Monday, April 06, 2015

The filth and the fury

SLEAFORD MODS / SALVATION BILL / HERE ARE THE YOUNG MEN & UNCLE PEANUT, 11TH MARCH 2015, OXFORD ACADEMY

Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut are, you would hope, taking the piss. The duo may hail from Reading, but they come across like an East London version of tonight's headliners. Lyrics about wanking, Brixton setting drugtaking trends and Razorlight's Johnny Borrell making a serious miscalculation by fucking off to an island at the height of his fame all raise a smirk, but if they're setting out to satirise hipster culture, then it falls flat because you can easily imagine them riding to their local cereal cafe on a penny-farthing. This is pop culture eating itself.

While Here Are The Young Men... are a doff of the artfully worn flat cap in the direction of Sleaford Mods, Ollie Thomas - aka Salvation Bill, and formerly of local favourites Ute and The Old Grinding Young - is realistic enough to admit he's completely out of place in the present company. As such, tonight isn't the night to form a firm opinion of his oddball loop-heavy folk, which is met with widespread disinterest. Final song 'Dead Dog' - which features Thomas wearing a wolf mask and alternately howling and playing saxophone - does suggest that the verdict would likely be unfavourable, though.

In recent weeks, Noel Gallagher has both bemoaned the lack of authentic working-class voices in contemporary music and dismissed Sleaford Mods as being like “Brown Bottle in Viz ... shouting about fucking cider and fucking shit chicken”. Make up your mind, O monobrowed one. Just because the latter don’t conform to your particular, very narrow idea of an authentic working-class voice – namely, Richard Ashcroft or Bobby Gillespie.

For their part, Sleaford Mods – Jason Williamson and Andrew Robert Lindsay Fearn – have branded Gallagher a “closet Tory” who sees music as an “instrument of social mobility”. That accusation certainly couldn’t be levelled at the duo themselves. As tonight’s gig proves, they’re very much in the gutter, but they’re not looking at the stars; on the contrary, they’re writhing around in the detritus and filth of everyday life, blind to any alternative vision or escape route. Their music – a lo-fi and distinctively British hip-hop/punk punch-up between The Streets and The Fall, peppered with profanity and fuelled by fury and disgust – is a perfect soundtrack for benefits offices, the top decks of buses and pub car park drug deals.

Beatmaker Fearn – baseball cap, Run DMC T-shirt – has already done his work in the bedroom/studio, so is free to press play on his laptop, grin, dance and drink beer, happy to leave the limelight to his partner in crime. Williamson is testament to John Lydon’s declaration that anger is an energy, pacing about the stage like a caged tiger that occasionally morphs into a menacing gibbon, swatting away invisible wasps with his hand, his words exploding over the mic in a shower of spittle. With his barely suppressed rage, wired eyes and East Midlands accent, he recalls Paddy Considine’s character in Shane Meadows’ superlative revenge flick Dead Man’s Shoes. That a firm request early on to turn up the PA is instantly obeyed underlines that he’s not a man to be disagreed with. When one punter attempts a comical stage invasion, it’s obvious he’ll make a beeline for Fearn instead.

While I suspect I’m probably the only member of tonight’s crowd to get misty-eyed at set-opener ‘Bunch Of Cunts’ (as a former long-time resident of their home town Nottingham, I appreciate the reference to the shopping shithole that is the Victoria Centre), I’m certainly not alone in enjoying the wicked wit that elevates Williamson’s diatribes above the rantings of your average white-cider-swigging denizen of the bus station. Signature song ‘Tied Up In Nottz’ starts with the extraordinary line “The smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon”, while Williamson repeatedly and monotonously insisting “I’ve got a Brit Award” in ‘McFlurry’ raises a chuckle. But both are arguably trumped by the mock signing-on interview in ‘Jobseeker’, Williamson admitting he’d be tempted to steal from work because “I’ve got drugs to take and a mind to break”. Lyrics worthy of being published in book form, certainly.

It’s not so much that Sleaford Mods have recently come to attention – more that attention has come to them. They certainly never courted it and you can be equally certain that they won’t give two shits when it’s gone. But, at a time when musical novelty usually equates to youthfulness rather than invention, it’s reassuring that a pair of fortysomethings can still receive recognition for doing something genuinely original.

(This review appears in the current issue of Nightshift, available to peruse here.)

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