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The angriest (and most political) band in Britain

Sleaford Mods plays live at Banksy's Dismaland. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images) - Credit: Corbis via Getty Images

ason Williamson is one half of the Sleaford Mods – probably Britain’s most political band, and certainly its angriest. And there is little that makes him as angry as Brexit. Here, he takes aim at Leavers, trolls and much more

I get a lot of trolls on Twitter, and I’d been taunting them the night before Brexit. You could tell that they – as vicious as they were being from behind their keyboards – were coming to accept that they’d lost, and that the UK would vote Remain.

Around 11pm the polls weren’t looking good for them, so I went to bed pretty happy. The next morning I woke up to a text from my wife saying that we’d voted out, and I thought, ‘Fuck me’. I couldn’t believe what we’d done.

To this day, I don’t understand why the country voted this way. I feel like there should be one true, logical, explanation for such a monumental decision, but there isn’t one. Was it an elderly vote? Was it just across the board? Lots of people say it was a working class protest vote that had little to do with the mechanics of Leave, but was more just: ‘Fuck off, David Cameron’.

I come from a working class family, and the working classes are extremely able. This country might be obsessed with class – it’s nowhere near as big an issue in Europe; the notion is there, but here we see it as a trap – but the working class aren’t living in caves.

But if that’s true – if it was this protest vote – I think that’s disgusting. Why didn’t people make a stand at the general election? Why weren’t they so upset when the Coalition’s awful policies shifted onto to the Conservatives? The whole thing makes me angry, to be honest, especially as the Leave campaign itself was so weak. Without wishing to generalise about a large part of the population, it’s difficult to not hate the people that voted Leave.

We’re in a situation now where I think people really need to take on a responsibility to learn, and to educate themselves. People need to feel angry about it; they should feel angry about it. In the poorer areas, there’s no education about politics. There’s no education about the system and how it works and what we need to do to survive.

Personally, I feel very close to Europe. I am a part of Europe. My nan was Greek. She met my grandfather in the war and they came to England, so we used to visit Athens when I was growing up. That and a school trip to France were my first experiences of visiting the continent. Athens was this big, busy, beautiful place – so very different to Grantham in the East Midlands, where I’m from – and though I’ve been out to America a few times, and Morocco, Europe is where I’ve had my most domestic experience; by that I mean a true, realistic experience as opposed to that of just being a tourist.

We played at the Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht in 2014, and that’s a really memorable city for me. It’s one of those faceless places that you have an affinity with because where I’m from – I now live in Nottingham, 25 miles from Grantham – is a faceless place as well.

Obviously you have the beauty of the major European cities – Athens, Brussels, Berlin – but somewhere like Utrecht confirms that European people are just the same as we are in the UK. It’s not necessarily rosier anywhere else; people have to get up and go to work. They’ve got lives, they’ve got their problems. I don’t mean this in a negative sense; I do appreciate the beauty of places like Utrecht, but they also show you that we’ve got brothers and sisters everywhere.

February 2013 was our first European gig. We played in Ghent, in Belgium, and I remember this huge factory in the middle of the city. We played a great show, got offered other gigs in Europe and that’s when it started kicking off for us. Everyone there were just really friendly, and the room was packed out for the show. We’d been distributing the album, Austerity Dogs, out there, and our manager Steve had got a lot of inroads into Europe from doing gigs over the years.

So we’d already infiltrated the place in a creative sense, but I think people just got off on the music; the style of the vocal, which is a little bit reminiscent of early punk, I guess, and the post punk feel and maybe the hip-hop feel of the music.

European audiences can be quite different to English audiences, who are only there to get leathered half the time. In Europe, a lot of people will come to a show and just stand there and listen. You can look at them and think to yourself, ‘Fuck me, this is nosediving’, but people are actually listening to the words.

Our shows are a bit like resistance in motion. You go along to these gigs, and see these two blokes – me and my bandmate Andrew – in their mid-40s absolutely seething, raging about the world around them. We did a small towns tour of the UK a couple years back and every night was just full of people wanting to experience something that says something about them. We went to Reading, St Albans, Kettering, tons of southern towns then up to northern towns, like Burnley.

Nowadays we’re seeing the demographic of our audiences change. especially in places like Bristol and London. Up north [of England] it’s still a higher percentage of white men in their mid-40s, but moving down south the audiences are fairly mixed. And since we’ve joined [record label] Rough Trade there’s been a lot more women following us on Twitter, a lot more young people.

We’re getting a lot of students. This is good; hopefully it means the message is getting out. I thought we’d blown up with our album Divide + Exit in 2014. I thought that was our time when we arrived, but as you get higher up in the public consciousness you realise there’s certain levels.

Being on Rough Trade helps because they can get you into areas you didn’t have a presence before, and gets you new fans. Just because you’re in the Guardian or NME, it doesn’t mean the whole of the country knows about you.

