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Fat White Family – Tramshed, Cardiff, 27/11/2019

There is something very, very boring about Fat White Family. It’s not just the monotonous vocals, the lack of any obvious musicianship, the failure to do anything interesting with non-musicianship, their contrived efforts to try and look like they’re about to follow Paul McGann into a toilet in Camden, the mullets and moustaches, and the attention-seeking Nathan Barley-ish attempts to get some kind of reaction. There’s something more, something ineffably and transcendentally tedious about their company tonight.

Fat White Family are now three albums into their career, are clean and drug-free, have left London behind them for Sheffield, and their recent plaudit-winning LP, Serfs Up!, is a certain fixture on every other Best-of-2019 list. And fair play to them. Leaving London and its attendant cascade of recreational narcotics is a great idea. Did it myself years ago. But where Serfs Up! saw them expand their horizons and write a couple of songs that you couldn’t quite dismiss (see below), tonight’s set more often than not sounds like Mud. Lumpen, turgid glam-rock posturing which would make you queasy if it wasn’t so reassuringly dead and lifeless. Oasis without the tune.

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Fat White Family (photo credit Emma Lou Lewis)

A couple of songs in, lead singer Lias Saoudi is already in the front row of the audience with his shirt off, spraying beer over everyone, crowd surfing, and strutting about like a plucked and slightly resigned looking chicken. Compared with the Fat White Family of a few years ago they don’t look like they’re having so much fun, and the garage-psych of their earlier songs comes across as by-the-numbers. Attempts to appropriate disco and dub get swamped under a miasma of pounding guitars. I emphasise the word appropriate – they don’t ever sound like a band who understand or have any feeling for the genres of music they tackle. It’s more like box-ticking. I’d go as far as to say that it’s an example of the kind of colonial mindset that they supposedly critique.

And then there’s ‘Hits Hits Hits’.

Hits Hits Hits’ is a song about an abusive marriage sung from the POV of the abuser. More specifically it’s a song about Ike Turner, a kind of a parody of a tender ballad as he attempts to excuse or justify his behaviour. The predatory, misogynistic verses, sung by Lias, are punctuated by the sardonic chant, “Hits, hits, hits”. Very funny lads. See what you did there. Reading between the lines of the song it’s entirely possible that we’re meant to read this as preparation for a rape. It sounds a bit like ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ by the Velvet Underground, coincidentally written by another man who was not above using his fists on women (or on anyone else he disagreed with).

When they get to the most rapey bit, the music goes down low, so you can really hear every word. It’s one of the few moments in the show when the lyrical content is clearly audible, and it goes like this: “Sister Tina don’t be shy / patience is starting to bruise / better spread / what have you got to prove.” Since this is a band who’ve complained before about bloggers taking them out of context, I’ve got me some context I’m going to park right here: according to the Office of National Statistics one in four women experiences domestic violence in their lifetime and two women every week are killed by their partners or ex-partners. They include friends of mine and I have to look them in the eye sometimes.

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I think the Fat White Family need to have a good hard think about whether or not singing this song night after night is a very fulfilling way to go through life, and perhaps to grow the fuck up.

And so, on to the holocaust.

The rest of the band file offstage, and for a brief glorious moment, I think they might have actually split up in front of me, having finally tired of guitarist Saul Adamczewski once and for all. Sadly, however, he’s about to regale us with their other tender ballad, the sentimental, cyanide fuelled country and western weepy ‘Goodbye Goebbels’. As it goes I quite enjoyed ‘Goodbye Goebbels’ and would consider it one of the high points of tonight’s set. Some reservations though. At one point, the line “So here’s to the Fourth Reich”, is greeted with whoops and cheers from the guy next to me, and somewhere down the front, I see the unmistakable silhouette of a Nazi salute. It’s weird. Then I remember that no one but me cares about the lyrics and that cheering and putting your hands in the air are just things that happen at rock concerts. Disbelief breaks upon me like the light of an Aryan dawn – we’re not really doing Hitler-was-the-first-rock-star are we? I haven’t heard that one in years. It was a luke-warm take when Bowie made it. But for two or three minutes the point sticks. They could be up there unambiguously calling for genocide and this audience wouldn’t care. They can only see the form, not the content.

