Insight 1: Andrew Fearn’s War Is Louder Than Yours: An Interview.
Odd how, within groups comprised of just two people, a hierarchy is often inadvertently thrust upon them. A hierarchy we have created and must dismantle. A hierarchy we have convinced ourselves to be real, and now, must destroy. Because there’s always a story to be told. And there are always curtains to be torn. New insights dig deeper into the life, and the archives of the modern mind, of Andrew Fearn. By Ryan Walker
The absence of everyone but the presence of everything. Optimal impact always. Andrew Fearn is one half of Sleaford Mods. The only half of extnddntwrk – an alias for his brilliantly bizarre, instrumental solo material. In either case; tables are turned and rules are removed. An interview of sorts. Almost everything is unturned.
Subscribe until you’re a smile hanging from thin string from the rickety tits of the algorithmic ethers. The roots reach far back, and they are mine to rip up. The wires are embedded in miles of archives of computers and the wires are buried deep in their buzzing skulls. Wires mine to cross. Hoping they join a dot or two. Words mine to confuse. Hoping they can be strung together to form a fucking sentence. And I allude to nothing but the content of another day, nothing but illusory colours scrawled between its sordid contours and contextual mess. Of ashtrays and aerosols. Of asteroids and arseholes. Of ventriloquist therapy and fields of big, black flowers with sharp stems in pink cement.
Suicide without Martin Rev? Pet Shop Boys without Chris Lowe? The equation is impossible without these components. It’s essence half a fart in the radioactive locust-breeze. The percentage is unbalanced if their musical undercurrent is not considered as a forefront for the lyrics, and the voice around it, rather than the reverse. The dynamic structure of the duo, one premised upon an efficient, oiled combination of music and lyric; sound and vision; is a structure that functions so fantastically well because of the inexplicable interchange between one individual and the Other.
LTW: Firstly, I’m curious if you actually play an instrument?
Andrew Fearn (AF): Yeah, to a certain extent. I had piano lessons when I was about 14-16. I got stuck at Grade 4. Then I jacked it in. I’ve been in bands a lot. Played guitar. Higher than your average sort of punk, DIY sort of level. It’s just something I’ve always been aware of. Because I’m that sort of like fame-generation. Basically, when I finished school I went to Newark College and did a degree in music. Which is apparently the best place in Europe to go and do music. I got in by the skin of my teeth. I had a keyboard that I programmed tunes into. There was a few pieces that I learned how to play. Pet Shop Boys stuff. Things like that. Whereas everybody else in my group was like the ginger-haired clarinet player girl and the frizzy-haired classical guitar player. This guy called Chad, the cousin of the guy in Level 42. We had choir on the Monday. It wasn’t compulsory but it was very militant. The head of the school power dressed like Margaret Thatcher.
I dropped out after a year of it and started an indie band. Because it was before computers. We did have one lesson a week on these sort of clunky computers and not very good software. And that teacher, he was the cello player for the Drifters as well. So at that time, the early 90s, it was kind of like… the reason I moved to Nottingham, to do a recording studio course, which was part of the course teaching you electronics. The only was the course got funding. Because governments were not willing to fund these things. Now they’re mad for it. Six weeks into it, it went into liquidation and one day, I just turned up and this guy in overalls was just turfing everything out. The money had fallen out of it.
LTW: Okay. So when you were involved in this kind of environment, what was it about electronic music, that appealed to you at that time? The idea of dipping in and dabbling and tinkering with equipment…toys essentially…
AF: I knew enough. From TV. And seeing interviews with people like Depeche Mode. Or Paul Hardcastle. I kind of already knew you had to do it yourself. People who were on the course, virtuosos, didn’t have any talent, as far as individual style. It’s something I’ve been really aware of since I was like 12. You have to protect a little bit of your own…don’t learn too much really. Like Stairway to Heaven.
LTW: Smoke on the Water and Seven Nation Army could be included in that idea…the kind of compulsory conditions for people to enter into music. The qualification isn’t a requisite for having talent. You can have all the qualifications under your belt but that doesn’t intrinsically, automatically provide a means to make ‘good’ or interesting music at the end of the day does it?
AF: Yeah, I’m not saying I didn’t struggle with it. It was kind of a battle in my own head all of the time. I knew I had to play music. It’s the same when I got my first sampler, a Casio FZ-10. I basically threw my manual across the room, started playing with it, then had to go back and get the manual. But I think that’s the only way you can etch something new. Even then, in the late 80s, 90s, it’s hard to make something new, or do something new…even harder now.
