sleaford mods have never been ones to court popularity. A band who have a tendency to shoot from the hip, frontman Jason Williamson has been in a more social media spats than we care to list, with everyone from indie princes Blossoms to righteous Bristol punks IDLES drawing his ire in memorable fashion.
Over the weekend, however, comments from Jason Williamsons seemed to go a step further, at times feeling as though it was literally sleaford mods against the world. It all began with a fairly innocuous tweet, with the musician seemingly driven to exasperation by the continual debate surrounding the streaming landscape. “Oh shut up about Spotify, ffs. Edgy wankers,” he writes. “It’s here. You can’t do anything about it. It’s grim, but what fuckin isn’t. We all use it. It’s handy. I don’t care about plays really. Artists that do are mostly diluted tossers with no tunes. Who gives a fuck.”
If Jason’s tone was abrupt and confrontational, then his timing could scarcely have been more on-point. In the same week as Spotify Wrapped went viral, a House of Commons committee met to discuss streaming, and the varying ways that the current situation impacts upon music makers.
Tom Gray – who has done so much to raise the issue of streaming royalties via the Broken Record campaign – was quick to shoot back: “Yeah it’s here to stay, and yeah it’s handy but I’m not sure ‘you can’t do anything about it’ is right. You don’t have to sit in your shit, you can do something. If the tone is annoying, that’s one thing, but musicians are skint and don’t need to be told to wind their necks in.”
Each response seemed to trigger an entire debate in itself, with Jason Williamson’s confrontational comments even spreading to the United States. Damon Krukowski – Galaxie 500, Damon & Naomi – has done some admirable work to unpick the streaming debate, and he was quick to fire back, writing: “sleaford mods are brilliant, they should play to stadiums and if they can manage in the current system that’s a good thing so yes, it’s up to us edgy wankers to speak out and try and find a way for edgy wanky music to also survive.”
In amongst the responses, some patterns developed. sleaford mods were accused of punching down, of finding success and then hauling up the ladder after themselves. Yet this would only hold water if the band had earned success through streaming – and they emphatically haven’t. Indeed, the duo – signed to historic independent Rough Trade – don’t stream particularly well, owing their success more to relentless graft, and a dedicated fanbase accrued through touring.
Equally, the group have gone out of their way to piece together interesting, left of centre supports, ranging from South London DJ crew Horse Meat Disco to 4AD post-punk surrrealists Dry Cleaning, Nova Twins, and beyond. It’s not as though they’ve severed connections with those around them – indeed, those connections are arguably stronger than ever.
Sifting through the responses, Jason’s point about the supposed worthiness of the streaming debate holds a certain amount of water. Some responses – almost bragging about the volume of Bandcamp vinyl purchased, merch devoured, and tickets bought – seem to place a line between casual streaming, and so-called ‘real fans’. Those who simply listen through Spotify, so the argument goes, aren’t as dedicated, aren’t as passionate, as those with the free cash to pile into their hobbies. It’s an argument that leaves a bad taste in the mouth – we’re all ‘real fans’, a fact that shouldn’t be measured on economic basis alone.
There’s also a sense that the debate surrounding streaming is obscuring other fault-lines within the industry. Yes, the economic structure that underpins Spotify, Apple Music could and should be altered – but poor fees for support bands, dishonest label deals, and lack of effective representation for women, LGBTQ+ and people of colour all severely hamper the industry, and don’t get the same airtime that the streaming debate does.
Even though Jason Williamson’s tone may be defeatist – streaming fees, much like label deals, can and should be altered – it’s important not to dismiss his voice because it doesn’t fit the prevailing trend. He is right – the great majority of us use Spotify, some 365 million people around the globe every month. Streaming isn’t about to go away any time soon – the vinyl resurgence is barely a pin-prick in that bloated tech bubble.
It's important not to view the debate in retro terms, and replace a fear of modern technology with a nostalgia for How Things Used To Be. As sleaford mods have proved, left of centre voices can still find a way to be heard; it’s no small degree of irony, then, that Jason’s comments came as the pair prepared to finish their biggest UK tour yet, one that included an actual, genuine arena show.
If there’s one area that each voice in this debate agrees on, it’s that music – then and now – is a brutally difficult arena to progress in. Jason signed off on the debate with the following: “There were bigger hurdles than Spotify 10 years ago, 20 years ago etc etc. it’s called Life.”
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