Book Review

Sleaford Mods: Bunch of Kunst, 2017, director Christine Franz, band: Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn, https://www.bunchofkunst.com

A band of two guys making such an incredible sound that you have to listen is nothing new on the music scene. Of the non-wallpaper variety and probably not busking-friendly, the duo known as Sleaford Mods commands unique attention. The maker of recently released documentary, Sleaford Mods: Bunch of Kunst, Christine Franz, describes them as a ‘swear-punk duo’ in an interview for silentradio.co.uk. Punk rock was, of course, first termed as such by the music press. Their genre classification relates to Sleaford Mods having arrived in no uncertain terms, at a time when societal norms have split and reformed into different shapes and manifestations. Sleaford Mods are irrevocably a living, breathing manifestation of a particular, raging and downtrodden zeitgeist, although in this documentary, their manager, Steve Underwood, insists that they are like nobody he has ever heard and are ‘not even zeitgeist’.

Franz’s film is led by the story about how the band and their manager work and communicate together throughout their journey to being the ‘fifth most listened to’ band at Glastonbury and also to being the only Nottingham natives to have played its Rock City venue to fullest capacity three times. The documentary tells of smart guys with understated humour working through European pub gig tours to gain an irrefutable fan base. The idea that ‘you do Jools Holland and retire’ is talked of, tongue in cheek. The Sleafords Mods made it there and continued. Now with Rough Trade Records, Jason admits that they have ‘no idea what will happen next’.

In an early scene, Jason firmly directs the camera crew not to film the street where he lives – his ‘missus already had weird fan mail’. The missus also speaks for herself and is markedly present when Jason is hyping himself for gigs, doing breathing exercises and pacing like a caged lion, as well as when he comes home after touring and has to settle down to emptying the dishwasher and making ‘baby tea’ for their daughter.

Seeing Andrew on his house boat with his little pedigree dog and throughout the film, where his articulate, reflective honesty contrasts with the tremendous power of the beats-driven, often anthemic tracks he creates for the band, he tells of his own journey into becoming half of Sleaford Mods. Before this, his music was ‘too spiky’ for producers’ tastes.

There is a consistent sense that the duo have lived through what they are saying through their synth-rock-ranting brand of music, which is why music fans who relate to that love what they do. So what explains a fan-following of a different kind – middle class even – which brings the band to appear on such as BBC’s Later with Jools Holland and keep growing diverse audiences?

One post-gig female commentator excitedly talks about them in terms of being the new Sex Pistols; a younger, male fan talks about the band not being like the Sex Pistols at all; a male German fan lovingly describes them as ‘dirty English bad ass working class’; none other than Iggy Pop waxes lyrical and openly promotes the duo by many means. Whatever words and means are used, responses and reactions reverberate with effusive energy and excitement towards Sleaford Mods’ clearly different yet somehow recognisable looks and sounds.

Franz’s film is a labour of love: a clever genus that educates its own audience about the band, which is no bad thing, given that it represents one of the most surprising successes of our time. Her camera gaze regularly leans into gig audiences’ responses to tracks such as Jobseeker and Human Race, these particularly causing seismic waves of crowd-bombing, lyric-for-lyric, sound-for-sound shout-backs and an individual brand of controlled hysteria, where fights and dancing are equally not in evidence.

Formerly disaffected and dis-enfranchised? Anti-hedonistic antithesis of rock star glamour, rap-gang brutal, absent of choreography and telling it as it is, Sleaford Mods provide massively interesting documentary subject matter. Franz made the film by following the band for a few years, so it resonates with warmth and knowing detail. The quiet moments are as captivating as the stage performances by virtue of being about the guys who make the music work.

Jackie Bergson has worked in the voluntary sector and commercial business development in technology and creative sectors. Educated in and living in Glasgow, her political and social views chime left-of-centre.

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