What do you do when you’re broke, bored and with nothing to do? Rather than becoming another rebel without a cause, Jordan Cardy stared writing music. Now, as Rat Boy, he’s found his voice.
A dismissal from Wetherspoons provided the inspiration for his first release – The Mixtape. This five-track would lead to a deal with Parlophone Records, whilst drawing a frenzy of attention in the press. Cardy has since found himself on a range of ‘One to Watch’ lists, and the awards have started coming in, but the weight of expectation doesn’t seem to be bothering him too much. Even being touted as the voice of his generation hasn’t added too much pressure. “I don’t know. I’m just writing the music I like.” His tight, cheeky and smart compositions undertake a lyrical analysis of suburban Britain. The way he writes about it, life seems a treacherous place filled with tribalism, obstacles and hypocrisy.
Like The Clash and The Streets before him, this music could provide an insight into the experiences of this decade’s disaffected youth. Also like The Clash, rage and dark humour flow through his work in equal measure. The world he inhabits is packed with menace and cheap thrills. A liberal use of sampling draws parallels with loop-thieving American acts like the Beastie Boys though. This comparison has never been stronger than on the swagger of the January single release, Move, which matches the Brooklyn trio’s vibrancy bounce for bounce.
As we talk he’s headed to a London studio where he’ll be adding finishing flourishes to the hotly anticipated debut album. Two years on from his first mixtape, it will show how much his abilities and music style has evolved. “It’ll be called Scum. It’s still not finished. I keep writing more songs and changing it about, I just need to get my head down now I think…”
On the phone he’s far from the mouthy and excitable young upstart we see on MTV, and increasingly in front of large adoring crowds. Put him in a gig environment and he turns into the liveliest character imaginable. Leaving behind them a trail of broken equipment, bruised fans and heightened emotions, he and his live band’s shows are growing in size and notoriety. Last year saw him enthralling sizeable crowds at Reading and Leeds, Latitude, Bestival and Brighton’s The Great Escape. The latter didn’t quite inspire the usual scenes witnessed at most of his shows. “It seemed like loads of people were there just to see who we were. It was quite an industry gig. There were loads of people outside who wanted to see us that couldn’t get in.”
With a distinctly DIY approach to his craft, Cardy generally is hands on with everything he produces, even making his own artwork for releases. “Even if I’m not writing music, I’ll be doing art and stuff.” The 20-year-old is appreciative of any event offering an opportunity – Cardy is always writing. Packed with sounds and conversations recording during his daily life, his songs mix cheeky social commentary and tales of ill-conceived teenage misadventures over a caustic blend of hip-hop and indie. Heavy airplay has already seen autobiographical songs like Sign On and Fake ID become anthems for the Snapchat generation.
With Cardy performing guitar, bass and programming on it, his music serves as a warning shot to the vapidity of the pop charts. It’s belligerent, smart and energetic, from a nimble and ambitious songwriter. There’s exuberance amidst the chaos, blaring samples, poignant sound effects and huge slashes of guitar, all set over relentless drum loops. The major label backing has seen momentum added to the Rat Boy vehicle. It’s certainly opened a number of doorways for him. “I’ve left Essex for the first time. I only left the country for the first time last year. I went to America and did some writing over there.” Obviously we wouldn’t want to speak too soon, especially without an album to prove a point, but Cardy’s song writing seamlessly fits alongside the pithy outpourings of artists like Drury, Tilbrook and Difford or Skinner. You can’t proclaim British pop’s new great hope on the evidence of a few singles and some Soundcloud uploads, but Rat Boy’s enormous potential is starting to reveal itself already.
Rat Boy plays Brighton’s Concorde 2 on Sat 7 May.