Slaves are no strangers to Brighton. Guitarist Laurie moved down in 2016, tempting drummer Isaac to follow him. They played at The Corn Exchange for 2015’s Great Escape and at The Green Door Store for last year’s ‘Back In The Van’ tour, where they performed at only small venues across the country. Now they return to host their very own pier party for this year’s The Great Escape festival. Taking place on Thurs 18 May, theirs will be one of the festival’s new standalone Spotlight Shows.
Slaves are Laurie Vincent and Isaac Holman, and they have always been a duo. “If there were, like, five of us it would be a fucking nightmare!” spouts Isaac. They both front the band – Isaac (perhaps the more natural frontman) stands up and drums, Laurie keeps it together with his raucous guitar, and the two share vocals. Forming in Tunbridge Wells back in 2012, they found success with the release of 2015’s debut album Are You Satisfied?. It reached number 8 in the UK album charts in its first week and was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. They toured relentlessly and Isaac even ended up in hospital with a broken wrist and a dislocated shoulder. Slaves’ relentless work ethic and charisma is commendable. Follow up album Take Control was released last September and proved their durability and songwriting knack, entering the charts at number 6. It arguably has a more developed sound than the former but still retains their distinct rawness and blasé social commentary.
The simple-to-chant, catchy lyrics seem to awaken both a sense of social consciousness and riotous fun among their fans. Slaves take their influence from a mixture of everyday life and silly little situations to “looking at everyone and thinking how wrong everything is”. When I ask what their latest single Spit It Out is all about, Isaac chortles that it’s quite literally a song about people with sour faces, “which look like they’re sucking on a sour sweet”. However, many of their songs seem to be anti-establishment, but in a very accessible comedic way. Isaac says a lot of his lyrics come from Laurie’s rambling, from which he’ll extract a small catchphrase, and it’ll grow from there. It seems Laurie has some very passionate ideas – matched with Isaac’s pent-up energy, they have the perfect songwriting balance.
For two young guys from Kent, I wonder where all the angst comes from. “I spent my whole school life being pissed off,” Laurie tells me, “I didn’t even break the rules. I was just bitter.” I can’t really imagine either of them in school to be honest, but they both seem to share a disdain for convention and social expectation. “I remember knowing really good musicians that just didn’t try, ‘cause they were like, ‘Well, we’re going to uni, so what’s the point?’” Like many artists, it seems it was not only the self-expression but also the escapism that attracted them to pick up instruments in the first place. “There are no rules. You create something out of nothing. No one tells you you have to do anything” Laurie adds. “Creativity is something you can’t harness.”
Having met as teenagers on the Kent music circuit, the two formed an almost brotherly relationship. “I was a big fan of Isaac’s band and my band were supporting his. It’s one of those stories… I knew he had that star quality,” Laurie recalls. “We got drunk at another show and within a week we were in a band, and that was it.” This chemistry comes across in their shows and, unlike some artists, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of ego clash. Though both very different in personality, they just seem to bounce off each other. If they were too similar it just wouldn’t work.
Despite being such a tight duo, they’re not averse to working with other musicians, “We both write songs with other people. I think collaboration’s really important. It keeps our own thing fresh,” says Laurie. Take Control was recorded and produced by none other than Beastie Boy Mike D in his Malibu home, and the track The People That You Meet features Joel Amey from Wolf Alice on drums. They even guested on Chase & Status’ 2016 song Control, which has a Prodigy-esque feel to it.
Slaves are buzzing for The Great Escape – their show will be one of this year’s highlights. “It feels great ‘cause it’s not been done before,” Isaac says. He plans to stay for the whole festival and is looking forward to hanging out and “sucking up the vibes.” The ever more grown up Laurie shares his concern about parking, “I’m not gonna be able to move my car all week…” Like many of us Laurie partly moved to Brighton due to property being so expensive in London. “We (Laurie and wife, Emma) were like ‘Let’s go live in Brighton!’ Really shotgun decision, but best move ever.” They certainly seem to fit Brighton’s aesthetic with their tattoos and vibrant fashion. But also it seems to be there in their outlook. We talk a lot about the lovely diverse bubble that is Brighton, as Laurie says, “It’s one of the most forward-thinking places you can live in England. When you go to other places you forget how open-minded it is here, and I like that”
They tend to be labelled a punk band, but they’re certainly different from the punk bands of the past. They’re adamant on doing their own thing. They don’t want to be pigeonholed, and I think that’s why they’ve done so well so far. When asked where they’ll go next, their air of spontaneity is confirmed, “it’ll be “more heavy and more mature,” Isaac muses. He thinks Slaves’ next step will be more aggressive, to which Laurie replies,“More thought-out maybe. More in-depth songwriting, more structured.” There’s a sense they don’t know what they’ll do next. Slaves just go with their ideas – something refreshing to see from a more established act. In a time where even the indie music scene is tremendously manufactured, it’s this rawness and DIY attitude that makes Slaves such a breath of fresh air.
Catch Slaves at The Great Escape on Thurs 18 May.