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Bring Me The Horizon
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Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes won’t stop evolving

From being the ‘most hated band in England’ to global stardom and TikTok virality, we catch up with the frontman to talk the scene, new projects and why emo isn’t dead

A year before the pandemic shut down life entirely, Oli Sykes wrote a song about a killer parasite taking over the world. “I’d written the lyrics to a song named “Parasite Eve” after reading about this new fungus that could kill people, but it felt too topical to the point that we were scared to release it,” he confesses. While the band eventually released the track on 2020’s Post Human: Survival Horror, the experience of lockdown wasn’t easy on Sykes, who admits to relapsing that year after an extended period of sobriety. “When locked down hit, and touring stopped, I realised I wasn’t really healed, I was just distracted,” he says. “I was just feeding off the excitement of being in a band, and touring, and people screaming my name and singing my songs, and how many streams on Spotify, or how well our albums were selling. All that stopped and I was straight back to drugs because I needed something. I just realised I haven’t figured my shit out at all.”

The experience got Sykes, now 36, thinking about his own personal reflections on guilt and shame, and how these feelings stretch out to the rest of society. “It’s the same with climate change, like we don’t care until it starts to affect us. It’s already affecting people, it’s already fucking killing people,” he says. “I think that’s the thing – the way the world’s working, it works when everything’s good but as soon as one spanner gets thrown into the cogs it fucks up.” 

Speaking backstage of Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome stadium, Sykes is halfway through the band’s European Post Human tour, showcasing the first of what will be a four-part album series, which so far seems to be tapping into zeitgeisty themes, from eco-anxiety to cyborgs and post-truth mysticism. “The next one takes place after the world is in a kind of post-apocalyptic state, and there are these rehab centres for the planet, and people are all like cooped up in these sanctuaries and all sharing stories about the guilt for what they did to the planet and stuff,” he explains. The album is still in progress, but if the band’s latest single “AmEN!” featuring Lil Uzi Vert is any indication – social media teases an ‘Assembly of God’ church sign – things are about to get biblical. 

BMTH made a triumphant return post-pandemic. With everyone’s bedroom-ridden teen angst reaching a fever pitch, formerly dormant subcultures such as emo stepped back into the public consciousness, with TikTok inspiring a new generation of metal-studded teens. In the months that followed, it wasn’t unusual to see scene kids at basement raves wearing Sykes’ Drop Dead clothing, while the band’s track “Can You Feel My Heart?” went viral on TikTok, opening the band up to fresh fans itching to throw themselves into the pit – Sykes even performed alongside Ed Sheeran at the BRITs last year. With solo collaborations with artists such as Alice Longyu Gao, daine and IC3PEAK, Sykes set his sights on championing a new gen of artists carrying the same pent-up rage that catapulted BMTH to success nearly 20 years ago. “I had an epiphany in the pandemic, because BMTH started out as the most hated band in England, I shut myself off to working with other people. But slowly I plucked up the courage to say, ‘hey, I fuck with you’, and it made me realise that when you’re connected to something it’s probably because you’ve seen a bit of what you do in them, even if it’s a completely different sound or genre.” 

Part two of the Post Human series is underway. How did the series come about? 

Oli Sykes: We’re working on the next record right now actually. We’ve been writing a lot on tour. It’s been good, but it’s difficult – you never get as much done as you think. We just finished our next single, and then we'll get in there with our next record, so the next EP for the Post Human series, which is four different records. 

We started the idea we were in lockdown and we had so much time that we just thought, ‘oh we can bash out these records’. And then once everything started going back to normal – and now we’re just touring like crazy – it’s just a lot harder, especially now people have got families and stuff like that. 

Can you tell us what we can expect from the second instalment? 

Oli Sykes: Well, it may change – but all four records make a full narrative. The first record, obviously we wrote in lockdown, and it was a time that everyone was very scared and confused and just uncertain about the future and that’s why it was called Survival Horror

The second record begins when the world is in a post-apocalyptic state, and there are these rehab centres for the planet, and people are all cooped up in these sanctuaries and sharing stories about their guilt for what they did to the planet – and that’s going to be almost an allegory for my own struggles with drugs.

I wanted to write these records more about us as a whole and the planet and everything, but I’ve never done that before. Everything I’ve ever written about is very personal to me and I realised that I’m not very good at writing – I’m not political. I don’t know enough about politics to really get behind that. I only really can write about how I emotionally react to stuff, so I realised I needed something to use as a device to make me think.

