There are plenty of bands who take a strong political stance in their music (you’ll find a good number of them within these pages), and many more have been moved to do so with the events of the past couple of years, but few have gone so far as to actually take the government to court. John Clay caught up with Nishant Joshi, bassist and lead vocalist in Kill, The Icon!, NHS doctor and whistleblower to talk about challenging the government, Black Lives Matter and his new musical project.
‘I then took the decision to take the government to court (more specifically, Matt Hancock and his department) in order to protect healthcare workers.’
– Nishant Joshi, bassist/lead singer of KILL, THE ICON!
John Clay: For those of us who don’t know who you are or what you went through in 2020, do give us a quick run through of your run in with faux celebrity.
Nishant Joshi: I was one of the first frontline doctors to raise concerns about the safety of healthcare workers. I ended up ruffling lots of feathers, and coming under a lot of professional pressure for taking a public stance. At the same time, I was working long shifts in hospital for days on end, and I could see what was happening at the sharp end of the situation. It was a surreal feeling to work all day in a covid area, then come home and listen to Boris Johnson proudly telling us he was shaking hands and that the situation was under control. I knew it was morally wrong and so I took a stance, at great personal risk. I helped to organise a few protests and was part of TV documentaries about racism, and the most exciting projects are still in the works.
What did you learn about yourself in that period and has is made your art more nuanced?
While I’ve self-reflected plenty, I’ve learned more about The System, and how one can easily get lost in the mouth of a whale. My experiences of trying to dismantle The System and persuade our leaders have informed everything about KILL, THE ICON!
Can you perhaps go into the details of a particular element of your education for our readers?
The agenda was pretty daunting: persuade the lion’s share of a country that we needed to make drastic change or face great peril. It was like I was one of a few dozen canaries in the coalmine who were trying to do this with great urgency. It worked because we took a deliberate, multi-faceted approach – I was trying to shake us out of a sense of complacency. In every horror movie, there’s a collective “oh, shit” moment where things start to gather at pace – I was desperately trying to push us in that direction, against a great deal of inertia. I raised concerns publicly, which were then discussed directly in Parliament, which was when everyone had their “oh, shit” moment. I was afforded a platform and a degree of credibility because of this, and so I appreciated my wider obligation to society – I had to parlay this into further tangible action and hopefully prevent the loss of further life, particularly of healthcare workers. I then took the decision to take the government to court (more specifically, Matt Hancock and his department) in order to protect healthcare workers, amongst other elements.
What were the innate challenges in that decision to go through the judiciary route, and how did your case turn out in the end?
Financially, it was a huge risk for myself and my wife, who was pregnant at the time. We took on a team of lawyers who were excellent, but we had to guarantee that their fees would be covered. Not knowing how long the case could possibly last, we estimated that the costs could go up to £100,000. The government’s legal department were incredibly obstructive and made plenty of cost threats to us – they indulged in routine gaslighting to make us worry that if we were in the wrong, we would be paying legal fees to the government for the rest of our lives.
Our family and many of our friends genuinely felt that we had ruined our lives.
But we had the courage of our convictions, and because we put our necks on the line, others backed us – we soon had the great help of 3,000 backers on CrowdJustice, and we funded our legal case in a democratic way. We won our case and ensured that PPE provision took a step in the right direction (among other bits and bobs). Leadership is about being the first to act. Sometimes, it comes at a cost. To be successful at making change, you must be realistic. But you can’t make it up on the spot – there have been clumsy attempts at making change throughout the pandemic, not least by the government. Making change should be a mere extension of your character, and an opportunity to challenge your integrity when The System tries to compromise it.
Without wanting to level myself, an understanding of making change needs to recognise that you are born inside a society that thrives on inertia and your willingness to tolerate the status quo.
The System is your marble, and you are its sculptor.
The System is your sculptor, and you are its marble,
Once you look at it that way, everyone has the agency to make change.
So good to hear about your fight for justice resolving in such a constructive result. Once the dust settled you began work on Kill the Icon, yes? Tell us about the pros and cons of starting on another musical group?
Early 2020 to mid 2021 will be looked back as a Bermuda Triangle in the career of many musicians. I used it as an opportunity to write as much as possible, because I knew we’d never get dead time to try something like this ever again. No gigs, no social pressures, just empty time that we had to fill.
I always found it impossibly difficult to play bass and sing at the same time – it never, ever came naturally to me. I always used to watch Phil Lynott play songs like “Don’t Believe A Word”, and I could never get close to replicating it. But when I absolutely had to practice nonstop to make sure I was prepped for our first gig, the pressure meant that I had to dig deep and discover that musical muscle. And anytime a band member gains new perspective outside their initial project, it should always benefit the original group too. Creative cross-pollination is so important – if you want to keep improving as a band, you need to improve as individual musicians too, and sometimes that means taking creative risks in your own time.
Sounds ace. Is there any particular protest that you would like to highlight for new and old fans alike to become a part of?
I organised a couple of protests outside Downing Street which made international news, these were both to protect healthcare workers and had a huge cultural cut-through. We caught Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street for the final “Clap For Carers”, and as soon as he saw a bunch of doctors, he ran back inside!
I was also part of some teams organising Black Lives Matter protests across the country, particularly with regards to how we would make them safe and covid-proof. I was so impressed by so many of the people I met who were involved in BLM. We have the leadership and organisational talent in this country!
You’ve certainly been busy. What would you say (as a doctor or/and musician), to naysayers who regard BLM as ineffectual or irrelevant to British culture?
I don’t indulge them. I don’t engage with them. They’ve had enough time, and they’ve sucked enough oxygen out of the room. And that’s why I believe these discussions can be had through the medium of art and culture. If someone loves my riff but hates my messages, that conflict creates a great space for constructive self-reflection to take place.
… And lastly, what do you want people to take from the ‘Buddhist Monk’ single? What kind of palpable action would you hope it could inspire? Feel free to wax lyrical about ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power in culture.
I hope people might read up on Thich Quang Duc. But even if my listeners just enjoy the riffs, and the drums, I’ll be thrilled.
Let’s hope the readers load up that Google search right away. May your single launch on Nov 19th go swimmingly.
“Buddhist Monk” is out on 19th November, pre-save the track here.
Interview by John Clay: heylink.me/Johnclayartist