The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Three Songs No Flash

Naughty Boy Rock & Roll, With Fat White Family Live
Luke Turner , February 26th, 2014 08:20

As everyone starts having yet another ponder about the absence (or otherwise) of rock & roll, Luke Turner enjoys another sweaty encounter with Fat White Family

Photographs by Valerio Berdini

Lias Saoudi appears amidst the rabble of the Fat White Family on the Electrowerkz stage, wearing the suit of a carpet salesmen up for a disciplinary in 1986, an ill-matched tie, and carrying a tub of Flora margarine in his right pocket. Fat White Family mill about in their odd shirts and scrappy facial hair and timeless, flawed faces, and gradually get stuck in to 'Auto Neutron'. It's a rare thing that, a band who get gradually stuck in - most new guitar groups, of whom there are precious few of interest these days - will tend to perform to the peak of their mother's ambitions for the first ten minutes of any set, in the hope of stoking some, any, interest among the assembled punters, before sighing off after 30 dispiriting minutes.

Not Fat White Family. By the time of 'Is It Raining In Your Mouth?' their bassist (gorgeous, curly blonde, as if FWF have kidnapped him to make a porno version of If...) and drummer are shirtless, and Saoudi has his crap trousers down by his hips. The outline of the cock you can see through the cheap material is hardly the "shriveled" snail he told me about in an interview for the latest issue of Q magazine (on all good shelves tomorrow) and he's howling and screaming at the ceiling as the band lurch and thrash, in perfect time, around him. How often do you see such a frontman sharing and slicing vocal power on top of and with the rest of his band? It's immediately, wonderfully odd - too skinny and ill to be aggressively macho, yet this song has a huge rugby team chorus that's beautifully ambiguous: "five sweaty fingers on the dashboard" - who, exactly, do the moistened digits belong to? Who's on top?

You can sniff out the fact that a certain sort will be after this lot, the same fashionable West London / Camden / Shoreditch wrinkle-faced danger hunters whose own aesthetic void led them to Pete Doherty and friends ten years back. In them they saw an easy emptiness with whom to chop out a line and talk about The Clash and, being cockroaches, they're still around now to take the surface appearance of Fat White Family and think they can do the same here too. The simple unhappy awkwardness of these six young men, their dependence and love / hate relationship with Brixton, and their complete honesty in interviews, suggests such faux-boho appropriation won't be so simple. For The Libertines (who, as Fat Whites get bigger, will inevitably become the first comparison) English identity was pseudo-literary, evoking - bizarrely enough - the Victorian, a fictional and bourgeois bogus Arcadia. This seems a madness now, compared to which even Morrissey's reactionary dreams of the 50s might seem a pleasant place to visit. Fat Whites' oddness comes from a belch at the present and their modern outsiders view. Just look at their surnames - two Saoudi's apparently spurned by their Algerian relatives thanks to this behaviour, an Adamczewski and a Pancucci alongside a Lyons and a Harmer. Neither Moz nor UKIP would approve. And... will you look at that, Lias Saoudi is perfectly happy to allow the feather-haired, young John Squire of a boy in the front row to gently run his fingers up his tummy as he sings...

... 'Wild American Prairie' is more like The Fall every time they play it, but The Fall never really did tight little nipples and bare sweaty chests, and a matching couple of inches of pubes and arse crack. Much as I love The Fall, they were never terribly sexy, which is why their influence here is interesting. There's new song 'I Am Mark E Smith', something they shouldn't be able to get away with but, perhaps, the humour makes it work - "I've got the paperwork to prove it" - with a 'Leave The Capitol' aping chorus of "leave the kettle on! Leave the kettle on". Oh yes, and there's an Adamczewski-led acoustic bluesy number about "Georgey Osbourne" and drones (I think), that ends with an inchoate scream, like an illiterate farmer catching a toff wronging his prize cow.

It's not that this chapter of Fat White Family's slow, inexorable rise is without its troubles. During the extended work out to start 'Cream Of The Young' Lias Saoudi looks knackered, microphone looped over his shoulder, his face all stubble and bad memories of the tour just gone. Yet then he starts singing those despicable lyrics and arches his body back, offering it to us all. Invigorated, he delivers 'Bomb Disneyland' sprinting on the spot like he's doing the Great North Run at home on a treadmill with a plate of amphetamine, and imagining watching himself sprint to the finish on local TV. Unpleasant and disposable, but with a very violent intent, this must have been an utter bastard of a song to get past the immigration officials for the band's forthcoming American tour.

I'm not sure how much fun this would have been for the rest of the venue. Electrowerkz is a place where you need to get there late, as the entrance to the room is down the front left, and even then sound and sight-lines are shit - I'm stood a about two metres from the main PA stack throughout and my ear bones barely tremble. Onstage, Adamczewski in particular appears to be having a nightmare, and no doubt there will be a fair few of the representatives of the music industry here who are keen on snaring something that smells of hype leaving disappointed.

But that's not really who Fat White Family are for. I believe them when they've said in interview that they're quite happy carrying on as is, just so long as they can survive. I can't really see any of the larger British indie labels who are probably now as flush as majors taking a punt on something so defiantly not the sort of beige 'will this do?' aesthetically compromised lifestyle indie/electronica they've been foisting on us for the past few years. Fat White Family are probably the first 'hot' (in the music industry parlance) band in ages to be a genuinely hot potato, as intelligent as they are disheveled, as self-aware as they are wild in act and deed. Would you trust them? That's not really the point. They're just a wonderful blast of fresh energy and fecund air. Where along the line did everyone forget that all rock & roll is homosexual? When did you last see an indie rock group that made you hard or got you wet? All together now, "Me and my baby gonna touch that leather..."

The reason that The Quietus keeps banging on about Fat White Family is that they're are here for me and you, and all of us who love our music warped and twisted, ribald and rude, with brains and politics, sex and muck, warts and all. They're there for the lady of European extraction here tonight in a huge voluminous pink skirt and sports top and hat who keeps shouting at me for taking notes. She becomes especially excised in 'Wet Hot Beef', doing weird crouching pops to the floor. Rock & roll as a concept is a ludicrous place in which to place your standard, using it as a binary, a relic of a byegone age. What rock & roll still can have, though, what endures despite being forgotten for most of its history and the majority of its practitioners, is the kind of raw, equal opportunities sexual energy that Fat White Family display tonight. "Wet hot beef! Wet hot beef!" shrieks Lias Saoudi, running his hands through the feathered hair of the back of the head of the John Squire boy in the front row, who now has his hands on the singer's hips as he thrusts his crotch into his face. Fat White Family are there for him, too, and all those who get it.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.