published: 8 /
In 'Ten Songs That Made Me Love...' Denzil Watson selects ten songs from the Fat White Family, the band that broke his boredom with new music
The first music you get into in your formative years never leaves you. I remember the days in my teens and early twenties when I’d get into a band and have to hear every track they’d ever done. In recent years, that feeling has become rarer.
That is, until I came across The Fat White Family. I’ve become obsessed with the Peckham-based band. In a climate where the charts no longer matter and the X-factor shapes the musical tastes of the masses, Fat White Family stick two fingers up to the establishment. No subject matter is off limits, be it the rampant paedophilia that has blighted the BBC over the last thirty years or the abuse metered out by Ike Turner to his wife Tina.
The band are famed for their bad behaviour and drug abuse as much as their explosive live shows, which frequently feature nude crowd surfing by their front-man Lias Saoudi. Saoudi summed up the current state of music perfectly: “If we’re the scariest band out there at the moment, it’s a truly tame time”. So, here are the songs that made me love the band, in the order that I heard them.
1. Wet Hot Beef Part 1 (Split EP with Taman Shud, Trashmouth Records, December 2013)
With its Blair Witch-esque video, pounding bass reminiscent of The Fall and dark and foreboding vibe, this was my first exposure to the Fat Whites. The track goes on for over seven minutes and was perhaps not the easiest introduction to the band. But it intrigued me enough to go out and buy their debut LP.
2. Cream of the Young (from Champagne Holocaust LP, April 2013, Trashmouth Records)
Again, this song came with a pretty disturbing video: the band gorging themselves on a table creaking under the weight of exotic food, guitarist Saul Adamczewski licking a dead pig’s ear and Lias Saoudi sporting a Hitler/Ron Mael ‘tash. This is a genius song: the wandering bass line, high/low dual lead vocals and chiming guitars. And the first of many provocative lyrics (“I'm pleading for you baby, your fifteen year old tongue”).
3. Auto Neutron (from Champagne Holocaust LP, April 2013, Trashmouth Records)
The ability of the band to create something other-worldly is no better illustrated than by “Auto Neutron”. This is meandering, spaced-out, with a psychedelic and intoxicating vibe. Like “Cream of the Young”, Saul and Lias share vocal duties to great effect. The organ throbs and dual guitars of Saul and Adam J Harmer intertwine to produce a druggy sirocco of a sound.
4. Is It Raining In Your Mouth? (from Champagne Holocaust LP, April 2013, Trashmouth Records)
Lias’s low-register melody, more killer lines (“Hell hath no fury like a failed artist or a successful communist”), more chiming guitars, tubular bells and a hook-line to die for, make this a standout on the band’s debut. It appears that the song is about oral sex. If it is, then sleaze has never sounded so sweet. I wonder if Letterman knew the context of the song when they performed it on his show in April 2015?
5. Bomb Disneyland (live) (bonus disc on reissue of Champagne Holocaust LP, Trashmouth Records, October 2014,)
Many bands try to emulate their studio sound live. Not so the Fat Whites. While at times on their debut player they sounded murky, understated and lo-fi, live they are an explosive rock band. This is no better illustrated on this live version of “Bomb Disneyland”, their traditional set closer. It’s a rock’n’roll juggernaught of a song, primal and provocative, flattening anything in its path. Part The Doors “Roadhouse Blues”, part The Fall’s “Lucifer Over Lancashire”. Fantastic.
6. Touch the Leather (7” Single on Hate Hate Hate, March 2014)
Remember the days when bands used to release singles but not put them on albums? “Touch the Leather” came out post “Champagne Holocaust” as a single-only release. Lias’s drawled vocals have echoes of Johnny Cash and some of the catchiest guitar motifs you’ll ever hear. There’s some effective call-and-answer vocal interplay with the chorus-within-a-verse going on too. And for just for good measure there’s a fantastic organ-heavy ‘redux’ version as well.
7. I Am Mark E Smith (10” Single on Without Consent, October 2014)
Later on in the year, on a new label, they struck gold again, this time with the slowed-down glam-tinged stomp of “I Am Mark E Smith”. There’s some wry humour in there (“You know it in your brain, you must leave the kettle on”) and more of the Fat Whites characteristic two-guitar interplay I’ve come to love. They’ve made no secret of their admiration from MES and The Fall in the past and the old grump approved enough to perform the track with the band at Beacons Festival in Yorkshire. Released on a 10” that is now rarer than rubies, the B-side “I Am Joseph Stalin” wasn’t bad either.
8. Whitest Boy On The Beach (7” single on Without Consent, January 2016)
The first taste of what was to come on their follow-up to ‘Champagne Holocaust’. And boy, what a taste it is. On the cover, the band (well, three of them) pose at famous south-coast suicide-spot Beachy Head à la Throbbing Gristle on their third LP, “20 Jazz Funk Greats”. While the aesthetics go to Throbbing Gristle, the music owes more to Sparks and Donna Summer. From its motorik, pulsating start the song builds and builds to a crescendo, repeating the line: “It started with a whimper and then became a bang” (a bastardisation of a line from T S Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’).
9. Tinfoil Deathstar (from “Songs for Our Mothers” on Without Consent, January 2016)
One of the refreshing aspects of the Fat Whites is their choice of subject matter. The character at the centre of “Tinfoil Deathstar” is army veteran David Clapson. As a result of missing a single appointment, he had his Job Seeker’s Allowance cut. Diabetic and insulin dependant, he could no longer afford to power his own home. With his electricity cut off and no fridge for his insulin he died in tragic circumstances. Musically, it owes much to “Whitest Boy On The Beach”, but with a more chaotic chorus. It’s missing the nihilism of many of the band’s songs, it takes poignantly moralistic tone.
10. Satisfield (from “Songs for Our Mothers” on Without Consent, January 2016)
Mixing twanging Birthday Party guitars with Cabaret Voltaire rhythms, more controversy is at hand with the song’s subject matter. Here Lias draws parallels with a woman fellating him to a starving Auschwitz inmate (“She looked like Primo Levi sucking marrow out of a bone”). It sounds gross and whether or not the band set off to try and shock the listener, the result is darkly compelling.