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Fat White Family (photo credit Emma Lou Lewis)

To be clear, I don’t have any evidence that they’re bad guys. From what I hear their left-wing credentials are impeccable. But what, as they say, the actual fuck? Is this a critique from a leftist perspective? Well maybe, but if you ask me, the form of fascism that they’re interested in was already successfully critiqued from a left-wing perspective at the battle of fucking Stalingrad. The right doesn’t wear paramilitary gear and boots any more. They wear Dickies and ill-fitting tartan suits and go on the BBC. Keep up, fellas. Stop sniggering up your own arses and look around you and you might be able to do some good.

Back to my original point then: this is boring. I’m not cross, I’m not offended, I’m not feeling any emotion at all. I wish I was. I’m reminded of the line from Nathan Barley: ‘Stupid people think it’s cool and clever people think it’s funny. Also cool.’ I just had a look on their website and the only sold-out show coming up is in Brighton, which should tell you everything you need to know. Is this the kind of shite they’re listening to in Brighton? Glam rock, the last refuge of the scoundrel. I remember reading interviews where they’ve spoken of their experiences in the playground, and I wonder if they’re aren’t still there – victims of bullying and humiliation who grow into manipulative, wounded monsters, using their little bit of cleverness for the exertion of power over others.

I had planned to conclude by exploring the idea that Fat White Family are a band who have listened to Throbbing Gristle and drawn all the wrong conclusions – for instance, Throbbing Gristle’s songwriting chops are not high up in anyone’s list of things to like about Throbbing Gristle, nor is their singer much respected as the band’s presiding genius and creative force. The visionary stuff, the art, was the music. TG created their own genre and built their own instruments to do it. Say what you like about them, they didn’t ironically copy anyone or anything. Here and now though, that assessment seems generous. Fat White Family sound instead like a band who have listened to Pink Floyd and drawn all the wrong conclusions. Pompous, bombastic, messianic, too sure of their brilliance, and ultimately shallow, empty and narcissistic.

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Fat White Family (photo credit Emma Lou Lewis)

In the interests of balance, the show does pick up towards the end. ‘When I leave’ and ‘Feet’ are both decent songs, which point to a band who are not totally beyond redemption. And it would also be factually correct to emphasise that I’m definitely the skeleton at the feast tonight. There is dancing and merriment here, which is always pleasant to witness. I should also add that I’m only here at all because the photographer Emma Lou Lewis wanted to see this band and take their photographs, so she went behind my back and told our editor I was up for writing a review. Sorry about that, Fat White Family. I didn’t come seeking out beef, but I figure that a band that goes onstage every night dishing out puerile bullshit about Nazis and domestic violence ought to be able to take it. Anyway, Emma thinks it was the best gig she’s seen this year and asked me to mention that it’s revitalised her faith in rock and roll and I hope her photos tell the story she wants. When I work with her I always wind up feeling, and in the best possible way, like I’m just filling up the empty space around her pictures.

So there you go. Takes all sorts, don’t it? Comments, as they say, are open. I’m off to get back to my book about dolphins.

  1. Great review.

    Can’t say I know anything about them really, apart from… that Leather song was a breath of fresh air when it showed up… that they remind me of Idles… that when I saw Idles I was shocked by quite how fucking bang average / boring as fuck they were (whilst 75% of the people there seemed to be going nuts for some inexplicable reason).

  2. Thanks Wild Eye. Don’t get me started on Idles though. I can’t for the life of me see the buzz about either band.

  3. What? I was there . It was great. Not boring and certainly nothing like Mud. Best band I’ve seen since The Cramps in 1979. This review is rubbish

  4. This review scares me. In the 90s there was no internet and being musical journalialist meant that people had to buy newspapers and records and see what the band was about before they reviewed them. Imagine going unprepared to see Type of Negative and hearing “Kill All The White People”. Anyone writing how TON were right wing would not only fail to understand the band message but also not notice the fact that TON had Jewish members of the band and were icredibly progressive left leaning band. It would be considered complete failure of music journalism and not doing ones job properly. But that was the 90s where one had to do research.

