“So Mr. Williamson, what have you done to find gainful employment
Since your last signing on date?
I’ve been sat around the house wanking”
Cutting edge. Crass. Vulgar.
How else can you define lyrics like this?
This is the sound of the street corner. A sound that somehow smells of stale cider and chips soaked in vinegar. It sounds like the dole queue, sounds like elasticated trackie bottoms and knackered white runners.
Call it what you want, but it certainly doesn’t sound like Later… With Jools Holland.
But last month, the chavs took charge.
And the Sleaford Mods look exactly like their music sounds.
Vocalist Jason Williamson stands pigeon chested before the mic, hawking expletives in a thick Nottingham accent. He sucks in sharp breaths between words and bounces impatiently from one foot to the other. He’s all guts and gesticulation.
You almost fear the mic stand will be stitched a header.
His accomplice, Andrew Fearn, stands by a battered looking laptop balanced on an old beer crate atop an old beer barrel. In his hand, surprisingly enough, is a beer.
His face is shrouded by a peaked cap, and as he sways and bobs along to Williamson’s verses, he starts to look like a man who’s already had one too many. He seems like the type you’d expect to see clinging to the speaker by the end of the night.
Neither of these look like the sort to feature on Jools Holland, and they certainly don’t sound like it. Mile-a-minute choral cursing over “corrupted disco” tracks, as the Guardian calls it.
But it doesn’t really matter if this isn’t your cup of tea. The music is obviously important, but not entirely. In fact, a lot about this appearance surpasses the music that is actually played.
This is a complete performance.
Instead of the quintessential four piece band, or DJ hidden behind his plinth, Williamson and Fearn have been bringing theatre to their appearances since 2012 (when Fearn joined Williamson to complete the current line-up). The stage props, the wildly exaggerated personas, the feigned accents- they’re more suited to a local drama group than a music gig. They aren’t content with presenting their musical material to the audience as is. This is a dramatization, an enactment of the imagined conditions that spawned the embittered lyrics of songs like “Jobseeker” and “No One’s Bothered”. They bring a full bodied performance which challenges our perception of live music and how it alters the audience’s interpretation of a piece.
Speaking in interview, Williamson and Fearn prove much less intimidating. Accents and attitudes mellow as their insights become much more articulate than their lyrics sometimes imply.
Not that their lyrics fail to be succinct in their own unique manner. But they become more easily digestible, more akin to the typical artistic discussion.
One thing they are surprisingly not, however, is political.
Well, not specifically.
In a September interview with Channel 4, they deny being the voice of a type of post-punk revolution for the working class. In fact, they rail against this notion. Social class is certainly a fundamental part of their etymology, and they may have been bred from the cold hard concrete of urban austerity, but it does not define them.
The rage that drips from Williamson’s words is not begotten solely from the plight of the working class, but from pure unadulterated dissatisfaction. The sort of exasperation we all experience regardless of our social standing. This is the type of anger that’s,
“evoked by whatever… Westminster, the bloke next door, the fact you’ve just bought a bag of chips and they’re not very nice.”
So perhaps it’s best to call them purveyors of general frustration- be it passionate, political, or mundane. This is the language of irritation, this is how ordinary people express their ordinary grievances.
Swearing, drinking, snarling.
This is, in their own words, “the sound of people at last orders”.
Sleaford Mods definitely won’t appeal to everybody. In fairness, no musical act does. But the Sleaford Mods marginalise themselves further than most with their unique brand of boorish post-punk hip-hop. They’re musical marmite.
And yet their popularity has grown progressively. From an acclaimed Saturday performance at this year’s Glastonbury to a televised invasion of our homes courtesy of Jools, something about the Sleaford Mods is catching public attention.
And as divisive as they may be, they have certainly succeeded in giving their audiences a refreshing rethink on the theatre of musical performance.
Written by James Dunne