Aesthetic: Jason Williamson
The past few years have seen a gloomy evisceration of what little pride there is to be found in the UK. A resurgence in nationalism – that directly mirrors a deterioration in social services, opportunity and international engagement – appears to be polarising society beyond repair, while heroes from the past are viewed in a new light; as racists, warmongers and sex offenders.
Cultural movements, too, are undergoing a process of revision. Punk (the 40th anniversary of which was celebrated last year in the British Library among other places) is not just dead. According to recent reports, it never lived. Weren’t the Sex Pistols essentially One Direction with bad teeth?
In recent years, Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods has assumed the role of unofficial spokesperson for the fucked off. Williamson and his bandmate Andrew Fearn have channelled the spirits of both this current age and whatever punk was supposed to be with grim success. Fearn provides a mardy backing to the even mardier invective spat by Williamson, a stream-of-consciousness excoriation of class, the government, capitalism, jobsworths and on and on. The stripped-back vocals/backing formula puts them on a spectrum with Suicide and the Pet Shop Boys, though, really, they’re incomparable to either.
Williamson’s fury stretches further than his lyricism; he’s used both the band’s Twitter account and interviews as an opportunity to vent spleen, often by way of throwing shade at other bands. His irritation seems to flair most when faced with any sort of inauthenticity. Indeed, when I talk to him on the phone a couple of days after the shoot, authenticity, or at least honesty – to himself, the band and the public – is a clear concern.
There were two conditions to his participation in this fashion editorial: no Stone Island and no tower blocks. “I’ve never worn Stone Island,” he says. “I didn’t want to represent something that wasn’t necessarily close to me.” He’s polite and thoughtful, speaking from the middle of a shopping centre. “And the tower blocks… I’ve never lived in one, you know. I find certain imagery can just be insulting to people that are living in that environment. There’s nothing wrong with living in a tower block, but it’s something that I haven’t done, you know?”
Image, for Williamson, becomes a question of integrity, and honesty in self-representation supports the over-arching message of the band. “The music was made on the foundations of myself and Andrew, and there was absolutely no glamour with that,” Williamson says. “It was what you see is what you get. So it’s important to keep that going.”
Much of Sleaford Mods’ impact lies in Williamson’s lyrical self-awareness. His is not some outsider criticism; there’s no pretence of rejecting society – rather, his songs’ resonance comes from his position within it. This same self-awareness manifests as a kind of capitalist pragmatism. Brands, he says, might be “full of shit” but at the same time he understands his position relative to them.
“I’m fully aware of the fact that I’m a consumer, you know. I’m by no means one of these kind of anarchic punks; I’m a fully fledged member of consumerism… it doesn’t bother me really.” Plus, he says, he’s witnessed the effect a total rejection of consumerism has first hand: “I’ve got one friend who’s a staunch Marxist, and he looks terrible all the time. You know, he’s got a pair of Crocs. That’s the reality of it – you look like a cunt.”
His personal style has been informed by, of course, mod culture, though it hasn’t changed much since around the year 2000. “Around 30, 31, I started wearing long coats. I’ve kept to that, long coats and my haircut are the same.” Like the rest of us, he’s largely given up shoes for trainers – a development which he attributes to “this resurgence in grime.”
Grime, indeed, comes up frequently – it’s clearly a fresh influence, and there are certainly parallels to be drawn between the genre and the music of Sleaford Mods, in the shared expressions of working class, urban frustrations. It’s also got him wearing jogging pants. “I think tracksuits look better than suits these days, you know what I mean?”
As material success hasn’t necessarily seen a drastic increase in how much his clothes matter, neither has it seen his anger mellow. As the Sleaford Mods’ new album English Tapas shows, Williamson doesn’t need hindsight to clock the UK’s failings: he’s witness to them now. “There’s more people on the streets,” he says. “It gets to the point where you have to specially get money out of the bank so you can give it to them.”
From Jason Williamson’s vantage point – where image communicates more than just fashion decisions and authenticity is key – his view is clear. “It’s not fucking right.”
Photography: Theo Cottle
Styling: Charlotte James
Stylist’s Assistants: Asha Hai, Jade Moore
English Tapas is out now via Rough Trade