Slaves: Talking Punk, Politics, Grime, Gender And Eastenders Backstage At Reading

We caught up with Slaves before their first ever Main Stage slot at Reading Festival; Laurie did most of the talking because Isaac was resting his voice, but he couldn’t help chipping in when we were talking about Eastenders…

You’ve said it’s been one of your dreams to play the Main Stage at Reading. How does it feel to live that dream?

Laurie Vincent (guitars): “Yeah, very exciting, quite surreal. We’ve played here four years in a row. It was the first festival we ever played, on the BBC Introducing stage. Then we played The Lock Up and then the NME/Radio 1 Stage and now the Main Stage.”

Talking of surreal experiences, one of your fans has a ‘Slavvs’ tattoo – how does it feel to have such a surreal fan base?

Laurie: “Yeah, I loved that. I dunno, maybe people can relate to us. One thing I like about music is that the music I like always makes me think I wanna be in their gang. Madness, The Specials, The Clash, Boy Better Know… Anything that sort of inspires that gang mentality of, ‘They look like they’re fun’. I think that’s what we sort of have. Maybe some singer-songwriters don’t get a chance to portray that image.”

You covered Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ at the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge which has been talked about a lot, but you also covered LCD Soundsystem – what made you pick that one?

Laurie: “I think because we both like tons of music and they’re one of our favourite bands. We put that song on [‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’] and just realised it was a three chord punk song. With covers, everyone thinks it’s easy for us. But we always struggle. We beat ourselves up for days and days, and then usually it just finally clicks.”

You’ve played a lot of festivals recently. Do you notice a difference in the crowds?

Laurie: “Every festival has a different vibe. Latitude took us by surprise because it’s a sleepy festival, more of a family festival. But as a band we take the same act everywhere. I think that’s why it works, because we don’t change for stages. Whatever happens can surprise us.”

Reading is a lot more diverse musically than it used to be. How do you feel about that?

Laurie: “I think diversity is always a good thing. Growing up, we lived in a world where you had to pick your allegiances. I think it’s much healthier to be influenced by all walks of life. I think as a punter coming to this festival now you’d be way more inspired than by just watching rock bands. We’re all humans and we should all integrate I think.”

What’s your take on the lack of female bands at Reading?

Laurie: “That’s true. It’s really hard though, isn’t it? It’s like saying there aren’t many ginger people. You can’t help it at a certain point in history what bands come along. There was a time when you had The Breeders, Alanis Morissette, Le Tigra, Bikini Kill, all at one time. It’s a shame not to see as many female musicians, but then you’ve got people like Ellie from Wolf Alice who is just flying the flag so powerfully, it almost makes her an even stronger figure. There are some brilliant female musicians. It’d be brilliant if we lived in a 50/50 world, but that’s just not how it works out, is it? There are a lot of females in rock music, there’s just more men.”

You’re one of the few non-grime acts that are really supporting the genre. What’s grime’s secret?

Laurie: “I think they went and took it back to what they knew. I really liked Dizzee Rascal and Wiley and a lot of the original grime stuff. But then, like any genre, it got loads of money thrown at it and it loses its way a little bit. You have the same story back in the day with punk going commercial. I think BBK made the decision to drop all of that and dressed in tracksuits. It was a very relatable image. It was punk, and that’s something we can relate to as a band that makes music for the love of it.”

You don’t like to be pigeonholed as punk, but do you ever wish you were part of a bigger subculture rather than just being out on your own?

Laurie: “I was talking about this the other day. Sometimes I think you’re not aware of what’s happening at the time and it doesn’t have a name. There’s a lot of guitar bands coming along at the moment, people like Spring King, Wonk Unit… It would be nice to be part of a musical genre but the internet has blown up so much that people can just go and make whatever kind of music they want. The reason we don’t like being called punk is because it paints an image of mohawks and leather jackets. Our music has the sentiment of punk, but we’re not punks, because as soon as you call punk ‘punk’, it’s not punk.”

You talk a lot about apathy in your songs. Do you wish there were more bands around now like Crass or Rage Against The Machine that were more overtly political?

Laurie: “Yeah I do, because we’re really missing it. But media outlets wouldn’t even get their message out, they’d just ignore them. Crass and Rage Against The Machine were such big influences on me, but I don’t think that what people want at the moment. We live in a very conservative era of pop music and what you hear on the radio and the gig culture isn’t the same. Venues are shutting down. We all consume music on Youtube. Watching a video of Crass on Youtube isn’t that enjoyable, so yeah, I wish they existed. There probably is a band out there like that, we just need to find them and give them a chance.”

Mrs Brown’s Boys has just been voted the best sitcom of the century. How do you feel about that?

Laurie: “Of the century? You can’t knock anybody for being creative. They’re not doing the nine-to-five, so big up. I’m happy for them… but we would rather watch Bottom.”

Who would be in your EastEnders super group?

Laurie: “Danny Dyer, Phil Mitchell, Grant Mitchell…”

Isaac Holman (vocals, drums): “Sonia.”

Laurie: “And Shirley. Ian Beale would be carrying all the gear. I’d put Grant on shouting, like a hardcore band.”

Isaac: “There’s that dog called Wellard as well. He’s an Alsatian.”

Laurie: “He could be a guard dog. Phil Mitchell on bass, Shirley on drums, Sonia on keys.”

Isaac: “You haven’t mentioned Barry.”

Laurie: “Barry on lead guitar and backing vocals.”

When you were touring as a small band in a van, were there any habits either of you had that used to drive each other crazy?

Laurie: “We used to piss in bottles a lot. As soon as we got a tour manager that stopped. He heard the trickle and was like, ‘What the fuck are you doing? Don’t piss in my van.’ And we haven’t since.”

Originally published as part of NME/University of Reading’s Reading Festival coverage at: http://readinglive.nme.com/

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