6th April | O2 Academy
Photos: Callum O’Keefe
The sound of the underground goes overground. Last time I saw the proletarian rant machine that is Sleaford Mods, it was in the intimate confines of Exchange. Their polemic has expanded into bigger venues and more exposure. The rant’s the same, maybe a tad more introspective this time round, but the anger and humour are still spat out in this packed-to-the-rafters O2 Academy gig.
Their influence is blindingly obvious on support act, John Paul, which imitates the two-man line-up, one shouting his urban poetry over the backdrop of the other’s cut-up mash of dance tracks. Think The Streets, but based in the east Midlands – tales of grimness, poverty and underclass, austerity UK.
Manchester’s LIINES offer something else completely. A three-piece drums, bass and guitar/vocals female power trio, they play some tuneful thrash with some very, dare I say it, Manchester bass in there (oh Manchester, so much to answer for…) but the shouty vocals get a bit wearing and the same ploughed furrow too undiverse after a while.
Jason Williamson shouts as well (well, it’s called Sprechgesang apparently, a mix of singing and talking), but somehow it doesn’t wear. Instead it amuses and delights with its sharp snippets of wickedly-spiked observations on our contemporary condition and all its hypocrisies, hang-ups, political peculiarities and personal absurdities. As the voice of Sleaford Mods, he is a rasping, Tourette-fluttering, rivetingly sarky commentator, in front of the ever-baseball-capped and beer-swigging Andrew Fearn, playing minimalist-backdrop street-beats on his label-festooned laptop.
Is this white hip-hop for the messed up UK? Well, it could be: the rhyming vocals above the repetitive backbeat. While IDLES deal with similar things with more coruscating power, Sleaford Mods nag away in your ear like a bar-room philosopher, but with something to say and something to say with invention and wit, but as barbed as buggery.
Williamson brings to mind John Cooper Clarke and Mark E. Smith, but with that Nottingham twang and the occasional nasality of a Dalek on speed. It’s punky, jagged and aggressive. But funny too.
The majority of latest album, Eton Alive is vented, with gems like ‘Kebab Spider’ about the venality/banality of modern fame (“you’re just saying it all to look good”), ‘Top It Up’ and older numbers like ‘Stick In A Five And Go’ and the charming ‘Jolly Fucker’ pleasing no end.
There’s a hypnotic, visceral charm about them, and they clearly revel in the adoration that comes back their way. At Exchange three years ago, Williamson prowled the stage like a wound-up pitbull; here the anger is also punctuated by smiles. By the encore and ‘Tied Up in Notts’, he’s doing a kind of pirouette-ish lad-dance.
“It’s Saturday night and we’re in Bristol!” he yells. Onwards and upwards, it would seem.
See the video for ‘Discourse’ here: