Spitting aggro lyrics of gritty reality, underpinned with a brash punk spirit and all laid over mechanical electronica and hip hop beats – Sleaford Mods are all about challenging the commonplace. Perfect then for Supersonic Festival, Birmingham’s beacon of avant-garde, a weekend celebration of adventurous music and art that returns in intimate form this month. David Vincent speaks to the East Midlands anti-heroes ahead of their much-anticipated return to the Second City.
A recent broadsheet article cited an end to bland, smooth and likeable bands, welcoming in ‘a new wave of new rage’. At the forefront of this loose movement they cited Eagulls, Girl Band, Evil Blizzard and Sleaford Mods.
“[I’ve] no real opinion on these bands really, I’d not heard of any of them before this article,” says Jason Williamson, one-half of the aforementioned Mods. “I guess the writer wanted to talk about a few that he liked, I think his article probably came across like a scene piece but I don’t think that was his intention.”
When asked who he sees as his musical peers, Jason answers simply: “Nobody.”
Once beholden to the rave scene, Jason picked up a guitar and started listening to The Small Faces, and such 60s associated names as Steve Winwood, Julie Driscoll and Terry Callier when “raving lost its shine”. But this too lost its appeal. “I used to be in bands, fuckin’ hated it,” declares Sleaford Mods’ Bandcamp page.
“Just the unoriginality of it all,” explains Jason, of his dislike of being in a traditional bass/guitar/drums line-up. “When you see most in a band set-up it’s just history by numbers. Most bands have no flair, no balls and no vision. To be competent, a professional is not good enough. If you aren’t bringing anything to the table apart from celebrity, then history will laugh at you and mock you forever.”
Sleaford Mods started in 2006 by accident, initially as a solo vehicle for Jason, when he delivered a tirade over some loops. After a stint in London, he moved back to Nottingham in 2009 and soon after met Andrew Fearn, whose arrival resulted in a clear division of labour – Jason concentrated on the lyrics, with Andrew creating the beats and tunes.
“I write everything on my phone then bring it to Andrew. He’ll reel of five or six beats and I’ll just pick one,” says Jason of their writing method.
Their fifth CD-R, the charmingly titled Wank, led to further live appearances and their eventual signing to abstract-punk label, Harbinger Sound, who released the Austerity Dogs album, initially on vinyl. Now on its fourth pressing in just over a year (and also available on CD), a series of uncompromising singles have followed (including Routine Dean/Pubic Hair LTD for Matador), now all collected together as Chubbed Up: Singles Collection. Stark, harsh, occasionally bile-ridden, yet public and critical response has been uniformly positive.
“We never thought it would kick off like this, never,” exclaims Jason, of their sudden popularity.
In these days of slick, affordable production techniques, Pro-Tools and cut-and-paste songwriting, Sleaford Mods’ audio attack packs a serious punch. Jason cites “Two Lone Swordsmen, the Wu, Oi, Punk. Old folk stuff” as influences, while PiL/Lydon, The Fall, The Streets and John Cooper Clarke seem distant cousins. With tracks rarely staying longer than three minutes, Jason rants across a catchy-though-basic music track, referencing fly-tipping, dodgy car stereo shops, job centres, stinking loos, stinking streets, middle class twats and discount stores. Seemingly fuelled by cheap cider and drugs, here’s a real working class voice of protest.
“Oh yeah,” says Jason at the idea that Sleaford Mods are a protest act, “… we’re a fuckin’ protest band alright.”
While tracks such as Liveable Shit (‘… you put up with it…’) discuss universal themes, others are littered with very specific UK references, so it’s perhaps surprising to discover The Mods are also gaining fans in Europe, with recent shows in Belgium and Germany well received.
“They really connect with it,” says Jason of European audiences. “It’s mad ‘cos the language is very provincial but I guess the energy is universal.”
The duo’s latest album is the just-released Divide And Exit.
“All of them are good,” Jason says of the album’s 14 tracks. “I’m not proud of them as such, to me they are just well formed bits of violence that mirror any given time or belief I had. I’m chuffed more with the recognition from established people to be honest. Not tossers either, real folk who didn’t turn into Noel Edmonds…”
After a “mad” sold out show at the Hare & Hounds in March, Sleaford Mods are back in the city for Supersonic Ltd Edtn, where they’ll join a line-up that also includes Swans, Matmos, Wolf Eyes and Pharmakon.
“Not heard of any of them to be fair,” says Jason, of the other acts. “Swans vaguely but I’m not that up on underground stuff of this ilk. It’s all new to me,” he says, with a laugh.
Sleaford Mods play Supersonic Festival Ltd Edtn which takes place on May 30-31 at the Custard Factory, Birmingham. For more information, see: www.supersonicfestival.com. Sleaford Mods’ Divide And Exit is out now via Harbinger Sound.