SLAVES: TAKE CONTROL
The first band from Kent to provide a kick up the arse for the music industry for a very long time, we went back stage at dreamland to meet Slaves
Sitting in the chilled Margate air, summer drizzle starting to set in, a journalist could wonder why he is waiting for three hours to chat to a pair of Kentish musicians. But as soon as the resentment-filled cry “consume or be consumed” smashes into gathered crowd Dreamland’s Ballroom, I know why. Slaves are different. I knew it from the opening diplomatic digs at society in “The Hunter” when I first heard the leading track off their “Are You satisfied?” album two years ago. And I know it now.
Led through the mazey, pandemonium-packed corridors of Thanet’s jewel in the crown, Team ‘cene held their breath for what could well be a shit-show of an interview. My hands are freezing, I’ve lost my questions and they are punks, after all. They might pour beer over our heads, kick us out and really put on a show for the media.
“Sorry guys, we wanted to get this done hours ago,” says Laurie Vincent, guitarist, artist, and strings extraordinaire as he enters the room. It seems the red tape and self-importance of venue, label and security reps have managed to come between three people having a conversation. Something that is made light of in the “Mr Industry” skit on their latest album “Take Control”.
Laurie is tattooed and has the ultra-punk look about him with cut-off denim jacket often given way to outlandish John Lydon–style suits, whereas Issac Holman (drummer and lead vocalist) is more clean cut with a style more in keeping with the Dr Martens and braces of This is England’s early years.
“It has been very full-on recently,” says Laurie, sipping a coffee. Glastonbury, Zagreb’s Inmusic Festival, Romania’s Electric Castle Festival, Budapest’s Bankito Festival and Rock For The People Festival in the Czech Republic have all fallen in the first two weeks of July… they even have an appearance on C4’s Sunday Brunch the morning after the Margate gig.
“Benicassim was great,” says Laurie. “That was the first time we’ve had a massive reaction in a different country, mainly because there was a lot of British people, so that was really cool.
“It is way more agro than I expected, though. I had this vision of palm trees and beaches, but it is quite hectic.”
The energy and booming sounds produced by the Tunbridge Wells pair on stage leaves little wonder as to why they need a caffeine pick-me-up beforehand. Issac is stood at his drums smashing his way through an extended set list that seems to consist of two complete albums and more, while Laurie is climbing purpose-placed boxes at the side of the stage. It’s animated. It’s aggressive. It’s punk music.
The clothing choices of their fans tell you that. But so does the music. Short, sharp riffs, vigorous beats and lyrics spat out in the style of their 70s forerunners.
There is a distaste for authority in their music, as displayed in tracks like “Take Control” or “Sugar Coated Bitter Truth”, but there is more of a revulsion of the trappings of modern life in “Despair and Traffic” and “Cheer Up London”.
Issac screams on stage: “If you don’t like your job, do something else!” There is a running theme of life being wasted.
In fact, the band has stated that even their name “relates to people not being in control of their day-to-day lives”, rather than having any racial connotations that had ludicrously been suggested.
The lyrics “Video games, eating your brains”, or “Exclusive bars, reality stars, fuck no! Hypnotized TV, hypnotized HD, hypnotized 3G, spending time dribbling!” say it all really.
“We are observational,” says Laurie. “The middleclass is the biggest part of our society in England. And there is something to be said for these disaffected youths who don’t really have anything to complain about, but they aren’t happy.”
And on politics?
“I don’t really trust any politicians,” he says. It’s not really our field. I have my own views on it, but also, I want to say what I think and that doesn’t always fall into line with anyone’s policies.”
The topic of mobile phones is littered throughout their songs and live performances.
“Put your phones down and enjoy this moment here and now”, shouts Issac from the stage.
The track “Consume, or Be Consumed” again echoes this distrust of contemporary society. Featuring the legendary Mike D of the Beastie Boys, who also helped produce their “Take Control” album, the video sees the boys downing hotdogs shouting “you will eat what you are fed”!
“It’s weird,” says Laurie. “Growing up, when you watched the Jonathan Ross show or Jools Holland, it didn’t come into my mind that they were trying to sell you something.
“But no one gets on TV these days unless they are selling you something. People don’t get on those shows just for a chat. It is promoting something. It is really bizarre. You can’t get into people’s sight without promoting something.”
They also are known for the quirky songs about their past, like “Where’s Your Car Debbie?” referring to the time they were in the woods worried about recent sightings of Bigfoot in Kent. There is also “Fuck The Hi-Hat”, which is a retort to music twats, who perhaps didn’t like Issac’s non-traditional drumming set-up without the high-hat cymbal.
Whether it's two or four minutes in length, each song seems to have a story and a meaning behind it.
Right now, the duo’s relentless gig schedule has all the hallmarks of a band very much in demand. The European Festivals tour has been completed and an American tour is in the offing. But cracking the States is not the aim so much as spreading the good word of punk’s second coming.
“I’m kind of a bit dubious of attempting it. I like where we are at the moment. I still feel like we tour a lot, but we can have a month off,” says Laurie.
“It seems, the minute you go worldwide you don’t come home. I don’t want to do a 365-day tour. It’s not for me.”
