What do you get if you cross ‘90s Britpoppers, an indie rock/post-punk heritage, and an electronica queen with a St Leonards sensibility? You get Aircooled. If that sounds like a joke, it most definitely isn’t. A hotbed of accomplished musicians, Hastings and St Leonards together have thrust a number of bands into the public consciousness of late, supergroup Aircooled being one. Made up of ex-members and collaborators of influential globally renowned acts including Elastica, Suede, The Wedding Present, and The Future Sound of London, Aircooled’s look and sound is fused with bits of it all, but it’s also more than that; and entirely its own thing at the same time. 

Aircooled band laughing at the drummer Justin who is bending down with arms outstretched
Aircooled photographed by Alice Denny at Unit 19 Creative

With three women at the centre – Riz Maslen on vocals, keys and flute, bassist Katharine Wallinger, and artist and synth player, Mew Welch – flanked by two men in drummer Justin Welch and guitarist and vocalist Oliver Cherer, the band certainly defies convention; perhaps even categorisation. Consequently, they’re immersive and captivating live. Mew describes their sound as “Kraut-rock with a hint of disco and a sprinkle of the right kind of funk, thrown in for good measure.”

Left to right: Riz Maslen, Mew Welch and Katharine Wallinger. Photographed by Alice Denny at Unit 19 Creative

“There’s no front person in this band,” Katharine tells Get Hastings over a Sunday morning seafront coffee at St Leonards’ hangout Dark Circles. They played a sold-out Brighton gig the night before and she’s grateful for the (double) shot of caffeine. “There’s no hierarchy and I think that’s really significant.” Perhaps it’s to do with the having been-there-and-done-that side it all, but both Katharine and bandmate Riz praise the vibe in the outfit, declaring it mercifully free of ego and macho posturing.

“It’s gotten heavier,” says Katharine. “We’re a bit like, ‘That’s fucking heavy!’ We’re almost shocked.”

“They’re not strutting around doing the rock-star shit,” adds Katharine of the two men in the band. “That is so boring. I’ve played in some great bands, but I’ve not been in a band that is as nice and as fun to be in as this.”

The band have just released their second album, Eat the Gold, the follow up to their 2022 release, St Leopards, which was named in homage to their hometown. It’s quite an impressive feat, suggesting a level of organisation, ambition, and professionalism that belies their origin story. 

Katharine Wallinger by Alice Denny

Aircooled began as a lockdown project between Miki Berenyi Trio bassist Oliver Cherer and current Jesus and Mary Chain and ex-Elastica and Suede drummer, Justin Welch. The duo had assembled some songs and approached St Leonards-bred Katharine to join them for a gig, which she assumed would be a one-and-done type thing.

Riz, whose own project Neotropic has generated six albums, also joined for the gig. She was petitioned separately by Cherer, who she’d known from her days working in a record shop in London’s Old Street. And that’s when the two women met for the first time. “I knew about Katharine because people [had said] there’s this amazing woman in town,” says Riz, who moved to St Leonards several years ago. “She’s a brilliant bass player … I was a bit like, ‘Uh oh. I’m not worthy.’” 

Katharine, similarly, was terrified of the multi-instrumentalist wizard. A healthy mutual respect was cemented by the gig and the band grew from there. Describing their sound as “party music”, Katharine says audiences react to Aircooled in a different way to what she’s used to. 

Riz Maslen by Alice Denny

“People react like [it’s] dance music,” says the bassist. “I would love to stumble across this band at a festival. I’d love to walk into a tent and see us, we’d be blown away! I’ve never been in a band that I can say that about. [Our trajectory] doesn’t surprise me in the least – because it’s different. And people react to it like they’re at a rave.”

That reaction is elicited partly from the fact that the band collectively is very obviously having fun when they play live, and that’s infectious. “We enjoy what we’re doing. That’s the point of it, isn’t it?” says Riz. “That’s a very rare thing to have with five people on stage. We all have our own personalities, but it works. I think that’s really special. You don’t see that very often. Every show, you get the feeling that one person will do something quite outrageous that night and that’s great. Somebody else will step up and it just happens of its own accord.” 

