pub show. You talked about DIY spaces, and we still play in those spaces all the time. But it's always been the drive of the band to reach as many people as possible and get out of our immediate scene. Playing festivals is really good for that, because you never know who's going to be there. It's nice to think someone might see us for the first time in that passive way, just be like, ‘Oh, whoa, what's this?’
Easter: That happens a lot, as well.
You're a band making political music at a very political time, but there's this element of joyfulness that I get while watching you play. How do you embrace that contrast?
Aggs: I think our music is about catharsis, so it's about dancing and having a good time, coming together. And we sing about stuff that's frustrating or, maybe, negative or that comes from a place of anger, but the result is meant to be a good time and a way of dealing with shit rather than just shouting at people.
On the bill today, you have other punk bands like No Age, but you’re also playing on the same bill as Chic. What’s it like to be on a lineup where you have such a wide range of musicians but also musicians with whom you have a connection to that may not be readily apparent?
Milk: It’s amazing to get to share space with people you've grown up listening to. Incredible to have access for not only no money down, but we get paid to come and do this. Awesome, awesome. Seeing so many amazing bands I would never, ever, get a chance to see where we're playing festivals. It's very special. Playing with someone like Chic wouldn't naturally be something you'd assume we fit into so well, but I think it actually does make a lot of sense. A similar, cathartic release is happening at a Chic gig that you might find at a Shopping gig, even though it might be a vastly different demographic of people.
If you are having a beer while playing a show, what do you tend to seek out, in terms of style?
Milk: Well, Rachel really loves an IPA.
Aggs: For ages he used to refer to it as disgusting beer, but he's been converted.
Milk: I didn't like IPAs, but the bar that I work in started serving Lagunitas and I've gotten accustomed to it. It's like the most expensive thing we have in the bar, so when it does come time to have a staff drink, I will obviously go with the most expensive thing. And I have, in that way, become quite enamored with Lagunitas and IPAs in general.
Generally I'm happy with whatever, I kind of take what I can get. I like sour beers, so, we don't normally ask for that stuff from riders or anything, but it's like, they've got one here that looks really good, Wicked Weed, a gose. That's the kind of thing I've been into, that kind of sour and sweet beer.
When you're touring sort of outside the area you're normally from, are you seeking out more regional styles or something more familiar?
Milk: When we're touring, we do ask for some local beers, because, why not? Variety is the spice of life. We don't want to be having the same thing every night.
Easter: Which is our motto… only joking. It's Andrew's motto.
Have you encountered anything particular that you've had on your travels that really stood out as something you would purchase a case of and take back with you, if you could?
Milk: Not beer, but we do that with Club-Mate, which is caffeinated iced tea. They actually have that on our rider as well, just on the off-chance someone can find it, but they usually can't. You need caffeine. You need caffeine to do what we do.
The mic stands were drag queens holding mics to our faces. I didn't have drum sticks, so I played with a stick of celery and a spoon from the kitchen.”
The title of the new record is The Official Body. So what, then, is then an unofficial body?
Aggs: An unofficial body is probably most people's bodies, which are not accepted in the world, even though we all have them. The only one you're allowed to have is the one that only a small percentage of the population have, and it’s what you see in the media, and on the billboards, and on the catwalks.
Milk: From the perspective of the powers that be, from the perspective of the official body, the unofficial body is basically every human and everything. Every business, every organizing group, every activist, anything that's outside a controlled, officiated norm.
You all look very comfortable on stage. When you were dealing with technical issues, you were able to deal with those things very smoothly. I've seen bands where that would derail a set, whereas you seem to be able to take these things in stride.
Easter: Because we play all the time, and we’ve had all these things happen over and over, now we’re just like, ‘It’s going to be fine.’
Aggs: Yesterday, my guitar string got caught in the zip of my guitar bag. That's a totally new thing. However many decades I've been doing this, that's never happened. There's always something new. But there's also a lot of things we get very used to.
Milk: I think it's also that we, having come from playing in bands for a really long time in London at DIY punk shows, where you'd be lucky if you had a mic stand. Our first gig in the band that we did before this, literally the mic stands were drag queens holding mics to our faces. I didn't have drum sticks, so I played with a stick of celery and a spoon from the kitchen. So this is the kind of world that we come from. I think when something like that happens, if my sample pad stops working, it’s not so much of a big deal. At least I've still got a drumstick—I'm not playing with a stick of celery right now.
Aggs: Tomorrow it'll be like that.
Milk: In the moment when we're playing, we're trying to have that connection with an audience, trying to make people present. You don't really think too much about, ‘Oh, the illusion is ruined,’ because it's not about us on a stage away from them, it's about participation. It's about getting an audience as much involved with the gig as we are. So when something like that goes wrong, it's a minor hiccup—we're still all here, we're still present, we're still trying to make people dance.
Rachel, towards the end of the set, you brought up questions of representation as you looked out at the crowd. Are there things that you have noticed have shifted either for better or worse in your audience over time?
Aggs: Yeah, I think we definitely attract a certain audience these days. It’s brilliant to see more younger people and more queer people and people of color, who maybe have noticed that we're making an outspoken effort to include people—to just open up the space for people that are like us. I think that’s really the most rewarding thing, to see more people down in front dancing at shows who look like us. And we recognize them, we're like, ‘Okay! These are the weirdos!’ This is what it's all about, this is who it's for.