Sleaford Mods, The Roundhouse, London, review: Unrelenting, techno-fused performance-poetry

Nottingham-based Sleaford Mods performed their biggest show to date at London's Roundhouse 

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The Independent Culture

With an empty, stripped-back stage offering little more than a laptop sat upon a rickety bar-room table, the Roundhouse looks as if it’s been hastily abandoned, pillaged, or looted tonight. In fact, all that seems to be missing is the sound of a distant police siren, the lingering smell of skunk and a loose scattering of half-noshed chicken bones. This scruffy, boiled-down backdrop provides the perfect setting for a Sleaford Mods gig – after all, it’s exactly these kinds of diminished, infertile landscapes – psychic, cultural, social and political – which their unrelenting brand of techno-fused, performance-poetry chronicles, channels and emanates from.   

Bumbling onto the stage in skanky T-shirts and scratchy sweat pants, Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn more resemble a pair of dishevelled lads who’ve just vaulted the perimeter fence at Pentonville than a band riding the dual highs of critical and commercial success. Their widening reputation as both music-scene miscreants and shouty-faced, satirist-supremos of austerity-era Britain has been honed and cemented in their most recent releases, the 2015 LP Key Markets, and 2016’s TCR EP; but while it’s one thing to listen to Sleaford Mods, read about them or watch them on YouTube, it’s quite another to experience them live.      

Stepping up to the laptop wearing a nervous, naughty-boy grin, with a deft flick of his finger Fearn summons up a frenetic-energy flash of loops and beats. He retreats a few feet to the relative safety of stage left, where he’ll remain happily ensconced while Williamson gets out there and does his “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore” thing . 

On the expansive terrain of the Roundhouse stage and minus any real visuals, there’s a huge pressure on Williamson to provide a performance worthy of the 1500-plus audience assembled here tonight, and he certainly doesn’t falter. For the next 80 minutes, he machine-guns his way through a collection of old favourites – “Jolly Fucker”, “Fizzy”, “Jobseeker” – as well more recent material – “Face to Faces”, “BHS”, and “TCR” – unleashing a dizzying performance of fist-clenching intensity. Crashing and cavorting around the stage, his body twitching and jerking as if unable to contain the full frisson of his own lyrics, there are moments when you think he’s about to spontaneously combust. His unbounded energy seems to rapidly spread throughout the audience who, responding in like, chant their way word-perfectly through almost every song. “You think you came to see us,” says Williamson at one point. “But we came to see you”.