Who said guitar music is dying? Haven’t we heard this before? Yes, a million times and counting. When synth pop and the new romanticism hit the airwaves back in the early 80s, when dance music took the UK by storm at the turn of the 90s, when Britpop fizzled out in the late 90s and when the mid-noughties four-string revival hit the veritable brick wall. We’ve heard it time and time again. There are no new pastures, no exciting bands, the well is almost dry, and we’re all going to have to deal with the purgatory of computer driven music, soulless auto-tuned r’n’b and probably much worse. And yet, like the Phoenix from the flames, it refuses to die, instead re-inventing itself into new and exciting forms.
Recent bands such as Shame, Idles, The Murder Capital, and Brighton’s Penelope Isles, have re-moulded, re-configured, and re-booted this rock’n’roll music, into fresh, inventive, exciting, and powerful news sounds, that while often harking back to an older band or era, exist purposefully in the here and now, drawing in fresh-faced youngsters, who like nothing more than music with punch, soul and meaning.
But, hold on! While Working Men’s Club have been somewhat lazily lumped in together with the new post punk zeitgeist, their aim is now broader, taking in electronic elements, mixing up hints of psychedelia, with motorik, and new wave synth, as they quickly look to change their initial post punkish bearing, into something… different.
“The reason there aren’t as many popular guitar bands right now is because they keep reproducing the same shit. No one should be surprised guitar music is dying” says Working Men’s Club lead singer Sydney Minsky-Sargeant.
Of course, any really great guitar based bands are far more than just the sum total of its constituent parts. Anyone who caught them at The Great Escape will have surely been impressed also with their youthful swagger energy and mature songcraft, epitomized by songs such as ‘Teeth’ and ‘Bad Blood’. Minsky-Sargeant may still be in his teens, but there is a remarkable beauty in his writing, allied to a vulnerability and anger, that speaks clearly to an increasingly disenfranchised and fragile youth.
The last 12 months has seen the band on a meteoric rise, including their debut single ‘Bad Blood’, released at the beginning of the year, a few festival appearances, and a tour with their good friends, Fat White Family, before eventually signing to legendary indie label, Heavenly Records, who released their second single ‘Teeth’, back in the summer. “We’ve worshipped the label and its bands for a long time, so it’s nice to be part of the family.”
A lot of people are talking about you and the bands you evoke, such as The Fall. “A lot of the comparisons that get made I never thought of. There’s a lot of weird music I like, and a lot of dance music, like afrobeat, and a lot of stuff that was going on in Manchester in the 90s, which I was listening to in, my early teens. But yeah, post punk is good. I guess it is quite post punk, what we do. But, we’re into the more electronic side of things now, like the band Boy Harsher, who are really good. Suicide are a massive one for me. If anyone is going to give me an influence, that would be mine. Genius, that band. Fucking genius. Very underrated.”
I admit to Syd that I didn’t get it when I first heard Suicide way back. But, now I do. “When I hear bands like The Moonlandingz, and Fat White, I think of Suicide. Beautiful and dark. A lot of bands in the New York scene hated them. No one liked them. But, I do. Not that it matters!” he laughs.
But just as the band seem to be making considerable headway, the make up and sound of the band is currently being radically overhauled. “We’re putting an album out next year,” says Minsky-Sargeant. “It’s not all recorded yet, we’re finishing it in December. The reason we haven’t recorded it yet, is because we don’t know what the album is going to be, what’s going to be on the album. We know half of what it’s going to be, but the rest may not have even been written yet.
“We’ve got a new line up, including Mairead O’Connor from The Moonlandingz, on guitar, and Rob Graham, from Drenge, on guitar and keys. We lost two members. Jake and Guilia, who are doing their own thing now. It’s different. In some ways it’s better. It’s definitely not worse. It’s more electronic. There are no live drums. It’s all very syncopated, and very tight. Not in terms of how we play, but the music is very tight. And, it’s a bit weirder. It’s different! It’s good. It’s nice to be thinking on my feet. Keep the show on the road!”
The engaging, politically aware, says-how-he-sees-it, Minsky-Sargeant, has been writing music from a very young age, it seems. “I started writing songs when I was about four,” he says. “The first thing I remember hearing was probably David Bowie, in my Dad’s car. I thought, ‘this is alright’. And I started to do really shit impersonations of it and that’s how I got into music, trying to write songs like David Bowie when I was four years old, and failing.”
I bet he wasn’t writing very good songs when he was four, I say. “No. I’m still trying to write good songs now. It’s all a bit of a learning curve.”
Songwriting is both an art and a craft, isn’t it? And you seem to be able to do it quite naturally. How does it work for you? “I find the best time is when you are sober in the morning, as soon as you wake up. I write and record at the same time. Seems to be when I am most together, when I feel most alive, probably about 8.30am. Once I pass midday it all gets a bit hazy…”
’Teeth’ laid down a big marker, for their future development as a band, incorporating electronics into their post-punk sound, and recalling Gang of Four, The Fall, and Joy Division, as well as more modern electronically-minded post punk bands, such as Squid and Warmduscher. On ‘Teeth’, a robotic drum loop is broken up by jagged guitars, distant synth and echoing vocals, giving the song an urgent energy. Lyrically, it deals with insanity and subconscious despair: “Running around the house, crazy / Nothing seems to go my way / Everything’s a myth / Don’t know what to believe.”
