Image Credit: Martin Schumann / Wikipedia
Rolling myself out of bed each morning currently, it is not long before I am overwhelmed by a festering frustration. An emotion I imagine many other people are feeling too, and to be honest, understandably so. We are currently trapped inside our homes in the midst of, not the first, not the second, but the third national lockdown. One when announced, as my friend concisely put it, you could practically hear the country unanimously sigh at the prospect of.
Being socially isolated has been the perfect time to reflect on the knowledge that my university years – the so called “best years of my life” – are being spent meandering from Zoom call to Zoom call in a zombified state. If that wasn’t comforting enough, we are witnessing the results of, our favourite Eton educated “man of the people”, Boris Johnson and his incompetent party. A government that has dilly-dallied on free school meals and mishandled the pandemic to the point we’ve needlessly exceeded 100,000 deaths. But despite all this we are supposed to be content and eagerly await the plunge into the post-Brexit recession with our blue passports held high.
Yeah, there is plenty to be wound up about at the moment.
With such frustration boiling inside it’s hardly surprising that recently I have been magnetically drawn to punk music and its sub-genre post punk. Frustration and apathy define the punk genre. It is the lighter fuel that ignites the rebellious music it produces. Listening to this music has been therapeutic, allowing me to vent some anger and decrease the ever-building lockdown pressure. Luckily the UK’s post punk scene is currently producing some thrilling artists who are capturing the festering frustration palpable around the country. Perhaps none more so than the working-class artists Sleaford Mods and Billy Nomates.
At face value with their hip hop and drum and bass influences you probably wouldn’t perceive Sleaford Mods as a post punk two piece. But make no mistake, you are unlikely to find an artist who harbours the ethos of post punk more than Sleaford Mods at the moment. A plaudit shared by the “Godfather of punk” himself, Iggy Pop. Vocalist Jason Williamson doesn’t so much sing as spits rough cut profanity filled lines. All in an unashamedly unshackled Nottinghamshire accent.
Ironically however, there is a poetic beauty behind the egregious lyrics. Williamson is arguably unrivalled at capturing the sights, sounds, and most importantly the sentiments of Britain in the austerity age. There is deliciously dark humour at play too. A track like ‘Jobseeker’ manages to twist a few laughs from the listener whilst also thoughtfully presenting an out of work crumbling depressive. Balancing all this with the rave like beats mixed by Fearns, almost all of which are bops, it is understandable why they are consistently cited as the main inspiration for so many up and coming groups.
In contrast to Sleaford Mods, Billy Nomates sounds more like your typical post punk musician. Ticking the boxes with dark deep bass lines as well as the punk attitude by sporting a rocking mullet. Nonetheless, although the instrumental might sound quite conventional, the direct and blunt nature of her lyrics are refreshingly entertaining. The best highlight of this being her track ‘No’ which seems destined to become a classic of the genre. It cuts through the bullshit to proclaim “No, is the greatest resistance” and reminds us of the power of the small and unsuspecting word.
Impressively, Nomates manages to throw us lines that strut swagger, like “no is a walk, no small talk” whilst not failing to offer nuance on multiple contemporary societal issues. For example, ‘No’ is inextricable from the subtext of it’s ties to women saying no and standing up to misogyny through the #MeToo movement. Additionally, ‘Hippie Elite’ describes the economic difficulties which inhibit working class people from limiting climate change, even if they are passionate about the issue. Arguing that it is easier for upper class people to commit to the cause as they’re financially stable and can afford to spend in a more carbon neutral way or risk attending protests, summarised neatly by Nomates saying, “I can’t clean the ocean on my lunch break”.
The most common criticism I see labelled against artists like Sleaford Mods and Billy Nomates is, how does shouting and revelling in pessimism progress us to solving said societal issues? However, this criticism largely misses the point. It is not the job of the artist to solve all of society’s ills. Rather it is the job of Sleaford Mods and Billy Nomates to make the listener feel something, which they both accomplish magnificently. Using their working-class backgrounds to empathetically reflect the inequalities, frustrations, and struggles that working people are facing every day. The ability to convey this in tandem with instrumentals that fiercely entertain makes it only sweeter.
With working class musicians overwhelmingly marginalised in the arts industries it is important to continue supporting artists from that background. With the removal of state support measures, like the 70’s enterprise allowance, and more recently the government’s abysmal failure to properly mitigate financial loss due to COVID-19 in the performing arts, the likelihood of working class artists being able to financially sustain themselves and pursue their creative ambitions is only dwindling. Consequently, their artistic voice needs to be heard and heard loud. For now, post punk working-class artists Sleaford Mods and Billy Nomates are perfect to blast your speakers with; and I for one cannot think of better artists to therapeutically rage my frustration away with during this pandemic.