Inside the twisted universe of Malthus

I’d known Malthus for a while before I saw him perform live. I definitely saw him a bit differently after that. The performance was in a tiny venue. A simple lighting set up and smoke machine was the full extent of the production. He stands alone on stage like an apparition; light blond hair and skin picking up the colours of the spotlight. Blue, then red, then green. A long instrumental intro begins, so that slowly, slowly, we enter his world. When he starts to sing there’s this choral, but also broken rawness in his voice. I never saw David Bowie perform but I imagine it might be like this. Sure, the music is nothing alike, but there’s something about that sonorous baritone and alien stage presence… Malthus is at his best in these small, intimate spaces because he can speak directly to you. Otherworldly and at the same time very human.

When I watched the music videos for his new EP CONVULSIONS, just out, I thought back to this performance. You could see that he’d translated its intensity into the new format. The locations, light and filmic devices he uses emphasise the same emotional range he was exploring back then. Movement and the use of a cast might remove the films from that intimacy, but the way the camera has shot it still makes you feel like you are there. That being said, CONVULSIONS is a clear step forward. Whilst it’s equally vulnerable, the music and performance are more assertive. The videos create a haunting underworld which develops as you watch one after the next. Some tracks are pure heartbreak. Others are aggressive and bold – a new dimension for his work. We caught up with the director and musician to find out more.


Why did you choose the name Malthus?
I studied an economist Thomas Malthus’ work a few years ago – he was predicting resource scarcity and, essentially, the collapse of society due to humanity fighting over finite resources. I thought it was an interesting worldview. His name was the first that came to mind when I was coming up with the project and I also really liked that “Mal” translates to “bad” in Spanish.

What is the EP about?
In essence, the EP is about processing the lowest points of a rough few years. It explores a fragmented and distorted sense of ‘self’, tracing repetitive cycles of euphoria and delirium. I was going through a lot of turbulent change over the last few years when I was writing these tracks, starting with These Streets Aren’t Made For Walking and Mercy in 2020 until the last track Little Light Hazing that I wrote with Sid Quirk in November 2022.

My writing touches on a lot of formative experiences, especially around narcotics and familial relationships. This EP also documented romantic relationships more than I usually do. It’s written as a cycle, the first line “this is a bullet to the chest” leads through to the last line on the EP “well I guess this is how it feels to be dealing with addictions”. It documents this slow, chaotic spiral that is born from toxicity in relationships, and the delirium of sustained isolation.

How have you translated these experiences into the films? Can you tell us more about these experiences that informed the film?
The visual is always on my mind when I’m writing music. I don’t necessarily think in terms of images (my brain thinks in numbers, texture and sound) but I find that the process of creating the music makes developing the visual idea a much more coherent process.

My experience dealing with intense post-covid illness from 2020-2022 deeply affected me and my life – there were lots of moments where I wasn’t sure I’d still be here now, nevermind releasing a visual record. So much of this film revolves around that experience – the exhausting, durational performances; the mania, inwardness and cyclicality of sustained isolation; and the containment of constant chronic pain.

Neurological issues I experienced after the virus limited how much I could dance or move my body. I lost my balance, strength and stamina, and I had developed a muscular twitch that I still live with now. I had to train myself to be able to walk in a straight line again. I just lent into my restrictions a lot when I was first working on the CONVULSIONS movement direction – I made everyone twitch, and wanted everyone to seem off-balance. I wanted my exhaustion to show on camera after spending so much time struggling to accept I had limitations.

It’s mad because I’m so so grateful for it all now. I’m coming out the other side, getting healthier and seeing all these crazy opportunities that have come my way since. It’s such a fucking blessing. I’m a much stronger version of myself now and I’m grateful everyday to be able to leave the house, make my work and soak up life again.

What was your favourite moment on set?
The funniest moment was Mercedes and our assistants having to rub gallons of glycerin all over my body to make my cold sweats come to life. The wildest was probably setting myself on fire on the day of the ambulance strikes in the UK. Sam Macer originally designed the fire jacket for Julia Fox and it was pretty intense experiencing flames burning just millimetres away from my skin.

How has your music evolved during the process of writing CONVULSIONS?
It’s constantly taking new forms but this record definitely pushed it into a new space. I was interested to see how we could fuse elements of dub, industrial techno and darkwave with choral vocal arrangements and a more refined singing style, and I really wanted to start rapping more.

It’s mad thinking back because I literally grew up on dub and grime around Wigan and Manchester at free parties, but I’d never really explored it musically. I’ve been building operatic technique and classical references within my work for a few years and finally crossed that threshold where I can flip that approach completely.

Working with Sid Quirk on the production of the record has been a blessing for exploring the subtleties in dance music. I think we both really got off on experimenting with UK dance music references within the “Malthus” framework. I’d apply the same operatic layering techniques I used on choral arrangements to rap verses, and we still directly reference classical arrangements in our synthwork and sound design. It’s sick hearing this sound form out of those polar opposite reference points.

Clearly, collaboration is pretty core to your practice. Can you name some people you’ve worked with?
Ah wow, yeah, there’s been a tonne. I’ve been properly humbled by the amount of sick collaborators who jumped in on this record and film. They really took a leap of faith in me as an artist and put so much work in too. DOP Martin Senyzack, has been a huge support as I’ve started out directing, colourist Alex Dow has given my work its own palette, and stylist Satchin Gonga really elevated the looks with Diesel and Tenzen Sia.

The Littledoom Label and Studio that I run with Mercedes and Sid underpins a lot of what I’m working on. We’ve been really busy working on the Mercedes666 record too – me, her and Sid are are constantly working on each other’s stuff. I recently got to make a track with Rainy Miller for his “400 BLACK DOGS” mixtape for BBC6 which features people I’ve looked up to for years. I also did that runway score for Heliot Emil a few years back and since that happened I worked with Armani, Tim Walker, BOSS and a few others. I feel dead blessed.

What’s your vision when it comes to live performance?
I’m working to bring a dance cast to my live shows, recreating set builds from the film and developing more of a theatrical performance. Start to end choreography is also important for me. I want the audience to be immersed in the chaos of it all.

Do you have any shows coming up?
Right now me and Sid are doing a small tour across London, Paris and Berlin to introduce this record to everyone, and I’ll be debuting the bigger live show in the UK later this year. So, our next show is the Paris one… I’ll be performing at La Station for Ideal Trouble Festival on June 10th.


CONVULSIONS is out now