Music: divergent sounds of the UK (Slowthai & Kassad)


Headphones on, hunch over the keyboard and working on my bad posture, I’m the breed of writer who always has music playing in the background. Most of the time it’s just random stuff on Foobar, but sometimes I’ll listen to one side of a vinyl over and over.

Depends on the mood really…..

And that’s one of the great things about music; it’s so good for conjuring certain moods.

Recently I began working on something set in the archetypical urban shit hole of “the city” and thought I’d share some thoughts on the divergent soundscapes I’ve been listening to recently…..

Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britaincover

Hearing something played Radio 6 is a sure sign that someone has started to blow up (the irony of Radio 6 being that it thinks it’s at the cutting edge but they’re actually late to the party). Northampton born Slowthai is one such gentleman.

It started when his track Doorman was repeatedly played, and it was one of those tunes that slowly snuck up on me, one where I wasn’t even sure what the name of the artist was, let alone anything about him. Slowly it had soaked into my brain with it’s refrain of “Nicotine, can’t quit it!” but I never quite logged the name of the song or the artist because I’m usually reading when I have the radio on.

Come the New Year and I was digging through Resident’s top 100 albums of 2019. Giving a quick listen to some of the interesting prospect, I finally connected the name and the tune and gave the whole of Nothing Great About Britain a listen on Youtube, loving the grit, the hard edges that conjure up the council estate of Northampton where he grew up: he was a regular for bunking school, preferring to hang out his friend’s recording studio, and had a brother born with muscular dystrophy and died aged 1. When he got a job in a shop he was fired for giving his friends his staff benefits.

Against this backdrop he went full time into making music and I think he’s crafted this short, punchy statement about the experience of modern, urban Britain. It’s a sketch full of flavour and vitriol, and just the sort of thing that people find hard to digest. For me, it’s got an honesty and poetry that fascinates me beyond just musical enjoyment – it’s like listening to an ethnographic recording, a journal of a life experienced through a different lens of the same country.

And finally there’s the whole fake, severed head of Boris Johnson at the Mercury Prize in 2019.

Maybe we’re not so different after all, lmfao……

Kassad London Orbitalcover

In contrast London Orbital is an totally different flavour, a project with layers of sonic ambience, droning and crackling guitars and a layer of distorted vocals that invokes the bleakness of urban existence, the faceless and concrete world of the city.

The artist remarked: “I wanted to create music for an imagined, future London – one where the city’s monoliths of glass and concrete have come alive to assert their malevolent control over the millions of people that live and toil amongst them. Workers travel in the vast shadows of these buildings, in the tunnels and transport systems that snake below or in the briefest snatches of sun that are yet to be blacked out. If you tilt your head and look at the city just right, you can already see the light starting to turn to darkness.”

It’s a great slice of dark ambience, something that I’d put on in the background when writing anything dark and grim; the perfect soundtrack for a dystopian sci-fi epic.

Again, not the sort of thing that’s ever going to be popular, but rather something that represents a personal, artistic vision from the periphery of acceptable music. Kassad feels like someone who just follows their own musical vision, and certainly has little recourse to fame and fortune at the end of the tunnel.

This album really summons up the feel of living in the husk of modern democracy where the promised techtopia of early science fiction has given way to the post Blade Runner reality where we were too late to resist the dark will that shapes our lives.

You can acquire a digital copy (name your price) from Hypnotic Dirge Records (great name).

And there you have it, a couple of the divergent sounds emerging from the underground of the UK, a potential remedy to the bread and circuses of the modern musical sausage factory, the bread and circuses of repeated, formulaic pop music that seeks to lull and sedate people, not to challenge them with rough edges that might make them uncomfortable or that demand some effort to comprehend.

Heaven forbid!

At the same time, if none of this floats your boat, I can fully understand. Music is, after all, a totally personal matter of taste. But I promise you, by next month, it’ll be a totally different offering. So until the next platter of delights is served, have a great week and I’ll catch you in seven days.


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