Yeah, I definitely think that COVID-19 was a wake-up call for a lot of people, in realising that humans aren’t immune to nature. 

Oli Sykes: Totally. I think what we understand is evolution now, is done – for humans – we’ve stepped out of the evolutionary chain. It’s no longer survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the richest. We need to figure out how we evolve from here.

We’re devolving [laughs].

Oli Sykes: How do we evolve consciously? Because we need to be better than what we are right now. A lot of the way we act, and where we are, is just going off these primal instincts and urges that aren’t relevant anymore. We live in a society that’s put us in boxes and people don’t feel in those boxes, so we can’t use this old manual to judge anything anymore. I think this about people who are trying to make a change – trying to change something or fight for something – sometimes I think they are so angry that we’re not even really thinking about how we can actually make the next step forward.

I feel like the next record is hopefully going to talk about that kind of stuff, about opening your heart a bit to everyone, no matter how cruel or evil someone might seem. They weren’t born that evil. Do you know what I mean? Or just accepting that some conversations are complex conversations rather than saying, you’re a bigot or a soyboy, or whatever. We can’t meet in the middle of anything anymore, and it’s scary. 

I feel like the pandemic really spurred an emo resurgence. How’s it been seeing a younger generation getting into your music? You went viral on TikTok a few months back. 

Oli Sykes: For us, it’s amazing, because we’re relevant again. When we had a moment on TikTok, I was scratching my head like, ‘why is an eight-year-old song resonating?’ It wasn’t even a main single or anything, and I was like, why? As I looked and saw people, and how they were interacting with it, I just thought, there’s not that much music out there anymore that’s that emotional and raw. I think there’s a new generation of kids that just need that. 

I’ve seen this happen with guitar music more generally, too. But now it’s made a full-on comeback. 

Oli Sykes: I guess it made us realise how emo we are [laughs]. This band is nearly 20 years old, so for us to still manage to bring new people into it, it’s exciting for us.

One thing I love about your work in the last few years is how you’ve been collaborating with younger artists like Alice Longyu Gao and daine. 

Oli Sykes: Rock is such an uncollaborative genre, compared to hip hop or pop. A lot of times, rock stars don’t work with the rock stars, and it makes it feel like there’s all this rivalry. But I feel like it's so important to not be like that. We want to connect – and it’s in our interest, because we want to push our music as something more than just rock music. 

“It‘s no longer survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the richest” – Oli Sykes

How do you think public perception has changed around the band? Obviously, you guys came up at the height of music mags, but now the internet seems to have levelled out the discourse.

​​Oli Sykes: We were very young. We had no desire to become a big band, we just wanted to get together and make some songs that kids could mosh to. We had no real goal. So, with such low expectations, things started happening fast. Before we know it we were getting tour buses and alcohol, and all this stuff. For us, we were all like 17/18 and we just got hammered every day, made an ass of ourselves, and were stupid. We were never evil or nasty, or did anything bad, but if someone came to interview us we were drunk, and we were taking the piss – we were just a bunch of lads from Sheffield. We weren’t really in touch with our emotions, or how to compose ourselves normally.

And at the same time, our music was shit and we were doing well – at the time it wasn’t polished – and I think most kids connected to it, because most kids went, that’s exactly what I’d do if I were in a garage with my guitar. I think that annoyed people, because they’re not even good, like look at the state of them, look at their hair – it just escalated.

How does your fashion brand Drop Dead feed into the band and your solo work? I’ve seen so many people wearing it post-pandemic.

Oli Sykes: Yeah, we‘ve said the exact same thing. It feels like we found our people again, and I think there was this awkward phase obviously when it came out and a couple of years in and it was like the first independent clothing company of that kind of vibe – you know, the MySpace thing – and it was huge, and then it went back down again. It peaked in the 2010s when emo went mainstream – so that was huge. 

I didn't know who I was seeing the model anymore, because the scene we were in kind of dissolved, like the metalcore, all that kind of just disappeared. We were kind of on our own. So we were like, who's a Drop Dead kid? I had no idea. I think this whole movement that's come out around the last four or five years, of kids getting back into emo, hyperpop, and future, like all that stuff, it’s just so similar to what I got into like 15 years or 20 years ago – just the feel of it, even though it’s on computers now.

“AmEN!” is out today. Bring Me The Horizon is performing at Download Festival between June 8 and 11