Album Reviews

Decius – Decius Vol 1

(The Leaf Label) UK release date: 4 November 2022

Fat White Family’s Lias Saoudi gets carnal in a Berghain-via-Brixton Greco-Roman acid house trip where minds meet and meld

Decius - Decius Vol 1 If Fat White Family’s debauchedly raucous indie rock wasn’t entirely for you or your demographic, worry not: frontman Lias Saoudi has other strings to his bow. His folk ensemble recently played to a sold out St Pancras Old Church, while his intelligent memoir Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family And The Miracle Of Failure, written with Adelle Stripe, covers his band’s excesses while presenting him as an author. Amongst all this he’s been on-and-off fronting Decius, a most fruity collaboration project named after an obscure Roman emperor formed with Trashmouth Records brothers Liam and Luke May, a pairing who’ve produced all of the Fat Whites albums, and Warmduscher’s Quinn Whalley. 

The debut album Decius Vol 1, replete with song titles such as Roberto’s Tumescence and Masculine Encounter II, collects together four EPs made up of self-released 12”s which have appeared over the eight years since they posted their first track Come To Me Villa. The cover sports a Greco-Roman torso statue image, while in their artwork Roman laurels adorn the band’s name. If all this already conjures a world of lithe nude athleticism and unabashed carnality, pointedly the record comes billed thus: “Unwashed acid house and disco through a broken South London filter – from ‘70s New York bathhouses to ‘80s Chicago night clubs via the Brixton Windmill. Bring a towel.” 

Decius’s music, made both for body movement and brain pleasure, by itself sidles through portals into club nights across the decades, like some missing timewarping link between (in I-Get-Ov and U Instead Of Thought) Canadian house heads Azari & III, (in the I Feel Love echo of Quick Reliefs) disco dad Giorgio Moroder and (in the stentorian Bitch Tracker II) glitchy ‘90s aliens Eat Static. It comes as no surprise to hear that Saoudi had a “completely transformational experience” on entering the hallowed Berlin portals of Berghain: “Everyone was naked, fucking each other on a cocktail of drugs and it never stopped. Nobody was the focal point, everybody was the frontperson. It was genuinely inclusive.” Inclusivity might explain how he came to this project, having spoken about his mixed identity of being “half working-class northern, half Muslim immigrant and the inevitable disconnects” it brings. But it also sounds like it was fruitsome fun to make.

Thus with the opening track Ain’t No Church’s mucky beats and scabrous, Clinic-like hissy-sinister mutterings somewhere in the near, out-there darkness on Come To Me Villa starts a nighttime journey of escape into a sleazy, bacchanalian world of low-lit fantasy and fear, frisson, flirtation and flesh, an out-of-body place that’s as much a state of mind as a physical space where actions make sense only in that dark, dank moment, fleetingly rearrange synaptic connectors and offer enticing new and intimate realities as minds meet and meld. 

But Decius in visual form is something else again. To an irresistibly muscular groove in Macbeth, Saoudi peacocks and gurns manically and topless around a statuesque beauty who never looks at him, whose only movement is the widening and blinking of her eyes, the yang to his yin, the calm to his storm. These scenes are cut with some kind of submissive ritual, the details of which are left to rabid imagination, while Saoudi emits “uh” sounds, the distillation of a primal manhood that’s up for some, and what about it.

Addictive though Macbeth is, it’s no one-off; no wonder Hercules And Love Affair’s Andy Butler follows Decius on Instagram and has played their music on his BBC Radio 6music show, with Look Like A Man’s beginning recalling the opening bars of Blind. But where a tour de force vocal performance from Anohni completed that perfect piece of gay rejoicing, here Saoudi’s voice is pitch-shifted up an octave, the resulting creation conjuring instead the in-the-moment falsetto of Jake Shears. The embellishments extend to the video, which uses augmented reality to transform Saoudi’s face: here he looks like a young John Hurt as a ravey, glittery Quentin Crisp, leering and looming from a stage while articulating the immediacy of his thoughts: “I may look like a man, I may walk like a man, I may talk like a man, oh but I’m not a man,” this enticing, otherworldly and utterly sexual being sings.

The video for the downtempo U Instead Of Thought meanwhile finds Saoudi rather surprisingly dressed as a geisha. He explains it as “The sound of flunking out of art school, losing your job and your flat in the same week at the tail end of the noughties, then finding work as a rent boy in London’s West End; the purity of the connection you had with one of your clients – a Lib Dem MP – who used to make you dress like a geisha whilst peeling a never ending mound of organic carrots in a Radisson Hotel suite”. Is this a tale of fiction, or a recounting of fact? Does it matter? Cultural appropriation aside, it’s unsettling even as it unexpectedly taps visually into memories of ’80s Boy George. And what of Roberto’s Tumescence? Just imagine Kraftwerk descending into a dungeon with Vincent Price.

There’s a bonus disc of remixes and alternative versions on top of all this, and the promise of a second album before very long. But the feast for the dark imagination that is Decius Vol 1, and Saoudi’s immersed and entirely committed place in this half-lit, tactile world, deserves to find this staggeringly fine debut fervent audiences.

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Decius – Decius Vol 1