Working Men’s Club take the mundane on a mushroom trip on their stunning debut album.


Credit: Working Men’s Club / Heavenly Records

Verdict: an innovative and sublime post-punk-meets-dance genre crosser.

With a band name as prophetic as that, describing an institution formerly found in so many industrial towns and working class communities in yester-year Britain, you expect a record with bite and purpose. The self titled debut from Working Men’s Club delivers just that.

That purpose, it seems, is turning the experiences of youth in isolated Northern England towns into a stunning, jilted, punk on synth-steroids soundtrack. An origin story like that might leave you feeling you ought to give it some sympathy, but Working Men’s Club doesn’t want your condolences or pity. And that’s really caught me off guard.

Let’s put it this way: as I sit here in my comfortable Cardiff bubble, having never lived anywhere further north than South London, I recall all the times I’ve ventured to Manchester, Sheffield, York and the like. The allure of romanticising the north for a southerner like me, eager to break out of the south’s often myopic pride and cushiness, derives it into something to be experienced. Doing so conveniently ignores the incredible differences in wealth and livelihood that exist between these two ends of the UK- differences that are once again under incredible scrutiny today.

Given that so much of my favourite music comes from northern artists, I do my best not to take for granted the differences in quality of life myself and them. But Working Men’s Club feels birthed from the cause of those differences, and isn’t looking for you to resolve them.

Rather, it draws its power from them, wearing its hometown pride of the valleys of West Yorkshire on its sleeve. To call it a ‘voice’ for the youth of those communities feels contrived and patronisng, but that’s exactly what lead member Syd Minsky-Sargeant seems to envision the album as. It runs on his disgruntlement at the world he finds himself in, taking a personal, stream-of-consciousness approach instead of waving its protest flag.

“…[There’s] an energy here that celebrates the stereotypes of “it’s grim up north”, addresses the realities for young people and flips the bird to onlookers.”

On this record, the ‘north’ is not some tourist attraction for outside listeners like me. It projects outwards like a beacon with an energy that celebrates the stereotypes of “it’s grim up north”, addresses the realities for young people like its band members and takes pride in a place many would simply call “harsh” or “cold”. But its ambition is to move beyond its geography and fire back; the posturing of London-centric culture and governance is often shoved right in the firing line, and I like that.

Better still, it breaks convention with the UK’s post-punk style. The last few years have been a goldmine for the scene, with consistently incredible releases from the likes of Shame, Idles, Fontaines, Squid, LIFE and more. Minksy-Sargeant, however, isn’t quite as keen on its revival, and doesn’t want to fall in step with its conventions.

So here in comes meaty, rough guitars alongside staccato electronica, producing a blunt, cold and powerful listen. Where aggressive lyricism would usually be, Working Men’s Club instead put a potent concoction of synths sitting somewhere between the Acid House of the late 80s second summer of love and the insatiable hooks of a New Order or Depeche Mode 12″. This is Post-Punk for dancefloors, where the anger and grit are expressed through groove.

“…a potent concoction of synths sitting somewhere between the Acid House of the late 80s second summer of love and the insatiable hooks of a New Order or Depeche Mode 12″.”

Opener ‘Valleys’ is a bold, blazing scene-setter that grabs you with its starkness and fantastic hooks, whilst industrial-flavoured ‘A.A.A.A.’ achieves the sense of existential dread that today’s generation live in. ‘John Cooper Clarke’ pack’s the records most infectious beat and laces the poet hero’s words on top, whilst ‘Tomorrow’ feels like a Human League track from an alternative universe, where the new romantics stylishness is replaced with blunt commentary on the realities of political progress.

It’s on ‘Angel’, however, where the band really smack it out of the park – a 12 minute belter to round off the record, with both anthemic and mosh-pit qualities. Its expressive simplicity works wonders, and the build up has been worth it on every listen so far.

Working Men’s Club may well be taking pride in the harshness of its world, but its resolution is one of celebration. Thanks to those dance influences, the euphoria of rave culture bubbles under every track, creating a harmony for all those listening. Its sound feels like it would be at home just about anywhere, from the coolest of record shops to the coldest of fields playing host to early morning festival DJ sets.

“There’s a harshness they seem determined to express and celebrate in every track…”

Records that take pride in comparative dreariness always hit the spot for me, and this is an ecstatic new take on those themes. It’s hard to understate how much I love both the post-punk and the Acid House influences this album draws from, and its succinctness in blending those two is sublime. The backdrop may be that of overcast skies and brutalist concrete, but the brush they paint with is strobe light green.

Less than seeking your empathy, Working Men’s Club takes the mundane on a mushrooms trip, injecting its personal experience into a rave-meets-punk super gig. Their debut’s greatest achievement is the mix between synth and guitar, which constantly hang in a ying-yang balance over which one will fulfill the band’s cacophonic prophecies. There’s a harshness they seem determined to express and celebrate in every track, and the way they wield their drum machines and synths delivers that perfectly.

Working Men’s Club crosses the social and economic divide of the north and south with the authenticity of its sound. It has no desire to dwell on any downsides of present reality, instead turning its world into a bold vision that flourishes on this record. Far from reinforcing geographical division in our country, Minksy-Sargeant and Co. reinvent both northern stereotypes and their own experiences into an innovative, expressive and personal sonic landmark.

Score: 9.0/10

Check out ‘Valleys’ by Working Men’s Club and more of our favourite new tunes on Sourouse’s MUSICBOX playlist.

Munro Page

Munro Page is a music blogger and former student radio host based in Cardiff, Wales. He likes: thrift stores, cooking and parrots. He dislikes: chain restaurants, the M25 and Simply Red.