Upon first being put on to Teesside trio Benefits, I must confess that it all felt a little ‘on the nose’. However, I have since come to the conclusion that I am a prick, whose first knee-jerk reactions to the world must never be trusted. In an age where consuming mainstream media feels like licking the frozen tip of a massive shit-covered iceberg of evil, lurking outside public consciousness like Alex Bourne wearing a mask on his way to the bank, it feels more necessary than ever that we have someone, finally, steering clear of attempted nuance and subtle metaphor in their quest to tear the fucking house down.
First emerging with 2019’s ‘Taking Us Back‘, an adrenaline-pumping venomous-spitting correlation between a ‘rose tinted gammon dream’ and ‘a statue of dead white men / standing in every town’, lain over the sort of sparse, quasi-bass which owes a lot to the instrumentals behind John Cooper Clark as much as anything. A quick succession of tracks then followed, the standout being the wicked ‘Shit Britain’, which sees the band jittering and stuttering around an anxiety-sweat inducing number – this is music that would sound genuinely bizarre coming out of any other part of the world – it is the sound not just of a country on the brink, but a country tired by its own conditioned apathy into acceptance.
To be fair to the one YouTube listener who dubbed them “a poundshop Sleaford Mods”, it’s not as if the group are bending the walls of perception around what it means to be an ‘issues based band’ of the moment – but I would argue that is what makes them all the more remarkable. Now that anyone can (and does – see paragraph one for just one example) have a pop at critiquing the turgid socio-political landscape of today, there is a certain indefinable quality setting apart the radical from the insipid, the inspiration from the droning. Whilst the band seemed to take a while to find their own particular quality, it is certainly here now.
Recent single ‘Flag’ is sonically evil, a stomach churning assault of industrial noise and vocal distortion, as vocalist Kingsley Champman takes aim at the nationalist Stockholm syndrome afflicting our country; “Privilege won’t save you / Eton won’t save you / People who speak latin will not save you. / That stiff upper lip will crumble, that silver spoon will be sold / you will be forgotten / you’re nothing to them”. If anything, I would call it the sound of Dennis Skinner fronting Ho99o9, and on the basis of this, I think we are in for an exciting ride forward.
It feels like Sleaford Mods without sardonic sneer, World War Two without the illusion of being fought over fascism, and millennia of human atrocity recognised not through history books and ‘goodies and baddies’, but immediate perspective. It’s fighting music for fighting times, but born of a ferocious politicism that ensures its message is not lost beneath intensity of feeling. Benefits are not members of the chest-beating testosteronati, but simply purveyors of some of the rawest, most vital music I have ever heard.
Whilst things may have been put on hold for them for a moment – Chapman recently went public on the band’s Twitter page to explain how a bout of Bell’s Palsy had left one side of his face rendered temporarily immobile – the raging reality underpinning Benefits’ excellence suggests they are no hype band, and that we shall soon, hopefully, be provided with some more of their loud, cathartic brilliance.
Head to Benefits’ Bandcamp to hear more.
The new issue of So Young is out now. It’s sold out in print but you can read the digital edition below.