Mandy, Indiana—Simon Catling, Scott Fair, Alex Macdougall, and Valentine Caulfield—at Peak Cavern, aka the Devil’s Arse (Photos by Harry Steel)

Mandy, Indiana Combat Our Dystopian Hellscape With Menacing Post-Punk

Spelunking with the UK band, whose music is as unsettling as it is incendiary

The four members of Mandy, Indiana are staring down the Devil’s Arse as they prepare for a tour of its depths. Located in the north England village of Castleton, the largest cave entrance in the British Isles is technically known as Peak Cavern—but after one look at its walls, composed of rugged limestone and small stalactites, the logic behind its hellish nickname becomes apparent.

Guitarist and lead songwriter Scott Fair pans his phone around so I can catch a glimpse of his bandmates through the narrow frame: Synth player Simon Catling and drummer Alex Macdougall nearly blend in with the Patagonia-clad outdoor enthusiasts around them, but vocalist Valentine Caulfield does not. On her head, a paisley babushka swaddles a blonde bob wig, and her eyelids are blotted with bruised pink eyeshadow. “I’m dressed very appropriately to go spelunking,” she deadpans. 

“It looks a bit psychotic,” Fair adds with a laugh. “From a distance, it seems like we brought our grandmother along.”

A damp and mysterious expanse feels like an apt locale for the quartet, whose music seems to bubble up from a rusted-out bomb shelter. In fact, they originally wanted to record some of their forthcoming debut album I’ve Seen a Way inside Peak Cavern, but ultimately couldn’t afford to. Instead, Fair schlepped the better part of a recording studio into a different cave, in Bristol, to track drums, hoping the space would foster boomy acoustics. “We had to walk through this very narrow corridor with cheese that they were maturing,” he recalls of the expedition. “It smelled like death.” The session was a mild disaster: The drum kit teetered on the uneven ground, drippy stone walls threatened the electrical equipment, and at one point, confused cave divers emerged from a nearby pool of water. But Fair still managed to track enough percussion to make the fiasco worthwhile. The next day, he recorded additional drum parts—in a nearby crypt.

At Peak Cavern, Mandy, Indiana walk through the cave’s shadowy recesses, trailing a tour guide who recites the landmark’s grim history: It was home to generations of rope and candle makers, who toiled up to 18 hours a day, from age 4 “until the day they died.” As the quartet inches deeper into the chamber, cell reception falters, and the guide’s script becomes fragmented into a darkly comedic chronicle of woe. I catch only the bleakest tidbits: “Hung, drawn, and quartered.” “That’s why they used children: small, nimble fingers.” “The tallow would erode their stomach and throat lining.” The grainy audio swells in and out, reminding me of the band’s pummeling, scuffed-up hybrid of post-punk and techno.

Mandy, Indiana have crystallized in a slow and calculated manner over the past seven years. Fair and Caulfield met at the Manchester club Aatma in 2016, when they were both playing in different bands within the city’s teeming underground scene. They began to work out a meticulous collaborative process: Fair sketches out a song, augmenting his guitar to mimic a flood siren or chopper blades, sometimes culling from his endless supply of field recordings, including the buzzing of a fluorescent light or the droning announcements at a train station. He then sends those demos to Caulfield, who records vocals in her native French, spitting her consonants in a silvery whisper to maximize a sense of rage. Early singles like the static-smeared “Berlin” and “Pashto” emerged in 2020, while the band’s debut EP arrived the following year—a compact assault fusing industrial noise, dance, and weaponized percussion.

