NME Radar: Breakout

Mermaid Chunky: experimental duo with a thirst for fun – and fancy dress

Freya Tate and Moina Moin's malleability and freewheeling spirit won over LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, who signed them to DFA Records

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Mermaid Chunky is a community project of sorts. There’s only two people at its helm, Freya Tate and Moina Moin, but it is bigger than the sum of its creators – they frequently bring their friends in to add to their rich, colourful soundscapes. Layered with synths, electronic percussion, whistles and seemingly whatever else they can find, their music could expand your brain or rearrange all its compartments entirely. Sometimes Tate and Moin call in some extra company just to dress up and dance about on stage.

It’s not surprising when, sometimes, the band’s music really does sound like a whole village is involved. Their maximalist approach to their music-slash-art project doesn’t just elude definition but playfully darts around it, relishing in its own joyful weirdness but still striving to be catchy.  It’s a product of community because it was birthed in the sort of local spaces that are so often vital to bringing creative projects to life, namely gallery and performance space SVA in their hometown of Stroud, Gloucestershire, and the Total Refreshment Centre in east London, the city they now call home.

“We love costume collaborations and making and designing stuff together,” explains Moin over an array of Asian fusion food in a south-east London café. “I think it’s an amazing way of being with people. We don’t necessarily do loads of discussions and meetings – we’re very much working in a rapid rush with most of the stuff we do. All the communicating is making and doing – you don’t quite know where everything is going but you’re all on the same wavelength and everyone feels part of the scene.”

Tate and Moin count LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy as a fan, who signed them to his label DFA Records. While queuing for coffee one day just down the street from the label’s office, Murphy heard their 2020 track ‘Friends’ and was immediately entranced by the contrast of its wobbling bass, spoken-word monologues and trilling synths, and quickly opened Shazam to see who was behind the music. Returning to the office with his new discovery, the rest of his team jumped on it and hit repeat again and again.

The duo spoke to NME about transcending genres, translating their music to unconventional live settings and confusing the hell out of LCD Soundsystem’s fans when they opened for them two years ago…

NME: How did your paths first cross? 

Moin : “I find it hard to say [when Mermaid Chunky started] because it felt like it just started with me when Freya and I met, just hanging out and making jokes and dressing up and that’s when the band started.”

Tate: “We’re actually from the same town but we met in Brighton. That day, I didn’t have a job when I was at uni and Moina was like, ‘I’ll help you get a job’. She was taking me to all these shops. I got rejected from every single shop because I had so much social anxiety but Moina has this surreal energy that just helps you so much.”

Moin: “We both grew up in Stroud but I was working on this club door and I’d see Freya coming in looking incredibly cool. We knew each other by sight.”

Tate: “She thought I was being cool but I was so socially anxious and I think I had a fake ID.”

Moin: “To be fair, I was about 13, 14!”

It almost sounds like you don’t really belong to any genre whatsoever – how intentional is that? Do you see yourselves as post-genre artists?

Moin: “The band has just come out of friendship, and there hasn’t ever been any aim. It’s very focused, but yeah, we haven’t ever known what’s going to happen.”

Tate: “We both listen to a lot of music, we take stuff from and we rely on other genres a lot, but none of them are really [what we do now].”

Moin: “We both listen to a really broad spectrum of music but when we’re rehearsing, we’re immersing ourselves in [music] and you’re taking a break from everything and obviously all these genres and influences are in your brain subconsciously, but those influences connect –  sounds of your walk to the studio, or sounds of your thoughts, or sounds of TV programmes for your childhood.

“Genre goes beyond music. When we’re playing, we don’t do much talking or discussing, it all comes from improvisations. I think those conversations just come out through the sounds.”

How do you end up translating this music to a live setting? 

Tate: “I’m quite busy with pedals and stuff, getting overwhelmed!

Moin: “We really try and think about the venue. Every gig is very different. Once we performed on this floating stage in the river just after the COVID restrictions had been lifted and often we decide what songs we’re doing as we go along in reaction to the space. We like unusual spaces and we have projections and animations and things that go with our songs. Also, the crowd is 50% of the game, obviously. Because we’re improvising, we’re going on a journey together.”

mermaid chunky
Credit: Simon Pizzey

You opened for LCD Soundsystem at London’s Brixton Academy in 2022. How did that come about?

Moin: “We just randomly heard from James Murphy and it was really funny because we didn’t know who he was! He sent a really lovely, emotional email where he was like ‘You put my belief back into music’. Then he asked us to support them at Brixton Academy.”

Tate: “His crowd were like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ Someone told me there was a Reddit thread – I didn’t want to look at it – but it had very mixed reviews. Some people really hated it, some people really loved it, but we thought that was quite good.”

Moin: “We often invite loads of our friends to come and dress up and perform with us in a very undirected manner. They all came to Brixton Academy and it was mostly women, trans, non-binary people on stage, all in costumes and really garish make-up, slightly madly gyrating and dancing around. We’re doing something that really doesn’t seem to be making sense in all the most sensible ways.”

How do you react to people who might feel confused or challenged by your music?

Moin: “I think that’s good. Sometimes the gigs that I love the most are the ones where I’m just having out of body experience. When I see a crowd, we often get people dancing but also we get a different version when people are just in a bit of a trance, and they’re just staring. We get all kinds of people [watching us], some people come up and say ‘I saw Ed Sheeran last night but I saw your gig today.’ It’s really exciting.”

Mermaid Chunky’s debut album ‘Slif Slaf Slof’ will be released on September 13 via DFA Records


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