Last year, writer and illustrator Molly Crabapple wrote a piece for Vice which made several points that I’ve been unable to get out of my head since. One of these points was that when it comes to the arts and artists, “not talking about money is a tool of the class war”. This spoke to me as I’m sure it does to many involved in any sort of underground music scenes who come from lower-class backgrounds. We all know those bands and those artists. The ones who always have the flash gear, the van that isn’t breaking down, the hired publicists getting their names all over the place, the ability to leave work behind and tour for months on end without even giving up their apartments. The worse the economy gets, the more those bands tend to float to the top and the less the rest of us can afford to produce. These bands tend to promote lifestyles and viewpoints (when they have viewpoints at all) that amount to “let’s all just be chill, laid-back dudes”. But it’s hard to be a chill, laid-back dude when you’re legitimately worried about things like rent and food. Working-class voices and opinions in 2014 have been by and large drowned out of various music scenes that they were instrumental in birthing. Yet it’s considered in poor taste to call attention to this, lest you be thought of as an unsupportive, jealous hater. To me, this is an active (although unspoken) form of oppression.
All this is a very long-winded way of saying that one of my favorite things about Nottingham’s SLEAFORD MODS is they might be the only indie group to actually get some hype in the last few years with undeniable class consciousness. It’s right there when vocalist Jason Williamson bellows ““I work my dreams off for two bits of ravioli and a warm bottle of Smirnoff/Under a manager that doesn’t have a fuckin’ clue/Do you want me to tell you what I think about you, you cunt?/I don’t think that’s a very good idea, do you?” It’s right there in the simplistic, budget beats. No walls of amps and vintage synths here, just two blokes and a laptop.
Divide and Exit sounds cleaner and crisper than its predecessor Austerity Dogs, but in no way more complex or evolved. Like previous working-class heroes such as THE RAMONES, their music has a simplicity to it that dares you to call it out. Simple, prefab drum loops and driving, repetitive bass are the background, although sometimes about two-thirds of the way through the song a three or four note “synth hook” will be thrown in, almost as an afterthought. The star of the show is Williamson’s hilarious, potty-mouthed ranting, which has been likened to everyone from JOHN COOPER CLARKE to Mark E. Smith of THE FALL to Mike Skinner of THE STREETS. To that list I would add any number of obscure anarcho-punk/peacepunk projects from the 1980s. If you played me any song on Divide and Exit and told me it was a deep cut from some Mortarhate or Crass Records singles collection, I would absolutely believe it.
I’ve been waiting for something this effortlessly confrontational. Something this simple and humorous but also this angry. Something that takes the piss out of the very concept of the “band” and the “rock star” and pulls no punches. SLEAFORD MODS are that project. The fact that the music press is actually paying attention is just icing on the cake.
Divide and Exit is available now via Harbinger Sound