One of the most remarkable music stories of the last few years has been the exponential rise of the Nottingham-based duo Sleaford Mods. You may have seen them. There’s Jason Williamson spitting rhymes and raps while Andrew Fearn stands there, pint in hand, head-nodding to the beats he has made on his laptop. He doesn’t do anything except click the next song. He’s done all his work. It’s Williamson though who gives it 110% live on stage. A force of nature, with a fine line in footwear, it’s a miracle his voice isn’t shot such is the near-shouting vitriol, sarcasm, wit and anger in his heavily-accented outpourings. Not only are the lyrics by turns acerbic, sarcastic, rude and poetic, like a more angry and less dry John Cooper Clarke, they are utterly contemporary in their personal dissections of the socio-political-cultural English landscape. They have also ‘made’ it in their 40s, a rare feat in the youth focussed world of rock'n'roll; whereby if you haven't already made it by the time you're 30, then it is extremely unlikely you ever will. But Sleaford Mods aren't your normal rock'n'roll act and these aren't normal times. “Yeah, it is a bit weird,” says Jason. “It still winds people up. Which is good, I suppose. People rubbish it or look down their noses at it, you know. Because we’ve tied it in with this political thing, it gets people’s backs up if they think you’re giving out half-educated information in your songs. It can wind people up to say the least. It’s a tough one. What do you do? Some people are never fucking happy.”
Drawing upon a rich heritage of British spoken word music that includes legends such as The Fall, John Cooper-Clarke, Shaun Ryder, Ian Dury, The Streets, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and bearing more than a passing affinity with another contemporary socio-politico poetess, Kate Tempest; Sleaford Mod's hard, fuck you, minimalist electro-funk has energised and excited old punks, new punks and music lovers in general. They sum it up well by calling what they do ‘electronic munt minimalist punk-hop rants for the working class’, with Williamson rapping about unemployment, criticism of modern working life, criticism of celebrities and pop culture, capitalism and society in general.
And like the aforementioned Mark E. Smith (The Fall) et al the words and messages are given more life and meaning by virtue of the accent of Williamson. In this case it’s a profanity strewn, decidedly working class, East Midland's voice. You can't imagine a Middle Englander having anywhere near the same impact. It's all in the delivery and the sound: a razor-sharp vocal dissection that amplifies the meaning; the subject matter therein, Williamson’s grimly hilarious lyrics exploring the dark underbelly of austerity-hit Britain, often via the medium of random abuse launched at politicians and celebrities including Boris Johnson, Nick Clegg, Russell Brand, Noel Gallagher, Blur and David Cameron. As he sings on ‘Rupert Trousers’, off the Key Markets album of last year: “Idiots visit submerged villages in 200 pound wellies, spitting out fine cheese made by the tool from Blur. Even the drummer’s a fucking MP. Fuck off you cunt, sir.” As Williamson has said, his lyrics reflect the rage that goes on in his head. “That's why Sleaford Mods is. Definitely."
But although the likes of contemporary urban punk poets act as reference points, Sleaford’s are in no way copyists, despite the minimalist repetitious nature of the music, a feature of bands like The Fall. Fearn’s music is sometimes stripped down to the basics of just very simple looped drum and bass, often relentless, but usually imbibed with a foot-tapping rhythm, somehow underscoring the venomous outpourings that come from Williamson’s mouth, these oscillate between direct rages against the cold realities of surviving (“I worked my dreams off for two bits of ravioli and a warm bottle of Smirnoff”), the stream-of consciousness outbursts that talk of shitty consumerism, shitty people and shitty lives, and some angry politics here and there. “The loneliness of life, the alienation, the concrete is being more and more drawn in. There isn't a lot of fresh air,” says Williamson about his general feelings on life for the many. “There's not a lot of blue skies. People assume that you are political, but all we are doing is sounding off. You've got a responsibility to be intelligent, and to think about things, be thoughtful and compassionate.”