A Real Humdinger
“I fucking hate mods,” says Flats front man Dan Devine. “There’s a club called Mouse Trap and it’s just fucking dirge. Everyone in there shops at Shelley’s on Carnaby Street. They’re all estate agents in the day and then go off and spend all their money on vintage dresses off Ebay, and you go to any of those clubs and you walk behind some girl in a dolly dress and white tights, and you think, ah, who’s this?, and they turn around and it’s some sixty-year-old battered hag with a face like a leather wallet. It’s horrible. Everyone there has the exact same records, the exact same outfits, you’ll see ten people in the exact same shoes and they all act like they’re contemporary… argh, they’re all c*nts!”
Dan – pale and thin beneath a mop of wiry curls – looks far more frail than his visceral opinions prove him to be, and his distain for Mods has given Flats their best track yet. ‘Rat Trap’ (see what they’ve done there?) is primitive UK hardcore played by a very angry Buzzcocks. In one-minute-forty-six-seconds it obnoxiously slams the scooter crowd, pulling at their bowl-cuts and spitting on their Shelley’s shoes. “Rat trap/Rat trap/I hope you all fuckin’ die!” goes Devine’s petulant vocal hook. “I hate Paul Weller!/I hate The Jam!/I hate Roger Daltrey!”, he continues to a guitar so prickly and overdriven that it sounds like an electrified killer wasp in DM’s.
“I don’t know if we can talk about it, actually,” says guitarist Luke Tristram. The band all look at each other across the Thames-side pub table.
“Well, there’s a line in it that has now been covered by noise,” says bassist Craig E. Pierce. “There was a chance that we could have been sued and we didn’t want that hassle.”
“My mum actually said, ‘be careful that you don’t get sued for that,’” adds Devine. “I haven’t got much anyway, but what I have got I want to keep.”
After Weller, his band and Daltrey, it’s Pete Townsend who Flats turn on, although, due to the threat of legal action, you can now make out little more than “Peter Townsend is a f…”, followed by a heap of static and feedback. It’s safe to say that beneath the noise Devine is not singing the guitarist’s praises.
Flats formed some months ago having known each other from “around town and all the same shows.” Luke could be found onstage with his other concern, Advert; drummer Samir Eskanda behind the kit of Blue On Blue; Devine at the decks of Dice Club and others; Craig throwing parties, including Jamboree’s Cable Street Riots, which he hosted with Samir.
“When we told our friends that we were forming a punk band, they laughed at us,” says Luke.
“Yeah, it was because we were all involved in music in some way,” explains Craig “so there was a lot of talk about what we’d be like, and then people came to see us and were like, ‘fuck, you’re actually really good!’.”
While some bands spend a lifetime buffing a sound and a perfecting a live set, Flats played their first show with three songs in them.
“It was all over in five minutes,” says Samir.
Dan: “I cut my face on the first song so there was blood everywhere. I’d hit my lip on the mic. It was a mess but it was fucking… punk! Y’know?”
‘Punk’ has rarely seemed like a more fitting label – not in recent years, anyway. Not ‘punk pop’. Not ‘garage punk’. Not ‘skate punk’. Simply ‘punk’. With the word ‘fucking’ in front of it. Flats formed, tells Craig, “because there was nothing vile and exciting”, and now there is. Their tracks are constantly shy of two minutes (in ‘Flats Waltz’’s case by well over sixty seconds) and played with the kind of un-sanitised ferocity that makes The Sex Pistol look like The Feeling.
“I want it to be heavier,” says Devine to nods from Samir “like, from total dirge to hardcore blast beats – I’d like to do something like that. And there’s a couple of other covers that I wanna do. I’d like to do a Sabbath track.”
“The songs seem really short to people,” says Samir “but when you’re drumming them it feels like they’re going on forever.”
It’s not a take on Black Sabbath but Flats’ debut EP (called ‘Flats’) does feature a snotty cover version that the band have snatched for themselves. ‘Mucky Pup’ was first recorded by Puncture – a widely unknown gang of London punks – in 1977. Featuring the opening line “I pick my nose and then I eat it up/I’m a real humdinger/I’m a mucky pup” it’s always been a grotty little song from punk’s genesis. Now, played at double speed and shrieked by Devine while his band thrash through it as aggressively as possible, it’s an antagonistic bruiser.
“It’s just a great track,” says Craig “and it’s cool to get it out there to people who don’t know it. Not many people know that song and it’s like, ‘right, you think you know about music – and y’know, maybe you do, but everyone’s got the same records – well, have a listen to that!’ That’s why we put it on the EP.”
In their early days, The Horrors thought along the same lines, covering Screaming Lord Sutch and, even more obscurely, 60s garage band The Syndicats, not Candi Staton’s ‘You Got The Love’, or other sure-fire hits. Sonically, the two bands have less in common – especially these days – and Flats are resolute in their rejection of ‘fashionable bands’ (“We’re fed up of bands that are just posers, with shit dyed black hair,” sneers Dan), but the excitement of first hearing ‘Mucky Pup’ or ‘Rat Trap’ can’t help but remind us of the first time we heard ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’. Flats’ confrontational, unapologetic arrival is as unquestionably exciting as it is well-timed, and, like The Horrors Mk I, the band have the support of Loog Records who are co-releasing ‘Flats’ with Craig and Dan’s own imprint, Sweat Shop.
“We’ve had a lot of interest from labels already,” says Dan “so it’s not like it’s make-or-break time but we’re in the studio next week recording another single or EP and it is time to take it up a gear.”
Of the current musical climate, Dan scoffs, “We’re the only good band in it,” before adding that they’re maybe kept company by Brighton duo The Sticks.
Craig says, “We’re the only band who are for real, out there smashing it.”
“Don’t put that in,” says Dan to laughs from the band. But even though Craig defends what he means, there’s no real need to. Flats are a band powered by anger and simplicity, so it’s fitting that un-minced words sum them up best. This is the return of unpretentious punk. Fucking punk.
By Stuart Stubbs
Originally published in issue 19 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. July 2010