Last year was Slaves’ year; 2015 was the year that saw them quickly leap from being underground punk kids, playing dingy basements, to being a full-on, “proper” band.
After a couple of indie releases, they were snapped up by Virgin EMI at the end of 2014, and last year saw their debut album, Are You Satisfied?, hit the shelves. A raucous, aggressive onslaught of a record, at its core it also has some really hooky tunes to soften its edge. It peaked at number eight in the charts, they went on to sell out the 5,000-capacity Brixton Academy, and were rewarded with a Mercury Prize nomination for their troubles. Not bad going for a couple of boys from Tunbridge Wells, who’ve only been together since 2012.
But the end of their incredible, probably dream-like year was interrupted when singer-drummer Isaac Holman managed to dislocate his shoulder by being a bit too enthusiastic at a gig. That meant a few shows had to be postponed (including this one, which was originally scheduled for late November). It also meant fellow nominee, Joel Amey of Wolf Alice, had to step in on drums for the Mercury Prize ceremony. But his problems didn’t stop there. As band mate Laurie Vincent tells us, his shoulder dislocated again last night…and the night before. But why should that stop someone standing up to drum their way through an hour-long gig?
And did he drum! When we first saw them playing to a handful of people at the Underworld, as part of the 2014 Camden Crawl festival, we were blown away by Holman’s aggressive, standing-up drumming…which is something he’s honed, despite the threat of his arm falling apart. This relentless energy infuses songs like Sockets – with its simple refrain “She made sugar taste like salt, cause she was so sweet…” – and the irresistible Where’s Your Car Debbie (the single which brought them to Virgin’s attention – a song about walking a girl to her car to protect her from a sasquatch) which could be pretty standard, Greendayish punk-by-numbers, but there’s just something about them. Sure, they’re charismatic and entertaining to watch – especially Holman, who greedily eyeballs the crowd, topless, as he violently slams his sticks about – but the growling voices, fierce drumming and penetrating, scraped guitar cast a sort of punk rock glitter over it all. It’s something that’s appreciated as much by the old time punk guys at the front as it is by them teens doing a mini-mosh on the balcony.
While it’d be a stretch to call them a political band, it’s fair to say that they’re pretty pissed off. They’re disgruntled and fed up on Do Something and Cheer Up London, but generally it’s all delivered with a dash of humour; they’re not going to get too caught up with things, but neither is the Man going to get away with things. It gives them a relevance, a digestible but sneering agenda.
With Holman perhaps feeling the pain, it’s a fairly short set with some obvious tracks omitted (Feed The Mantaray being the most obvious) and there’s no encore, despite a definite appetite for one from the crowd. Victoriously, they shuffle off to Heroes by David Bowie. The meaning behind the song choice very much open to interpretation.