Sleaford Mods and Derek Walmsley at the ICA

What makes a Sleaford Mod? If you listen to the post-punk / hip-hop duo talk through a few of their favourite tracks and artists, some truths emerge. With The Wire Magazine’s Derek Walmsley on interviewing and DJ duties, the ICA Culture Now event was a chance to get some insights into the band’s formative years and influences ahead of the Sleaford Mods’ highly anticipated next album release. ‘Key Markets’, their fifth album, is out on 24th July on vinyl, CD and download.

Derek proved a fearless and well clued-up host, and started off by probing the origins of the band’s name. Why were they called Sleaford Mods he asked, when they weren’t actually from Sleaford? Vocalist Jason Williamson soon set the tone for the event - honest, sometimes painfully so, and frequently comic.

“It’s slicker than Grantham” he replied, and “talking funny’s better than the singing I’d done!”

The band seemed in relaxed mood while they discussed their playlist, a mix of punk, rap and pop. The first track on was from Butthole Surfers.

Butthole Surfers - Kuntz

This was Jason’s choice and he talked about having it on CD and replaying it endlessly using a remote control. “It’s experimental but not experimental for experimental’s sake. It’s got simple loops, and I liked the repetitiveness.

“It’s a big fingers up to the classical band format. I was bored with everything and getting angry with it.”

English Dogs - Psycho Killer

The English Dogs were a local Grantham band said Jason, that he’d see about town around 1984, and there seem to be two versions of the band still going.

As for the track, “It just made me laugh, the trashiness of it. It’s crap in a good way. I started to adopt that approach to the rant thing, you can be true to yourself. It’s in the more recent stuff like Tiswas and Corgi. With punk you’ve got to have that comedy edge to it or it sounds stupid.”

He also confessed he had a brief spell in a covers band, doing songs by the likes of Thin Lizzy.

Discharge – Decontrol

Of this one Jason said, “I had it on constant repeat, these tunes were locked in my head. Classic punk.”

Big Black - Bad Penny

Andrew Fearn, the band’s multi-instrumentalist and producer chose this track, and explained that Big Black were Steve Albini, a drum machine and a bass player.

Derek asked if this was the model for Sleaford Mods - a drum machine and disgust for life.
“Maybe”, Andrew replied, “I always think of us as being progressive, it’s not punk and it’s not hip hop.”

Pet Shop Boys - I Want A Dog

This was another of Andrew’s choices. “I was always a fan. When I was at school I was into pop music, then it became a dirty word. The lyrics are quite funny, ‘I want a Chihuahua’ .”

“At the time I had an Amiga. You could play four samples at once, 8-bit samples, and could mix and match. I was making trip hop, sampling things from video.”

Derek had unearthed an earlier and different version of the Pet Shop Boys track, the B-side of the single ‘Rent’. It was released in 1987 and features a dog bark used as a drum sound. Jason preferred it. “That’s wild, a lot better than the other one. Proper.”

N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton

Andrew introduced this one, “The only hip hop record I had. It still sounds good, but it’s dated in some ways.”

They talked about how sanitized pop music has become since this track was released, and Jason returned to the subject of humour, “The wordplay is quite comical, and the delivery is great.”

Raekwon - Guillotine (Swordz)

“It’s infectious, really good. I still think it sounds fresh and it’s still terrifying,” said Jason. “The good thing about the records is they keep the imperfections in. A lot of them aren’t that great at rapping, it’s more shouting. I thought to myself ‘you can do that, be yourself’.”

For Andrew it’s the recording style that stands out. “The production sounds like nothing else. There’s a lo fi thing about it.”

Derek asked if keeping the imperfections in was something the Sleaford Mods do too.

“We leave it all in” replied Andrew, “we might cut the odd cough out.”

The duo were asked how they make their loops and beats and Andrew revealed there’s a fair bit of reworking that goes on.

“Sometimes it’s loops from old band sessions, sometimes it’s chopped up bits from the live set,” he said. He also uses an iPad for some of the beats, especially the kick sound, but he doesn’t make whole tracks on the iPad.

One question from the floor was about expanding the band. Had they gone as far as they could go and would they be recruiting new members? Eyes widened in the audience.

“No” said Jason, “ all you need is your arms and your legs and your gob. It’s no good to be brilliant on guitar and in a tight band, it’s not good enough now, people are not doing anything new with it. I needed another dimension”.

Andrew’s take was that it could be hard to find the right person, “at the moment it’d be a distraction.”

The band’s rapidly growing popularity has broadened their audience - “what’s it like being fawned over by a bunch of middle class wankers?” someone asked.

Jason defused that one rather than let rip. Words to the effect that they don’t distinguish between working or middle class people, just decent people and wankers.

The band always make time for their fans, and signed books and records before heading off for their biggest London headline show to date, at Koko.

Sleaford Mods play British Summer Time, Glastonbury, NOS Alive, End Of The Road, and Bestival festivals, then tour the UK and Germany from September.