Combining the revolutionary fury of punk and hip-hop with the bleakness of austerity-era Great Britain, Sleaford Mods capture the spirit of their time with blunt eloquence. Andrew Fearn’s minimalistic, intentionally cheap-sounding loops, guitars, and keyboards provide a fitting backdrop as Jason Williamson rants about politics, injustice, and pop culture with outrage, scathing humor, and every so often, rough-edged poignancy. The duo’s first officially released albums, which included 2014′s Divide and Exit, quickly won acclaim for their brash sounds and words. Sleaford Mods’ sound grew more somber on 2017′s English Tapas — which became a Top 20 hit in the U.K. — but on albums such as 2021′s Spare Ribs, they contrasted the grim realities of their subject matter with a more colorful, melodic approach.
This reality extends to Williamson’s roots: While growing up in Grantham, Lincolnshire, he was expelled from secondary school for piercing a friend’s ear and began working at a factory that made ready-to-eat meals because he had no job qualifications. After a failed attempt at being an actor, he learned to play guitar and moved to London in 1993 at the beginning of the Brit-pop craze. Two years later, he moved to Nottingham, where he became a session musician with Spiritualized and the electronic duo Bent. He started Sleaford Mods in 2006, spending the first few years of the project working out the band’s aggressive, no-nonsense, blue-collar sound in the studio with engineer Simon Parfrement and at occasional gigs, where he would rap over prerecorded beats and samples. After relocating to London for a while, Williamson returned to Nottingham, and in 2009, met Andrew Fearn, a veteran musician who was DJing at the time. The two joined forces in 2010, with Fearn taking on most of the backing tracks, freeing up Williamson to further evolve as a vocalist and lyricist. Their first recorded collaboration was on the CD-R Wank, which appeared in 2012. Their minimalist combination of either lo-fi drum machine beats or live drums mixed with pounding bass guitar and Williamson’s ranting wordplay set the tone that would define the band’s sound.
A prominent festival appearance led to their signing with the abstract punk label Harbinger Sound, which released Sleaford Mods’ 2013 album Austerity Dogs, their first proper label release and the first to receive widespread distribution. The record was critically well received, and Sleaford Mods’ reputation and profile were raised significantly as they toured the U.K. and Europe. Their follow-up album, Divide and Exit, was released in April 2014. That October, the previously digital-only singles collection Chubbed Up, was given a physical release with three bonus tracks. The following month, the duo capped off a triumphant year with the Tiswas EP, which expanded on the Divide and Exit cut with previously unreleased tracks.
Along with Prodigy and Leftfield collaborations, Sleaford Mods began work on a new album. Key Markets, which took its name from a grocery store in Williamson’s hometown of Grantham, was inspired by “the disorientation of modern existence” and arrived in July 2015. That year also saw the release of Invisible Britain, a documentary that followed the band’s U.K. tour prior to the 2015 General Election. In 2016, the duo signed to Rough Trade, which released the T.C.R. EP that October and the full-length English Tapas (named for a menu item Fearn saw at a pub) in March 2017. The album debuted at number 12 on the U.K. Albums Chart. A self-titled EP inspired in part by social media outbursts, paranoia, and depression arrived the following September.
Sleaford Mods then formed their own label, Extreme Eating, on which they released the full-length Eton Alive. Following its February 2019 release, the album topped the U.K. Independent Albums chart and reached number nine on the U.K. Albums chart. All That Glue, a collection of key tracks, B-sides, unreleased fan favorites, and early recordings, was issued by Rough Trade the following May. Fearn and Williamson began recording their next album in January 2020, but when they had to stop because of lockdowns due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, they took the opportunity to write new songs about the personal and political aspects of the situation. Completed that July and released in January 2021 on Rough Trade, Spare Ribs featured vocal contributions from Amyl & the Sniffers’ Amy Taylor and singer/songwriter Billy Nomates as well as a more melodic and fleshed-out sound than Sleaford Mods’ previous albums. ~ Timothy Monger & Heather Phares