Sleaford Mods & the politics of austerity

The last time I saw Sleaford Mods play live, beatmaker Andrew Fearn was stood on stage texting, five minutes before the gig was due to start. A few moments later and and Jason Williamson, the other half of the Nottingham duo, comes shoving through the crowd and gets up to join his partner, who pushes a button on his laptop. Williamson immediately launches into his demolition of the state of the UK in all its dank dreariness: shit jobs, raging hangovers and constant, low-level desperation.

If you tried to explain the band to someone who had never heard them before, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense: there’s one bloke who just stands there drinking beer and nodding his head, pressing play on a laptop, while the other bloke twitches and prances, jabbering away at the audience. When I last saw them play in Bristol, there was part of me that couldn’t help thinking that their main appeal was to disgruntled white middle-aged men. But it’s their directness, lack of pretension and honesty that resonates so acutely with a wider demographic. They are one of the few bands receiving mainstream airplay to address the social and emotional turmoil of the Tories’ austerity policies. Although keen to avoid the label of ‘political’ band, the lo-fi aesthetic of their beats is matched by the fury and social conscience of punk, which documents the small-scale, everyday frustrations and fucks-up of a society burnt out and living close to hopelessness.

The documentary Invisible Britain, which I saw last week, follows the band as they tour some of the British towns and cities usually excluded from touring bands’ itineraries. Places like Scunthorpe and Barnsley, clinging to the broken remnants of industry, where cuts to pubic services are making everyday life increasingly precarious for a working class not merely forgotten but actively scorned and punished by the current government.

As a music documentary it’s unusual. The film cuts between interviews with the band and fans, and scenes of local campaigns in the towns where they play, ranging from groups of families campaigning for the release of unjustly imprisoned relatives in Liverpool, to union stewards in Yorkshire and a young venue owner trying to create job opportunities for young people in an area with few prospects.

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On the way to The Cube, where the film was showing, I was walking up Stokes Croft when I came across a young woman crouched over a teenage girl doubled over on the pavement. The woman asked me if I had a phone, as she wanted me to call an ambulance for the girl, who was sleeping rough, and said she was pregnant and was having stomach pains. I offered to call her an ambulance but she refused, saying that the people in the hospital refused to treat her properly. I called them anyway, and she started walking off, but I caught up with her and talked to her for a little while. It turns out she was seventeen, had been turfed out by her mum and had been previously been raped, leading to her suffering a miscarriage. She was trying to cobble together enough spare change from passersby to get into the backpackers’ hostel at the end of the road. I gave her the little money I had on me. She thanked me, saying she wasn’t used to people on the street being nice to her.

The experience chimed eerily with a statistic at the start of Invisible Britain: that street homelessness has increased by fifty five per cent since the Tories came to power. Yet another bleak reminder of the reverse redistribution of wealth that the Conservatives are orchestrating and a further illustration of their determination to decimate services protecting vulnerable people and to undermine all tiny semblances of solidarity that are keeping those at the bottom from falling apart.

Cover Image: still from Invisible Britain

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