Shame on “Songs of Praise”

London's Burning

Jun 06, 2018 Photography by Holly Whitaker Issue #63 - Courtney Barnett
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Springing forth from the fertile South London scene, Shame formed during a long and listless school summer holiday in 2014 and, by chance, ended up rehearsing at The Queen's Head in Brixton. This infamous pub, which laid the foundations for what followed, served as a no-rules headquarters for fellow squat-rockers Fat White Family and now, as is the way in modern London, no longer exists.

This tapestry of social inequality informs much of what Shame create and represent. The quintet brandish a fierce strain of punk rock, filtered through a prism of post-punk drive which features dueling buzzsaw guitars (Eddie Green and Sean Coyle-Smith), slinking basslines (Josh Finerty), primal drums (Charlie Forbes), all of which are rounded off with dry witticisms and screams from frontman Charlie Steen.

Billing them as merely angry punk agitators, however, sells them short. Over the phone, Green, despite battling jet lag from recently flying from Australia to Los Angeles on tour, is as articulate, considered, and sharply honest. Shame's debut album, Songs of Praise, has already garnered the sort of critical acclaim that has billed them as "the saviors of guitar music."

"It really freaks us out and none of us were expecting any of it," says Green of the attention. "We certainly didn't do anything to cultivate it." Bemused acceptance, therefore, appears to be the way of coping with being thrust into the spotlight. "If people like it, that's great. But we are just going to keep doing what we're doing regardless."

There exists a productive existential tension for Shame: how does a young and male guitar band utilize the traditional weapons of punk rockaggression and angerwhilst being inclusive and relevant? Shame gigs are famously rowdy but violence and intimidation are not tolerated. "It's pointless," Green sighs, when referring to the boisterous and toxic masculinity that, in increasingly smaller degrees, inevitably gravitates towards tipped guitar bands. "When you see 15 people all go down in a mosh pit at once, it immediately kills it for me." Shame have been known to stop gigs and quell this type of unwelcome behavior whilst not losing a drop of their venom on stage.

The band put forward another convincing rebuttal to another persistent idea: is guitar music dead? "It's not!" Green insists emphatically. "The whole idea is so romanticized. It's like, 'Oh well, you weren't there at the 100 Club when Johnny Rotten pissed on himself!' Well, so what?"

A refusal to smile and nod is particularly admirable considering that Shame exist within a musical climate that expects artists, when presented with the potential of forming a career, to not rock the boat. "I've seen bands that feel that they can't call out bullshit when they see it." It's clearly not held them back: Songs of Praise was propelled into the U.K. Top 40 Album Chart on release week.

With their rising status and international touring schedule, Green is reflective on the difficulty of living back home in London where rising levels of inequality make it increasingly inhospitable for large swathes of the population. "It's on the cusp of being the greatest city in the world and you think it could be really incredible. Then you go to New York which never stops." Considering the band's big plans for the future, however, it feels like "non-stop" is a more appropriate description for Shame than The Big Apple.

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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