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Base and Superstructure Oliver Cookson , September 25th, 2023 07:30

South London ultras go pop

Meatraffle have always existed in opposition. Contemptuous of everything from digital alienation to Bryan Ferry, their modus operandi has always been to kick against the pricks. When they formed back in 2014 the social, political and cultural situation in this country was dire. Estate agents' offices, luxury flats and franchised gastropubs were beginning to dominate the landscape of their native south London, the Cameron-Clegg coalition was on the rampage and the future of the British counterculture looked bleak. Thankfully, the backlash was fierce. 

Through Liam and Luke May’s Trashmouth Records, bands like Meatraffle, Warmduscher and Fat White Family released a series of records that responded to the times with rage, wit and joy. Whilst not always earnestly ‘political’ in the Billy Bragg sense, these bands voiced an irreverent refusal of the soul-crushing zeitgeist. Staunchly anti-capitalist and flaunting the inflammatory imagery of Soviet-era communism, Meatraffle were key players in the establishment of the Brixton Windmill-centred ‘south London scene’. 

Almost a decade later some of these bands are practically household names. Fat White Family are headlining festivals worldwide and Warmduscher have appeared on Later… with Jools Holland. Meatraffle, however, are doing what they’ve always done: bringing their eclectic, highly danceable form of post-punk to sticky pub venues and flying the flag for a properly alternative British counterculture. Their new album, Base and Superstructure, sees the band venture into saccharine synth-pop territory. At times more Strawberry Switchblade than The Pop Group, gone is the dissonant dub menace of their early work. With Dante Traynor and Meatraffle keyboardist Chris OC handling production duties, the new album glistens with an artificial sheen. 

‘Lovesong Industrial Complex’ kicks things off with tinny disco drums and lyrics railing against the relationship-obsessed monomania of popular music. The sound is undeniably cleaner than previous efforts but frontman Zsa Zsa Sapien’s wonky trumpet lines and antagonistically literal lyrics are unmistakable. On ‘Posh People in Pop’, he directs his scorn at the aforementioned Bryan Ferry and his ilk (slightly unfairly given Ferry’s working class roots) with lines like “You sing in the song you had it so hard, born in the ghettos of Richmond Park”. Coming from another band, this might feel hectoring but Meatraffle's penchant for self-mockery undercuts any hints of soap-box pontification. Sapien’s admission to being a ‘Secret Fizzy Wine Drinker’ on the next track confirms his self-effacing stance.

This balancing act between genuinely expressed political sentiment and daft, self-deprecating comedy is the genius of Meatraffle. With triumphant anthems like ‘Mannaggia La Miseria’ setting out a fairly direct critique of trickle-down economics, we’re left in no doubt about the group’s leftist leanings. However, setting scenes of class struggle on the golf courses of south London suburbs (‘New Maps of Hell’) or at the Christmas parties of emasculated office workers (‘Bully Boss’) demonstrates a sense of humour frequently absent from more familiar forms of protest music. 

Having recently joined forces with Fat White Family’s Nathan Saoudi to open Dash the Henge record shop in Camberwell, Meatraffle continue to exist in defiance of the grey forces of 21st-century capitalism. Base and Superstructure may lack the abrasion and discordance of previous albums but as a satirical response to oppressive times, it’s no less powerful. Colourful, provocative and relentlessly mocking, it’s a form of radicalism that doesn’t shy away from a good time. In their own exuberant style, Meatraffle are still fighting the good fight.