Some Meditations on Punk: Hanging in the Basement with Slaves

Slaves © 2018
On their third album, Issac Holman and Laurie Vincent of Slaves resort to throwing rotten eggs at the Palace of Westminster instead of what I expected them to do: Burn it to the fucking ground, Sex-Pistols style.

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Iever two men looked like they didn’t ever give a shit about anything, it was Slaves‘ Laurie Vincent and Issac Holman in the dingy basement of Saint Vitus, a small dive bar in Greenpoint, New York with a penchant for metal bands and mosh pits. Indifference seemed to be the drink of the evening – the moment I walked in, I was an immediate eye-roll, a compulsory hurdle. That was fine though. I don’t blame them much. Music critics can be a brutally unforgiving species.

Acts Of Fear and Love - Slaves

Acts Of Fear and Love – Slaves

As our conversation barreled through the topics of fatherhood and dance crazes, we eventually stumbled into something more curious, more prodding: The duo’s interview with NME’s Gary Ryan. Laurie Vincent ‘s remarks were quite an interesting affair:

“There’s almost like a tick-box chart for young bands now in the music media: have you mentioned Brexit? Have you addressed the Tories? But the truth us, there’s only so much finger-wagging you can do at the establishment. The world feels in too much of a state to focus on one thing.”

He brings up some important questions about the tense relationship between music and politics: when is enough, enough? Is censuring politicians in songwriting inadvertently glorifying them, bestowing these ugly people a cultural platform and currency they don’t deserve? How many songs can we write about Treason… Sorry, Theresa May, until it curdles into gross sensationalism, an infertile motif, a punch line? Slaves are certainly aware of what’s going on around them. Since their debut Are You Satisfied?, they have always had the potential to be a great band that ignites even greater conversations, constructive debates concerning the disastrous circus that is politics. Unfortunately, Acts of Fear and Love doesn’t quite carry the full weight of their virtuous intentions. In fact, it is hard to pinpoint what their intentions are in the first place.

Stream: “Cut and Run” – Slaves


On their latest project Acts of Fear and Love, released on August 17th via Virgin EMI Records, Slaves offer us an aggression that springs mostly from the flimsier tendrils of first-world millennial anxiety – Instagram superficiality, suburban boredom, strained love. Instead of the lyrical slaps in the face we heard from Take Control, where well-meaning angry political stances were watered-down by platitudes and expendable tracks, the water boils with a polemic rage on the foreboding “Artificial Intelligence” and embittered “Bugs.” On the latter, we see the spark of an arsonist flame: “Another let-down generation / fed inaccurate information.” Their diatribes have always suffered ambiguity sickness, but at least the molotov cocktails are lit. Sadly, it never leaves their hands. 

Good music makes you feel like you’re opening up to it. Good protest music wakes you up and shows you that a better reality is viable. Slaves don’t really aim to do the latter very much with Acts of Fear and Love. They are much friendlier this time around, skimming over the surface of political issues rather than dive headfirst into its depraved gunk. So why did Slaves decide to recycle mushier tropes, like heartbreak and youthful malaise, than blast off some scathingly political bombshells? Is it possible that England’s political shit-show is almost too shitty to even shit on? Can we even define what Brexit is after two years? Apparently, “Brexit means Brexit.” What do you even say to that rubbish? Not much, but if Slaves are not going “to address the Tories,” is nagging on about how phones “turn you into a product” any better? Is Acts of Fear and Love aiming the barrel of the gun in the right direction, where it really counts?


Issac told me that, “On this album, Laurie and I felt like we should offer a solution, and it should be more personal. So that’s what we did rather just shouting, saying “fuck this, fuck that!” You can hear that half of that motive on the album’s introspective moments. Compositionally, “Photo Opportunity” and album ender “Acts of Fear and Love” are where the boys’ creativity shines the brightest, presenting a more sensitive side to the band we hadn’t seen before. But where is the “solution” Issac as talking about? When Slaves’ crowd shouts “Fuck the Tories,” and Issac responds, “Let’s leave politics out of this…I’m fed up of hearing about it,” what is that saying about them as a band that claims they have a “punk attitude.” Apathy isn’t a good look for Slaves. They have sort of just accepted the world as it is and turned it into a satire. Maybe it is because they realized they never had much to say politically in the first place.

We spoke to Laurie Vincent and Issac Holman about their latest album, fatherhood, and what it means to be political in 2018.

