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Chronicles: Why Fat White Family lead the pack


‘Back in 2011, certain figures were bustled into a squat stuck in South London – Peckham to be precise – this lead for quite the formation of a musical group. A grotesque, lurid and putrid set of ghouls came together – remembered since for masturbating onstage and smearing themselves in faeces amongst other acts of disgust. However, all these eccentric acts have lead to a cult appeal, a cult interest that revels within the notorious nature of the group’s darkness.

Their debut album titled ‘Champagne Holocaust’ was released back in 2013, pointing the group to critical acclaim. Tracks such as ‘Touch the Leather’, ‘Is It Raining In Your Mouth?’ and ‘Auto Neutron’ were established as stand out tracks within the poignant album. Alongside their live stage performances, the group was causing controversy and anxiety through their recorded format. They were reminding the British music culture of what it was to be ‘punk’ and what it was to create ‘punk music.’ Darkness shrouded the album. Ghostly backing vocals caused intensity, screeches and yelps brought back imagery of horror and death all the while the bones of Lias, Saul and Adam et al rattled away.

Lyrically, the group are a reminder that punk music and what it means to be a ‘relevant’ band is to mean much more than a posing facade. It is not a whimsical, commodified fad that washes right over you. It is common knowledge that every word that is published by NME etcetera should be taken with a pinch of salt – Kasabian are not ‘the saviours of music’ for example and guitar music is not ‘dead’ – in fact it never really died, it was just spun out in quite a lethargic way. The existential nihilism presented by Fat White Family is something far superior, something that harks back to the likes of The Velvet Underground and the Sex Pistols. Seminal cultism is something that is defined to last the test of time, perhaps not instantaneously, however it is something that can be called upon and placed within a society. Terminal cultism on the other hand is something that exists for a short period. Take the late 60s hippie culture for example – an idea that came abut due to social rebellion, however similarly one that eventually stuck around like a fart in the wind and collapsed in on itself due to the conflicting nature of it’s sellable image. When a band titles a song ‘When Shipman Decides’ or ‘Bomb Disneyland’, it is impossible not to get up and take notice.

Taking ‘When Shipman Decides’ for example. Yes, this song is still yet to be released (it is released on the band’s sophomore LP ’Songs For Our Mothers’ in January 2016) however, the titling of the song suggests a breaking in the mould. It is daring and has taken the expletive and the unimaginable from the jaws of metal and hardcore music. Of course this is a slight generalisation, previous bands have released songs with daring titles, however for a band that has appeared on the front covers of the British music press and received critical acclaim in the nation’s largest newspapers, this does not happen so often. Shipman being the guilty murderer who was armed with medicine, now one can only anticipate the content behind this song. Jumping back to the downright seedy and lurid ideas behind ‘Is It Raining In Your Mouth?’ – “I was born to have it / And you were born to take it,” and the provocative and seductive ‘Touch the Leather’ – “Tight black skin in the baggy leather.” Lyrically, you get the sense this apocalyptic, darkness harks back to something such as The VU’s ‘Venus In Furs’, Reed’s grumble and growl behind “Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather / Whiplash girlchild in the dark.” This existential sexuality is something so deeply rooted in punk music and the history of poetry inspired from the Dionysus character. From Baudelaire’s ‘Le Voyage’ – “Pour us your poison wine that makes us feel like gods / Our brains are burning up – there’s nothing left to do!” to Rimbaud’s ‘The Drunken Boat’ – “As I floated down unconcerned rivers / I no longer felt myself steered by the haulers.” Poetry and lyricism revels in the unknown, the putrid and the alcohol stained bliss of solipsism and escapism. Here, Fat White Family are digging up an old grave, they are venturing further in the punk lyricist cult.

Taking the live shows into account is a different mindset more than anything. It’s a process of alienation to build angst, tension and frustration. It’s an amphetamine riled situation focusing on Brechtian theories of defamiliarisation with the aim of making it a bloody uptight, tense experience for the individual. Brechtian ideas stipulate that the audience should not become involved within the narrative of the performance – the audience should be kept at distance – enough to intrigue them and hold their focus, but not enough to allow them to escape within the world of the spectacle. It works in a notion of intriguing the audience then letting them go at any giving moment, giving a feeling of anxiety. The gaunt, ghoulish figure of Lias lingers over you, provoking you with his eroticised shakes, and jerks as he mutters sweet whispers – often nothing more than a breath echoing the words he wishes to say.

In the background, a bag of bones lead by the shape of Saul Adamczewski maintain your eyes, keeping you in their stare at all times – there is the constant petrifying feeling of being watched from below dark frowns. It is an emotional, mental release that this troupe seek when presenting themselves in a live setting – it’s not escapism, it is a downright confrontation and it’s often as chaotic and convoluted as it sounds. The live show emphasises their importance and necessity in live music. It acts as a counterculture to the escapists – those artists providing a show that lets you out of your day to day life for a brief two hours whilst you stand or jump; only to then go back home, reminisce briefly and drift off to a pleasant sleep.

No, what Fat White Family do is bring you out of your shell in a way that is emphasised. It’s a possession of you, it makes it hard to let go of the experience – it’s a confused situation of beings and liquids that makes you nervous and anxious. Masturbating onstage and kicking around the head of a pig gives the horrifyingly intriguing troupe auteur image. A gang mentality that is oh so exaggerated in a live setting.

So all this can seem highly exaggerated and I’m sure, irrelevant to a mass majority of music fans. Essentially, it comes down to what one wishes to take from a group. If one finds gratification in the safety of a band, then Fat White Family may not be for you. As is the musical technicality of the band, if you are one to take into account interesting time signatures, dynamics and pedal jumping, then once again, maybe think again. However, if you are to take into account the true cult identity of a band – in a similar way to The Velvet Underground and The Brian Jonestown Massacre – then Fat White Family may click with you. If you want something that will resonate in a seminal fashion and provide you with a total confrontation of your morals, self and community, then take this group and hold them tight. Not too tight though, they will unapologetically kick back and leave you bleeding somewhere.’

Words: Tom Churchill