Calm Within The Storm: Working Men’s Club
Exorcising his demons via the agitated wares of second album ‘Fear Fear’, Working Men’s Club’s Syd Minsky-Sargeant is learning how to release life’s pressure valve.
When Working Men’s Club dropped their self-titled debut album in 2020, there was already an air of mystique and mythology surrounding the newcomers. Frontman Syd Minsky-Sargeant - aged just 18 at the time - had garnered something of a reputation for his outspoken interviews and inter-band fallouts; with a release date nestled in between two suffocating lockdowns, meanwhile, the record’s gargantuan, dancefloor-ready tracks landed at stark odds with the stifling reality of life at the time.
Sat in a basement venue in central London late on a Monday afternoon, however, Syd radiates a very different energy to the frenzied creature who’s come into his own fronting late-night festival sets in the time since. Whereas, on stage, the singer is a tightly-wound ball of jerking, convulsive body language and hostile gurning, in person his demeanour is affable and relaxed as he leans back in his seat and thoughtfully considers each response. As DIY’s photographers experiment with lighting and smoke machines, Syd looks unfazed and gives long, conversational answers as strobe lights intermittently blitz his face.
Yet while, visually, today’s setting feels implausibly well-paired to the mood of Working Men’s Club’s new album, Syd’s easygoing aura is completely at odds with the themes of this month’s ‘Fear Fear’. As its title suggests, the band’s second LP sets its sights on the darkness and dread that the now-20-year-old observed over the past couple of years: some pandemic-induced, some not. The 10-song tracklist plays as a murky, labyrinthine exploration into the ominous and the sinister, all set to the rhythm of relentless drum machines and catchy, agitated synth-pop.
From the creeping slow-build of opener ‘19’, Syd leaves sapless suggestions at the door and arrives with intent - taking aim at those “bereft of persecution” through an unshakable coldwave snarl that sounds like a Mark E Smith vocal produced by Giorgio Moroder. Elsewhere, moments of ecstasy penetrate the album’s dark, Detroit techno-inspired loops; ‘The Last One’ has a truly ethereal quality, while seven-minute shredder ‘Cut’ reaches boiling point in his hot-and-cold relationship with the electric guitar.
True to his perpetual outsider status, it feels noteworthy that Syd switched his lyrical gaze outwards during a period of social collapse that left almost all other artists mining introspectively for inspiration. “I felt like I’d done the introspective thing on album one,” Syd says of ‘Fear Fear’’s lyrical themes. “It was interesting to look outside of myself when everyone else was looking inward, and to take the time for once to properly consider what it was that I was seeing.
“There were a lot of topics being talked about online and on the news which came to the fore during the pandemic - social and economic issues where certain people weren’t being looked after,” he continues. “But money is redundant in a world without humans, isn’t it?”
“I took advantage of being able to say whatever the fuck I wanted when I couldn’t do so in other areas of my life.”
— Syd Minsky-Sargeant
Meeting Syd, there’s an unexpected air of contentment - zen, even - about the songwriter. Absent is the bedevilled performer last seen contorting his body on stage at Primavera just two days prior, the gobby shite who declared the entire Manchester music scene to have been “shit” for the past 20 years in his first DIY interview, or even the angry observationist who recently penned the lyrics “Meeting by the river / Filter out the dread / Why is rapture rancid / Look inside my head” on album track ‘Rapture’. Has he cultivated a newfound mellow streak?
“Yeah, I suppose I’m more mellow,” he laughs, looking as if the idea had never previously crossed his mind. “In my early interviews, there was a lot more going on behind the scenes than anybody knows about or ever will know about - that’s life. I think I was trying to vent my confusion and frustration towards being young, while also trying to keep a grip on things.”
Much of the conversation surrounding Working Men’s Club’s primitive days gravitated towards the constant reconfiguration of the group, which resulted in every member besides Syd exiting the band amid fallouts and bouts of egotistical tug-of-war. “I was always the youngest person in that band, but because I was the person writing the tunes, the mic was put in front of me,” Syd recalls of those early days. “I took advantage of being able to say whatever the fuck I wanted when I couldn’t do so in other areas of my life at the time.”
The idea of being interviewed by national media outlets whilst in your still-formative teens, with your responses archived evermore for posterity, may feel like a Black Mirror-esque foray into dystopian fiction to many, but Syd is pragmatic about his early career outbursts. “When there’s alcohol around you, or substances, it’s easy to get carried away with what you say,” he reflects. “A lot of people grew up by going to university, and experimenting and making mistakes. I’ve been making mistakes over the past few years and I’ll probably continue to do so.”
In a two-year period which has seen critical acclaim and festival-stealing performances tessellated between anxieties both professional and personal, it’s been the simple things that have cultivated a sense of self in the singer. Walking around during lockdown to see nature reclaiming areas of the Todmorden town that he calls home, and investing time into his small community of close friends, ‘Fear Fear’ might be a second album that arrives steeped in the anxieties of its title, but the man behind them is growing into a calmer presence.
Now, with much of Album Three already written, Syd is too busy looking ahead to give anymore thought to what has come before. “It’s nice to see praise coming in and people paying attention, but I’ve realised that I get my kicks from making my music in private; I find it quite easy now to take each day as it comes,” he says. “There’s definitely something to be said for trying to be content and happy at some points!”
‘Fear Fear’ is out now via Heavenly.
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