Slaves are tomorrow’s big thing today. Ignoring generic hype-machine rhetoric, Slaves are in fact simply great. They are a duo comprising of Isaac Holman (drums/vocals) and Laurie Vincent (guitar/bass/vocals). They are punk in the right way, pop in the right way, exciting in the… well I’m not sure there’s a wrong way to be exciting. They formed in 2012 in Tunbridge Wells and, after a few self-released titles, got signed by Virgin EMI and now are the proud owners of a top ten album. Result!
Anyone who saw their recent Glastonbury performance in the flesh or on television will know that they are a force to be reckoned with live too. It could very well be a defining moment in the early development of their career. “Yeah, it was really mind blowing,” says Isaac when we spoke just a few days before they play Blackwood’s Velvet Coalmine festival. “I wasn’t expecting that many people to come and watch us, it was a bit of a surprise. Really good laugh. We just keep getting pleasantly surprised, the amount of people turning up at our gigs at the moment keeps us in a constant state of shock. It’s very humbling and very nice that that many people want to come and watch us.” They are a band who will be front and centre very soon, and it’s difficult to see them diluting their sound to please the mainstream. They are already a 6Music band getting Radio1 airtime.
For Velvet Coalmine it is both a coup and a sign of the festival’s ambition that they have a band like Slaves headlining the Saturday night. They are trying to do something up there in that industrial heartland of yesteryear, and they want bands that exude a certain gritty ethos to represent that. Slaves certainly seem to fit the bill.
“Ever been to Blackwood before?” I ask.
“Looking forward to it?”
“I am yeah, definitely. That’s the best bit about touring, you get to see places probably you’d otherwise never visit.”
“Velvet Coalmine is one of many great smaller festivals springing up at the moment,” I say; “Do you think they’re needed now because things like V Festival’s getting a bit ‘out of hand’?”
Isaac laughs. “Yeah, I definitely think we need these festivals. It’s really important that these small independent festivals in small towns for people who might not get to venture out, it’s really cool that they can have a festival right there. It’s really cool that one week we can do Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and the next go to Blackwood and play there. I absolutely love playing the smaller stages at the smaller festivals, I enjoy it just as much as the massive stages.”
And I don’t think I’m talking out of line by suggesting that Slaves might be best seen on one of these small stages. Even their Glastonbury set has an intense, small sweaty basement club feel to it. Their debut album Are You Satisfied? – and it feels strange calling it that because it comes on like a hits collection – is a fast-paced, fun, manic, joyous ride full of short, concise pop that kicks your brains in. Lazy comparisons putting them in the lineage of Sex Pistols and The Clash are abound, but in actual fact what Slaves are is a natural extension of the early 90s vibe – a crazed, intelligent energy – they are definitely more Carter than any of those 70s bands. And, unlike a lot a punk before it, there seems to be a different message. This is not a band that sees no future, wants to particularly destroy anything, and certainly doesn’t have the nihilistic sneer of some of their influences. Although they do fucking sneer and well; but they do it with a smile.
“Where’s your sound from?”
Isaac, a genuinely lovely guy if this meeting is anything to go by, has an obvious passion when it comes to his music. “We’d be lying if we said we weren’t influenced by punk,” he says; “but that’s just one of a long list of influences. I listen to a hell of a lot of hip hop and also a lot of dance music. We’re both into everything to be honest. It’s not just music, our influences come from other places. It’s kind of social documentation, writing about what we see but doing it in our own way.”
“And I think punk hasn’t always got a lot of positivity but your music has.”
“I think that’s important,” Isaac says; “Especially in this day and age, as a whole society we’re not actually that happy, so it’s important to have positive messages. There’s a lot of bands today who don’t really think about that. It’s all hard and it’s all dark, and I think we just wanted to do something a bit different. Our music is aggressive but it’s fun to juxtapose it and put a positive spin on everything.”
And they certainly do that. When I first heard single “Cheer Up London”, I was jumping around my house for a week. You to will have a punky spring in your step guaranteed. And if you don’t, check your pulse.
Finally, I went for my NME question: “Anything worth being a slave to?”
Isaac gives this some thought. For a moment I’m worried – not for the first time – that the NME has ruined a conversation I’m having. But then he says (quite rightly baffled), “Maybe healthy living and little bit of what you love.”
And that is the greatest answer to the shittest question ever and what great advice. Check out Slaves at Velvet Coalmine and on tour in November. Do yourself a favour, you won’t regret it.