Photos by Cameron Brisbane
AS the purveyors of primal riff-heavy punk and crowd-baiting anthems, Slaves are perhaps a band made to play the Barrowlands; a venue renowned for its sweaty dancefloor and riotous rock’n’roll atmosphere. No strangers to tonight’s gig location, the Turnbridge Wells duo return to the legendary stage two years after their last appearance for not one, but two massive gigs as part of an extensive tour celebrating their latest album Acts of Fear and Love.
This Friday night show is very different affair though. For the first time ever, two become three as frontman Isaac Holman arrives onstage with a bandaged hand, unable to assume his normal position behind the drumkit. The task is left to alternating members of support band Lady Bird who take control of the kit at the back of the stage, leaving Holman to run amok for the rest of the night. And while we do miss his all-important primal drum-bashing, a trademark feature of Slaves’ sound and live shows, it’s as if the frontman has been given a new lease of life tonight; constantly moving, roaming the stage with a manic grin and riling the crowd up into a mad frenzy. It lends an unpredictability to proceedings and a chaotic, menacing energy. “I feel free” the frontman says with a cheeky smile. “We might do this again sometime”.
It’s a night of the unexpected then; a fact that hits home when they tear through a furious, riff-heavy cover of Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ to open the gig, a rendition that first became popular when they infamously performed it on Radio 1’s Live Lounge. As Holman spits out the lyrics with fiery precision, the Barras is sent into absolute frenzy as they melt the mosh pit into a blur of bouncing bodies and flailing limbs.
They fire through one track after another, and for all their relentless energy and pummelling rhythms, Slaves never sound repetitive thanks to their fun anecdotal breakdowns and furiously impassioned delivery. Their third album in as many year Acts Of Fear and Love saw them switch things up without losing sight of their roots. Undoubtedly their most accomplished record to date, it effectively took their acerbic classic punk sound into more tender, melodic and anthemic territories. And while it’s the likes of ‘Cheer Up London’, ‘Fuck the Hi-Hat’ and ‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth’ that generate the biggest responses, tracks like ‘Magnolia’, ‘Chokehold’ and ‘Photo Opportunity’ provide standout moments; particularly the latter as the band encourage everyone to put down their phones for a tender singalong.
Perhaps the fuel behind Slaves’ staying power, a band who have defied expectation since they first burst onto the scene a few years ago, has been their ability to match their fast-paced punk brutalism with acerbic post-punk humour. For every showing of fierce social commentary, the band throw in a sense of fun and humour. There’s the bizarre surrealism of ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie’ from first album Are Your Satisfied, every bit as popular as it was then, ‘Fuck The Hi-Hat’, a defiant response to those who doubted Holman’s drumming style aswell as the frontman’s penchant for anecdote, introducing the likes of ‘Girl Fight’ in typically crowd-baiting fashion and inciting a massive mosh pit. Everything is delivered with a cheeky wink and a grin and the Glasgow crowd love it.
From the special one-off Irn Bru-themed t-shirts at the merch stand to the pumped up pre-show playlist to their own mosh-pit ready anthems, it’s easy to see why Slaves have cultivated a dedicated group of young fans around Glasgow and beyond. By the time the recognisably dark and menacing basslines of ‘The Hunter’ set in, the band are in amongst the crowd, joining in with the mayhem they’ve created.
While it may be unclear whether the duo see themselves as conductors for a generation of disaffected youths or just a fun and entertaining distraction from it all, it’s safe to say that the band are in electrifying form; even without the use of Isaac Holman’s left hand. As predicted, Slaves in the Barrowlands on a Friday night is a thrilling way to kick off the weekend. View all pictures from the show here.