Words by John Noblet / Pics from www.sleafordmods.com
When the economic downturn started a few years ago, it bought out a naive hope in a certain class of music fan. It was thought that recession, coupled with the tightfisted spite of a Tory government, might bring angry music with a strong penchant for social comment back into vogue.
As the more observant amongst you will have noticed, this totally failed to happen, the major labels instead focusing on serving up an appalling mixture of fairly meaningless ‘Nu Folk’ and ‘Indie’, as well as the usual bland pop for school children. The rest of popular culture followed a similar path, as if there had been a secret communal decision to ignore the gradual disintegration of our country by any means necessary.
So with this is mind it wasn’t really that surprising when, sometime late last year, Sleaford Mods started making a lot of people sit up and take notice. Their music is a brutal mix of minimal beats and angry, half rapped, half shouted vocals that struck a chord with a lot of people; and for those of us in the Hare & Hounds crowd who haven’t seen them before, there’s a lot of anticipation riding on tonight.
Opener ‘Jolly Fucker’ kicks into gear and it immediately becomes apparent what an incredibly intense performer front man Jason Williamson is. Any fears that the live show might not match the harsh impact of their recordings are quashed within seconds as Williamson shouts into the microphone, every word a punch to the throat.
It can create a strange effect in the audience member, a mixture of intimidation and fascination. I’m jammed up against the tiny knee high stage, roughly five foot away from the man, and I catch myself staring at him in a manner which I would never allow myself to normally. Hell, I don’t usually stare that intensely when I’m watching any kind of performance.
From where I am at the front I can also get a good gauge of the audience’s reaction by turning my head, which is an interesting exercise. Some of them look a little bit scared, others mouth along to every word, and a few are beaming from ear to ear with the kind of dumb glee usually reserved for small children on Christmas day. However all eyes are focused on the stage.
Williamson has a small repertoire of on stage gestures whilst singing, which include feigning masturbation and compulsively touching his head. In the instrumental breaks he walks around the stage, back straight, slightest hint of a strut, radiating menace and tension, occasionally stopping to do blow an obnoxious raspberry at the audience. At one point I genuinely think he’s going to spit into the crowd.
At the back of stage is the other Sleaford Mod, Andrew Fearn. As the man in charge of the beats, most of his work is done behind closed doors. Tonight he mostly stands at the back of the stage, steadily working his way through three cans of Red Stripe, making sure the backing tracks keep coming – occasionally pulling on an e cigarette and staring into the audience with a slight grin on his face.
Fearn is dressed in the decidedly un-modish outfit of grey tracksuit bottoms and a Rambo t-shirt. The use of the word ‘mod’ in the band’s name does not relate to slavish devotion to a finickety subculture, but is indicative of the thier class consciousness. The concept here is ‘mod’ as a way of working class people bettering themselves without assimilation or compromise – I’m reminded of the definition of mod being ‘clean living in difficult circumstances’.
Sleaford Mods’ website describes their music as ‘punk-hop for the working class and under’. There’s no way this kind of anger and disgust would be considered socially acceptable in middle class circles, unless when being described to a psychologist whilst lying on a leather couch – as a person from the middle classes who regularly experiences feelings of anger and disgust, this makes their music particularly appealing to me.
And then there are the lyrics. A colourful selection of rants aimed at the many horrors of modern life in modern day England, they’ve been discussed elsewhere in great detail. Completely lacking in pretention or politeness, Williamson has what appears to be a limitless store of great one liners such as “Brian Eno – what the fuck does he know?” The lyrics skirt around the beat in the verses (though never ignoring it entirely) often switching to an easily chanted phrase on the chorus, giving us all an opportunity to shout along. A good example of this is the tune ‘McFlurry’, taken from last years’ album Austerity Dogs (chorus – “MCFLURRY!!”).
There’s a varied selection of targets here, from numbskull bully boys on ‘Urine Mate’, dick head managers on ‘Fizzy’, vapid, trendy music on ‘Showboat’ and the aforementioned pseudo food stuffs. It seems they particularly hit a chord with the material on the never ending down pour of mundanity that is most modern work places, a subject returned to on the closing ‘Wage Don’t Fit’. When Williamson announces it as the last song of the night, there’s a huge collective pantomime groan from the audience, but the man shakes his head. “Nah mate, got work in the morning” – it’s about the only between song banter we get all night.
You’ve probably already got a good idea of whether or not you’ll like Sleaford Mods from what I’ve written, and they’re a band who articulate their ideas so clearly your assumptions are probably right. However, they’re also band which, like it or not, I believe we need right now.
A little bit of nihilism and rage can be a healthy thing sometimes, evidenced by the throng of well wishers that hang around the stage to shake Fearn’s hand after Williamson disappears into the backstage area.
Break out the tippex and pass me my old leather jacket, the angry fuckers have a band to believe in once again.
For more on Sleaford Mods, visit http://sleafordmods.com
For further listings from the Hare & Hounds (Kings Heath), visit http://hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk