Soundtracking the Resistance: An Interview with Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family and The Moonlandingz

Divorce Ain't Easy

Jun 30, 2017 By Stephen Mayne Photography by Chris Saunders Bookmark and Share


As crazy as political life may be in the US, Britain has its own problems after voting a year ago to completely reshape the country by leaving the European Union. Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family and The Moonlandingz joins us this week to discuss Brexit before we throw in healthcare reform, travel bans, cancelled festivals, and Glastonbury. 

The Big Event

When you put a showman in the White House, it's easy to focus all attention on the show no matter how bad it gets. But America is not the only smugly proud democracy keen on launching into a bout of self-mutilation. The United Kingdom got out slightly ahead of the Presidential election car crash by voting to leave the EU a year and one week ago. 

Of course, leaving a club of 28 nations that offers everything from free movement of people to regulations on environmental standards, workers' rights, funding for deprived regions, and even a proto-foreign policy, is never going to be easy. As negotiations start, led by a deeply wounded Prime Minister Theresa May who bungled a recent election of her own at the start of June, it's hard to tell what the damage will be.

It was also a vote that split the country. While some are delighted with the result, others are less enthusiastic. Then there are those who haven't budged from viewing the whole thing as a giant mistake. Fat White Family and The Moonlandingz frontman Lias Saoudi is in that category. For him the referendum was "a really, really bad idea."

Saoudi has made a name for himself as a frenetic performer and politically charged songwriter who litters his lyrics with historical references and visceral imagery. At least he does for his main band Fat White Family. It's a bit different for The Moonlandingz, a semi-fictional glam rock collective that put out its debut, Interplanetary Class Classics, in March. There he's just having fun.

First though he wants to talk about the U.K. election. We're speaking on a crackling phone line on June 8, the day of the election. The result turned up quite a surprise when the ruling right-wing Conservative Party, once up by around 20% in the polls, managed to blow its majority. A resurgent Labour Party under more traditionally leftwing leader Jeremy Corbyn picked up seats in the British Parliament, and while they came second, they denied the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May the landslide she vainly sought.

Before that result was known, Saoudi was already feeling a tinge of optimism. "I think there is definitely a shred of hope. The reality is we'll probably lose, which is incredibly depressing, but people seem to be more active, more aware, more conscious and definitely more engaged in politics than they have in my lifetime anyway." He points across the Atlantic to make a positive comparison. "A little like you guys have got with Bernie Sanders, hopefully it spawns something bigger."

This kind of impassioned political interest is not surprising from the lead singer of Fat White Family, a tempestuous South London rock band who sing about everything from poverty and inequality to assassins, Nazis, and Mark E. Smith from The Fall. It's more surprising from the lead in The Moonlandingz, an outlandish project that first emerged on a concept album by Sheffield electro-duo The Eccentronic Research Council. Throw in Saoudi and Saul Adamczewski from Fat White Family, and actress Maxine Peake, and something very odd is born.

The band that sees Saoudi take on the persona of front man Johnny Rocket might be coming to life as well. Saoudi can certainly see the case for arguing they're no longer a fictional group. "We did tours and people could come to the shows so I suppose once you can point at something, it's real." It's a very specific kind of real. "It started as another narrative and I think that's an important part of what the whole thing is. I see it as a B movie kind of band: garish, devoid of subtlety. If you just let go of more cynical leanings you can get on board with it."

While it might be a bit of fun for Saoudi, it's impressive fun, this year's debut drawing a number of strong reviews. None of its distracted him from the chaos engulfing the rest of the country though. Born to a British mother and an Algerian father, he hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with his family politically, especially when it comes to Brexit. "My own mother voted leave and the reasoning behind it was very difficult to swallow." He admits it got the better of him. "I was somewhat enraged at that point in time and I think I reacted in the wrong way. I behaved with a lot of anger but it gets you nowhere. Instead of screaming and shouting at my relatives, I now try to put it in the plainest terms possible."

The tendency to demonize those that vote differently is all too common across the political spectrum. Saoudi certainly sees it from those who share similar views to himself. "I think that's why the left has been busy eating itself alive. It's on a high horse and everyone that isn't with it is wrong. If you go to engage with anybody with only that mindset you can only ever get so far."

Not for a second has he mellowed on the Brexit vote itself of course, but he's willing to accept it can't be undone. The real question is what are the best terms Britain can get from the divorce negotiations, and what constitutes best anyway. Here he has only derision for the Prime Minister. "It's unbelievable that Theresa May says no deal is better than a bad deal. She's not an idiot, she knows that's not true. A 7-year-old can work out that's obviously not true. No deal is the worst possible deal."