However, with the hysteria that comes with a being an up-and-coming band with Virgin, EMI, means that touring and promotion is a necessary evil.
“It used to be that you make an album and go on tour to promote it,” explains Laurie. “But now you make an album so that you can go on tour. Festivals want you to have something new, the press want you to have something new; the reality for rock bands is that people engage more with the live side more than the music, so you almost need to keep putting new music out to have a reason to be at a festival.”
The pair haven’t recorded in more than a year since “Take Control” was created.
“That’s mental. The way music has gone, it has really slowed down,” explains Laurie. People are used to bands going away for a long time now. The Beatles used to release at least two albums a year, The Smiths released an album every year they were together. What’s the point in waiting around?”
So is there pressure to get a new album out?
“I don’t feel pressure at the moment,” says Issac.
Laurie adds: “You could take it as pressure, but we really want to write more music, we just don’t have time. We have got an album pretty much ready in our heads. It’s there and coming together. Our partnership in writing music is right there, but we just don’t have time right now. I don’t feel like we have peaked yet. So that’s why I want to keep writing music.”
I have harped on about it enough already, but Laurie is sympathetic with my continual pokes and prods into the punk pigeonhole and whether or not the duo see a punk revolution coming.
“If you think about the indie landfill era. Who was punk? Maybe the Libertines, and the Gallows came through. But that’s it,” he says.
“But now, I could put on a pretty solid punk all-dayer event of English bands. And from all ranges; from Ladybird who are playing here with us nd have just started out, through to Sleaford Mods. And you’ve got Idols and Life coming through.”
But there is that, off-centre, breakaway from the norm, isn’t there? I continue like a bore.
“I suppose it starts with the fact that we are a twopiece,” says Laurie. “The fact that Issac plays standing up. That’s a simple ‘fuck you’ to the norm.”
Though the duo now split their time between London, Brighton, the road, and Kent, they have always been proud of their roots. Just type 'Slaves live at Glastonbury' in Youtube to see their opening dialogue with the audience.
“Without blowing our own trumpet, we made a point of saying ‘Hi, we are Slaves from Kent”, at every single show,” says Laurie.
“We stole it off The Cribs, who always say, ‘Hi, we are The Cribs from Wakefield”. Leeds is their closest big city, but they always said Wakefield and I thought we shouldn’t pretend to be something we aren’t. We aren’t from London, we are from Kent.”
Having spoken to BBC Introducing in Kent DJ Abbie McCarthy in the last issue of ‘cene magazine*, she revealed that Slaves have been cited as the influence of many bands that now appear on her radio show, like The Bay Rays, Glass Peaks and many more.
“Our friends, Ladybird, who are playing tonight, like us as a band. They are our friends and they wanted to start a band, too. We want that scene,” says Laurie.
“I feel like there is a buzz. I don’t want to sound big headed but I feel that seeing a Kent band do well has inspired a lot of bands from the county,” says Issac. “There’s some really inspiring stuff about.”
“The music scene in Kent growing-up was shocking,” says Laurie. “There were people trying to do it, but there was no venues and no support and no magazines.”
So why has it taken until now for something to start happening? It could be to do with proximity.
“Kent is in this weird shadow of the city, and it doesn’t get a look-in a lot of the time,” says Issac.
“We’ve got this phrase that we wrote in a song taken from when I was driving from Kent to London and back to see my missus,” says Laurie.
“You drive up the M20 and you see The Shard, and it dawned on me that we actually are in the shadow of the city.
“It pisses me off, and we have fallen out with northern bands I won’t name, who say that because we are southerners we have it easy, because we are near London.
“They think that it is all gravy down here, and it’s not. There are still a lot of real dead-end places. Most people up north have never heard of Kent, people drive through it to get to places. It’s a real misinterpretation.”
A knock at the door and a voice says there is 25 minutes until Slaves are on stage.
“Don’t worry,” says Laurie, “finish your questions.”
It’s at this point I hark back to the classic James Lipton (famous US television interviewer) questions in an attempt to be thought provoking. They haven’t heard of James Lipton and I remember I’m talking to mid 20-somethings and I look like a ponce.
“What keeps you awake at night?” I say.
“My own thoughts,” says Laurie. “I rerun every situation of my life where I have been an idiot and keep thinking about it. Sometimes I will think about something I did five years ago and its really vivid, and I wonder why the fuck I did it.”
“I do exactly the same,” says Issac. “I think of conversations years ago, and wonder why I said that. Or things where you embarrassed yourself when you were growing up.”
“Like when you didn’t know yourself growing up, I judge myself on my morals now, and lay in bed thinking about it.”
These two are probably more punk than perhaps they even realise. They can be down to earth, happy to speak openly, erudite and intellectual. But equally, they’re ready to scream and shout to make their point heard and stick by it.
Nothing sums up this Lydon-esque duality more than our last interaction.
“What are your favourite Slaves lyrics?” I say.
Laurie answers thoughtfully: “Stopping signs of life in the factory of death. In the shadow of the city, we've got nothing left. Crawling through the tunnels (presumably Dartford and Blackwall) in the dead of the night. You do as you are told although you know it’s not right.”