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Album Of The Week

Exploding The Mainstream Indie Industrial Complex: INNIT By SCUDFM
Danijela Bočev , September 1st, 2022 08:53

Meatraffle's Zsa Zsa Sapien brings urgency and raw punky energy to a set of anthems in defiance of the new boring, finds Danijela Bočev

Photo credit Lou Smith

By the second year of pandemic isolation, I developed a fear of boring music. "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." Well not today, John Cage. I dreaded the annihilation of vital parts of my psyche if I indulged one more quiet sonic experiment putting me on a steady diet of nothing special or not especially engaging.

I must have healed in some strange way. I was no longer as hyper-attuned to micro signs of bodily malfunctions, real or imagined, the psycho-somatic anxiety I subconsciously carried for years since the passing of my parents. I realised my taste for quietude and the high tolerance I developed for somewhat thoughtful, but monotonous art came from a state of unresolved issues with my own mortality and the fragility of life I guarded with vigilance. Low-grade existential shell-shock turned poor excuse for mature listening. Suddenly the safe space of my own imagined anechoic chamber, superimposed to life, seemed like a private hell, the gentlest nihilism spread thin, a slow-motion suicide, the white noise of it all working insidiously like an indiscriminate erasure tape, erasing the vitality locked within the trauma.

Fear sharpens the ear, but boredom is a warning sign from nature that you're not engaging with life. The deflated nervous system of the post-pandemic world needs a shot of adrenaline, embracing the chaos to open new unexpected ways forward. I wanted to answer every PR email suggesting some conceptual sonic echo of an echo I would need to deep scan for signs of life with: "Thank you, but I am no longer bereaved." Whatever brings me nearer to the wild heart of life works. If it's still boring, it's boring, not zen, just turn it off!

Untangling from my self-imposed self-isolation within the global post-isolation, I only wanted to jump back on the train of life. And the right music was my ticket. Take me to hell if you may, we've all been there, just make it fun. What on the surface seems driven by the fear of monotony is, more importantly, motivated by harnessing the elemental joy and power of music as a subversive agent, blowing the modern anxieties to smithereens through direct engagement, rather than soothing them in avoidance. Being boring in your art is the greatest marker of privilege when the music must come as an evolutionary antidote to survival struggle.

The ever-shifting cultural landscape, with thoroughly eroded edges of what used to be the underground or mainstream, failing to harness the potential for exciting anarchic cultural exchange, still is more stuck on the eternal reset button, producing no systemic cultural transformation. When the alternative needs an alternative, creative propositions are bound to pop up from the fertile fringes.

"Dash The Henge is an exciting new label with the aim of introducing groups to the fore that might not get picked up from what we call the Mainstream Indie Industrial Complex, as we have noticed that many of these so-called independent labels have become even more conservative than the majors or bigger indie labels and not willing to take risks, understandable sometimes as external financial pressures can deform the integrity of an organisation. We want to offer an alternative away from the 'Mercury Prize' sound, inspired by the anarchy and unpredictable nature of NTS radio or pirate radio (but not genre restrictive)."

A few words by way of a manifesto from Warren Mansfield, better known as Zsa Zsa Sapien of Meatraffle, one of the main actors in South London's freshest creative hub. Following the organic route, the space is imagined as a new label, plus record store, plus social centre occupying the location of the former Rat Records on Camberwell Green, co-initiated with Fat White Family's Nathan Saoudi. True to their vision, the label is already cultivating a vibrant sonic and visual identity, drawing inspiration from Factory Records. So far, it's featured Saoudi's solo project Brian Destiny and Sapien's new band SCUDFM, a sort of supergroup connecting long-time players from several of London's creative scenes, like the Brixton Windmill, and closely affiliated with the elegantly wasted Fat White Family. "If Meatraffle is the Marxist/Leninist Big Brother house band then SCUDFM is a band of naughty Baby Socialist Anarchists who never pay to get in," so the self-description goes.

The long-awaited, predicably COVID-delayed physical release of SCUDFM's debut LP, INNIT, is finally out and it's a tuneful blast packing the best from a socially conscious and fun blend of early anti-Thatcherite post-punk, with hints of The Fall or Pulp's enchanted realist storytelling. The lyrics are never short of amusingly dark, full of charismatically eccentric turns of phrase.

Album intro 'A Theme From Scud' is as vocally tight as Bauhaus on a decidedly more upbeat day, chasing away the dark things. Betraying the edge-lord image with a subversive sincerity right from the intro, it admits: "Please don't get me wrong / I am telling you frankly / I ain't no tankie / They are just metaphors and some kind of way to lift the spirits up," in search of collectively unifying ideas and its symbols.

A tribute to the famous trade union leader, 'Bob Crow Was a Legend' replaces the often maligned tabloid creation and is here shouted from the rooftops, punctuated by effective fuzzy riffage. "Who put the hex on my sex?" asks Madame Hifi, taking the vocal duties for a women's rights anthem, subverting the feminist killjoy trope with charming delivery and lighthearted classic indie sun-tinged guitar. Guest vocalist Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family fame joins in to back the mantric and pointed 'Ego' (that's gotta go), adding more dark power to the convincingly non-negotiable punchline, rolling on the menacing groove with piercing guitar bursts.

Sardonic about disenchanted relationships, 'One Thing' is as close to a ballad from hell as you can get, and on the urgent stomper 'Allergen Also' we find affection is an allergen, causing the narrator a series of grim side-effects. 'Bigger Boat', meanwhile, might be their biggest, danciest tune, a stolen moment of joy amid the mess we're in, deftly playing with a reference to Jaws.

SCUDFM bring the right kind of catchy punk energy, their urgency jolting us awake from the collective brain fog in a moment of re-engaging in community life with newfound resilience. Most importantly, as a wider initiative, they're posing the right questions by challenging the cultural impasse with a pointedly iconoclastic attitude, avoiding the easy targets like some far-right boogeyman of the mainstream left and dealing with more nuanced internal problematics instead.

The Mainstream Indie Industrial Complex's risk-averse cultural conservatism has safe-played into existence a model close to what is now termed landfill indie, with a bare minimum of leftfield gimmicks, but still more trad than rad. Understandably, it's the consequence of survivalism hijacking creativity, but it also signals a deeper identity crisis in independent culture at large. Only now the cultural gatekeepers of enforced mediocrity, of the status quo and this tame new philistinism, are yesterday's rebels against the system. Anti-conformist to the outside world while internally super conforming, the insular subcultural nature is ever in danger of turning into the very thing it prescribes to rebel against, turning indie culture into a quaint soul's way of digesting and resisting the contemporary world from inside the bubble. While politeness isn't synonymous with hypocrisy, nor does rudeness count as authenticity, over-policing the art, misunderstanding its internally liberating purpose has creatively limiting consequences.

INNIT may not be reinventing the wheel in sonic terms, but every track is deeply felt and lived, fresh and fun in spite of life turning consistently sour on you and blessed with a strangely moving narrative voice, unpacking amusement from the darkest corners. With their Dash The Henge space opening a new platform for creatively marginalised voices, let's hope it's bringing a modest revolution – this time, it's sure to be one you can dance to.