LIVE REPORT: Fat White Family

Mommy, What Did They Do To My Twang? Wyndham Wallace relives his past and recognises the future at Fat White Family sell out London's Electric Ballroom show

Photographs by Maria Jefferis of

It’s a decade, almost to the day, since I moved out of London but, emerging from Camden Town Underground Station, only the mobile phones have changed. Sirens spike the night, a trail of piss streaks the pavement, the beer in the nearby pub is off, and a pale, pierced teenager staggers into a barefooted lady clasping shoes as she tiptoes around fast food sacrificed to the pigeons. The Electric Ballroom, too, is exactly as I left it: there’s a man at the bar who’s still waiting for the drink he ordered before Baby Bird’s encore in 1996, and that’s Jamie Fry from Earl Brutus stood in front of me in a pin-striped shirt that may not have been washed in 15 years. Time seems to have frozen, apparently long before I even left the country. No wonder I can’t tell the difference between David Cameron and Tony Blair.

When Fat White Family take to the stage, it only seems to confirm my sense of temporal paralysis. Their grubby, urchin appearance is a flashback to youthful evenings misspent in The Dublin Castle and Spread Eagle pubs, and, later, doubled up over my toilet. Where are you now, Ligament and Elevate? What happened, Quickspace Supersport? Fat White Family may be a ‘Quietus band’, but I don’t have to agree with The Quietus, however often I write for it. As plastic glasses fly through the air, caught in the spotlights like tracer ammunition – one narrowly missing vocalist Lias Saoudi before he’s even sung a note – I feel like I’ve been beamed back into my past. There’s nothing new about this at all. It’s like the nightmares I had in the years before I left England: Groundhog Day at The Good Mixer.

And yet… And yet… As those with any familiarity with Camden will know, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. While this delinquent six piece starts to grind out their squalid, ramshackle racket – grown men singing in unison like drunken sailors, their instruments staggering after the melodies like oversexed lads trying to pull – their effusive, enthusiastic, ebullient energy unites an audience spoiling for a night out. Lias Saoudi – the star of the show, who’ll be admitted to hospital hours later and ordered to rest – prowls the stage like Sideshow Bob playing Sid Vicious, flaunting antisocial, adolescent values like they’re evidence of personal freedom.

Talk of zeitgeists is often tiresome and vague, but the Fat Whites strike a nerve. Their swagger and yobbish bravado are something to which to aspire, a rejection of the so-called genteel, civilised ideals that have bequeathed us a Conservative government only interested in, and protective of, its cronies. This isn’t the same hoodied, moronic arrogance of the Britpop generation, however: it’s deceptive, smart enough beneath the chutzpah to press the right buttons at the right time while merely looking like it can’t find its house keys. Fat White Family, you see, only play dumb. Moreover, however imperceptibly ‘Auto Neutron’ creeps up on you, however woozy ‘Cream of The Young’ might be, however much ‘Wild American Prairie’ sounds like it was stolen from NYC’s Chrome Cranks in the mid 90s, this is so much about the experience that familiarity is unnecessary. Song titles, schlong titles: this experience is of The Birthday Party playing Blur’s ‘Country House’. It’s The Libertines without the poetic pretensions. It’s the sound of Duane Eddy turning in his grave after he’s been strangled with his own guitar strings and buried by the Fat Whites themselves. It’s the sound that yesterday makes when perfected for today.

Forty minutes in, they announce one last song, ‘Bomb Disneyland’, and no chance of an encore. Christ knows what’ll go on backstage afterwards, but you fear for the health of the cleaners. These six are a lawless gang with righteous values: brilliantly talented, talentless fuckers. Sure, we’ve seen it before, but pop is so hungry it’s busy chewing its own toenails these days. So when something’s done this well – so well that its familiarity is immaterial, so well that its chaos is convincing, so well that by the end of the show there’s a metallic taste at the back of my throat as though I’ve known Fat White Family all my life – well, it’s irrefutable. Rock & roll has its hands down its pants, but this time it’s yelling “Leave the kettle on”. So something’s definitely changed after all…

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