Talking to Pip about dyspraxia, Sylvan Esso and embracing the weird parts of yourself
I interview Pip, a vet and music writer from Manchester, about dyspraxia and the US indie-pop band Sylvan Esso
Welcome to another edition of Plastic People, where I talk to neurodivergent people about the music and culture that they love. This time, I’m talking to Pip (they/them), a vet and music writer from Manchester with dyspraxia and ADHD. A few months ago, we got together virtually to discuss dancing, the textural power of music and embracing your weirdness, in relation to the US indie pop and folktronica band Sylvan Esso. Having recently released their third album, Free Love, in September 2020, the North Carolina-based duo have developed a reputation for jagged, organic pop music that blends the melodies and harmony of folk music with distorted electronics.
They first discovered the band upon the recommendation of a friend, but it wasn’t until seeing them live while working backstage at Field Day in London that everything clicked. ‘When our shifts finished, we had staff passes so we had access to the side of stage and stuff. I saw this woman backstage [Sylvan Esso vocalist Amelia Meath] in an all denim outfit and ridiculous buffalo trainers, doing really serious vocal warm-ups. And then they went on stage and I was completely mesmerised. Watching the people who loved this band so much signing back every word.’
Before they expanded from a duo to a full band for live shows in 2019 and an eventual live album, Sylvan Esso performances only featured singer Amelia Meath, pivoting across the stage with a raw enthusiasm, and producer Nick Sanbon playing all the electronics with various pieces of equpment. ‘He’s such an involved producer and performer, people watching the band understand the work that goes into electronic music from watching him.’ Pip tells me. ‘I saw a YouTube comment like woman dances while man defuses a bomb.’
‘I went from, this is folk music they’ve tried to make weird,’ Pip explains, ‘to, no, this is dance music. Sometimes that is something that I struggle with in the world. I can’t understand concepts and things because I don’t get the route of them. I remember explaining to my mum like, this band has changed my life.
After that, Pip recounts to me falling in love with the band, listening to their music almost exclusively while doing tiring work on a pig farm. ‘There is just somthing about them that keeps me coming back. Part of it is, they are my band and I don’t associate them with anyone else. Two of the three times I’ve seen them life was by myself. And it’s very unusual for me to have something that’s purely mine, because my mind just makes associations constantly. People say separate the art from the artist and I’m like, I can’t even separate the art from the person who showed me the art.’
The sense of texture embedded in Sylvan Esso’s music, the snap of their beats and the consuming throb of bass synths, will make them an appealing band to neurodivergent people. For catchy, accessible pop music, their production and lyrics have considerable depth that reward careful, repeated listeners. ‘It’s music that I don’t have to try hard to get into, but has a lot of the things that I don’t find as accessible. It’s instant gratification for me but that lasts, and I find that I can always find more in it.’
It is music that I would describe as stimmy, referring to stimming or sensory self-stimulation, which lots of people with autism and ADHD use for mental regulation and fun. As Pip explains, while music is often left out of conversations on stimming, it can be a vital and underappreciated component of managing everyday life: ‘I never thought of myself as someone who stims at all, but then I thought about the way that I rely on auditory stimulation to go through my life and feel fulfilled and I’m like, that is the thing in its own form.’
‘I’m a big kitchen dancer,’ They laugh. ‘I love to make food, have my kitchen to myself, music on, dancing and having 300 pans of gunk on the go. That’s a thing that makes me feel genuinely at home in my body and brain.’
Dyspraxia is a neurodivergent condition that impacts on a huge array of different things, including poor executive dysfunction, short-term memory and poor fine motor control. Foremost of all, however, is a sense of clumsiness that comes with poor balance, timing and spatial awareness. At school and in everyday life, we are used to spillages, to losing things, to being the weird kid and being stared at because we look weird. ‘My mum once said I walk like I’m trying to catch up with the floor,’ Pip laughs, ‘It is a statement that has shaped me, for better or worse.’
Like dyscalculia or tourettes, it can feel like an ugly sibling in the wider neurodivergent community and in internet communities. There is not as much of a prominent cultural framework for talking about and identifying yourself as dyspraxic. Those who have co-occurring conditions, especially those with autism and dyspraxia, tend to prioritise one condition over the other in their identity. It can feel as if you are autistic, but you simply have dyspraxia. ‘Even close friends who are autistic,’ Pip tells me, ‘I see them talking about neurodivergence and neurodiversity as if that is the only way that it exists. I feel like I have never been able to find community and role models in a sense that I see other people finding. It’s frustrating, and I just try to talk about it, constantly. Partly because it affects by life constantly and partly because I just hope that someone who has got a dyspraxia diagnosis aged 20 can see me, with my life semi together.’
There is even greater value then, in resonating with and relating to traits that dyspraxics associate with themselves, in culture and in public. The way that Amelia moves and dances on stage comes with a sense of carefree abandon. As if she has bottled that feeling of being the one everyone stares at, and converted it into movement. ‘I know a lot of people will be like, who the f*** is this weird woman, when they’re watching her. But I’m into it. And in the same way, people will be into me. In whatever form that takes, whether it’s thinking I’m an interesting person or thinking I’m hot. It doesn’t matter if you look weird doing things if you just commit to them enough. That was something I struggled to do five or six years ago, and now I do it without thinking. I hurl myself around on nights out.’
Indeed, the self-love message that is embedded in a lot of Sylvan Esso’s music and in their live performances is one that chimes with Pip’s understanding of their own neurodivergence. ‘I think I have tried to talk a lot about how much I love being dyspraxic and how much I love having ADHD because I do love those things about myself. They are inconvenient because other people haven’t considered people like me.’
‘I am infinitely more interesting for being the person that I am, and music has been a big part of that because it’s something that I love, and because I have found people who want to talk about things at the same level with the same enthusiasm. Even if people don’t want to talk to me, I can just listen to the music. That’s there and that’s not going away.’
Pip can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @ pipsuxx and their writing on music can be found here in Line of Best Fit.
I can be found here on medium, on instagram @ plasticpeopleblog and on twitter at @ 128harps. Please get in touch if you have somthing you would like to talk about or want to share an interesting perspective. Finally, I can be found writing on the history of Japanese professional wrestling for Nearfalls.