“It is a metaphor,” Minsky-Sargeant says of ’Teeth’. “It could be about going insane, or about being depressed, and wanting to kill yourself, or thinking someone else is going to kill you. It’s about insanity, really, and how dark you can go inside your own head. How dark you can take yourself to, the extremity of it. It’s not a nice song.”
Do you see music as your form of therapy? “I’ve gone to real therapy. I do see it as some form of therapy but as an expression more than therapy. But, it is therapeutic, at least the anger behind it is. When you can release your anger with music, it’s good. It sometimes saves you from doing terrible things.
“There’s a lot more of an emotional connection in live music, on both sides. I appreciate it when some people come to see us, it feels like they care. I see that more as therapy. It shows you’ve got someone off their bed, or out from behind a desk. It feels mutually beneficial, when you go and watch a band or play to a group of people. That’s like therapy, like counselling. You never know, you could be counseling someone else. Or, maybe they are counselling you.
“We’re so far apart nowadays, humanity. Look at this country, look at how divided it is. Maybe music is the only true form of unity, at the minute. Creativity is unity, it brings people together, in one way or another.
So, what inspires your writing? “Depression. Life. How fucked up this world this. Yeah, how fucked up this country is in general, not just the politics.”
You following Brexit? “What is there to follow! No one knows what is going on. No one knew what they were voting for. It’s abhorrent. Government has destroyed this country. They are killing people. That’s what’s not talked about. Too busy faffing over Brexit. People are dying. From the cuts. People are too busy faffing over egos. Slowthai gets censored by the BBC for waving a severed head of Boris Johnson around. How many people of his Government have they killed? Now, its just a joke. I find it disgusting.
“I find the times we’re living in disgusting. I find the fact that people and musicians are censored, disgusting. That’s what I think about politics at the moment, they don’t give a shit about it at the moment. They get far too much attention. They should be punished. They should face up to their actions. Bullshit.”
In your neck of the woods, is that the general feeling you have just expressed? “I think there is a lot of feeling. There’s a lot of working class people who are told what to feel, and told who to direct their anger to. I don’t blame them, really. I don’t think they are dumb, but the fact that politics has become something that people weren’t really bothered about before, have to be bothered about now, because they have to be angry at something. There’s a reason why people are hating but they are hating on the wrong people. Around my area there are a lot people who vote for the right people and there’s people who vote for the wrong people, but I don’t ‘enemise’ any of them. There’s a reason why they are hating on those people. And it’s because they have been indoctrinated by people at the top. There’s a lot of people who vote for the far right, and half of them are horrible people, but half of them have been indoctrinated by propaganda.
“Around where I live there is a lot of racism, a lot of hate crime. Actually, I don’t mean hate crime, but I think there’s a lot of not nice things said, and not nice beliefs and I understand where they get it from. And if you’re just raised on that, who is not to say you wouldn’t believe that, do you know what I mean?”
I think Boris Johnson and his bunch of cronies are a bunch of fascists, if you really iron it down. Boris needs to die! Where’s David Cameron!? He’s the one who got us into this mess. Vote Green!
Are the climate change protests happening up your way? “There are protests here, but what scale does it need to take to change anything. Even when stuff does change do we really have a say on it? Do we really have a say on what goes on? I think Britain is too self-conscious, and socially awkward to riot, and there won’t be a rebellion, They’ll never be that. So what is going to fundamentally change? That’s a question that troubles me as a young person. Is anything going to change, whether there is an election or not, whether Brexit happens or not?
“How is anyone meant to hope for anything? We can hope but I don’t think we can believe. I don’t believe what anyone says, because I don’t think they believe what they are saying. That’s why it’s in such turmoil.”
Working Men’s Club are a political band, although they certainly don’t want to be earmarked as such. “I’m not going to put that tag on Working Men’s Club. If people choose to interpret my lyrics politically, they’re probably not wrong. In this current climate we’re in, you’d be stupid not to have an opinion and speak up on it.”
Are you still at college? “I got kicked out of one college, then dropped out of another,” he says. “I did get one qualification, so I’m not totally clueless. In songwriting!” he laughs.
Just stick with that then, I reckon. “Yeah, fuck everything else.”
You think you might go back to college? “Nah, fuck that, man! Fuck education.”
School of life can be more interesting? “Yeah, you learn a lot more when you just do it. They don’t teach you about life, at school. They teach you about taxes. Hate and crime, and shit like that, tell you how to do stuff that you don’t really need to do.”
It’s the band, and the music all the way, then! “They’re either gonna fucking hate it, or love it. It tends to be good either way.”