Review: Slaves, Portland Arms

This summer is a consolidation for Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent, giving them a chance to step back and evaluate the blinding year that they’d had as Slaves. Their no-frills approach to guitar and drum music has granted them widespread radio coverage, a No.8 debut album and in the winter they’re primed to invade the venues in which they supported Jamie T only a year prior. In preparation for Glastonbury, the men of Kent agreed to play Cambridge’s Portland Arms, in support of Ella –the budding young organiser of the gig- and an independent venue. Slaves’ manifesto may not dwell on Tories or Labour, but their cocktail of discontent towards consumerism, capitalism and social apathy feels far more potent in 2015 than post-election grievances. In the flesh they break through the disconnect with their hands-on approach; Holman swings along the barrier, offering the mic to those pressed up against the metal grate by the rabid crowd, and planting kisses on bald men’s heads like a politician would with babies. The pair ripped through a setlist built around scuzzy riffs, insistent drums and their recently released debut ‘Are You Satisfied?’. There’s still room for the hits that preceded their deal with Virgin EMI too, such as the venomous ‘White Knuckle Ride’ and ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie?’; the vaudeville tale of a sasquatch chase. Everything crackles with anger, purpose and tongue-in-cheek comedy, all of which is at once magnified and diminished by the venue. It’s as intimate as you can get, but also airless and hot; when the set rolls into its second half the crowd are exhausted and dizzied by the overly zealous strobe lighting, and the duo themselves are suffering by the end. Everyone soldiers through and keep smashing into each other, somehow ripping a huge chunk out of the ceiling during ‘Hey’.

It’d seem the duo have become victims of their own success; all night there are calls to play their cover of Grime MC Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’. Holman politely declines, promising the crowd they’ll “enjoy this more”, before launching into lyrically vague but ferocious stomper ‘The Hunter’. Later on Vincent teases out the cover’s brutally industrial opening riff, but the demands continue up until the very end, and the cover ultimately left a sour taste. ‘Feed the Mantaray’ is Slaves at their silliest, bringing their roadie gliding over the crowd dressed as the giant fish and breakout hit ‘Cheer Up London’ is a monster, drawing the biggest singalong and a whirlpool of limbs.

When Vincent and Holman talk about being ‘primal’, it’s easy to see what they mean; choruses that might be basic but resonate after a single line, and trigger a desire to ‘do’ or ‘be’ something more. Slaves’ performance was an application of force that tore through the Portland Arms, cementing them as one of the UK's best live acts whilst leaving bodies broken and ears ringing.