There’s a racket being made on Britain’s high streets. Walk through your nearest city centre on the right day and you may stumble across a man with a guitar, screaming into a megaphone strapped to a mic stand, with a woman pounding away on a drum kit behind him. They attract a motley crowd: old punks nodding their heads, briefly transported back to their youths, teenage emo kids gamely moshing in the middle of the afternoon, and plenty of passers-by drawn over to find out what on earth is going on. They’re in for a breakneck set of rough and rowdy political punk songs, usually ending in a song built around a chant of “Fuck The Tories.”
These aren’t your average buskers. Their names are Jake and Sophie, aka Glitchers, the viral punk duo who take to the streets and play for donations. In the process they’ve protested against Kill The Bill and puppy farms, advocated for the growing of hemp to combat the climate crisis and fought the patriarchy by donating the proceeds of their anti-misogyny rager “Your Mother Taught You Better Than That” to the Norfolk-based Sue Lambert Trust, which provides support and counselling to victims of sexual or domestic abuse.
Their story began in March 2020, when Jake taught his fiancée to play the drums as a way to pass the time during lockdown, which progressed into writing their own songs together. It wasn't Jake's first attempt at launching a band, but for a while there was a ceiling on how much they were able to do. Glitchers started, after all, at a time when venues were shuttered, live music was off the cards and the thousands of industry workers whose lives were upended with no end in sight were encouraged by the government to “retrain” instead of being offered any material support.
As with everything Glitchers do, their USP of performing on the streets, using a battery-powered amp for Jake’s guitar, started off as a ‘fuck you’ to the people in Parliament. “[The government] said that artists should retrain, and we thought, ‘Well, hold on a minute, I’ve worked out how to play a guitar outside, let’s show him we don’t have to retrain and play outside until they let us back in [to venues] again,” says Jake. “We’ve never looked back, and it’s grown from that into this magical thing.”
When gigs did come back they also began playing ‘afterparty’ sets, i.e., turning up and playing outside larger rock and metal bands’ shows as the fans are leaving. The most thrilling aspect of their operations is that you can seemingly stumble across them anywhere, from the beaches of Cornwall during the G7 summit to the streets of Milton Keynes during My Chemical Romance's comeback shows (to which they were invited to play personally by Frank Iero). They even rocked up and played outside Wembley Arena as alternative music's brightest lights walked the red carpet at May's Heavy Music Awards.
As part of their punk-for-donations ethos, they put out a bucket for fans to put money into – much like traditional buskers would, with an additional twist. All of Glitchers’ music and merchandise, as well as tickets for headline shows they play indoors in the winter, are available on a pay-what-you-want basis. Legally, you can’t put a price on items sold in the street, but for the band it’s a profound statement on removing art from capitalism’s chokehold.
“I sat there for hours and hours thinking, ‘How can you be anti-capitalistic as a band? Is it possible?’” Jake explains. “[I thought] it’s like an auction, people pay what they think the art is worth. Let’s flip it around and let the people that are coming to the gigs decide how much they think the art is worth.”
“We grew up really poor,” Sophie adds. “When we went to gigs, we couldn’t really afford anything like merch on top of the ticket price. Now, if, for argument’s sake, someone chucks in a tenner to see us live and two quid for a t-shirt, that’s fine.”
It’s just one way in which a Glitchers gig is more accessible than most. Their street tours, which usually comprise afterparty shows, are particularly extensive. Their current run, which began in July and will end in early September, will see them rack up over 80 gigs across the UK – sometimes including several locations in one day. It means that, wherever you are, Glitchers might never be more than a bus trip away, and the cost of travelling to see them is much smaller than it might be if they were only touring the usual inner-city hotspots.
“That’s the beauty of it – we can take a punk gig absolutely anywhere, to people who don’t usually get to see it,” says Jake. “As much as we love seeing the mosh pits and the crowd surfing at the afterparties, there’s still nothing better than seeing older people sitting at a coffee shop down the road with a big smile, or kids dancing in the street when they’re too young to go to gigs. I remember one time in Huddersfield, [we saw] a woman in a mobility scooter who said ‘This is the first gig I’ve been to in years’.”
Glitchers are often met with the most fervour in the smaller or more rural towns that touring acts tend not to pass through. They believe it's partly due to the novelty of a band playing in an area stripped of many of its cultural institutions, and partly due to the politics of those areas skewing conservative. Where they might have been expected to be met with hostility in traditional Tory heartlands, the reaction has been quite the opposite – and it is only becoming more positive.
“I feel like the people there are the ones that don’t have a voice,” Sophie reckons. “They think, ‘This is something I can agree with’.” It’s also put Glitchers at a unique vantage point, as the changing reactions to their music mean they’ve been able to gauge shifts in public sentiment. “The reactions for ‘Fuck The Tories’ this year are way different from when we first started,” Jake explains. “When we started, there was a lot more Tory-loving from the elderly and those sorts of people, but now even the Tories hate the Tories. The atmosphere has really changed.”
The shift in the political climate over the last couple of years hasn’t always benefitted them, though. While those who might have once called themselves true-blue Tories have warmed to Glitchers, the law certainly hasn’t – particularly after the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act was passed last year (which Jake and Sophie were vocal opponents of, giving out leaflets at their shows). In their earlier days, they were met with more indifference from the men and women in blue. They’re protesting, they explained, they’re not out to cause trouble, they won’t be here long. Now, that’s no longer a valid explanation.
“They can shut it down at their discretion, which sucks,” says Jake. They played outside Downing Street in late 2020 and want to do it again, but are all too aware that they will have to use gear they’re prepared to lose. “They can just seize all the equipment.”
All of this – how they make outdoor gigs work, organise travel, the reactions, their encounters with the police – is being captured on video on their current tour, which will be made into a documentary exploring the highs and lows of life in Glitchers. “We want to show people that it’s fun and it’s doable,” says Jake. “It’ll show some of the bad bits as well,” Sophie adds. “Our work isn’t rainbows and sunshine, and we want people to see that too.”
“I hope it will establish us in the scene a bit more,” Jake continues. “Because we play everywhere, we don’t have a local scene, so we do feel like loners sometimes in the music world because we’re not gigging with the same bands at the same time. But this is not a gimmick. This is what we want to do.”