    There is an interview easily available on the net where Saudi brothers speak about the racism they experienced, how their mother has been attacked and kicked during her pregnancy and other things that inspire their social stand. Anyone who goes on FWF gig and writes that they somehow condone violence on women or anything of his sort is severly unprepared to review the band. I dont mean to be rude or dismissive but with the knowledge at our fingertips how can a piece like this even be written? Its absolutely clear that there is research and no thought in it. Complete misunderstanding of the band and what they are saying. I can understand that the gig was boring to the reviewer but is it really that hard to actually research artists these days?

    Had Peter Steele lived on Im sure hed invite FWF on tour. Perhaps more things died with Pete than just old sarcastic Brooklyn hard core scene…

    God forbid the writer has to review any album by Sentenced or similar.

  5. Hi Michelle, as I hope I made clear, I was the only person there who was bored. But I have to call it like I saw it, and that was how I saw it. They weren’t even the best band I saw this week. Thanks for reading though, hope I do better next time.

  6. Hi Malicia, thanks for reading, and thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed response. There’s a couple of things I’d like to address, so bear with me please.

    Firstly, I think we can both agree that Kill All The White People by Type O Negative is a stone cold classic and that the world would be a much better place if we had more songs about slave uprisings. Don’t trust anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. But there is a difference between a group of white guys singing Kill all the Whites, and a group of men singing about beating up a woman.

    In terms of research, well… I’ve seen FWF before. It was several years ago when they were a better band. I thought they looked like they were having more fun in those days, and said so, above. I’ve also seen Moonlandingz. And I’ve read all the interviews you talk about. It’s actually kind of hard to escape reading about FWF this year. I felt that Lias and Nathan’s acount of their childhood was harrowing and distressing. No one should have to go through shit like that.

    But I’m not going to patronise them. A traumatic childhood doesn’t get you some kind of cloak of critical invulnerability that prevents anyone from questioning your artistic choices. No one gets one of those. If you’re gonna stand on stage and sing your songs and charge your audience £20 a go to see you do it, then that’s product, and it’s fair game for the critics to come along and say, nah, that’s crap, I don’t recommend it.

    I’m not sure I would go as far as to say they were condoning violence against women (though they do have a funny way of not condoning it). The charge is more that they’re doing it in an extremely crass and stupid way. I’m all for transgressive art, but in this case, I’m out. Something feels off and I have to trust my gut. How would we feel if Tina Turner put out a song about kicking the brothers’ pregnant mother around because there was some dark force inside her that made her do it?

    Finally, saying that I think their act is crass and boring and they should stop doing it is absolutely not the same thing as saying I think we should stop them from doing it. I’m totally not down with any censorship. Was that what you meant when you said you felt scared by the review? If so, that’s a shame. I’m not out to frighten my readers. You guys make your own choices, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. We’re all here because we’re passionate about our music, so keep on with hardcore, and if you think you can do a better job, which I agree you probably could, give Bill Cummings a shout. He’s always looking for writers.

    I’m not familiar with Sentenced but I listened to Killing Me Killing You this morning and I thought it was a hoot. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. I’m not sure you will do better next time Colin, so here’s a few tips
    1. Just because you were bored it doesn’t mean the band were boring. Your review tells me so much about you, but very little about what happened
    2. Your assumption that you were the only person there who cares about the lyrics was extremely condescending
    3. Your claim to have a more valid view on portrayal of domestic violence by throwing in a few statistics and validating your expertise on this subject bt stating you have friends who have been victims of domestic violence I found rather creepy

    I could go on and made my response as long , wordy, and ‘ look how clever I am’ as your review, but I will spare you that. Hopefully that is enough information for you to work out how to do better next time
    I’m glad you saw a better band earlier in the week, as at least that means you do have the ability to enjoy something. Your review had made me wonder about if that was possible for you

    Just telling it how it is Colin

  8. “Your review tells me so much about you, but very little about what happened”

    That’s what makes it such a great piece. I have no strong feelings for or against FWF but this is a great bit of writing. Much better those live reviews – ie most of them – that just tell you ‘what happened’. Music criticism is about opinions not news.