What a deal looks like is something of an unknown right now. Saoudi can only posit a few things that are likely to occur. "If it has to happen, and I guess it does or they'll be riots in the bloody streets, I think we need the softest option possible. But they're going to have to restrict immigration because that's what drove the UKIP [a populist rightwing party nurturing the Brexit cause for decades] surge in the first place. That's why my mother voted to leave and she had three kids with an Algerian. People feel very strongly about that."

He doesn't have much doubt May is not the person to lead the country in the negotiations. "She can't come across as a human being in the most basic interview. If she can't deal with that kind of thing, and she can't form a rapport with another professional, isn't that basically all negotiations are about? It's about communication and she seems really dire in that area. I can't imagine anybody being convinced by her to do anything."

That Saoudi spends his time thinking about these kinds of things is in keeping with his work with Fat White Family, but he doesn't want to become consumed by it. "We did Champagne Holocaust and that was all about where we were going and where we were you know; hurtling towards Victorian levels of inequality. I don't really think there's an overarching need to keep making the same points." Nor does he see it as an obligation. "I don't feel like it's my responsibility to address those kinds of problems with my music. I'm not entirely sure what I want to write about next, but usually I like to try and straddle the personal and the political at the same time, with a healthy dose of cliché thrown in."

For now, while the band sits in a fallow year after releasing second full-length Songs for Our Mothers in 2016, he's just happy to try other things which is where The Moonlandingz came in. "I thought I can have a break from my band and work with another couple of dudes. It was a lot more calm with a lot less danger, less madness, less chaos. We were just having fun and it's nice to work with different people outside your comfort zone."

He's also careful not to commit either way when asked if we'll see Johnny Rocket again. "I don't know. I wouldn't like to say this early because I'm in the middle of not touring my brains out with the Fat Whites, and going around the fucking bend doing that. I'm trying to get a shred of stability back into my life. But if there's some interesting music floating around and I have a bit of time, I don't see why not."

What's Going On

So far, the Senate healthcare bill is following in the steps of its House predecessor by being pulled from an immediate vote for fear too many senators will rebel. While that's an immediate relief, the GOP found a way to satisfy both the hardcore and moderates last time out so there's no guarantee they won't again. Here's hoping though, as the Congressional Budget Office estimates 22 million people stand to lose health insurance under the new proposal. That's a whole million less than under the House bill, which is hardly a comfort.

The Trump agenda might be faltering a little on healthcare right now, but the president received a boost this week when the Supreme Court ruled that lower courts were hasty in overruling all elements of his unpleasant travel ban targeting predominantly Muslim countries. This means parts of the ban will now be allowed, while the overall proposal will go to a full hearing later in the year which will sadly buoy up Trump no end.

Trump's crush on Vladimir Putin is well-reported, but he's also partial to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who's marked the end of his first full year in power by calling for yet more crackdowns. After trouble with Islamist factions broke out in parts of the country, Duterte has been quick to send in the troops and happy to tell them not to worry too much about civilian casualties. But that's hardly a surprise coming from a leader who's managed to kill around 9,000 people in his first year, mostly from his shoot first, shoot many more times approach to reducing drug use. Trump, naturally, has previously praised Duterte for the good job he's doing. 

Speak Up!

The xx have cancelled an entire festival, due to be held in Iceland in mid-July. The Icelandic edition of their Night + Day festival would have taken place in Skógafoss, but after the Environmental Agency of Iceland added the area to an endangered list, the band cancelled the whole event. It's nice to see some people behaving responsibly when it comes to the environment.

Producer Menace demonstrated the dangers of mouthing off in interviews when he alleged that Kanye West, Future, and producer Mike Dean had filed copyright infringement claims over "Panda," a track by Desiigner that Menace produced. After also throwing in a few insults, he's since come out to say, "I want to formally apologize to Mike Dean, Kanye, Future and their respective teams for releasing unfounded and sensitive information to the media that could have potentially affected their professional integrity."

We mentioned Jeremy Corbyn earlier, but he also popped up at the premier British music festival Glastonbury last weekend. Corbyn received a positive response when he took to the stage before U.S. rap duo Run the Jewels. He also had a message for Trump, telling him to "build bridges not walls."

Here's Run the Jewels performing last week.

Song of the Week: EMA - "Down and Out"

Erika M. Anderson, better known by her stage name EMA, released a new track from her upcoming record Exile in the Outer Ring this week. "Down and Out" is in keeping with the new album that focuses on the forgotten parts of America she comes from. It's a sad, bitter song that opens with the lines "Everyone thinks you're worthless/when you're down and out." If it wasn't so catchy, it wouldn't make for easy listening.

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