Given its militant lineage, punk is usually bracketed with political. The word punk implies a dangerous experiment: An unstable concoction of musical dissonance and lyrical diatribes catalyzed by delinquent attitudes. But does punk need to be sharpened by an abrasive edge to be deemed punk? What do the sounds of punk really promise us in the first place – sonically, politically?

:: purchase/stream Acts of Fear and Love here ::

A CONVERSATION WITH SLAVES

Atwood Magazine: Laurie, congrats on your first child! That’s really fantastic. Has fatherhood changed the way you create music?

Laurie: Time’s more precious now. You want to get stuff done quicker. It can add a layer of intensity to what you do because you value every second, you know. If you are having practice and nothing is happening, you’re thinking, “Oh, I could be home with my kid right now.” But in general, I don’t think it’s changed me a whole lot. It’s made me more relaxed.

What’s up with this 'Cut-and-Run' dance craze?

Issac: We had that tune in the bag and we were like, we got to put it out as a single and music video. We literally had it on backstage at a gig, and we just started doing these stupid dance moves and we were like,” lets do a motherfucking dance video.”

Your shows get pretty wild. Who are the rowdier moshers: Americans or Europeans?

Laurie: Europeans. We are more well known there.

Issac: Last night was pretty good. They were having it, but yeah, we’ve had our craziest pits in Europe.

Acts Of Fear and Love - Slaves

Acts Of Fear and Love – Slaves

A lot of musicians are really keen on creating safe spaces at their concerts, which doesn't always accommodate the natural violence of a mosh pits? How do you create a safe space as a band that often incites chaos in the crowd.

Laurie: Our concerts are always safe spaces.

Issac: We have a real relationship with our crowd and we are constantly looking at them. We know as soon as something’s up.

Laurie: The front row of our show last night was 90% female, and the mosh pit was about half and half. The only crowd surfer was a woman too. It just shows you people feel comfortable, and we promote that, and we want good people and make people feel safe and able to express themselves.

Critics, journalists, fans – they all love to pigeonhole artists into neat, little genres. Some would call you punk, post-punk – I don’t even know what the fuck punk is now, let alone rock and roll – you know, I find definitions in music helpful, but often very reductive. So I’m curious, if someone asked you what kind of music you make, what would you tell them?

Laurie: We tried to coin our own genre once and call it “primal.” But it doesn’t work – someone else has got to tell you. It’s really just music!

Issac: We always wanted to be in a punk band.

Laurie: Our attitude is punk.

Laurie: When we started out, we were a punk band. But I feel like it has developed and I’m not really sure what it is now.

Issac: I feel like I always have to say to older people that its Clash-inspired punk, not like, thrash punk. Even my mom, when you say the word punk, she expects it not to have melody. We have tunes, but we have a punk attitude. That’s how I describe it.

The first song off your album, 'The Lives They Wish They Had,' sort of breaks down into this gnarly thrash metal meets spoken word at the outro. How do you go about stitching varying sounds and influences together in one song without the whole thing breaking apart.

Laurie: It’s almost the opposite. It’s all about saying, “Fuck it! Let’s just do what we want!”

Issac: We love all those things, so we want to do it all.

Laurie: It feels restrictive having to have a solid sound throughout an album. I do like albums that where it is one sonic plane because that’s good for a stranger. But the music I want to make…we are into so many different things and we want it to take you to different places. We are like a different band on every song, but creativity should never be restricted.

Your album tackles a multitude of gross things in our culture: social media superficiality, suburban conformity, government corruption. When you made Acts of Fear and Love, how did you want audiences to respond? Was it matter of mobilizing change, dismantling the corruption; or was your intention more tongue-in-cheek?

Issac: I feel, like, before this album, we were barking about what was wrong and what everyone else thought was wrong. On this album, Laurie and I felt like we should offer a solution, and it should be more personal. So that’s what we did rather just shouting, saying “fuck this, fuck that!”

Laurie: On the album, some of the songs like “Magnolia” seem shallow because we are not quoting political agendas and parties and all that. We wanted to expose how people nowadays can’t think for themselves because there is so much fucking stuff out there that it is stifling. So at the end of the song, Issac says, “I’m going to paint my wall Magnolia”–– it is almost like every song has a personal touch about how they all reflect upon ourselves and everybody is in the same boat with social media. With the craziness that is everyone’s governments at the moment, especially the U.S. and the U.K., and literally watching the world fall apart, it is quite crazy. There is no real movement to be apart of, so it is quite a melancholy album as well.

