Dream Wife continue their political journey on their third album
A striking moment of community response was demonstrated by the East London initiative Shadwell Responds when, after lockdown was lifted in England, the organisation fought for the reopening of their local swimming pool. Having been closed and left in a desolate state since the beginning of the COVID emergency, the community came together in solidarity and acted, ensuring access to the facilities.
The leisure centre in question serves as the backdrop for Dream Wife’s music video to the single “Who Do You Wanna Be?“ – the fourth track off the band’s latest release Social Lubrication, out June 9 via Lucky Number Music. Filmed playing live in the drained pool, the band dedicates the track to anti-capitalism, faux-activism, greenwashing and other ailments of our current economic system.
Going full circle
This is by no means a left-field move for Dream Wife, who have always straddled the line between a social activist group and a band, never being afraid to convey their political views through music.
The band is a long way from their unassuming origins, having recorded their debut with DIY methods in guitarist Alice Go’s flat. In singer Rakel Mjöll Leifsdóttir’s words, the band experienced a “full circle moment,” when legendary Riot Grrrl band Le Tigre announced their first tour in 18 years and asked Dream Wife to come along as a support act. “We wouldn’t exist if not for Le Tigre,” Rakel confesses.
In July, the band embarks on a UK tour, with a detour to Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland for a performance at the LungA Festival. “One of our first shows was actually at LungA. We only had four songs back then,” Rakel recalls.
Despite their success, Dream Wife is still occupied with having fun while attempting to smash the patriarchy. While in the process of writing their third studio album, Dream Wife’s members were in a lockdown-stupor. “During that period, we only wrote sad-ass songs. We weren’t really good at writing during the pandemic,” says Rakel, attributing their compositional frustration to the band’s fame as a live band. “We’ve built a career out of playing live and most of our songs are tested on an audience so we can better sculpt them,” she continues.
A disappointing reality
This is where the album’s influence comes from: being around live music and absorbing the culture surrounding it. Returning to the festival circuit after a lacklustre pandemic period, the band experienced a bitter disappointment. “While some things have changed for the better, there are still players in the scene you’d think wouldn’t be there,” says Rakel, referencing the unsavoury individuals that are attracted to unequal power dynamics. “This is the topic of [the song] ‘Leech,’” says Rakel, who implores the figurative leech preying on people to “have some fucking empathy.”
It’s a political act to be able to express yourself while still having the freedom to dance.
Supporters of the “Girls to the front” maxim, Dream Wife‘s ideology is firmly rooted in the ideals of the Riot Grrrl movement. Their live gigs have been characterised by the emphasis placed on creating safe spaces for women and marginalised groups, ensuring an opportunity for everyone to enjoy the show. “We drew our inspiration from Kathleen Hanna [Le Tigre and Bikini Kill frontwoman]. It was political, it was critical, but you could still dance. It’s a political act to be able to express yourself while still having the freedom to dance,” Rakel says.
Advancing this policy through collaboration with non-profits like Girls Against, it still isn’t enough to stop offenders at their shows. “There’s no space that’s fully safe, there’s only so much you can do,” Rakel says, referencing instances where offenders have actively sought out Dream Wife’s gigs to abuse their power.
Rakel cites one of the band’s earliest songs, “Somebody” off their debut album, as a turning point in the band’s direction, moving towards a more intersectional approach when hearing fans’ reactions to it. Although originally written as a reference to sexual violence and the Slut Walk, the lines “I’m not my body / I’m somebody,” started to take on different meanings for different people. “On tour, we noticed how particular groups related to those lines. We had people with blindness come up to us and say, ‘Do not see my blindness, see me.’ So it was interesting seeing how people with disabilities related to the song.” This experience influenced Rakel’s lyrical approach on Social Lubrication.
Suppressed by the algorithm
For Dream Wife, their core still rests on conveying the political messages of feminism, eradication of sexual violence and the dismantling of the patriarchy. Those themes that echoed through their last two albums are still very much at the heart of this third release. A chock-full collection of explosive tracks all set out to annihilate the patriarchy and empower the marginalised, the album is coloured by an atmosphere of dissent. It’s not all doom and gloom, though; the track “Hot (Don’t Date A Musician)” has Rakel list a number of professions that are more appropriate to date than a musician. On tracks like these (“Orbit” is also a prime example), the band seems aware of their nonchalance, allowing the listener to join in on the fun.
Other tracks express the group’s social and political awareness. They appear very on the nose, sometimes lacking nuance. They say what they mean, not much for frills or a poet’s ambiguity. “I never want to sound pretentious,” Rakel explains when asked about this lyrical tendency. The aforementioned track “Who Do You Wanna Be?” has Rakel singing, “When I see another empty slogan tryna dictate my life / Can’t you see my pockets are running dry? /A consumer consumed with the idea of a good time.“ In “Leech,” a song dedicated to the prevailing sexism in the music industry, Rakel moves from a reasonably angry commentary, culminating in a ballistic reaction to the injustice.
If I’m afraid of releasing a song, I just know it’s gonna be good.
In the hyper-industrialised British music scene in which Dream Wife operates, this is dissent. The album’s feminist messaging, Rakel explains, has led to a suppression of its virality. “There’s a line in ‘Who Do You Wanna Be?’ that goes, ‘the left cuts down the left, while the right upholds the crown.’ We were informed that because of these words and other actions [Alice appears topless with tape on her nipples in the music video], the algorithm has somehow suppressed the song,” Rakel claims. Her feelings towards writing have now reached the point where, “if I’m afraid of releasing a song, I just know it’s gonna be good.”
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