If it was fitting for Nick Cave to open a large, stately door and stroll to a grand piano in the centre of an empty Alexandra Palace for his livestreamed gig, surely Sleaford Mods should be lobbing a burning Aldi bag full of faeces through the back window of a provincial job centre and clambering in to rant and rave on the desks for 45 minutes while spray-painting “CUNTS!” in piss on the Employee Of The Week board.
Instead, theirs begins with a legendary punk trek down the staircase of the 100 Club into the revered central London basement hole where Rotten and Strummer cut their fangs. First, Bournemouth post-punk Billy Nomates – aka Tor Maries – fires up her laptop on the club floor for a support slot echoing the venue’s famed punk weekenders.
Her verses are snarled, accusatory deadpans about dead-end jobs, eating disorders and the post-Thatcher struggles of debt-blighted youth which, judging by ‘Hippy Elite’, involve stealing bikes because it’s too expensive to save the planet by legal, organically sourced means. But her choruses are electro-pop treats or scuzz blues blasts, sending her skipping and spinning across the floor like a punked-up Flashdance.
As if to pass the torch to the next generation of laptop rant-punks, Mods frontman Jason Williamson wanders into frame for a verse of her song ‘Supermarket Sweep’, ranting uncontrollably about supermarket produce and batting bad thoughts about social workers from the side of his head. In normal life you’d definitely let him have a bus stop to himself, but as he takes the club’s main stage alongside Ableton technician Andrew Fearn, he becomes the maniacal voice of pent-up working-class rage.
Fail to pay attention, and you could easily miss the point with Mods: one middle-aged bloke sways in front of a laptop playing tinny proto-Prodigy beats and another barks rabid, sweaty incongruities about pop culture, austerity, HR issues, pepper on chips, queue etiquette and “pensioners on Harleys!” between random parrot noises and mid-sentence belches. To fans, though, they’re Nottingham’s breadline answer to James Joyce, pin-pointing the cascading ills of a nation in torrents of allusive stream-of-crazed-consciousness poetry, as cutting as a Universal Credit rejection letter.
They’re here to celebrate the release of May’s Top 10 compilation album ‘All That Glue’ alongside a reported audience of 80,000 paying streamers. And as much as the show works as a nostalgic hits set for a band with no hits – certainly ‘Jolly Fucker’, ‘Tied Up In Nottz’ and ‘Jobseeker’ have become modern post-punk classics – it’s also a throwback to a time when it seemed reasonable to lose your entire rag over minor cultural and societal niggles. “Robin Thicke – thick as fuck!” Williamson yells on opener ‘Blog Maggot’, a live premiere decrying the state of online musical discourse, pithily summarised thus: “Chris Martin nightmare! !” Oh, for the days when it was ‘Fix You’ keeping us awake at night.
That same song’s cry of “all this death, all this fucking death!” takes on a new meaning in the current context, of course, and gradually the more trivial diatribes (“you’re just saying it all to look good / Fuck off you posing cunt!” Williamson spits at unspecified altruistic pop stars on ‘Kebab Spider’) give way to a compulsive stream of socio-political discontent. ‘B.H.S.’ sees them attack manipulative elites over three-note bass, while ‘Second’ explodes the myths of consumerism as self-worth. ‘Rochester’ engages in age-old class warfare and the everyday workplace power struggle of ‘Fizzy’ ends with Williamson barking “sack the fucking manager!”
Two new songs highlight their sonic step up, too: ‘I Don’t Rate You’ is full of tubular squelches and ‘Elocution’ comes on like The Human League or early electro-goth. There’s even increased tunefulness in the earlier material tonight: witness the closing ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’, basically ‘Ghost Town’ on bad speed, ending in something of a soul riot. It’s a timely shift – the swelling ranks of angry pandemic jobseekers will be looking for something to rally behind.
Sleaford Mods played:
‘I Don’t Rate You’
‘Reef of Grief’
‘Tied Up in Nottz’
‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’