The end of March 2015 was a low-point for me. This just so happened to coincide with an evening when it was pissing down with rain on Friar Street, in my home and now uni town of Reading. I was waiting to see Sleaford Mods live for the first time at Sub89. I was at the venue alone, as I often am to gigs. This, combined with being surrounded by boarded-up shop units and feelings of disorientation, set the scene perfectly.
Sleaford Mods are a pair of frustrated 40-somethings from Nottingham, who blend stream-of-consciousness apoplectic rants with post-punk basslines and hip-hop structure (about as far from the ‘mod’ subgenre as you can get; don’t let the name fool you), and they’ve just released their latest and best record to date, “Key Markets.” Jason Williamson, chief lyricist and a former benefits advisor, is far more qualified than most to write lyrics that appear to critique ‘broken Britain.’ His band has enjoyed a meteoric rise in a matter of months, but there was a time when he didn’t have success and respect on that level, and is all too familiar with the bleakness of a life spent working in shoe shops or sticking thermometers into frozen chickens (“18.4 mate, middle!” – Jobseeker.) And that’s the thing; if you don’t have the war stories, there’s no point in writing as if you do. Andrew Fearn, a former call-centre advisor, is responsible for the basslines, which simply get better with every record (honourable nods to “Live Tonight” and “Tarantula Deadly Cargo.”) Legend has it that Fearn led a similarly soul-crushing existence of playing his beats to disinterested audiences in Nottingham before meeting Williamson. With all this being said, both members are adamant that the lyrics are merely reflections of their own lives that just so happen to have touched a lot of people, rather than consciously wanting to critique Britain in the wake of austerity.
Inside the intimate environs of Sub89, I felt like part of a cult. The support act and other fans attending the gig, who are far more earnest than I am in their love for the band, made the time to speak to me, whether I wanted them to or not. I recall one 40-year-old bloke quizzing me on my favourite records, and telling me he had previously seen them 4 times, and had seen them in Sheffield a number of weeks back.
When Fearn, and eventually Williamson, entered the stage they wasted no time in shaking my hand, to my delight. I hope neither of them remember me, actually; I felt like a fanboy stood at the front. It didn’t really matter though, because from wherever you stand, both have impeccable stage presence. Fearn presses play on a laptop and dances away drunkenly to the beat and occasionally takes photos, whilst Williamson repeatedly bangs his head in an almost-epileptic state to rival Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, and totally gives it what-for on the mic. I was wiping his saliva out of my eyes and ears the entire morning after.
In the case of the latest record, it’s largely familiar territory for those acquainted with the band, with noted differences being a greater focus on Williamson singing, and his lyrics bordering on the abstract (“Alien mum/dropping lethal cargo/on the ship” – Tarantula Deadly Cargo. Don’t even ask.) The album’s centrepiece, undoubtedly is “Bronx In A Six” (referring to a pair of Bronx shoes in a size 6,) in which Williamson goes into near-spontaneous combustion about, amongst many other things, his former boss in his previous life as a shoe shop employee (“I’ll fucking tie your veins ‘round your Vans limited editions”) But it’s all completely worth it, if only for this brilliant anti-bourgeoisie line: “All you chinny wine-tasters/Die in boxes like the rest of us wasters.”
Yes, if you listen to a Sleaford Mods song, you’ll know that a calculated insult, particularly those directed towards public figures, is never far; the best instance of this being when Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell was torn a new arsehole on the song “6 Horsemen (The Brixtons).” In the case of the latest record, the insults come thick and fast, to figures as deserving as Nick Clegg to David Gandy, to Blur’s Alex James to landfill-indie band Two Door Cinema Club. It’s a well-known fact that Williamson and Fearn don’t ‘buddy with’ or listen to their contemporaries, yet interestingly, they don’t actually listen to many of the bands that they namedrop. When Williamson responded to his Facebook detractors on Record Store Day 2015 with words to the effect of ‘go and listen to Aphex Twin,’ he went on to concede that he doesn’t know or listen to him. Both are merely representing themselves and filling a need for disaffected music in the apparent absence of anyone else providing it. It’s their strong moral compass and refusal to play ball with the music industry that is so refreshing to hear.
As an anonymous lower-middle-class 22-year-old sharing a similar set of circumstances, I don’t think I’ve ever had an affinity with a band’s output in the way I have with Sleaford Mods. Their constructive channel of rage and unhappiness normally constructed by 20-somethings who have barely been through the system, is something I can’t help but identify with on many levels; be it the humour, the basslines, the rage or live set-up. Go and have a listen, or better still, attend the gigs in person. You really can’t beat the sound of a bloke screaming “smash the windows” to remind you that for the moment, British music is in a better place.
Read our interview with Sleaford Mods here.