Fat White Family

Champagne Holocaust

You can smell Fat White Family before you see them, or so I discovered this past summer when they played a former psychiatric hospital. The scent of the sun-warmed buddleia and brambles sprouting from the institutional dereliction was suddenly interrupted by that of unwashed male, cheap cigs and cheaper booze. Eyes followed nose, and there Fat White Family were, stood around and mucking about with old wheelchair. One of them wasn’t wearing shoes or socks, and blood trickled down from a sore on his leg towards his dirty feet. All of them had the appearance of the kind of young men whose hands relieve OAPs of wallets (and more) to keep band and vices going.

This sense of the unpleasant and archly wrong pervades Champagne Holocaust, the band’s debut album, which is finally coming out on the compact disc format. It feels like a timely release, for this is one of the few decent mainstream-ish guitar records to arrive in the Quietus HQ all year. Rock & roll is so stuck it rarely interests me these days, especially the ‘yeah dude girls beer yeah goodtimes’ American garage rock that says nothing about your life unless you get Instagram confused with a mirror. The Communism-obsessed and decidedly twisted Fat White Family are the polar opposite of both that complacent, derivative escapism and the wilfully luddite anthems to chip shops that have characterised British indie since Oasis.

But then again, Fat White Family aren’t really a rock & roll band per se. They don’t play up to the codified myths, the tedious leathery Anglican traditions of the genre, but mess with them, subvert them, undermine them. They take the faux-seediness of most rock & roll groups and run with it to throw back in our faces with music that’s a strange fug of early Pink Floyd, The Fall, Bad Seeds, Country Teasers and The Monks – in honour of whom singer Lias Saoudi recently tonsured himself. They sing lyrics of fecund carnality, revelling in the physical – "five sweaty fingers on the dashboard", "there’ll always be fresh bodies to milk", "tell me is it raining in your mouth" – and are often downright seedy – see the queasily self-explanatory ‘Cream Of The Young’.

Their reputation precedes them, though it’s often written wrong. The band don’t live in a squat, but above a pub, which presumably makes the drinking a drain on their resources. Others have questioned their ‘authenticity’ (that redundant notion) thanks to their former lives as members of The Metros, an appalling group who were at the arse end of the arse end of the guffy indie skiffle trail left by The Libertines, The Kooks and their rinky-dink "uh-huh-uh-ing" ilk. But no musician should be judged on the sins of the past, and perhaps Fat Whites look so unwell because they’re being punished for them. I quite like the idea that they’re are a VD-ridden phoenix, risen from the ashes to seek vengeance on their former selves, and those who are now making those same mistakes. Imagine them in a fight with The 1975 – it’d be a glorious thing to watch.

And perhaps some of the revulsion and self-awareness that must come with being one of ‘those’ kinds of indie bands has fed into their more misanthropic moments. It’s hard not to blanche at the line in ‘Garden Of The Numb’ that goes, cheerily, "you’d sell your mother’s cunt to open doors," however accurate it might be about How Things Work In Music These Days. See also the OTT lyrics to the inappropriately exuberant ‘Bomb Disneyland’ – "all your kids are dead kids / all your kids are naked / in my mind". Fat White Family’s unsettling nature comes from creating a lurid caricature – see that album artwork of a cartoon pig, sausage out, wielding bloodied hammer and sickle.

Much like a garage rock Whitehouse, Fat White Family are very very funny, just as they push the boundaries of taste. Take the banjo-emulating electric guitar on ‘Who Shot Lee Oswald?’ which asks who actually put paid to JFK’s assassin: "was it a secret government inside the American government?… Was it the Velvet Underground? Gimme the truth! Was it Bobby Davro?" The dissection of Jeremy Clarkson masculine stasis and consumerism in ‘Autro Neutron’ ("man builds house and man builds car / that keeps him safe to carry him far" ) is observationally amusing, while the lurid ‘Cream Of The Young’ has perhaps the best denouement to a music video you’ll see this year. ‘It It Raining In Your Mouth’, all chimes and pop chug, is the kind of tune you could imagine soundtracking a cafe scene in a godawful American teen flick, but for the cheek in its exultant chorus of "five sticky fingers on the dashboard" and breakdown into unfettered screaming.

With this lyrical nastiness and visual decrepitude, Fat White Family give the air of being ramshackle and rough around the edges, but musically are a ferocious proposition, especially live. The energy captured on ‘Heaven On Earth’ is much like The Fall if Mark E Smith went back to writing his own garage bangers rather than forever deploying those tired old covers (‘Mr Pharmacist’, ‘Strychnine’ etc). Indeed, the end of this track, with all sorts of vocal yowling and pugnacious guitars, is reminiscent of that band’s The Marshall Suite. This is lo-fi music (I swear that’s the bleep of an Olympus dictaphone being turned off at the end of ‘Auto Neutron’) but never self-consciously or whimsically so. Instead, it’s fierce and filthy and ribald and joyous, ‘Is It Raining In Your Mouth?’ ending in a chaos of bells and screaming, ‘Special Ape’ a pure noise stomp, a farmhand gone mad and standing naked and rubbing one out atop a hayrick during harvest festival. "If my mind was clean I’d be fine," they sing on the monotone-yet-catchy ‘Borderline’… almost wistfully. For the sake of music, may their minds (and feet) remain foul, their souls mired in turpitude.

This is sordid music, unpleasant music, an irritant, and definitely not for everyone’s tastes, or lack of it. But British indie music has been a sterile, un-confrontational, polite and clean-shaven place for years now, devoid of sex and funk (scent, as well as the more obvious musical sort). I suppose there’s the similarly libidinous Wild Beasts, of whom Fat White Family are feral and degenerate cousins, but that’s about it. And in terms of politics, all we’ve had from the genre is the lumpen and glib sloganeering of Hard-Fi and, most hilariously of all, Reverend & The Makers. These grim disordered times where society is becoming ever-more skewed, the public ever more complacent, require a foul, belligerent, unpleasant reaction. After all, last night I walked past a brand new drinking establishment just behind the RBS building in the City Of London, packed with the braying that goes under the name of Champagne Cult. Fat White Family are, then, a breath of fresh air. Feet and all.

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