Photo by Sara-Louise Bowrey taken at Music’s Not Dead’s fifth anniversary at The De La Warr Pavilion

It brings an unusual and very welcome opportunity for women to shine in a band in roles other than the singer, a role that is even today frequently sexualised. “[Sexism] is still there. But I think now you can just go, ‘Actually, no. Don’t’. You can bring it up and say, ‘Don’t patronise me, treat me as an equal’. I think it still needs to be dealt with,” says Riz. 

One of the problems is stereotyping. “I always wanted to break that,” she says. “You walk into a venue and the guy goes, ‘Are you the singer?’ I never started out as a singer. I was very much, ‘I do electronic music; this is what I do’. You get treated completely differently. Working with Ollie and Justin, and the whole collective, that doesn’t even come into the frame. It’s about people who’ve got something to offer. And it works. That’s just amazing. It’s a very rare thing.”

Katharine credits Viv Albertine with teaching her a valuable lesson: “Basically, to ‘not give a fuck’.” The pair played a Girls Rock showcase together at SXSW which Katharine felt, despite the event’s best intentions, reduced women in music to a sideshow. “You have to be really careful how you frame it, I think it sent the wrong message”.

Driving around open mics in Sussex, “getting shit off men”, and doing it anyway was Katharine putting Albertine’s lesson into practice. “I think there’s issues,” she says. “But I think there’s also a lot to be said for just doing it. Because you almost compound it by giving it space; allowing it to be a thing. There’s a lot of shit, obviously, but I don’t think women need to be particularly congratulated for picking up a guitar in 2024.”

Since Aircooled’s lockdown beginnings, the women of the band swiftly proved themselves key in shaping the band’s sound, as well as their striking aesthetic. If you’re local, you can’t have failed to notice, first, that leopard everywhere, and now, the omnipresent budgie. Aircooled is the definition of a collective, with all members collaborating in the truest sense to write, influence, and finetune the output. So how has their sound changed since the dim and distant early days of 2022?

“It’s gotten heavier,” says Katharine. “We’re a bit like, ‘That’s fucking heavy!’. We’re almost shocked.”

mew on stage playing keyboard in front of her leopard print backdrop
Mew at Music’s Not Dead 5th Anniversary photographed by Sara-Louise Bowrey

Riz is adamant that’s a good thing. “I’ve always liked progressing, not standing still,” she says. “Some people find a formula and they just stick to it. With us, because we’ve all got something to contribute, it takes its own natural course. It was good to do more vocals on this. And it was good to push us not necessarily out of our comfort zones… but it’s good to keep trying things out. And if they work, or if they don’t, move on to the next thing. That’s all you can do.”

Riz has found Aircooled liberating, and that’s allowed her to delve into long-lost parts of herself, reaching back to when she was experimenting in a band with her sister. And with a full spectrum of creative freedom across the entire band, we can expect evolution as wild as it is rapid. “The next album,” muses Riz, “might be some completely weird avant garde Eno-esque electronic album.”

All of which begs the question: after a leopard on the first, and a budgie on the second, which animal might we see on the cover of album three? 

“I’m slightly obsessed with those porcelain dogs, so watch this space,” says former Elastica member Mew Welch, the architect of the band’s aesthetic and the artist responsible for the album covers to date. She’s also wife to Justin.

The porcelain leopard artwork from the cover of the first record (also spotted on a zillion T-shirted chests around town) was an existing piece of artwork that Mew agreed to hand over. 

“I was not confident enough to produce a piece of work especially for it. It felt like a biggie and something that I didn’t feel capable of,” says Mew, citing imposter syndrome. She felt more comfortable when they showed interest in her existing leopard design. That it became low-key iconic gave her the boost she needed to produce something original for the second album.

“The porcelain leopard can be seen as kitsch and tacky and not ‘real art’,” says Mew. Budgerigars evoke a similar response in people, connecting the two album covers in more ways than simply as a depiction of creatures from the animal kingdom.

Mew Welch crouching behind a bollard with her Budgie paste up
Shuby and Mew pasting up Budgies
Paste-up artist Shuby (left) and Mew

“I love the idea of the budgie for the same reason as the leopard,” explains Mew. “I think that the budgie also has these very unfair connotations [as] cheesy, decorative birds that can be associated with gaudy interiors.”