Maybe EXTNDDNTWRK and Sleafords’ sound is exactly that: the sound of a manual being thrown across the room, the picking up of the manual, the absorption of its content, drawing a dick on it, then tossing it out again. It’s snappy and it’s structured and it’s smart. Not saturated by the stench of a million paisley-stained acid-casualties or overdoses in the name of rock ‘n’ roll.
Knowing enough is sufficient. Knowing too much warrants suspicion. Because technicality doesn’t intrinsically foster good music. Technicality is a qualification. And although talent can be either, it doesn’t possess those divine, virtuosic facets that fall between the laps and flows between the fingers of the rock gods and their apostles. A guitar solo, an effects pedal, a song that surpasses five minutes; are sinful. Because they indicate too much.
And Sleaford Mods know enough, and they know lots of it. Samplers are shotguns. And the target is perhaps harder to capture now. Hard to ‘make something new’. Hard to ‘do something new’. But not, obviously, thank god, impossible.
LTW: Was it particularly harder because of how pervasive and replete technology was in the 90? Be it the samplers and sequencers and synthesizer style music, these were tools embedded in the fabric of what I imagine to be the electronic music culture we associate with those times.
AF: Yeah but it was also expensive. Being unemployed, you’re never going to be able to afford those things. I saved up 600 quid. There’s a Depeche Mode story with Vince Clarke where he says he just worked in a factory non-stop. A lot of the time in the 90s I wasn’t making electronic music. A lot of the people I was hanging around were just getting wasted all of the time. That kind of Nirvana thing. A big hole in the bottom of the net kind of thing. There was definitely a period, from sort of ’89 onward, it was very drug-induced for a lot of people, even though there was a lot of good music going on. It’s a bit like what I imagine the 60s would have been like in a way. It was a ride. There wasn’t enough time to think.
There was so much music coming out that was good. Like the Buttholes and the American stuff that was coming out. Psyche parties, it was eclectic. LFO, Orb, things like that. So much stuff. I remember my neighbour at the time who was older had a massive record collection. So I was getting an education listening to Jethro Tull and Hawkwind. That sort of time, 17/18, when I dropped out of college was brilliant for me as an education for music, because I was exposed to so much. I lived with two metalheads who were into Slayer and Metallica and metal shit. And all of that music is popular now. People are still getting into these bands now.
LTW: Do you find it frustrating to be so eclectic? You’ve just listed everything from Butthole Surfers right up to LFO. But I know you have a very eclectic and colourful taste in music, diverse and dynamic and mine is as well, but do you, or did you, ever feel a sense of frustration at how much information there is and ideas there are about music and yourself?
AF: No not at all. I get more frustrated at the idea of purists.
LTW: Sameness then?
A.F: Yeah. People not liking me, or feeling like they don’t like me because it’s: ‘what does he know about that when he’s into that?’. It’s all music. It’s all under the heading of music. That’s sort of a generational thing. Maybe it’s opening up a bit more now but towards the end of the 90s. It did get very cliquey. Anti-this and anti-that. Purist.
And who the hell adheres to purity? What is there to be so purist about? Some manifesto? There’s a lost art to popping the rock corpse. Bricks and mortar of all it was built as now a pitiful pile of buckets and spades above a puddle of clumpy, wet sand.
Along came a polluted groove. Ushered in by a lyrical bulldozer. Muscular drums and minimal bass. Occasionally caked in oddities and snippets of sonic surprises like ribbons in the trees or wind wrapped around fat slabs of black, cracked concrete. Desperate howls from immeasurable, tiered car park spaces and giant interrogative lights. Despondent hums and buzzing machines from the factories and dark-sky markets. And rock winced. It was creased. And cringed. A monstrous, monolithic shadow under which everything is kept lacquered in everlastingly hardening splashes of formaldehyde, and when time turns another sick degree, shatters like sticks of monochromatic rock stabbed against the sides of the mind.
