Nishant Joshi is a London-based doctor working in the A&E (accidents and emergency) department of a National Health Services (NHS) hospital. That’s his day job. His other job is as frontman of the protest punk band Kill, The Icon!. Joshi, 37, and his band, unabashedly political in the music they make, recently released a song, Deathwish, accompanied by a video that has been called the first AI-generated protest music video.
Deathwish is an angry song about racism in Britain, and, in an interview, Joshi has said: “I wanted to show the contrast between the subtle racism that I’ve faced all my life—being passed over for jobs, and ahem, gigs—compared to my parents who were actively shunned while they were settling in.” Joshi’s Indian-origin parents moved to Britain from Uganda in the 1970s after the then dictator, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of all Asians from the country.
The Deathwish video, a gut-punching three minutes and 40 seconds long, is crafted from thousands of images featuring AI-generated images that bear an uncanny resemblance to public figures in Britain, both historical and contemporary. The video starts with this disclaimer: “The following video is not suitable for men, women, and fascists of a sensitive disposition. The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons or fascists (living or zombified), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.”
Yet, the viewer cannot help but infer. The rapidly sequenced images bear uncanny resemblance to people such as Margaret Thatcher, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and many others, plus angry skinheads and racist stompers from now and decades past. Joshi is believed to have used thousands of images and spent more than 80 hours creating the video, which is accompanied by his band’s song.
Deathwish’s lyrics are spare but hard-hitting. “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish,” the chorus goes, with additional lyrics that show a tattooed skinhead and others speak-singing: “My friend, you got a deathwish, hanging about in our town…” you get the drift? Joshi appears in the video as well, with his eyes smeared out with blood red colour.
Joshi made the video as an attempt to create a legal protest, particularly in a Conservative regime in Britain that has, as he has said in interviews, ratcheted up efforts to tighten anti-protest laws. The video and the song are part of a four-song EP, provocatively titled Your Anger Is Rational, which Kill, The Icon! released recently. The other songs on the album are also protest-themed; according to the band, Danny Is A Hate Preacher, for example, “tells the story of generational hatred and generational trauma and asks fundamental questions of our society: At what stage does a child learn to hate?” Its lyrics include: “Danny is a hate preacher and so is his dad, and his dad, and his dad too…”
Joshi, his music and his politics have become instant hits in the alt-culture sphere in Britain and he has been interviewed on leading podcasts and featured on BBC and Radio X, the British radio channel focused mainly on alternative and indie rock. This summer, Scroobius Pip, who hosts The Distraction Pieces podcast and has interviewed, among others, the actor Simon Pegg, the graphic novelist Alan Moore and the musician Billy Bragg, had Joshi on his podcast to talk about everything: from his music to his profession as a doctor, and, of course, his political activism.
Joshi, along with his wife, Meenal Viz, also a NHS doctor, came to prominence in the early days of the covid-19 pandemic in the UK. In the spring of 2020, even as the virus was spreading, the UK government was slow in responding. Doctors such as Joshi were encountering more and more patients at their hospitals but very few precautions were called for by the health service personnel themselves. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks were not in supply and the British government seemed to be dithering in the face of what would soon be declared a pandemic.
Joshi launched a protest, both through civil action, such as demonstrations, as well as by suing government ministers and officials. It was largely due to his efforts that the government responded to the covid-19 threat.
His activism is reflected in his “other” profession as well. Joshi started his musical career with the post-punk band The Palpitations and later formed Kill, The Icon! with Ian Flynn on synths and Florin Constantin Pascu on drums. Their songs tackle social injustice, protest, anti-fascism, and activism with a satirical spin.
In interviews, Joshi has been outspoken about his belief that progressive- minded musicians have a responsibility to reflect their views in their work. And he practises what he preaches. Before the EP, Kill, The Icon! released several singles. Their music is influenced by genres such as punk, electronic, rap and pop, but it is always used to express their anger and challenge the established power structure in society.
The band’s name reflects Joshi and his mates’ philosophy of challenging the icons that represent oppression and power structures. In 2021, their debut single, Buddhist Monk, featured samples from speeches of black activists such as Martin Luther King Jr, Angela Davis and Malcolm X.
Kill, The Icon! are a band that we ought to follow.
First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music. Narayan posts @sanjoynarayan.