I’m not sure I’m politically aligned with the Fat White Family. That’s because I’m not sure what their politics are. Of course I’m aware of their backstory — the hard times in Peckham squats, the drugs issues, the rehab, the time in prison cells — which comes with a suggestion of hard leftishness but I really don’t know. There has also been some comment about their lyrical interest in Nazis, which I assumed was ironic. I don’t really listen deeply to their lyrics to be honest and I’m not looking for validation of my views or a band to cling to. I’m too old to be a fanboy.
Neither am I looking to revisit the ‘spirit of ‘77’. I was nineteen then, in a dead end warehouse job with not much of a future. Punk was right up my street then, some light in the dark. But that was then and this is now and I’m not looking for that kind of engagement. Anyway, despite some surface anarchic similarities, FWF don’t rehash those times or that aura as some seem to have suggested. For one thing they’re too polished, too together to fit into punk’s initial DIY ethos.
What I like about FWF is this: when I first saw them, without preconceptions, at Green Man Festival around four summers ago, I came away thinking they were the best band I had seen in maybe thirty years. Maybe more. On Sunday night in sleepy Kendal, they may have actually been better.
We can skip through the stand outs of the setlist if you like. A wonderfully haunting ‘Auto Neutron’ to start, the swaggering, anthemic ‘I Am Mark E Smith’, the catchy as hell ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’ and finished with a rousing ‘Raining In Your Mouth’. They plucked songs from all three studio albums but you barely get the power of them from your home speakers. Curiously FWF really seemed flat at Glastonbury this year, their energy neutered by the wide open spaces and Lias’s inability to get amongst the crowd. For all its faults the small, sweaty Malt Room with its dangerously low ceilings and beams was the perfect place for them. These are animals which thrive in captivity. Or something.
FWF have been around since 2011. You must have heard of them, if not their records. Google searches see their music described as ‘death disco’ but I have absolutely no idea what that means—it seems very narrow and restrictive for a band with their range. Maybe you’ve read this and decided that they are not your cup of tea which is fair enough. I’m not here to fight their corner. No mission, no agenda. I’m just saying that FWF are pretty much as good as it gets in a small venue. They must be.
Working Men’s Club, it has to be said, were an impressive support act. An online friend suggested a cross between Soft Cell and The Fall, but I certainly heard more of the former in their dynamic half hour set. Plenty of German influences were evident, too: La Dusseldorf, NEU! At one stage they threatened to go full motorik but reigned themselves in which seemed a pity. They don’t have much YouTube or Spotify presence, so I’d be tempted to call them a band for the future. Of course, I’d be wrong—they are a band for now.