This Slaves article was written by Ben Duncan Duggal, a GIGsoup contributor
Slaves have had a sparkling 12 months. This couldn’t be illustrated anything better than their arrival as headliners at Bristol’s 1200 capacity Anson Rooms; last time they visited the city 9 months ago they were third on the bill at the similarly sized O2 Academy. So, what has happened in between? A top ten album, a collective awakening of the world and a Mercury Prize nomination. And yet, despite all that, they are still just a guitar band, a punk band, mining a commodity with a continuously declining price. A big fish in a small pond. Aren’t they?
Based on their recordings, yes. The population of bald and even grey heads even the venues reveal the fact that Slaves owe something to punk. They are in fact, at first listen, a punk band. All crunching guitars and noise.
And yet, as they have stated in interviews, they want to be so much more. Music fans want them to be too.
But choice of support did not do much to dispel this notion. They are less of a band, and more of a punk history project, right from Sex Pistols to The Clash and onto The Specials. All well and good, particularly considering the current rareness of live performances from these bands. But it does nothing to dispel the notion that Slaves are about to contribute to the self indulgent, inward facing decline of guitar music.
And yet, they do. Their performance is packed with seriousness, limiting the band’s jovial side to the “in between song chatter”. That creates a sense of urgency, a sense of happening, now. It is what separates Slaves from punk, stuck in the past and never to come back. The aspiration of punk is that past those sweaty 70’s basements. Slaves aspire to entertain everyone, now. They are so much more than their genre.
Instead they belong to whatever or whomever is creating a sense of danger, right now. That would be grime. Of course, Slaves are not a grime act, but they feed off exactly the same energy as grime does. At a superficial level, that is confirmed by the large cheers throughout the crowd on the announcement that the next song performed will be their cover of Skepta’s Shutdown. But their urgency goes much deeper, right to the core of everything they perform tonight.
For it is not the sincere faces which create this urgency, they simply complete it. It is, of course, the music which creates it in the first place. The two piece band have two pieces to their music – the primitive drums, and the guitar. Both sound entirely distinct and separate (another difference from backwards-looking punk), and yet intertwine perfectly to create perfect yet violent melodies, like a radio friendly pop song, a total audio assault.
Visually, it is a similar story. Both stand separate, both giving a visual impression of using their instruments as weapons. But taken as one the impression that the audience is left with is that this is a band completely in sync with each other and, for that matter, the audience. It’s all a far cry from their performance to a similarly sized crowd at Radio One’s Big Weekend, where they looked (and sounded) like rabbits caught in the headlights. This is a band at the top of their performing game.
It results in not only a complete gig, but also in some stunning moments. There was, in particular, a moment in Sockets – where the spiky guitar riff kicked in – where the entire room was at 100% in terms of energy. We could go no further. And the scrawl of White Knuckle Ride builds – in a entirely serious and sincere way, not dissimilar from dubstep – to a massive release, as the chorus hits.
What more could the audience possibly want from a gig? Contrast, from song to song? They are not ‘samey’, they are not a one pony. But it would be a lie not acknowledge the fact that they do sound similar. Of course, this isn’t really a problem if all of the songs are up to scratch, and they are. But still. There are moments – a verse here, an intro there – where it feels as if the band have been knocking at the same door for too long. But although a ballad here and there would get rid of them, they are minimal, as are the complaints amongst the partisan audience.
Slaves want to prove that they are more than a ‘run-of-the-mill’ guitar band. They are.