Experience triumphs as an education. And an eclectic mind saves the brain from total stagnation. Austerity Dogs (2013). Divide and Exit (2014). Keys Markets (2015). English Tapas (2017) Eton Alive (2019). Spare Ribs (2021), are examples of this idea. More with less. Uncaring for compromise to slot into a particular fold. To be tucked into a specific industry pocket. Hung in the galleries once occupied by this predatory, potbellied echelon. This ceaseless, addicted elite. Their dejected credibilities and abhorrent, spore growing against the spine of the times until we all turn into deranged, elephant men. The hollow, cocaine-bones of the novelty of it all, so deplorable. This gluttonous, brit-award-goosed, and celebrity-spunk saturated clique.
LTW: Was it cliquey in the sense you’d get people into Britpop and people into Grunge but the midway point and having each foot in both ponds are treated with suspicion?
AF: Of course yeah. But it’s not to knock someone who’s like into the post-goth stuff, there’s so much music in that genre that you can have diversity within that. That’s what I’m saying has happened. You can be into hip-hop, and there’s so much hip-hop; that it does being in those other influences, isn’t it? It’s very different now. But I think that the late 80s or 90s thing started that idea of eclecticism.
LTW: How important was the sampler for you? In the sense that maybe when someone buys their first guitar or drumkit, it’s often symbolic of something within them that wants to be expressed in a profound and meaningful way. How important, considering the records and amount of music that was your encyclopedia at the time, was it for you?
AF: Oh it was completely important. It was too late. I wished I had it at least two years before my progression if you like. I was unemployed but feeling like I wasn’t unemployed. Feeling like I had an occupation. Lying to the government. But you could go into the jobcentre and say: ‘Look, I’m a musician, that’s what I am’. They’d go, ‘oh okay, we can’t find you any jobs doing that’.
LTW: With that in mind. How important do Sleaford Mods adhere to the sample idea as well? Sleaford Mods is kind of like an assemblage of different puzzle pieces going on all of the time in a looped format but do you think, as well as that, it’s an example of how to successfully sample sometimes?
AF: I don’t know if ‘successfully’ is the right word. I have a certain sound. If I could call myself an artist, I’m one of those people you could tell people I’ve made it by the production or how my ears sound and how it sounds to me. And I do think Sleaford Mods embellished the rougher end of what I can do. Because I can make things sound more lush, if that’s what’s required. Part of it was just working with Jason. We’re from the same generation. There are lots of bands that we both like. Wu-Tang and things like that. Undeniably good music. You can’t argue with it.
LTW: Yeah that’s where I’m getting the whole sample thing from. It occupies the same, or a similar space. What kind of sounds can be combined and crash and collide together in a really interesting, immersive, detailed way. As the output of Sleaford Mods is increasing, I’m definitely detecting more stuff in there. Which is great.
AF: With sampling, if you look at hip-hop artists from the 90s again, it’s that exciting thing isn’t it where you get a buzz from actually looping it up. Even though it’s relatively quick to do that, it’s that moment isn’t it where you actually bothered to do it rather than not do it.
LTW: It passes over from being an idea into actuality doesn’t it?
AF: Yeah! It’s that lazy 90s thing that can’t be arsed to do anything. If you just actually make the effort one day and surprise yourself. That’s where hip-hop is a lot like punk. Where if you can be bothered to get off your arse and strum a few chords and loop something that you think might work you might really surprise yourself and you’ve made a great piece of music.
LTW: Lazy I think is an appropriate term. When did you get tired of the whole band thing? The whole standardised, typified guitar-bass-drums-vocals, indie rock set up.
AF: Oh very early on
LTW: Sleaford Mods seem to disillusioned with that whole format and I can’t blame you, so what was the thing there?
AF: It wasn’t so much disillusion. You’re talking about two blokes at 40 years of age who have tried a lot of things that haven’t worked. I was literally at a point, where Bandcamp had just started then, with a handful of friends in Nottingham. I was doing my solo thing with extnddntwrk, which I knew wasn’t going to be popular. I reached this point where I was just, going back to being my original self when I was younger, putting loads of stuff out, to friends, and that’s it.
LTW: In the spirit of punk.
