With the “similar acts” search tool on Spotify or Deezer or iTunes fast becoming one of the primary ways people are introduced to new music, genre labels are more important than ever. This can make things difficult for those bands who like to keep things a little weird; who like to defy expectations rather than jump through the hoops that are expected of them.
Fat White Family are one of those bands.
Speaking to GoldenPlec Fat White Family guitarist and backing vocalist Saul Adamczewski is quick to admit even he isn’t sure what genre his band are. There’s elements of country, psychedelia, punk, but all Adamczewski says is, “I don’t know, I’d just say go and listen to it and make up your own mind really.”
Breaking out of the shabbier end of an alternative rock scene where a bands outfits and haircuts get their own special mention in the review, Fat White Family revel in a special kind of uncaring ugliness. In the three years since their first show in a pub in Brixton, their gigs have gained a scurrilous reputation for riotous behaviour and impromptu nudity.
Fat White Family cite New York folk/punk bands like The Fugs and The Holy Modal Rounders as influences, along with Scottish art-punks the Country Teasers and the eccentric and eclectic Captain Beefheart. “Anything a bit weird,” says Adamczewski.
But their recent showcase at SXSW has gained has been talked about less for the music, and more for lead singer Lias Saoudi’s manic stage presence, emerging in his underwear, doused in baby oil, and culminating a low-fi droning number with a high-pitched wail before diving off the stage to roll around in the dirt.
“That wasn’t baby oil,” interjects Adamczewski, “It was margarine actually, or maybe it was I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. That was kind of what we did in America. We just had the idea, I don’t know, and Lias just liked to cover himself in butter. But now that idea is dead, cos we don’t wanna do any idea too much unless it becomes a gimmick. Now the butter days are over.”
Fat White Family may like to cut loose onstage, but it’s anything but a gimmick for attention. “Yeah,” admits Adamczewski, “There’s some nudity sometimes, but it’s not planned. It’s not like it’s part of the show. You know the way, the mood is right, you’re in a hot sweaty venue, and it just occurs sometimes.”
There probably won’t be any butter on the band’s current European tour, which includes dates in Belfast and Dublin. “I don’t even know what’s going to happen,” says Adamczewski, who definitely prefers spontaneity to a deftly rehearsed act. “We’re probably going to play our own songs, and move around, yeah we might do that.”
This kind of wild, uninhabited punk aesthetic carries over to their debut album ‘Champagne Holocaust’, which lurches around with a kind of spontaneous chaos that recalls The Fall. Meanwhile the impishly un-PC lyrics on lead single Is it Raining in Your Mouth, “I was born to have it/ and you were born to take it,” echo the kind of blunt brutishness of Iggy and the Stooges at their most iconoclastic.
When asked about the frank and sometimes disturbing sexual themes of the album, Adamczewski foists the blame in the direction of Lias Saoudi. “He’s a pervert. He’s a perverted man. Fuck, I can’t answer for his sins.”
It’s hard to tell if he’s even joking or not, but that is a statement that could be applied to the whole band. Are songs like Without Consent or Cream of the Young just pure provocation, or is there a genuine subversive message buried in there somewhere? “I guess it’s just our sense of humour [that drives the music]", says Adamczewski. “It’s good to provoke really. It makes things more interesting for us, it makes things more interesting for the person listening. And I mean if we offend some conservative arseholes along the way, well that’s great.”
However, despite the Communist themed surrealism and calls for full scale insurrection evident on ‘Champagne Holocaust’, Adamczewski denies a definite political message on the album. “I think that we all have strong political views, and I think that manifests itself within the lyrics and the music, but I don’t think we’re explicitly presenting one political doctrine. We’re not trying to tell people what to think.”
Fat White Family formed from the ashes of two previous bands, the Metros (fronted by Lias, who landed a record deal aged 17 but never achieved the success he was promised), and Saudis (featuring Lias, his brother Nathan on organ, and Adamczewski on guitar), who never really got beyond the pub scene.
After the Saudis disbanded the former members were offered a gig, but didn’t have a band, so “we got all our mates together and just wrote a bunch of songs on the day,” one of which became ‘Champagne Holocaust’s opening track Auto Neutron.
“We all moved into a house together, that was how Fat White Family began,” says Adamczewski.
Despite a hefty bill of touring for the next few months, including a stint in America and visits to Glastonbury and Reading, Fat White Family have firm plans to get a second album out next year. “We’ve got like eight or nine songs,” says Adamczewsk, “we’ve pretty much got the whole second record written. Although we never really finish anything until we get into the studio.”
And will it be similar to ‘Champagne Holocaust’, or will there be some new direction? “I guess in a way we’re kind of getting away from the garage rock sound. We’ve been listening to a lot of glam recently, and I think it’s [the new album] got kind of a glam kind of tinge to it. I love it, so we’ll see what people think.”
Once again, it’s hard to know how seriously this last statement is intended to be taken.
Fat White Family play the Aether & Echo in Belfast as part of the Cathedral Arts Quarter Festival on Monday 5 May, and the Workman's Club in Dublin on Tuesday 6 May.