  9. Hi Michelle,
    Thanks for the honesty. Point by point:
    1) Yes.
    2) Also yes.
    3) The guy is up there singing, Sister Tina, better spread, and I’m the creepy one in your book? Okay, I’ll think about that when I stop laughing.
    Finally, thanks for the concern, but I’ve been sober now for over half a year and am on the appropriate medication at last. I’m also surrounded by folk who love me (no one knows why) so the whole inability to enjoy anything deal is less of a problem now than it’s ever been. I hope that in the time remaining to you, you manage to see another band who live up the high standards set by The Cramps in 1979. That does sound like it would have been a fucking good night out, but it’s a shame life had to peak so early for you.
    So, having established that an ad hominem attack is not going to draw blood when your target’s self loathing already knows no bounds, here’s how you wipe the condescending, creepy smirk off my face – how about 500 words on why singing a song about beating up Tina Turner is just the kind of feminism we need days? Take it from me, it’s way harder to say why you like something, so off you all go. Seriously, what do you all see in this band? What contortions go through your minds to make this enjoyable? The lights are on, but what’s going on inside?
    I’m going to be on holiday for the next week so will be actively trying to spend as little time as possible thinking about Fat White Family, but I will be looking in every couple of days and will be interested in hearing if anyone takes me up on that. I might even come back to admit I was wrong. I like admitting I’m wrong. I was wrong about Radiohead and Morrissey for diametrically different reasons for years. Try me.

  10. And that is all it took to make you go for the nasty personal attack…..
    Why I found what you said creepy was because I felt you were using the subject of domestic violence to point score. But thanks for your reply because it has confirmed my suspicions about where you are coming from
    I don’t think someone who stoops to making cheap jibes about age is in any position to criticise any artists lyrics
    And if I did give you 500 words on why I like FWF and, as someone who has got a lot closer to violence inflicted on women by men than you possibly could, why you offend me and they don’t,you would give me 1000 words of of condescension back, because actually you don’t want to hear anyone elses opinion.
    I think we are done here. I like them, you don’t, bye bye, have a nice life

  11. Looking forward to seeing them tomorrow. Will keep an open mind but am hoping there’ll be dancing. Wednesday in stoke newington I might be lucky. Better not be any nazi punks though!

  12. They were one of the best bands I’ve seen in ages. Lias is an amazing front man and there was even a flute solo!

  13. So glad you had a good time ( although we never got a flute solo on Cardiff) Now you probably understand why I found this review so unfair

  14. Interesting point from Michelle there. Still thinking about it actually. I think it’s a line of attack that’s at best risky, and at worst extremely counter-productive. Lots of men experience domestic and sexual violence, usually but not exclusively when they’re children. Shutting down the conversation on those terms might come across as, I dunno, what’s the word? Oh yeah, condescending. Certainly doesn’t make either of us look clever.

    As for the insults, well, I’m sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings, but I’m working on the basis that if you can dish it out you can take it. Maybe I’m wrong about that too.

    Will bring my best self to any further discussions. Unless you want to call me an arsehole, in which case, be prepared to be a good sport when I bite back.

    Checking back in a couple of days, and hoping you’re all staying safe and playing nicely at the FWF gigs.

  15. Your right. You are an arsehole. Initially I just thought you were someone who wrote rubbish reviews, but you have convinced me you are more than that. Or maybe you actually work for FWF and write that rubbish si people could write back and say’ No, they were brilliant’ Just please don’t tell me this is an actual job and you get paid for writing this stuff- that would be deeply wrong. The photos are excellent btw

  16. So, to summarise the debate so far.

    On the one hand, Fat White Family were boring, and liking them makes you a bad person.

    On the other hand they weren’t boring and they had a flute solo.

    Illuminating stuff all round. I think my work here is done.

  17. Continually baffles me why people get upset over bad reviews like this. If you like the band, why would you care? Just because some bloke you’ve never met didn’t like the gig, does that detract from your enjoyment of it? Course it doesnt. Love or hate the band – and personally I find them a lot more dull than their interviews would suggest they should be – you have to admit that this is a great, passionate bit of writing.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.