A.F: Yeah…when you’ve made an album and three people have listened to it and they like it, you can move on and do something else. Which is kind of like, at that age, it was getting a little bit affecting I suppose, in a depressive sort of way. It’s weird how it all happened at that sort of time in my life. I wasn’t going to give up making music, but I had given up on playing it to anyone else. You put it on Bandcamp or upload it to Soundcloud. But it used to baffle me at how people on Soundcloud would have all these comments. Usually some drum ‘n’ bass from London. In the North, it was Noise, Psyche, Punk scenes coming back at that point. At that point, I was making sort of soundtrack music. Just making post-instrumental beat hip-hop music. Which I knew wasn’t really popular. But what you gonna do if that’s what you like? You haven’t got any disillusions about popularity. I guess that’s where marketing is really valid, for that kind of music, because there are people out there who wanna hear that kind of stuff, and you need some kind of algorithm and promotion to find those people.
Andrew’s attitude to music; his approach to what kind of purpose it serves; has never changed. The notions of just the three people listening to the album, enjoying it, and then moving on to new things, is probably why Sleaford Mods haven’t dried up yet. It’s in that punk vein. The post-punk spirit. The post-modern manifesto. Irrespective of selling-out. Unable to be disillusioned by the bowel movements of success on levels of an enterprise rather than the artistic, expressions of something necessary and relevant to proceed.
There’s that immovable ”buzz from looping stuff up”. A buzz that occurs when an idea transfers into actuality. There’s the lyrical counterpart, the socio-cultural vocal minotaur that Jason Williamson provides. But the music that creates the correct spaces to decorate and lace and imbue with this kind of linguistical content, is equally as important. It kicks things forward. It keeps things moving. The basic, fundamental bedrock might be the same – but it changes shape with the essence still intact. Building blocks put back in the box, tipped out again over the carpet, and assembled into something new. Some pieces missing. Other pieces found under the setee.
The essence of not including any unnecessary baggage on stage. Pretension, and a preponderance of it, getting in the way of the good gear. Ostentension to the extremities of the modern rock star with their sunglasses on indoors as an act accountable for nothing except their materials: acoustic guitars, their valve amps, their broken hearts, and the obstacles they symbolise. Clay and dust.
However, there was an undeniable precipice that had been reached in Andrew’s life, culminating in knowing that his frankly excellent solo output Extnddtwrk was never going to be popular. This is the 90s. It’s experimental, electronic, IDM. Soundtracks to subconscious films. Samples planted in conditions that corrupt them. Post-instrumental atmospheric with car park ambiance, Metrolink melodies, and erased tape spells with their mouths and eyes covered.
But this stems from an education away from the splendid efficacy, and sublime, efficiency, of the fingers. On strings and on keys, in schools and on stage. An education indebted to the time Fearn ”dropped out of college”, but was ”was brilliant for me as an education for music, because I was exposed to so much”.
It can easily be mentioned in the same breath as Plaid, Pole, Seefeel, Scorn, LFO, 2 Lone Swordmen, Broadcast, Squarepusher, b12, Avalanches, Autechre. But as the man said; around that time; ”you got Aphex and everybody else”. And Nirvana. Rather than give up; it was more a case of getting back to what introduced and intrigued him about music initially. Being both educated and inspired by a broad spectrum of musical styles and seeing how they can align together. A totality of oddities experienced on the same plane. The sampler as the way to organise this vast collection and spit it back out in some kind of insane sequence that satiates the artistic need; the punk need, to see what happens…because I can.
And such releases have been polished for online platforms. Mastered to tape cassette, the FZ – 97 msc rcrdngs from 1997 is on Bandcamp. A demonstration of what can be achieved with a Casio fz-10m and an Amiga1200. To create your own net, and catch whatever swims into its hungry, enmeshment of teeth. A surrealist, satirical, dada-acid-collage party, reactionary against what happened when the ”big hole in the bottom of the net” spewed up so much internal discharge on the landfills on the hills of music history: the junk of a ”good ride”. Without time to think. Some utterly, undoubtedly fabulous rides. Some better than others. Some not worth worrying about. Blinded by the bemusing, benumbing lights of reptilian years with skin yet to shed, dragged and attached to the ankles and the dead weight of twitching-droid limbs.
LTW: Does it annoy you when Sleaford Mods get put into a category like post-punk or noise or something, and that people get into the group conducive to whatever the algorithm spits out? There’s a label to nail to you because it’s someone’s job to apply them…so I imagine that must agitate and irk you in some ways.
AF: It does a bit. But I understand that that world has a purpose. It’s good to review things from different angles. And represent it to certain audiences. I don’t read a lot of reviews. I might read them sometimes but I don’t obsess with it. It’s part of the process.