People talk about us being part of a new wave of political bands in the UK, and I do now feel more of a responsibility to be politicized. When we first started out I was weary of being seen in this way; I didn’t want to be tagged as another Billy Bragg, or The Housemartins. And since Brexit I’ve found you can’t open your mouth and have an opinion, because people will accuse you of being just another clueless, middle class lefty.

The trolls come out and it’s all… ‘Look at you. You’re in a band, you work a lot in Europe, you earn a decent wage; of course you are going to want to stay in Europe. But I work in a pea factory, I earn fuck all. You don’t understand us’.

But they’re clearly not listening to the fucking music, are they? I’ve worked everywhere: warehouses, shops, as a security guard, I’ve worked for the council, I’ve worked in a chicken factory. Nowadays, everything Sleaford Mods does is political. It’s an intrinsic part of who we are and what we do. We talk about the day-to-day, about the loneliness and alienation of existence in this country.

But the thing with talking like that – telling it how it is – is that it’s got to be done right. There’s a lot of young, contemporary, bands out there who are supposedly punk rock, but they’re just sloganeering. It’s bullshit. You want some of that bite, some of that knowhow. You don’t want someone just spouting ‘Fuck Thatcher’, because that’s what they think they’re supposed to do. You’ve got to look around, got to decipher things for yourself; I’m not sure if it comes with life experience. I know when was 22 or 23 I wasn’t that fucking angry.

I spoke to a student who’d written a dissertation about us, and she’d compared us to a philosopher. I said, ‘That’s great, you must be really switched on’. She said, ‘Yeah, because I went to university’. That’s a very serious point: a lot of people probably aren’t that angry because the knowledge isn’t there. And the public are also swayed by these mechanics, these tentacles of capitalism, consumerism and social media. I asked if she thought young people were getting angrier and she didn’t know. But why should we just want young people angry? It shouldn’t just be young people. We should have this running through us as a collective, as a race, know what I mean? It shouldn’t just be the generation of tomorrow.

Sleaford Mods’ first album came out in 2007, but it was only in 2013 that people really started hearing about us. We were playing with a lot of avant garde bands and noise bands at first. In the commercial arena there was fuck-all happening, no music to get your teeth into, and that social heroin state that Britpop injected into country was just about alive. Music just stood still for a very long time, though it’s slowly starting to get better.

I like a band called IDLES, and Fat White Family. They’re releasing music that’s something close to what I’d call a bona fide reaction to our current situation. And then there’s grime. The idea of grime to me is still quite fresh, even though it’s getting hijacked by the bigger labels – as it probably was back in the day – but it’s still this fresh kind of format; a British take on hip-hop which I find compelling.

But I still think English people can seem cut off. They can seem very inward, more so than the Scots or the Welsh. Narrow-minded, perhaps, and the minute you get onto European soil you just feel this sort of release. Even in places where they’re in dire trouble, like Greece, there’s still this air of intellectualism going around.

And I do think there should be a second referendum. I don’t subscribe to this idea that doing so would be an undemocratic decision, and I couldn’t give a fuck about the administrative pitfalls of staying in the EU. Europe is a beautiful thing and we should be a part of it. And really: was it even a democratic vote? It was engineered by propaganda, wasn’t it? And are referendums even the right thing in the first place? Saying that, part of me thinks, ‘Let these fuckers finish what they started’.

But I can’t just can’t see anything happening other than misery. The sheer administrative mess it’s caused already, not to mention the countless loss of money for small businesses and employment; the headache it’s going to cause, you know what I mean? It still baffles me that people voted for it.

I think we’ve just got to buckle in because it’s going to be rough and it’s only going to get rougher, especially with this sheet of fascism that’s spreading. It’s extremely concerning, this right wing ideology, that is gunning for the destruction of the EU. Clouds are forming. It’s not looking good. The problem with neo-liberals is they just talk in riddles, there’s no direct message. And I suppose that, in some sense, is why people like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage – who I just think is a seethingly weak person – have managed to find an audience.

But we’ll just keep touring, our new album English Tapas is out this week, then a year’s worth of touring. Before June we’re going over to America, then Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal. I’m not looking forward to one show more than rest; they’re all as important as each other.

Personally, I’ve given up drink and drugs. Drugs have always been a theme running through Sleaford Mods’ work, but on this album it’s more direct. It’s talking more about me, than as a wider social issue. I feel like my generation, and the generation below, were roped in by drug culture. Drugs were hugely glorified by Britpop, then the generation after had someone like Pete Doherty taking crack and unravelling in public. It got to the point where crack was almost normalized. And crack is not normal. Pete seems to have sorted himself and is still writing, but that shit’s not funny.

I speak to Iggy Pop a bit via email, and he said it took him 10 years of sobriety to feel normal. I wouldn’t say I was as bad as Iggy Pop, but then again I’d say I was. I’m more positive now, more confident. The band feels more like a job now, but it’s a job I love; I love the performing side of things, I love the writing, I love dressing up in stupid fucking clothes. For all those years my body got me through it because I was working shit jobs, but it can’t work anymore. It doesn’t work anymore. The party’s over, for me and everyone else.

English Tapas was released on March 3 on Rough Trade Records

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