On I’ve Seen a Way, Mandy, Indiana retain their serrated edge while incorporating elements of pop and electronic music. Opener “Love Theme (4K VHS)” is propelled by a glowing synth arpeggio that recalls Daft Punk, and on “The Driving Rain (18),” Caulfield’s catchy melody is warped with Auto-Tune, lending her the metallic sheen of a robot pop star, as the sound of rainfall envelops the track. Fair connects the aquatic and mechanical influences on the album to a real-life fear of submerged man-made objects, called submechanophobia. He specifically remembers being terrified of the Jaws ride at Universal Studios Florida as a kid. “It’s this fear of falling into the water and seeing this horrible half shark-half machine,” Fair says. The guitarist, who runs an agency that helps license music for movies and television, adds that while writing I’ve Seen a Way, he drew inspiration from the way his favorite arthouse directors, including Titane auteur Julia Ducournau, make people feel as if they’ve been plunged somewhere strange and hostile: “I really like filmmakers that deliberately make viewers uncomfortable.”

Following the cave tour, while sharing a communal slice of cheesecake outside of a nearby tea room, the four members continue to relay their serendipitous origin story. Caulfield first came into contact with Catling, who is also an independent promoter in the Manchester club scene, when she was getting thrown out of a venue where he worked. 

“I was bought a drink by a friend that was a lot stronger than I thought it was, and I ended up being really drunk,” Caulfield explains of the night she was 86’d by her future bandmate. “I tried to run downstairs to find my boyfriend, because this guy at the bar grabbed my ass and was really horrible to me. And then I bumped into Simon, who was like, ‘OK, that’s it. You are gone.’”

“So when I turned up to my first practice a few years later, I was like, ‘Oh, I remember you,’” Catling says, feigning suspicion.

“‘That crazy bitch from before!’” Caulfield jokes.

Catling, who is terminally modest, reflects on his earliest days with the band. “I don’t really know why they asked me to get involved…” he says. Caulfield jumps in: “’Cause I’m waiting for the day I can throw you out, Simon.”

Caulfield’s ferocity and tart sense of humor are palpable on I’ve Seen a Way, even if you don’t speak French. Through her biting delivery, she rails against economic disparity, increasingly fascistic political regimes, and rampant sexism. On the harsh “Drag [Crashed],” she recites phrases that have followed her throughout her life as a woman. “She’s gonna pop some fly buttons/You’re going to need a gun to fend off the boys,” she hisses in French over foghorn guitar and taut percussion. “That was said to my dad about me when I was a literal toddler,” Caulfield tells me.

At another point in the song, she sings, “I prefer natural girls, but you look tired”—skewering men who claim they don’t like makeup, but simply don’t recognize when it is being worn. “That’s something my ex-boyfriend said to me,” Caulfield explains. “These are things that, as a woman, you have to navigate, with literally people saying to you, ‘Everything that you’re doing should make you more attractive to the men around you, but only to a point, because then you’re a slut.’ I’ve gone through some really disgusting personal shit just because I’m a woman. It makes me really angry. My therapist likes telling me, ‘utilize your anger!’ And I’m like: ‘That’s what I’m doing.’” 

Caulfield exorcizes those emotions on stage, too: dancing, flailing, and occasionally rolling on the floor, kicking her feet in the air. She attributes this theatricality to the years she spent singing in choirs and studying opera. “We always wanted to approach the performance in a way that is very close to opera, especially because I sing in a language that most of the people who come and see us don’t understand,” she says. “I use the way that I perform to transmit emotions people wouldn’t get just from the lyrics.”

Another consistent motif in Mandy, Indiana’s music is driving, militaristic rhythms. They puncture tracks like “Injury Detail” and “Bottle Episode,” as Caulfield chants about men in combat. “It’s very much about the rise of fascism in the countries we live in,” she says of the recurring theme. “I mean, the British government has all but banned the right to strike and to demonstrate, so it’s hard not to see those parallels.” Fair sees a slightly more optimistic glint in their music, pointing to album closer “Sensitivity Training” as a galvanizing call to arms. “There is a lot of bleakness throughout the record sonically and lyrically, but we’re trying to channel that into something that is constructive,” he says. “We’re not saying, ‘Come and dwell down here in misery.’ It’s more like, ‘We could make a difference.’”