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UK Grim (Rough Trade)

“IN ENGLAND, NOBODY CAN hear you scream," says Jason Williamson, of Sleaford Mods.

On this, and maybe only this, he’s wrong: Sleaford Mods can. Always have. Because they’ve been doing it as well.

They can hear the scream, and the growl, the gutted exhalation, and the roar of anger. They can hear the gallows humour and the mockery, the bitter derision, the solidarity. And, yes, the recognition that solidarity is not a given, nor necessarily welcomed, from everyone classified as the have-nots, or everyone classified as English, or British, or proud of being either, or neither.

They can hear it all, and they’re amplifying it. In your face and without apology. And without that much embellishment, even though there is a discernible widening in the sonic landscape they deploy and maybe a little more comfort in finding what might pass for a dance floor.

Yes, I said dancefloor: Apart From You (a spinning top and splayed feet remake of Seventeen Seconds-era Cure) and especially the synth pulsing On The Ground (think Suicide’s death disco meeting a snap-jawed Vince Clarke when he was between Depeche Mode and Yazoo) are impossible to hear standing still.

So, yeah, before we go any further, don’t make any foolish assumptions: Sleaford Mods remain the minimalist electro-rock, still very punk post-punk, shouty and melody eschewing (which is definitely in not to say hook-free), superego to modern Britain’s id.

Williamson, of the voice, and Andrew Fearn, of the other sounds, have been doing this long enough now to have not just a strong and clear identity, but also a separation from what that identity means to some even if, “You’re all getting mugged by the aristocracy … You’re all getting mugged by the right wing beast.”

Take for example the supposed innate value of “underground” or “independent” or whatever term takes your fancy for the stuff that’s not been made by the big end of town, music. Unity brother? Yeah, nah.

In DIwhy, over Fearn’s skittery, bare minimum electro-cymbals and plink-plonk guitar sound, Williamson looks at a supposed fellow traveller and says “You’re not DIY, you’re a fucking twat/You look like Fred Dibnah and your haircuts crap”, hilariously adding later on “I saw a doctor, I said “Why do I feel like slapping these B&M Goths/All this post punk dross?/He said, because they’re fucking cunts Jason/fucking hit em.”

But as annoying as they are, these twats are not the primary target of UK Grim. Not when he can describe “No streets no line of thought/No country now we’re distraught/Well, no warmth like a paper hat/It falls right in when the cloud spat” and you don’t need to switch on the evening news to get it.

(That said, you can just as easily say not when Williamson’s ability to rattle language with audacity and wit test anyone’s ability to consistently make definite calls on what it all means. “I, Claudius/ITV at noon/Adam Ant/And sticks on disco bits/I saw Santa Claus with a bag of chips”? There are clues but there are also diversions. All of which makes a collaboration with Dry Cleaning’s genius of the meaningful non-sequitur, Florence Shaw, in the flexible industrial gear of Force 10 From Navarone, a perfect match.)

The cold waiting rooms and souls with holes burrowed through them, the cheap promises of on-screen (or Ryan Air) escapism and “disco naps”, the sheer weight of shittery, from “Tory Kong” or maybe that right wing hero, Vladimir – “He’s got his top Of, quick reach for your bit/Shit, he’s so fit” – do explain why he might declare, “You’re just fucked lads” and it’s not extreme.

It’s hardly just polemical though. In the bass-throbbing, thrilling agitation Pit To Pit – the needling guitar and little keyboard stabs suggesting what the early B-52s might have sounded like if they were from somewhere much grimmer, much much angrier than Athens, Georgia – the combination of lockdown and long-standing flaws with ready temptations punches into a song that also mixes fashion with stewing resentment.

In So Trendy, Williamson and Perry Farrell (late of Jane’s Addiction) are presented with a parping treadmill setting – picture the sound of a brass band on rising/falling drum riser heading towards a Peter Gunn Theme guitar warming up – that playfully and acerbically digs into the coolest person in the room, or the plane. You know the wanker. You’ll know the type. Hey, maybe you are the type.

Don’t bother hiding, because in England – or down the road from you – someone can hear you make a scene: Sleaford Mods.


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