Slaves’ biggest task on their debut was to catch the chaos of their live shows on record. A tough ask, but their short, sweet and very loud album goes some way to do that.
To many, Tunbridge Wells epitomises ‘Middle England’, and is perhaps the last place you would expect to find a punk duo causing mayhem with huge guitar riffs and live shows that include a man dressed as an aquatic animal diving into the crowd. Nonetheless, it is here that BBC Sound Of 2015 nominees Slaves hail from, with their debut album Are You Satisfied? attempting to do for punk what Royal Blood did for rock, and Drenge did for grunge. Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman make up the duo, who wouldn’t look out of place in your dodgy local garage, and the hardest task of Are You Satisfied? was to capture the spirit of their on stage performances in an album. A tough task, but one the band has risen to, and with relative success.
The recognisable riffs of ‘The Hunter’ kick off the record, followed by ‘Cheer Up London’, both having had airtime on BBC Radio One, which is possibly the biggest mystery behind Slaves; they couldn’t be much further away from the ‘chart’ based radio-friendly music Radio One are normally associated with, so what is it about the pair that makes them such a hit?
Is it the fact they don’t take themselves too seriously? Holman’s screams of “Mind the gap” in ‘Cheer Up London’ and the accompanying video show the pair are up for laugh, with their witty lines and conversations in between songs on stage demonstrating this further. Is it the fact they are simply something completely different to everything else is out there? Or is it the ability to conduct clever collaborations, such as with Skepta, something which really shouldn’t work but does? Regardless of what it is, it’s working their favour.
You would expect Are You Satisfied? to be loud, and it is, ridiculously so; these guys could start a mosh pit in an old people’s home. “It wasn’t her fault/She made sugar taste like salt” is the standout line from ‘Sockets’, a track that needs to be cranked up to full volume. It continues in the same vein, “You’re not stuck in traffic/You are traffic”, a lyric from ‘Do Something’, which may or may not mean anything, but that’s entirely irrelevant if you can openly admit some of songs are ludicrous, as the band regularly do.
It was always going to be hard to seize the essence of their shows on record, but Slaves do it well, throughout the album and in songs such as ‘Hey’ and ‘Live Like An Animal’ there is nothing complicated, the minimalist set up on stage is the same in the studio.
And if you expected a whole album of head banging and mosh pits you’ll be in for a surprise; ‘Are You Satisfied’ marks the mid-point of the album and is ninety seconds of the acoustic guitar and the piano to accompany Holman’s almost hoarse vocals. Likewise, the use of drum pads gives ‘Ninety Nine’ a different feel, and these are welcome changes, showing there is actually much more to the band than simply playing their instruments as loud as possible.
The last two tracks of Are You Satisfied? are arguably the two best tracks on the record; “aquatic ballad” ‘Feed The Mantaray’ could win an award for the most bizarre song of 2015, but demonstrates all the best parts of Slaves as a band. It’s loud, the lyrics make no sense, but it is fun, and Holman and Vincent aren’t taking it too seriously, with the latter wailing “It’s always the mantaray” at various parts of the song in a high pitched, completely unnecessary but absolutely essential manner. Closing track ‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth’ declares “Don’t trust the flies/They are government spies” and is slower and more developed, yet a fitting way to end a thirty seven minute adventure.
To experience Slaves fully, seeing them live is a must. Are You Satisfied? goes some way to capture the chaos of their live shows, and they should be commended for making sure the album isn’t entirely guitar heavy. What we have here is a band who pride themselves in fun and not taking themselves too serious, and that, ultimately, is the beauty of the record. Am I satisfied? Yes, I think I am.
Are You Satisfied? was released by Virgin EMI on 1st June.