The first time we saw Slaves perform was on the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading festival in 2013. They played to a crowd of about 20 people. Tonight, they play Brixton Academy to a sold out crowd of almost 5,000.
That’s an incredible feat for a band with just one studio album to their name, made all the more impressive considering the raw garage punk they deal in. The Tunbridge Wells two-piece are by no means a commercial act: their sound is gritty and abrasive. Yet this year the band didn’t so much crack the mainstream as smash it to pieces, going on to achieve dizzying commercial success. So how the hell did they pull it off?
First and foremost, they write great songs, as tonight’s headline set proves. From old-school fan favourites like Where’s Your Car Debbie? to recent hits such as Feed The Mantaray and The Hunter, the young duo have a knack for writing killer hooks, driven along by Laurie Vincent’s cutthroat riffs and Isaac Holman’s razor sharp lyrics and wit. But the appeal of this duo goes beyond the music.
What sets Slaves apart from slew of recent rock duos, including the more commercially successful Royal Blood, is the all-encompassing universe that they create. From their arresting artwork (the cover of their debut album Are You Satisfied? has to be one of the best album covers of 2015) to their engaging use of social media (if you don’t ‘like’ Slaves on Facebook, then you’re missing out on top quality posts at an almost daily rate) the band are architects of an all-round image that’s relatable and compelling in equal measures, and it’s clearly what’s endeared them to such a broad and dutiful audience.
The Slaves appreciation society runs so deep, in fact, that at one point in the evening the crowd begins chanting the name “Gerald” over and over again, at which point we turn to the band’s press agent to ask, “Who the fuck is Gerald?” “It’s Laurie’s dead goldfish,” is her response. Before we’ve even had time to process her ridiculous claim the cheeky guitarist jumps on the mic and proudly declares, “I must have the most famous dead goldfish in the world.” Well, that’s a first.
Some of the rock community have shunned Slaves for being “too hipster”, and the band themselves have shied away from being called “punk” for fear of having their image and sound constrained to an outdated scene, but make no mistake: Slaves are punk as fuck. And they’ve achieved major commercial victory without compromising their vision in any way. Even their choice of cover songs (Last Christmas by Wham! and Shut Down by UK grime artist Skepta) and their delivery is unashamedly punk – and the crowd lap them up as if they were Slaves originals.
But the highlight of the set has to be Cheer Up London – an outrageously bouncy and contagious commentary on all the miserable sods that ride the London Underground. The fact that 80% of the audience probably rode the Victoria line down to Brixton for tonight’s show makes it all the more relevant and hilarious, and rest assured the faces of all the gig goers catching the tube at the end of the show could not be further removed from the sea of despondent faces described in the song.
Simply put, Slaves came, they saw, and they conquered, and to write them off as anything less than a vital force in modern day guitar music would be a huge mistake. These guys are just getting started.