LTW: In my mind, it makes sense, in spite of Rough Trade and Harbinger and the Extreme label, for Sleaford Mods to be on Warp, or Mute for that matter. I can see that, can you?
AF: I can see that now yeah. In the 00s they flipped. Labels like Warp started doing band stuff and visa versa. Things started to melt together a little bit. That band Squid I think are alright. It’s a bit different to what they would usually put out. I think that’s a really good thing. Because it is 2021 now. And as much as it’s good to reference the past, and post music from the past that you like, it’s good to have new things as well. A new band shouldn’t be retroistic. They shouldn’t be like a 12-year-old band who sound like the Beatles. That’s what’s wrong with indie music for a start. Far too pandering to a style from 20 years ago. It’s boring.
I chew over this word: Retroistic. It’s not even a fucking word but it represents and embodies so much about now, a supported, in one way or another, by musical pillars constructed as far back as 1960. Because are bands, and I may be insensitively generalising, that fall under the indie umbrella, genuinely delivering new goods, genuinely doing new things, or is it decoration, or is it disguise, is it regressive degradation is it: Retroistic? Like guitars are retroistic. Like paisley shirts are retroistic. Like Dot Cotton mods are retroistic. You belong in Tussaud’s dustbin. Which belongs in a bigger dustbin.
The plaster cast you contain yourself in is an epitaph for disaster. I’ll engrave it when you grow a pair and pen a decent tune that doesn’t sound like an orchestra of heroin addicts who haven’t changed their socks since the new testament when military jackets swept through Camden like a plague throughout the modern austerity of all that pirate-pop it imposes upon each and every.
Or maybe I’m being a big old meany. But you can fuck off with your lollipop melodies and heartbreak motel garbage.
”Things started to melt together a little bit”. And when you realise what can be done with the melt; as the creation of a mould, as opposed to the notion that one fille, for one mould, is all: a great day is sensed and the bones warm. All that glue. All that goo.
But things melt in unexpected ways. Andrew met Jason. A CD player in place of a boombox essentially. His first musical input was on the 2012’s Wank album. A duo organically framed without thinking too much about it, other than striking a friendship premised upon what things they didn’t want to include (gear, silly indie gimmicks, aged-stardom facade).
A musical and aesthetic two-finger salute fiercely, flamboyantly, flippantly eating into the catalogue numbers of rock’s crooked boffins buried alive in roll’s concrete coffins.
LTW: Maybe it’s upsetting and angering that you get a band, and the problem isn’t the fact they like the Beatles, it’s the fact they sound like a direct replication of them, and it sounds very hackneyed. It’s bizarre to me. But then you get Sleaford Mods who came around. When you met Jason, your wavelengths had to align, to decide on having no musicians on stage. What was it about that format, that retrofitted format, the four blokes on stage, that annoyed you to the extremity you didn’t want it infecting the live space?
AF: It wasn’t like that at all really. It was very natural and non-conscious. Jason was getting other people to produce the music, having to go on stage, and the sound guy would play the CD, and he would say to him, ‘skip that one’. I watched quite a few gigs before I started working with him. He probably did two or three pub gigs in Nottingham with the Wank tracks. There was this festival at this club in Nottingham called the Chameleon which he was playing at. He asked me to just stand on stage and operate the laptop and the manager we had at the time, he sort of framed that, summed it up as an act. That’s where it tied in with a lot of noise bands. Because you had lots of performance noise, and lots of people that were starting a piece of musical equipment up to drone away whilst they performed. Some people sort of perceived us as that. So we often got wedged between two noise bands, as some kind of light relief, from the dirge. It kind of evolved that way. I think bands are great. But they have to be good. They have to be progressive. If they’re not being progressive then they’re just a waste of time.
LTW: It is the band’s addiction to referencing something which is retro, but either unknowingly so that seems to be what I’m feeling…
AF: It’s also created this Saturday Night TV thing where they’re looking at a demographic, they’re fame-seekers aren’t they, they want fame, they write melodic day because they think it sells. And I can hear it as plain as day but it’s so ingenious and…creepy.
LTW: I get a lot of my ideas about new music and new bands from who they have collaborated with and it quickly inflates into this intricate, interesting network of stuff…Billy Nomates and Viagra Boys and Amyl and the Sniffers, being the main example with you. I kind of like the idea of bands referencing bands, new bands for that matter, who are being progressive as opposed to bands who still have their feet firmly planted in the 60s but without anything additional to impress the modern context with.
