The gluttonous potbellied pig has had its fill, society has eaten itself from the inside.
Bubbling specks of vomit are starting to surface in the gullet, until eventually and naturally, it convulses and unloads a thick dark liquid onto the cold, murky floor that its greedy trotters have previously tread upon.
In that mess is a plethora of hatred bile, racism, nationalism and divisions of all aspects.
Teesside champions Benefits have been formed out of that putrid puddle’s wake and they are fighting to eradicate and confront these issues with their own production of industrial noise and honest, brutal lyricisms.
I had the pleasure of meeting Kingsley Hall, lead poet of the most relevant and exciting band on the planet, Benefits – at Hebden Bridge Trades Club, West Yorkshire just a few hours before they were due to unleash their assault on the ears of the ever-growing cult following that they are amassing.
He beckons me from out of the back bar down the venue stairs in an almost excited and somewhat tense manner to the little theatre perched next door. Everything about him is busy, he’s got a few things to show me apparently, I stand and watch him as he wizzes around the space they’ve been given as a green room, it’s got a really cold, moody feel to it, it feels like a waiting room at a funeral directors.
After he reached out on Twitter for recommendations of how to look after his voice due to the onslaught that he puts it through in his live performances, he was met with plenty of great advice.
On a table just behind me, I see a bulky metal case which he proceeds to open up, it has a stunning range of separate compartments, each filled with a selection of medicines to alleviate the vocal stress his throat gets put under after each gig. It’s magnificent.
‘There’s nothing enjoyable about doing this live, I’m purposely ruining my voice each night, it’s not something that’s recommended’
Once he’s made his vocal saving brew, he hurriedly leads me into a side door of the building into the theatre. It smells of dark history and it’s laden with glorious violet seating, it’s quite intimidating, even more so when I turn to the stage to see a full-sized white coffin in the back corner of the room, there’s an effigy laid inside of it and it’s definitely one of the creepiest and trippiest things I have ever seen but truly wonderful at the same time.
As we walk back into the other room, he’s busy again, this time emailing the NME about the new collaboration with Zen FC, which is Yard Act’s record label who are putting out a 7’ vinyl with them that features two of the bands most powerful singles to date in Flag / Empire.
At the time of writing this, it’s now sold out, which is quite inevitable really, considering the heavy underground support that’s continually rising underneath this gritty collective.
It is well known that the band is truly DIY. No management, no PR, just armed with brilliantly satirical social media skits that usually commence in a field or behind a row of garages somewhere in Teesside.
‘I do think it’s amazing that smaller DIY bands can compete with massive bands without having the assistance of anyone, and that anyone could be their own PR team or agent but why not take the help if it’s there? …certainly if it’s outside your skillset. I think it’s a dead romantic idea to have, you get a band like The Lovely Eggs who are purely DIY who can generate that magical career to play big venues and put out records on their own, no help, no nothing, its fucking brilliant. That complete cottage industry is amazing and properly admirable. We haven’t asked for help but we’re getting to know our limitations and realise we can only reach a certain level with the skills we have. Not every band can do the lot and it’s ok to admit that.’
It’s overwhelmingly refreshing to meet someone in a band who lives a sober life, their rider is a simple one, mostly bottles of alcohol-free beers and water. To drive down cost and more importantly and very sweetly, Kingsley has asked all promoters / venues to instead provide a gift for his young daughter at home, it’s a beautiful idea and you can tell just from being around him for a short time that he’s full of compassion and empathy, wanting to change the way in how musicians and artists are portrayed in the musical landscape. There’s nothing but respect in that.
‘There’s a lot of elements of the traditional rock band or indie band that needs eradicating, that can be trying to make sure that not all bills are purely male guitar dominated or the simple gesture of pretending to have one song left and then coming on doing a three-song encore fully planned, it’s lame. There’s a mindset that needs changing.’
To receive plaudits and promotion from such figures as Steve Albini and Black Francis to name a few, What’s your take on all of it?
‘These guys are amazing people in themselves and then you think, there’s a picture of him with David Bowie or he worked with Kurt, it’s just incredible. These people are propper icons more than anything, I’m blown away by it.’
When I first got into music it was because punk rock broke music into a million little pieces and each of them said a little something to me. A few years in, those pieces aggregated into little clusters with common ideas and methods, and of those little clusters, scenes, two of them captivated me.
Most shocking were people playing a kind of non-music as music, the pure sound and noise acts (Whitehouse, Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Mark Ohe, ONO, End Result, Circle-X, Merzbow) who had no regard for songs, tunes or musical framing at all, but equally gripping were the communist/anarchist ranting freaks working within a band-and-song paradigm like Crass, the Pop Group, the Ex and Rudimentary Peni. Some of the noise bands played with fascist or violent imagery to amplify the unease of their sound, some of the rants had catchy beats or style elements to anchor their ideas, and both of those choices read differently to me now, but I couldn’t deny their magnetism on my still-forming mind. Though concurrent, there was basically no interaction between these two scenes, or if there was it was acrimony, and over time they both kinda petered out.
Hearing Benefits immediately rekindled both of those scenes in my sense memory. The sound was everything, dense and suffocating, like the most obliterating moments of their noise ancestors and it stimulated a part of my brain that had been dormant for a long time. Did I say the sound was everything? No, the text was everything. Compelling, frank, plain-English sentences that articulated the awkward realizations that are at the core of forming an identity and navigating adulthood. This is what we’re dealing with and this is what I think of it. No euphemism, no butter, no talking past the subject, just fucking eat it whole.
I fucking love Benefits.
Steve Albini – Direct Quote to NDR
In previous interviews, he mentions about being asked his views on a specific figure or group, but the detail is firmly in the output of what they produce.
‘Just listen, it’s all there. I even write them down; you don’t have to interview me about my personal views and I’m very obvious about it. It’s blatant, there’s no black and white’
Can you talk me through the process of how you write your lyrics? And does it help to get these thoughts written down, to maybe calm any angst or anxieties?
‘This isn’t a calming thing; I’m not going into the fields like fucking Byron and doing these flowery things. These moments, these little snippets come at me at odd moments so I don’t necessarily sit down and go, I’m going to be angry now. I’ll hear some awful shit on the news or the radio and with that frustration just scribble something down on a bit of paper and when I get home, I have scraps of paper that I piece together, I do sit down and write but it doesn’t come in a linear way.
In terms of anxieties, training yourself to write, releases those anxieties. I’ll write a sheet of A4 and three quarters of that will be absolute nonsense and not needed but those two or three lines that might ping will be the ones that get used. Writing is very therapeutic.’
The feeling that Benefits has been generating is connecting with people on a different level, coming together as a collective to passionately stand side by side with them, but it’s the people who aren’t listening, that’s who Kingsley’s wants to reach.
‘In a review of the last tour there was a line which said, don’t bring your Tory auntie and uncle though, which isn’t quite right, they should be coming. They’re angry too, you see nothing will change unless they get angry, nothing. If they’re quietly content with everything, nothing will change, you’ve got to rile them up and let them hear your voice.
You need the ears of the people that’s blocked you because otherwise you’re speaking to an echo chamber.
We did a gig in Birmingham on the first tour and this guy came who got in touch with me on social media via a punk forum, he was an original punk from the 70’s and at the time probably had quite left socialist views but as he got older, as people sometimes do, went more towards conservative right. But he came to the gig because he understood the passion of what we were doing, he understood that it was punk rock, he didn’t necessarily agree with what we were saying but he appreciated the way that we were doing it.
You’ve got to get these people to listen to you. This is not a careerist move, if you’re angry too then get angry, be frustrated and do something about it’