Slaves © 2018

Slaves © 2018

It seems like there is a lot of fires to put out in the world. To me, your songs like 'Cheer Up London' and 'Bugs' are bestowing visibility to certain ugly sociopolitical realties. How do you think music and politics should intersect nowadays, and are you both still interested in finding those crossroads yourselves?

Issac: I feel like you can do both. I feel like you can get pinned as a political band, especially us. We make “punk” music or whatever. Everyone’s like you have to say something political and use your voice. I don’t actually feel like you have to all the time.

Laurie: Just getting on stage is a political act. It says that you are willing to put yourselves out there. So the way I think it could crossover is bands…people can come and watch us and see that they can do something about their feelings. It might not change the world instantly, but you might then have someone in the audience who then has the fire to go change the world. We are all in it together and it is like a snowball that is going to slowly fall down the hill. The more people there are to inspire and the more bands there are to inspire people, the better the world will become.

In your interview with NME’s Gary Ryan, you stated, “There is almost like a tick-box chart for young bands now in the music media: have you mentioned Brexit? Have you addressed the Tories? But the truth us, there is only so much finger-wagging you can do at the establishment.” You bring up this important question: When is enough, enough? Do you feel like these topics aren’t worth representing in your music because others are doing the same? Is it a matter of originality vs. banality, or do you really feel that talking about these problems are actually are not going to do anything at the end of the day?

Laurie: There is also the angle that by name checking certain people or certain moments in time, you are giving them an elevated platform they don’t deserve.

Like an undeserved social currency?

Laurie: Yeah. You can’t directly point the finger.

Issac: I think being indirect is even more effective than naming names all the time.

Laurie: It is a cheap shot as well. Take the currency you’ve got now, like you’re saying, of this one moment and then you’re using that to further yourself, using that to call-to-arms. But really, like, there has always been issues. I don’t even think we need lyrics to show how we feel. Words can’t express everything in life. There aren’t enough of them, and not everyone knows how to use them well enough. So there are feelings we can’t even put into words, so that is why we play music. The words are a part of the music and sometimes you get really close. The whole thing at the moment as well is this toxic masculinity and gender is a real issue, gender is a topic, and so like, we are writing love songs as well. There is pressure on blokes in bands to talk about politics and making people feel like it is not alright to talk about love. It annoys me that there is pressure on anyone to make anything. Music is music and art is art. People should have freedom with that.

Slaves © 2018

Slaves © 2018

Sex Pistols, Rage Against the Machine, Pussy Riot, NWA – there are so many bands that have created these gorgeous protest songs that are timeless. In the NME interview, you mentioned how you wanted to make a record that feels “relevant forever and Brexit is just a really shit blip in history.” I don’t know if I buy that, because I feel like political struggle, even if its subjective, is timeless, an eternal thing. So what made you feel like it wasn't timeless to talk about political issues?

Laurie: We are indirectly talking about political issues. It is just that we didn’t want to name check. Even “Cut and Run” is about conservative canvases knocking on Issac’s door. We just don’t want to say, “Fuck, Donald Trump,” because they’re better ways to do that, and it is sinking to his level. And also, there is an element that other bands do it better than us, and we know it isn’t our most eloquent subject. Until it feels right, we aren’t going to hit it directly right on the head. Even “Killing In The Name” by Rage Against the Machine,” they are so political, but there isn’t too much rhetoric.

Issac: It’s a total fuck you.

Laurie: Bob Dylan and “The Times Are Changing” is a protest song, but it is done with such class. I don’t want to mention people that hopefully won’t be in power soon. The less people who remember them, the better.

So who have you been listening to that isn't and is political?

Laurie: I do listen to political bands a lot. I listen to IDLES.

Issac: He smashes it in term of talking about politics.

Laurie: They’ve hit the nail straight on the had with that record. I’ve listened to it everyday since it has come out.

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:: stream Acts of Fear and Love here ::

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Acts Of Fear and Love - Slaves

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Acts of Fear and Love

an album by Slaves

My name is Nick. I am currently unemployed and live on the beach with my surfboard in Los Angeles. When I am not home, I am busy attending NYU studying journalism, slurping ramen, moshing, or gentrifying the Lower East Side. Cheers!