Fat White Family are a concept that people love to hate. The ramshackle, almost Manson-esque group have incited controversy since they first stumbled out of their East London squat and onto a stage (where they are prone to getting their knobs out and screaming incomprehensibly for an hour), and despite some truly admirable attempts to put a political message into their work and not give a damn about the “landfill indie” bands they’re often grouped with, some of what they do and say is problematic – to the extent where being a fan almost makes me feel uncomfortable.
The Guardian certainly aren’t fans – in fact, they called Fat Whites “a ramshackle, rancid mess of a band.” Isn’t that just their appeal though? Lead singer (or ex-lead singer, who knows nowadays) Saul Adamczewski told NME that “you have to be a social retard or a fucking cripple to be in this band.” Their approach is less than orthodox; frontmen Saul and Lias have a notoriously rocky relationship, with the former being a drug addict who has spent time in rehab, and the latter admitting to often taking speed and acid before taking to the stage – “apart from sounding like a cat getting strangled and drowned at the same time I think I do alright.” It isn’t necessarily the drug use that makes Fat Whites problematic to me though; it’s the conglomeration of generally unnecessarily contentious statements, with their distasteful and downright horrifying ideas of controversy. Where do I start? Let’s go back to the horrifying events of the Paris Massacre, where terrorists murdered 130 people. Fat White Family also played a gig that night in Paris, and Lias has joked that “we thought it best to stop our set there and then, I don’t think [song from FWF’s first album] Bomb Disneyland would have been appropriate at that moment in time.” Nice. Their social media is also a hotbed of weirdly angry hatred that takes the form of offense; they once, bizarrely, tweeted “death to Lloyd Webber, may he become terminally ill as soon as possible.” Now, I’m no avid fan of Andy myself, but does that not take it too far? When Pitchfork wrote an article praising The 1975, Fat Whites shared the link on their Facebook page with the caption “The people who work at pitchfork should be bled halal style.” …Right. It’s comments like these that just make me feel incredibly uneasy; when you start mouthing off and bringing religion, terminal illness and fascism (there’s a whole paragraph on this coming up) into it, then you tend to transcend the angsty speaking-up-against-issues band category and become, well, harder to condone.
Fat White Family’s political message is convoluted. Their first album cover depicts a pig, with an added giant penis, wielding the communist symbols of the hammer and sickle, yet their second album is a neo-Nazi’s wet dream, albeit ironically; “I can’t watch a film unless it’s got Nazis in it,” Lias once stated, and that’s clear in their second LP Songs for Our Mothers. The German-sung ‘Lebensraum;’ ‘Duce,’ which is essentially a seven-minute incomprehensible song about Mussolini; and of course ‘Goodbye Goebbels,’ sung from the viewpoint of Hitler reminiscing about the good times he had with his favourite propaganda minister before they committed suicide. Outside of the album, there are songs like ‘I Am Joseph Stalin’ – and who can forget that lovely line in ‘Satisfied,’ where Lias compares a woman performing oral sex on him to a starving Auschwitz prisoner “sucking the marrow out of a bone.” When does the satire end? Where is the irony and where is the offense? The song “When Shipman Decides” is probably revolting for the families of the 200-odd people that were murdered by him. It’s tricky, because their sound, the actual music, is phenomenal; when they sing, on or off record, you can’t even understand the lyrics anyway, but is it something we should just ignore? I’ve seen Fat White Family live a few times and it’s always been incredibly mesmerising; I’ve even met Lias, when he was doing a DJ set for a night I work for, and he was nothing but pleasant and engaging, shaking my hand and asking my name. We were meant to have Saul that night, and when I asked why he hadn’t come, Lias simply said “He’s in love. It’s disgusting,” with a wry smile. Yet, their recent “feud” (a pathetic word for their slight conflict of opinion, but anyway) with indie band Wolf Alice has highlighted how unnecessary and, well, mean their outspokenness can be. Saul pulled out of a tour with them, stating “I won’t be doing the rest of the Fat Whites tour because I cannot stand to listen to Wolf Alice for another night.” Lias echoed this, stating “there’s so much landfill indie and crap industry fodder at the moment, all these horrible bands like Slaves and Peace and Wolf Alice. All this absolute drivel for angry nine-year-olds.” There’s such a difference, though, between stating your opinion on the current music industry without actually disrespectfully naming bands who have toured with you and supported your music, to bizarre, uncalled-for spite.
Are Fat White Family, then, as put by themselves, “an invitation, sent by misery, to dance to the beat of human hatred?” Maybe so, yet I know that I can’t and won’t stop listening to them. Problematic or not, their talent is indisputable, and so for now I’ll put my discomfort aside.