Music fans of Hastings and St Leonards – and by now certainly further afield, following a tour with Suede last year ahead of their upcoming 2024 dates with The Jesus and Mary Chain – are embracing both as they fall head-over-heels for the band. Aided in no small part by Mew’s paste-up campaign (you can’t have missed the budgie artworks pasted up around town), which grew out of her friendship and collaboration with noted street artist Shuby aka Sophie Ashton, who also lives locally. The two share studio space. ICYMI, the collab in question, smashed Shuby’s famous banana motif together with Welch’s leopard print.

“The initial idea for the paste-ups was for Sophie and I to go out on New Year’s Eve and cover the whole town with beautiful budgies so that when people woke with banging heads on New Year’s Day, they could walk the streets of Hastings and St Leonards and be cheered by hundreds of random and lovely budgies everywhere,” says Mew. “They would have (quite literally) been flying solo, with no indication of any relation to Aircooled or me, in a kind of pre-album tease.”

Unfortunately, however, an amber weather warning put paid to the plan. “We stayed in and watched Saltburn instead.” It did give Mew the chance to make a ton more, though. Which meant that when they eventually went out to complete the job at midnight in January, they had loads in tow to make a major impact.

“They’ve nearly all been nicked now,” says Mew. “But I don’t mind. I’m very flattered. Sophie has been doing incredible paste-ups for years so she was invaluable in showing me the ropes, how to pack them up ready for pasting, what kind of brushes to take, and how not to get caught. We really did have a ball.”

Shuby will be joining the band on the Jesus and Mary Chain tour for dates in the North and Ireland. “So, further afield will be adorned with budgies, nanas, and super-colourful street art in March,” says Mew. “It’s fun being a traveling art/music collective!” Can we come? 

Aircooled Album cover with a budgie

Aircooled’s 6 Favourite Places in Hastings & St Leonards

The Beach

RM: When the tide’s out, I like walking all the way to Bexhill. There’s also the very famous nudist beach. It’s quite difficult to find and you have to navigate going down quite a steep [incline] but it’s actually a really lovely beach. You can walk to it sometimes from the harbour arm but only when the tide’s out. You’ve got to be really careful. 

KW: I like to swim out as far as I can. I’m not a strong swimmer so it’s really stupid. I inherited that from my mum. That’s one of my childhood memories of growing up here. My mum would swim off and she’d be a tiny dot. I used to panic a bit but then I got used to it. 

Bottle Alley

RM: What Zeroh have done with the lighting there [is great]. I was running down there the other night and I was like, ‘This is like going to a rave!’

KW: I love Bottle Alley on a really windy Monday morning in January. There’s no better place to listen to music. That’s actually where I listened when Ollie and Justin first sent me the tracks. I was walking down Bottle Alley with the lights going and I was counting the bars going ‘How am I going to find my way around this music?’ 

The Marina Fountain

RM: I love Michael and Jess. I love the story about how she got the pub: she just walked in and said, ‘I’d quite like to take this pub on’, and she took it on and made it what it is. I’ve seen so many great things there. It’s one of those places you can just go in on your own and no one will bother you or you can have a chat if you want. 

MW: I love Marina Fountain for a pint of Guinness on a Sunday (or Saturday, or both) afternoon after a long dog walk in Battle Woods before we go home and cook. FYI: We often bump into Tom Baker in there and that’s magical in itself!

The Horse and Groom

RM: The other place is The Horse and Groom where Katharine used to work. The iconic pub of St Leonards. You can go in there and quite happily sit in the corner and no one will bother you. 

KW: It’s a great pub. And a real St Leonards institution. It’s like the French House of St Leonards. It’s every generation. It’s a real mix. There’s this misconception that it’s really right wing which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a really good mix of people.


MW:  It’s just the best! How could owners Mark and Helen top Tommy’s? Mark and Tia are phenomenal on that wood-fired oven and Helen is quite simply the best host ever. We’ve even managed to indulge in pizza with them at Glastonbury the last two years too! So good.

Unit 19 Creative

MW: One of our best mates, David, opened up a ‘pop up’ at the tail end of 2023. It was only going to be until Christmas but I have a feeling it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. I hope not anyway. The ever-changing windows are the best in town, the inside is just fabulous, and that sofa could tell a few stories!