AF: Of course. I like a band called Badger. Have you heard of them? I really like what they do. They’re from Newcastle. There’s a lot of good stuff. It only helps so much if I post someone’s track on Twitter, it might produce a little bit of exposure. But without somebody properly picking you up and supporting you with a tour or something as independent. Or if you’re good enough and that business-minded to set it all up yourself then fine but it’s hard. It’s hard just to get gigs.
”Coming from that kind of generation, fringe label electronic thing, very cottage industry, you didn’t get that exposure anyone. It was all local labels anyway. The idea of any kind of fame attached to it wasn’t really there” – Andrew Fearn.
LTW: What was the initial reaction when you guys were first exploding and exposed? I imagine the only comparison might be when Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe toured America without a drummer and they just had their synth. People looked at the stage and thought ‘what’s going on here? There’s nothing’.
AF: It was 2017 when we had the brit tour. We’d been touring for like years and years. We played in Kendell and this bloke was like ‘where’s all of your gear?’. We don’t have any gear. And he was a big fan. How can you not know by now? It’s just two men and a laptop. There are photos of it everywhere. He still liked it. He wasn’t disappointed. I don’t know what kind of bands wouldn’t like it. Because our audience is quite varied. I know metalheads can be a little bit purist, but they’re actually not either. If it’s good music, they like good music.
LTW: Do you find it difficult to do new stuff with just the two of you? Every album has been an evolution from one to the next, and I can’t detect a drought occurring there really, but do you ever get stuck or puzzled about what you can do next in a few years that’s the two of you still but a step onward from this point?
AF: I’ve been quite defiant to not worry about that, you know?
LTW: I suppose it doesn’t even matter that you don’t worry about it because in that gap you’ve released Spare Ribs. It’s not a question that needs answering really because good music is evidence of what the pair of you can achieve without so much quandary.
AF: Absolutely yeah. Exactly. For me, I do think every band has some sort of formula. One kind of idea was, on austerity, when we started to do Divide and Exit, I kind of noticed there was this variety of tunes, the up-tempo bangers, and the sort of more slouchy hip-hop tracks, and slightly, poppy tracks. It’s got to have that variety in there. I kind of took that idea for the gigs. The 40-year-old bloke stood there with a beer, the woman at the front, grooving away. That variety in an audience is something you don’t always see. Playing the Chameleon, seeing loads of bands, the audiences were so wooden, there would be this band that would be really good, rocking out, and everyone would be stood there…
AF: Directionless. Screwed up maybe. A bit of what you said before about people being over-exposed to stuff. People don’t know how to just express themselves. Going back to the 80’s stuff, where everybody was dancing and grooving, then in the 90s, it was like everyone’s forgotten how to dance, or dancing’s not cool or something.
LTW: Like it’s been supplanted by something we treat a bit indifferently or prohibited slightly. What do you think it takes to be a good, contemporary band? Is there a formula? To be something of interest, not even in a guitar context but just a good group?
AF: I don’t know. It’s personal taste. There are certain guitar sounds that I don’t like. That kind of buzzy, Eagles sound, can fuck right off. Hate it. Hotel California. It’s awful. But it’s that dynamic in the sound. Same with any sound. Like with keyboard sounds, if you pick that awful, brash string trumpet. The brass sound is horrible. But you make it work if you do something to it. To make it sound good. Whatever that is.
LTW: When you’re developing these sounds then, at what point do you decide it’s Sleaford Mods material?
AF: It’s pretty instant. I make loads of music all of the time. Then some just pop out. Little flowers that grow out of the ground, if I like one, I just pick it.
And it’s a fucking good garden. One that harvests dynamic. Instant dynamic. The golden age of the pious, self-fulfilling prophecies according to whatever lions and tigers in rock’s sad, glam amphitheatres created a synapse between the common voice, the music fan, the obsessive adolescent, and left a steaming, shit-shaped void in the spectatorial seat. It’s a spectacle inverted, twisted inside out. A return to the purity of the dirt. The grit of the city grids.
The initial reaction…as all new music should do, fucked with people.
LTW: Is there ever a moment where it’s extnddntwrk material because it hasn’t been used for Sleaford Mods, and therefore it can be used for Sleaford Mods? Or is there a dividing line?
