Working Men's Club in Leeds
Working Men's Club
Leeds University, Leeds
Thursday 11th November 2021, £13.50
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A rumble on the horizon. Gritted teeth, nuclear fizz and fissured rock. A dab of pill dust from a linty pocket before it hits: the atom split, pool table overturned, pint glass smashed valley fever breaking with the clouds as the inertia of small town life is well and truly disrupted. Here to bust out of Doledrum, clad in a t-shirt that screams SOCIALISM and armed with drum machine, synth, pedal and icy stare are Working Mens Club, and their self-titled debut album.
Its hard to believe that the three fresh-faced music college kids who bounced out of nowhere and onto the 6 Music playlist with the sweet-but-potent, twangy guitar-led Bad Blood (Melodic Records) in 2019 are the same band who clattered back there with maddening techno-cowbellpuncher Teeth less than half a year later and thats because for the most part, theyre not. Having signed to Heavenly and with the hype around them building, underlying tensions came to a boil a mere five days before the bands all-important first London headline show, and wunderkind frontman Syd Minsky-Sargeant was left high and dry; guitarist Giulia Bonometti had decided to focus on her blossoming solo career, and drummer Jake Bogacki was against the new electronic direction Minsky-Sargeant saw Working Mens Club taking. (I guess WMC started off as a bit more guitar-based, tryna copy stuff in our own way, like the Velvets and stuff like that, but I didnt want it to be that anymore. It became dancier and dancier as I tried to experiment, he explains.) All that remained of the outfit was Minsky-Sargeant himself, recently recruited bassist Liam Ogburn, and given the bands indebtment to wood panelled, community-run venues for an early leg-up a rather pertinent name. But with staunch determination burning in his belly, Minsky-Sargeant quickly assembled a lineup consisting of himself, Ogburn, and Mairead O'Connor (The Moonlandingz) and Rob Graham (Drenge, Baba Naga) both of whom he had met at the Sheffield studio of producer Ross Orton (The Fall, M.I.A., Arctic Monkeys) replaced the live drums with a drum machine, and rush-rehearsed the new setup before going ahead with the show. If it wasnt for Sheffield then we probably wouldnt have played that gig he says. I was shitting myself, because I didnt know what would work or not. Luckily, something stuck: After about three gigs with that lineup it was already way better than what wed had before.
Two original members lighter and three new ones the richer, Working Mens Club took on a new hard-edge permutation, their shows becoming ever more sweaty, pulsating and rammed to the rafters; their energy raw; their vigour renewed; their interplay as musicians growing ever-more intuitive and elastic. Their eponymous collection of songs is equal parts Calder Valley restlessness and raw Sheffield steel; guitars locking horns with floor-filling beats, synths masquerading as drums and Minsky-Sargeants scratchy, electrifying bedroom demos brought to their full potential by Ortons blade-sharp yet sensitive production. *
It was at home in the town of Todmorden in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, feeling hemmed in, that 18-year-old Syd Minsky-Sargeant first began assembling these 10 songs. Theres not much going on, not much stuff to do as a teenager he says. Its quite isolated. And it can get quite depressing being in a town where in the winter it gets light at nine in the morning and dark at four. It is this sense of cabin fever, of thinking that you will never escape a small town in the middle of nowhere on which the album opens, with the boredom-lamenting and rave-reminiscent Valleys. In a post-punk talk-sing over an old-skool beat, Minsky-Sargeant begins:
Trapped, inside a town, inside my mind Stuck with no ideas, Im running out of time
Theres no quick escape, so many mistakes, Ill play the long game
This winter is a curse
And the valley is my hearse, when will it take me to the grave?
Fortunately for Syd and a thousand other bored-shitless, dark-dwelling teenagers, the Calder Valley boasts a burgeoning grassroots music scene, chiefly centred around The Golden Lion in Todmorden, and the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge both of which were instrumental in the early life of the band. Without those venues we probably wouldnt have been able to get into playing live music, Minsky-Sargeant reflects. Working Mens Clubs first ever gig, at The Golden Lion, was self-booked and self-promoted, landlord Waka having allowed the band to use the 100-capacity room above the pub for free. Even before booking himself onto the stage though, Minsky-Sargeant regularly snuck into the venue to watch the internationally renowned DJs, like Justin Robertson and Luke Unabomber, who passed through its doors. This, combined with the discovery of 808 State, his stepdads extensive afrobeat record collection, YouTube videos of Jeff Mills making beats on a Roland TR-909, and a chance festival encounter with Soulwax, provided sustenance and inspiration for Working Mens Clubs developing sound. Though it is songs almost entirely written and sung by Minsky-Sargeant that appear on the record, he is quick to point out the influence of the other members of his band on the record too; that everyone thats been involved in this band, from the old lineup to the new lineup, played on the record, contributed and shaped it in some way, through the phases, wheedling in and around Minsky-Sargeants songs, embellishing them with their own bass, guitar, key or backing vocal parts. And without Orton, it wouldnt have been half as good a record. Working with the producer radically changed MinskySargeants songwriting practice I tried to replicate what he was doing in his studio in my bedroom, and think more about drum sounds and making them more complicated and messing around with synths and stuff like that. It made me think about more components than just a guitar.
The songs following Valleys come fast and relentless momentum ever increasing, mission well and truly stated as the frenetic, pew-pewing A.A.A.A speeds through to nonchalant existential groove John Cooper Clarke centred around the realisation that yes, even the luckiest guy alive, the Bard of Salford himself, will someday die.
Hard holds hands with soft, and rough with smooth. On washily-vocalled, Orange Juicily-guitared White Rooms and People, there are simultaneously beautifully blooming flowers and people talking shit about you, and the hazy, ricocheting Outside, the gentlest track on the album, flips straight into the tough-as-shit, industrially-geared Be My Guest, which opens the second half of the record with markedly E. Smithian brio. The opening bars of Cook A Coffee are momentarily reminiscent of Bad Blood, but spiral into direct and uncomfortable eye contact in song-form; a lost Joy Division number from an alternate universe, about taking a dump live on the telly. Tomorrow glitches and glimmers, whilst outro track Angel moves between psychedelic languidity and hardcore thrash, the album playing itself out on a 12-and-a-half-minute noodle.
It is with war, free-fall, and re-birth already behind them that Working Mens Club emerge, resilient; inspiration from across breadth of eras, genres and tour-mates merely strata in their very own indie-cum-dance-cum-techno niche in the crag.
Diva Harris, February 2020
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