8th October, 2015
Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods have been hailed as the most compelling live act around and their ferocious live set at Cambridge Junction did not disappoint, delivering raw punk attitude and lo-fi hip-hop beats in their furious darkly-comic tales from the breadline of austerity Britain.
At a time when mainstream music is full of de-politicised ‘easy listening’ we should be grateful for the spittle-flecked diatribes of Sleaford Mods. They are the flies in the ointment, the earwigs in the cupcake. Listening to their sweary rants is sometimes like having your ear bent by an abusive drunk at pub chucking-out time, but Jason Williamson’s raps quickly weave a guttersnipe spell, and Andrew Fearn’s hypnotic drum and bass riffs exert a magnetic pull. Stick with it and Dismaland’s house band make perfect sense. Their caustic wit and demonic energy evoke The Sex Pistols, The Prodigy and John Cooper Clarke.
After Sleaford Mods amble onstage Williamson limbers up his larynx, croaking out a few dodgy notes as if he’s an opera singer. In a way, he is, because his intense vocal performance pulls out all the stops. He is a mesmeric frontman, which is just as well because Sleaford Mods have no stage gimmicks or fancy lighting. Williamson raps and sings tracks from their last two albums, Key Markets and Divide and Exit, standing side-on to the audience, head nodding, hand flicking tic-like to match the Tourettish torrent of words he unleashes on tracks like Dizzy on the Ciggies (‘pony!’ ‘blue tits!’ ‘wee-wee!’). Occasionally he shuffles off for a shoulder-shrugging dance, like a slo-mo Madness routine.
His sidekick Andrew Fearn, meanwhile, taps a keyboard to conjure up his pre-recorded music. He is a calm and smiling presence, jigging from side to side with his bottle of beer, like a chilled-out Bez. Fearn’s addictive bass riffs and manic drum machine beats stoke the fury, with occasional synth jabs and guitar noodles adding colour and variety.
With Key Markets riding high in the charts, these two grizzled geezers in their 40s are unlikely pop stars. Like Jeremy Corbyn, they are riding a wave of public disillusionment with manufactured falseness: they tell the unvarnished truth, as they see it, straight from the gut. Sleaford Mods rage against the system, against the loneliness and apathy of the modern world (‘you’re trapped – me too. Alienation – no one’s bothered’), against the Tories, Starbucks, Nick Clegg, Kate Bush, the drummer from Blur … A lot of stuff is ‘shit’ and many people are ‘c**ts.’
In a recent interview Jason Williamson echoed Johnny Rotten in God Save the Queen, talking about ‘no future for a lot of people out there’. He has no easy answers, but he admires the way most people who work in dead-end jobs get by through stoicism and piss-take banter: ‘that’s their lives. That’s their reality. And it’s that experience I want to articulate and that humour I hold close to myself.’
Junction highlights included Tiswas, Jobseeker and the brilliantly-named Tarantula Deadly Cargo, a post-punk groover full of widescreen intrigue. Class-warrior Williamson is courteous and polite to his Cambridge audience, asking if we’d have them back. At this rate, they’ll be playing the Corn Exchange next year.