Amy Gwinnett chats to punk duo Slaves and catches their show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
Slaves are tired. They’ve been on tour up and down the country for weeks, and now they’ve come to a stop for two nights at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. ‘I think we’re both quite up for it coming to an end to be honest,’ Isaac, the singer/drummer (an unusual combination, but more on that later) tells me. ‘We’re really excited about these two dates, but we’re both exhausted… It’s been a slog’.
I’m not surprised. Slaves play with an intensity, both emotional and physical, that few of their peers can match. Since their critical ascension back in 2014 they have made a name for themselves built on rage, power and zany humour. ‘We’re not just always angry people or always funny people,’ Isaac explains, ‘I think people forget that and want us to be a band that’s one or the other, when it’s not realistic. Our music comes from who we are as people and our emotions are fleeting and changing all the time and our music isn’t always going to be the same.’
The show is a big one, standing tickets are like gold dust across both nights (and there’s nowhere else to be but down the front at a Slaves gig). You might get the idea that Slaves don’t care much for London, judging by their tune Cheer Up, London from the first album Are You Satisfied? which boasted the refrain: ‘You’re dead already! Dead, dead, already!’, but that’s not the case. ‘I love London,’ says Isaac. ‘We both get more anxious playing London shows, there’s more pressure, lots of people you know are here. It’s really exciting, it’s almost like doing a home town show for us but it’s quite daunting at the same time.’
If they really are daunted on stage, you can’t tell. Support comes from Shame, described by Laurie, the guitarist, succinctly as ‘this little grotty band from London that we love’. If they come on looking slightly dwarfed by the big stage, they soon overcome it. Often first support bands have an unseemly sheen of gratitude about them that overpowers any possible charisma, but Shame’s grot cuts right through that. Then there’s Life, who, Laurie proudly tells me, ‘are a band from Hull and before our tour they had a manager but nothing else, and now they have an agent’. Slaves as fairy godmother perhaps. ‘They blew me away’. Slaves take the business of support bands very seriously. ‘You’ve got to bring really good support bands on tour, that you respect,’ I’m told, with seriousness. ‘You’ve got to pick them yourselves, you’ve got to watch them, and watching them inspires you. We’d never take someone on tour because they’ve paid us or they’ve got the same label as us, it has to be because we like them.’
The crowd are positively foaming at the mouth for the band when they walk on, and they give a confident and muscular performance – literally, in the case of Isaac, who’s shirt doesn’t make it past the first song. It’s a wonder they can still give it this kind of energy.
‘You know when once a year they’d make you do the 1500m race at school,’ Laurie explains, ‘I hated it, I used not to apply to do anything and I got stuck with that one – it’s like that but now it’s everyday! It never used to be when we did half an hour sets; you’re usually just more in awe that you’re on tour with Jamie T or someone, but when it’s your own tour and you have a set list that looks like that,’ he waves a long arm and the lengthy set list, ‘every night feels like you’re about to run the 1500m, it is quite mentally daunting.’ So how do they do it? ‘You go on stage and if you don’t give it your all you’ve cheated the people that have come.’ Isaac weighs in, agreeing. ‘I wouldn’t feel happy with a performance unless I knew I’d given it every last ounce of energy that I have.’
The two albums the band have under their belt, both hugely successful, play well together. Isaac explains the relationship between them as ‘the last album was more of a question, this is more of a statement.’ That statement being, Take Control, the new album that some of the night’s strongest songs come from. The first single, Spit It Out, for example, is a furious yet fun thrash along, whereas Consume Or Be Consumed and People That You Meet have a driving, lurching fury to them that ignites the room. The former features Mike D, whose place they went to for the recording of the album in California, which they describe as a ‘dream come true’. But what do they want to take control of? ‘We took control of our situation,’ says Laurie, simply. ‘It can be a small thing or a big thing you take control of’. Isaac backs him up: ‘We are responsible for ourselves, take from that what you will’.
‘Everything that we stand for and do is all encompassing. The message, it’s like a little mantra: there are so many people in life who are happy to say they can’t do this, they can’t do that, and they haven’t had this opportunity – ours is you can take control of the future and make stuff happen.’
Their first album, Are You Satisfied? is wearing well, too. Some of the big hits are already starting to sound classic, like the ominous bass of The Hunter or the bratty punk of Where’s Your Car Debbie? Isaac drums standing up, while bawling into the mic. He has a habit of running furiously on the spot as he does it; I wince for his poor shoulders (they’re knackered, he tells me, and in need of surgery). Then there’s Feed The Mantaray, gloriously silly. If you find yourself wondering about the metaphorical significance of the mantaray, the band’s advice would be, don’t. ‘I think it’s obvious from the way we are, our setup and everything we’ve done, that we’re not cold, calculating, success hungry musicians.’ says Laurie. ‘We’re people that love to make music, we’re friends and we write whatever comes and whatever feels good. It’s not like we write 80s synth-pop where every line has to sound brilliant and there has to be a hook, we kind of just let it all happen and a lot of people try to look for deeper meaning in it and sometimes…’.
‘There is none,’ Isaac offers.
Meaningful or not, the fans don’t care, and the crowd give back everything the band give them tonight, going absolutely mad for every song, from the inanity of Fuck The Hi-Hat (‘fuck the hi-hat, fuck the hi-hat’, it goes, ‘fuck the hi-hat’) to the didactic title track Take Control. But who are Slaves to tell us what to do? I asked them what they’d do with a taste of power.
‘Today? Right now? I would quite like to be in the EU again, but that’s already been and gone.’ says Isaac despondently.
Laurie considers for a moment.
‘I don’t like the education system, I think it’s really fundamentally flawed, so I would like to change that. I would try and take away the stigma attached to doing practical things. You’re deemed not very bright if you want to go into trade, I’d bring back home economics for all sexes and practical tasks like building and woodwork, and teach kids how to do tax returns rather than Pythagoras’ theorem, and I wouldn’t put so much pressure on kids to go to university.’
‘There’s too much structure on creative subjects as well,’ adds Isaac.
‘Yeah, and I’d introduce more creative studies. You spend such a large proportion of your life at school, it shapes who you are but a lot of people have a really really bleak time at school.’ I suggest a career in policy awaits.
The night is a huge success, and I wonder if the band can taste the respite that’s just one more day away. Which is just as well, as Laurie is expecting.
‘My girlfriend has a week and a half left.’ Perfectly timed, then. ‘I know, I have a knack for these things, I don’t know how I do it. So, I’m going to go back to my house, camp out, have a nice Christmas and then get to know my baby… which is weird. Everyone thinks it’s going to be a boy so I’m prepped to have a miniature me now.’
Isaac, perhaps aware that he can’t top that, just promises that he’ll take it easy.
Slaves are a vital band in our troubled times. Angry people are more necessary now than ever. Even if it’s just to mosh your troubles away, you could use this band in your life.
But don’t listen to me, listen to them – why should people listen to Slaves?
‘Dunno,’ says Isaac, contrary. ‘You don’t have to.’
Laurie, more considered: ‘I think people don’t necessarily have to listen to us but people should come to one of our gigs, because I challenge you not to enjoy it. There is something for everyone at a Slaves gig, and you’ll have more fun than you expect.’ He pauses a moment, for the crowning accolade. ‘Even my mum likes us live.’
Featured Image: Ticketmaster