AF: There’s not one sort of formula with that either. Sometimes it’s just there, an idea that I’ve got. It’s not overthought. Stick in a Five, I had that bassline idea of ages. I liked that bassline. But I didn’t think any more of it than that. Then I just blindly put it together as a piece of music. That’s one way of working. Different ways of working. And it works with me with doing it. I can only make things sound like they have my fingerprints all over it. I can do different methods. And I guess that’s the glue that makes it sound like Sleaford Mods. That is something I’ve subconsciously developed in myself. There are melodies. Chord progressions that I like. And ones that I don’t like.
LTW: Is there are a characteristic strand of DNA in Sleaford Mods sound then? For me, it’s the looped bassline and then these strange, spooky, little atmospheric earworms of motifs you get cropping up with the beat. That’s very much a you thing. A Sleaford Mods thing. Have you just got an ear for it and a sense for songs do you think?
AF: I think so yeah. I’ve definitely an ear for simple…like the keyboard I went to college with, I could read music clumsily, even before I had training, I could listen to a melody on the TV and learn how to play it. Only so many notes. But that’s kind of a punk thing, isn’t it? I’m gonna sit here as trial and error. I’ve got the first three notes, what’s the fourth? You can learn it. You don’t realise you’re teaching yourself how to learn the keyboard.
The lost art of trial and error. The ear as the third eye. Punk Rock as distinguishable from Punk. The former a stylistic attack on technical skill favouring the chaos behind the chords rather than how well the fingers glide above the strings or how precise the tunes are executed within the rock format, the rock umbrella, and fall under the rock banner.
The latter as a deflection of rock style. Taking punk as a tool to apply to prizing apart of the cultural lid from the tin it sits upon and seeing what, in the name of punk, slumbers inside to spill everywhere onto the tidy, societal aisles. Punk to play the wrong notes at the right time. Punk as self-imposed abstinence from the compulsory music-school jargon. Bricolage and disorderly blasts of schizoid noise and loosely-glued, closely-connected, intensely adrenalised, and frequently frightening psilocin grooves as the primary facets of punk ideology that continues to pulsate, in various states of change, throughout the bloodstream of history.
Stick in the Five and Go is a demonstration of Fearn’s restless ear. Running his fingers through his hair and seeing what melodies can be picked from below the hood. Low-slung bass hanging so far out their arse they can smell the tiles of hell’s decorative, marble chambers. Melodies always maddeningly catchy. Tubes of tumultuous humour lubricating the ascorbic angularity of the barbarous, jarring, tight lyrical edges. Bang Someone Out from the same EP (2018s self-titled EP) TCR, standalone onslaught Second, and You’re a Nottshead from 2016s TCR EP splitting against the canvas in a similar vein.
Voice constantly getting stronger. Harmonic flashes occasionally thrown above. Fizzy loops and little, glitchy, glimpses of fidgety detail forever evolving with such hypnotic subtlety they both flatten the body to grams of tender flakes and wrap themselves around the brain. Nudge It with Amy Taylor from Amyl and the Sniffers from this year’s Spares Ribs, Kebab Spider from 2019’s Eton Alive, living proof of how to push… ‘successfully’ push, things into new realms of expression, experimentalism with a warped, mangled thug-pop sensibility running below its surface and engines of artistry always pumped to fuck.
LTW: It’s weird how a group with such a minimal setup can make just as much noise as a group with an avalanche or an arsenal of effects pedals and amplifiers at their disposal, which creates a vacuous, polite, kind of technical noise. But at the end of the day, it’s quite empty and insipid. Then you get you guys which is minimal exterior but all intent?
AF: Yeah. I think I’ve been quite lucky to meet someone like Jason. Whose lyrical contributions are just totally tight. Lyrics are difficult because if they’re okay, they have to have a shelf life, don’t they? You can end up not liking the song, fed up with the sentiment maybe.
LTW: Is there ever a moment where you have to challenge lyrical content?
AF: No not at all. It’s always worked. I’m not good at writing lyrics myself anyway. I can probably write lyrics if I tried. In a sort of phonetic way. I think I do make poppish tunes. Ideal for someone to write lyrics to, and inspire you to write a melody. That’s my intent.
LTW: It’s kind of like the music provides a platform, or creates a catalyst, for lyrics then really.
