Monday, May 25, 2015
I bought my tickets to see Sleaford Mods months before their gig in Brighton on Friday night: I was so excited and intrigued to see the Nottingham band whose most recent two albums I had been endlessly playing since I started to hear about them last year. Words seem to experience a rare inadequacy when it comes to describing their music but I’ll give it a go: sparse, frantic punk/hip-hop beats overlaid with splenetic, socially observant, potty-mouthed lyrics delivered in a rapid-fire East Midlands accent. Vocalist Jason Williamson has produced half a dozen albums since he became disillusioned with guitar music in 2007, the last three – Wank, Austerity Dogs and Divide and Exit - with sampler/musician Andrew Fearn. And at Concorde 2, their stripped-down sound is reflected in their stage set-up: laptop on a flight case; mike and stand.
When they take the stage and launch into their set, the atmosphere is electric and the pace relentless. For each song, Fearn presses ‘go’ on the laptop and then stands back swaying to the rhythm, swigging a beer and grinning as Williamson sprays machine-gun lyrics at the audience. And what lyrics: to say that Jason Williamson thinks modern life is rubbish, and that everyone and everything is a target, is an understatement; he writes from his own experiences, disappointments and frustrations. This on middle management: “middle men/the metropolis of discontent and broken dreams/red and orange lights and old men”; and on the acceptance of dead-end work, “I got a job/I rot away in the aisles of the Co-op, mate, no prob”. But it is not just the more prosaic aspects of life that Williamson rages against. There is more pointedly political social commentary: “Cameron’s hairdresser got an MBE/ I said to my wife you better shoot me/It’s all gone wrong”. If the self-importance of jumped-up jobsworths make daily life a trial, the managers at the top are just as self-serving.
Most of the set is taken from the last two albums but there are a few tracks from new album, Key Markets. After one, Bronx In A Six, that ends in a stream of profanities, Williamson observes, “a bit intense that, not much of a party tune, not like this one”, before launching into Tiswas. And it strikes me at that point, coming in the middle of a run of stand-out tracks – A Little Ditty, McFlurry, Fizzy, Tied Up In Nottz – how uplifting these songs can be. The audience is certainly lifted: there is a lot of singing along and a frantic moshpit down the front. At one point, Williamson berates someone in the audience for swearing; “just because we swear don’t mean you have to; this is our job”. When Williamson jokingly mistakes which city they are in, it’s a sign of how hard they work at this job: they have been gigging non-stop for pretty much a year now. When the final number, Tweet Tweet Tweet, opens with, “I get a shaky start to Tuesday/sweat stains on bus windows/I don't want to ruin my coat/But that’s just the way it goes”, it is a reminder of the banality of the nine to five daily grind.
Sleaford Mods’ music is innate, visceral, it comes from the gut, the heart, the soul and it is tremendous. And occasionally, you get a glimpse of Williamson’s belting, soulful voice from his days in more traditional bands. But this is now; it’s like Picasso doing all those orthodox figurative drawings and then saying, “hold on; this is how I see people and the world” (I am conscious that I have just referenced Picasso and I am in danger of disappearing down the rabbit hole or up my own…). Nothing can prepare you for how good these blokes are: I had read recommendations, listened to the albums, watched footage. But seeing them live is altogether different; they are breath-taking. There is something perversely pure about their sound and performance. There is nobody like Sleaford Mods. No comparisons suffice but, if pushed, I would say it is like Crass smashing into Kraftwerk on an A road between Derby and Detroit.
Inevitably, Sleaford Mods have their critics but for any detractors there are many more admirers. Anyway, I would rather take Iggy Pop’s word than Noel Gallagher’s. Sleaford Mods remind you what music can be like when you’re young (oh, the irony: the pair are in their early forties), when you have original ideas, when everything doesn’t get bent to fit someone else’s template, someone else’s formula, someone else’s set of rules. Fuck that.
Key Markets, Sleaford Mods' new album, is released on 10th July.