Listen to Belly of the Hopeless, the new EP from rising duo Ceiling Demons, and you’re immediately immersed in a distinctly murky soundscape. The sounds have a Bristolian feel to them – an homage, perhaps, to the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead – but, while those woozy trip-hop elements permeate much of the EP, Ceiling Demons’ signature sound, laced with hypnotic, chilling vulnerability, shines through.
Ceiling Demons are an alternative act comprising twin brothers Psy Ceiling and Dan Demon, who usually work with producer Beat Demon to create what the boys have dubbed “rural hip hop” – with “rural” being a broad term to describe hip hop that is devoid of vanity, gold chains, and bikini-clad babes, yet rich in relatability and sensitive lyricism that touches upon mortality, self-doubt, and mental health.
Belly of the Hopeless is something of a side-project, with the brothers choosing to work on it with Bristol-born producer Jonathan Swift (suddenly the EP’s trip hop lean makes a lot more sense). Jonathan is currently based in Durham – not too far down the road from Ceiling Demons’ North Yorkshire hometown – where he creates his own music with his band Outside Your House as well as running DIY label Frux Tapes, which recently released Belly of the Hopeless both in digital and cassette format.
Back in 2011, the loss of a close friend forced Dan and Psy to confront their demons in one way or another. They chose to do that through music, forming Ceiling Demons, and since then the boys have remained true to their band’s founding principles. While Ceiling Demons’ most popular singles – such as Even If and Lord, I Must be Strong Now – contain pop sensibilities that seem perfect for radio play and live performance, the brunt of their work borders on experimental, obscure and, frankly, dark sounds. Lackadaisical love songs, these are definitely not; you’re more likely to hear lyrics related to anger, anxiety and self-loathing than something as banal as romance in a Ceiling Demons track. But the northern duo’s honest, self-aware, oft-intellectual brand of hip hop can really speak to the soul. Their music offers a much-needed dose of reality (or “northern grit and rawness,” as they like to put it) in a society that very much enjoys hiding behind Instagram filters.
Looking beyond the jarring lyrics and dark imagery, though, and the Demons are building a rather sunny reputation, even dabbling in charity work by releasing a remix of their track Every Step is Moving Me Up to raise funds for men’s mental health charity CALM. They’ve also amassed a varied following of respected industry figures – such as Scroobius Pip, Arrested Development and BBC 6 Music‘s Tom Robinson – and have played supporting slots for acts like Young Fathers, Sleaford Mods, Busdriver, and Astronautalis. It may well be grim up north, but it doesn’t seem to do the creative juices any harm.