AF: I like melodies. My brain is just constantly full of melodies. I don’t know what you call the illness but if I hear a song I hate, but it’s really melodic, it can ruin my day. A curse.
LTW: In these technologically turbulent times, I imagine what the DJ can be seen as is different from what it was like in the 90s, whereby the turntable, in some instances, has been replaced by the USB. We’ve talked about the role of the musician, but what do you think about the role of the DJ?
AF: I think it’s quite an aggressive world. On my travels, I’ve met people my age who fucked off to Spain to DJ like 15 years ago and they’re just wrecked. It’s hard work. But It makes me think of modern stuff on Mixcloud, and there’s so much of it, I kind of end up not listening to it because I don’t know where to start. There’s playlists coming out of the wazoo isn’t there? It’s very difficult. And you had movements. My friend who was a drum n bass DJ. Drum n bass had come and disappeared a little bit, but there was a resurgence of women in drum n bass which was cool. A cool thing that happened. It creates a resurgence again. In reality, I don’t know where it lies. The few extnddntwrk gigs I’ve had there’s always been somebody playing really good stuff. There’s definitely an art to it. An art to playing a bunch of tunes that are good.
LTW: When it’s extnddntwrk territory and you do solo shows what’s the set-up there? Is it similar to Sleaford Mods minimalism?
AF: I write a new set for every show. It usually involves using different pieces of equipment each time. And the gigs have been quite few and far between. It’s almost like being a nobody where you can make a completely fresh set of music for it, do the gig, and that’s it.
LTW: It’s a kind of performance art. Destroying what you’ve just done. And that’s cool. It’s not susceptible to re-hash or regurgitation.
AF: That’s why I do it. I feel like it’s important because I’m not a live act. So I have to give people something. That’s where I’m making the effort. It’s an exclusive every time.
LTW: I like the sordid nature of erasing your own history. There’s something cool about the artistic mind who isn’t willing to compromise or be caught in time. It wants to do new things and be restless and relentless. What do you think of revivals? You mentioned your mate who as part of this reintroducing of women in drum n bass culture, what do you think of post-punk or garage revivals?
AF: I think they’re a casualty thing almost. They have their place.
LTW: Convenient maybe?
AF: They’re like injured.
LTW: Like they’re dragging on and on until time repeats again.
AF: Until it’s just them. And a can of cider.
What is it within electronic rock that guitar music cannot afford? What does it reflect about a certain rebellious spirit, all displaced and enraged and at odds with the walls around him in gilded hallways where fame is thick bleach on the illicit, elite cliques, inhaling and heaving on their own, age-old cliches about a nice, neat note, in a nice, neat shirt and tie?
It reflects the agitated intentions of someone wanting, someone willing, to unleash a wolf unto the puppets and their corresponding moguls in the orchestra pit where strings are plucked and hands are shaken and certificates are exchanged and torch the textbooks which uphold trad rock in all its lame, samey, benign, vegetative states of benign, cliched play.
It reflects the presence of somebody who was aware enough before everybody else grew up and dropped. Everything else around them started to decompose like the corpse in the corner of the corporate office quagmire of fat-head rock mobsters, tightly tucked into faded denim jeans and brand-new vintage. Took someone, or something, somewhere, in proper punk vivacity and to much-needed extremities, ‘Fuck Off’ or to have the humbleness to admit ‘I’m Fucked’. The most important words since ‘in the beginning’.
And in the beginning, God created: The Sampler. And in the second beginning, or perhaps, a beginning after that, along comes Sleaford Mods. The looped spokes of psychosis, a reinforcement of unprecedented thug-punk malice/spits of venom and vinegar/skewed humour and Wu on ZTT grooves/conveyor belt rhythms and decadent, industrial brickwork textures/boiling hot hip-hop monotony, by wonderfully representing to audiences the strange nakedness, the relentless darkness grazing the face of the knee-deep indie trifle, the formless blob rock music has, for millennia of tiring drives and traffic jams, folded itself into, and thrown itself out as.
Folded itself into, and thrown itself out as,
folded itself into, and thrown itself out as,
folded itself into, and thrown itself out as,
folded itself into, and thrown itself out as,
folded itself into, and thrown itself out as,
folded itself into, and thrown itself out as,
folded itself into, and thrown itself out as,
Sleaford Mods Website
Ryan Walker is a writer for Louder Than War. His online archive can be found here.