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art school girlfriend is margate's newest goth pop star

Watch her gloomy new video exclusively here now!

by i-D Staff
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16 July 2019, 4:47pm

Polly Mackey -- aka Art School Girlfriend -- comes from Wrexham, North Wales. It's a tiny sleepy little town with not a lot going on, but that's exactly what prompted Polly and her musician friends to make their own interesting things happen, and create their own music. Luckily, she was pretty good at it too. Fronting the Transgressive-signed shoegaze band Deaf Club and, feeling suffocated back home, she decided to move down to London to give this music thing a proper go.

Now signed to Paul Epworth’s Wolftone Records with her self-produced solo project, Art School Girlfriend, she's already two EPs deep -- Measures was released in 2017 followed by the much darker Into The Blue Hour in late 2018. The artist project spans topics like, "queer identity, lust and disillusionment," and leaves us convinced that there must be something down in Margate that gets those creative juices flowing. Yep, Polly lives in Margate now, along with her very own art school girlfriend, with whom she runs a book shop, and their incredibly cute whippet, Captain.

Inspiration for her music comes from the heart. As a gay teen, Polly never really felt seen or represented by the music that surrounded her, so she decided to right that wrong. “Music is so different now compared to when I was young, it’s insane," Polly says. "It’s so much more diverse and listener-led. I love it. There weren't many women, never mind openly gay musicians I could look up to. Whereas now, there are so many artists I would be obsessing over as a lil gay teen growing up in North Wales.” The next generation sure are lucky.

The upstart's latest single, Diving, is the perfect example of her goth-pop sound. Sparse and electronic, the moody and intense track is all about the desire and anxiety that comes with discovering and embracing her queer identity. "Does she want me? Do you want me?" the singer ruminates on the track, the video for which is premiering on i-D. "It's about how desire and anxiety for me can never feel mutually exclusive, and finding the beauty within the frustrations of that," Polly says of the track.

The accompanying video for Diving is suitably watery, eerily calm but gloomy at the same time. "I've worked on most of my visuals with my friend Tom Dream," the musician explains. "We both live in Margate so water has featured in most of the things we've made together. I've always been so drawn to water imagery, it makes me calm." Be among the first to watch the video right here -- lucky you -- and then get to know Art School Girlfriend, your new fave goth pop dream, with these 10 handy facts.

1. Polly stole her artist name from her girlfriend.
"I stole it from my girlfriend who went to art school, she was going to use it as a DJ name.”

2. Going from playing with Deaf Club to performing as Art School Girlfriend was a real evolution.
“Deaf Club was shoegaze, with no electronic elements. Literally everything was performed from under a pool of reverb, and some songs would last nine minutes and be quite instrumental, so I found performing with Deaf Club to be quite transcendental at times. The Art School Girlfriend live setup has a few different identities. I perform with a full band, and although it's heavily electronic, I also like to incorporate that liveness and freedom I had with Deaf Club, so there's extra layers and live drums and guitars. It sounds meatier than the recordings. I recently supported The Japanese House in the US where I did a solo electronic setup. But the most interesting and challenging way I've performed was at queer rave Chapter 10 -- I did techno remixes of four of my tracks and played them out using a sequencer and controller at 1am to a full room of beautiful dancing people. That was so fun.”

3. Discovering PJ Harvey was a huge deal for Polly.
“I always mention PJ Harvey in interviews. When I was growing up, music was so male orientated that discovering her was a bit of an epiphany. I also loved Pixies, Radiohead, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. All quite guitary stuff.”

4. She moved to London at 19.
"I only knew one person that lived in the city. I chose not to go to university and to just pack my bag and try and do something in music, and through that I met so many brilliant people. Though looking back I definitely spent the first year depressed and lonely; I was living in a chaotic warehouse with 15 people all quite heavily into drugs and I was going through a process of figuring things out. After that year though, I got happy."

5. Her first solo release, Bending Back in 2017, released all kinds of emotions.
"I'd been holding onto them for so long that it felt significant and quite a relief, but then at the same time completely insignificant -- it's kind of a strange concept 'releasing a song' when you've only just let the world know you exist that day. No-one was waiting for it. It feels like a bigger thing now."

6. Being in a relationship with her IRL Art School Girlfriend has helped her come to terms with her own sexuality and queer identity.
"I've learnt more about myself and about relationships themselves in the last three months than I have in my whole life. And it still feels like I have so much more to understand. I've recently learnt that I can love two people at the same time, and two people can love me at the same time. It's beautiful and terrifying. I've learnt that identity, personality and sexuality can bend and refract, depending on who is standing opposite you. Different people reflect different parts of you back at yourself, and in turn, you reinterpret yourself through their eyes. It can mean that segments of your identity can be pulled out or pushed down depending on what it is they want to see. We are all 4D and ever-changing!"

7. And she was drawn to electronic and dance music on a visceral level, historically a genre where queer people have found solace.
"I just really love sounds. I think I'm drawn to electronic music as the sounds used aren't necessarily related to an instrument. They conjure a feeling or a space instead. It allows for more imagination. A lot can and has be written about the necessity of queer spaces and the tragedy of their closing. I don't accept the argument that they're not needed anymore as everything's all liberal and equal now. That's untrue. The feeling of being 'watched' is something I would like to erase from my consciousness, but I don't think it will ever go away. To be constantly aware, everyday, that kissing my girlfriend on the street is something another human being could feel the need to cast judgement on, and perhaps let me know what they think of, is a claustrophobic headspace to exist in. So I think the existence of spaces that, to be frank, are not likely to be attended by straight men, are important and necessary. I also think it's such a strong community because there's a shared empathy; everyone might have varying degrees of it, but it's likely that we've all experienced some shame and feelings of hopelessness, but that everyone's goal is literally to be able to love. So with that in mind, I think electronic and dance music can often have elements of sadness and joy that the gays can relate to."

8. She was priced out by London -- we can relate -- and Margate became her new home.
"London became so ridiculously expensive. And Margate has beautiful beaches and skies; life there kind of feels like a holiday. There's a really sweet community and it's fun to be creative there. Though I have fallen back in love with London recently; I like having the best of both. I can't really compare London to Margate, though luckily my label are based in Church Studios so I get access to space if I need to write. I do well being locked in a room wherever it is. But there are distractions in both places, it just depends on my headspace rather than where I physically am."

9. Living by the seaside has been a major help for Polly, creatively speaking.
"I have this theory that when I'm looking out at sea, my eyes are stretching as far as they possibly can. It always feels so good. Your eyes can never often do that, as there's often buildings in the way. Also if I need to, I can go on a walk and feel like I'm only person within a square mile. Or I can walk another way and bump into friends everywhere. All of that definitely has an effect on me."

10. But obviously, her doggo is her main inspiration. At least on Instagram.
“Captain provides constant content for my Instagram. Sadly, he loves the beach but hates the water so swimming is off the cards, but running is definitely on.”