“The worst thing about writing a protest song is the feeling of telling people what they should think or telling them what to do” – Little Cub on their new single, reinventing indie-rave and the dangers of writing Brexit pop
- TextMike Vinti
How should pop music respond to the biggest constitutional crisis Britain has faced in 80 years? That’s the question at the heart of south London indie-rave band Little Cub’s latest single Millennium People. Their first since 2017 debut Still Life, this song borrows its title from a late-era JG Ballard novel in which a group of middle-class Chelsea residents rebel against the state (#FBPE anyone?). On first listen it’s a skewering of Brexit and the recent national humiliation, but dive further into the lyrics and it soon becomes clear that the track is playing with the idea of making a song about Brexit and national humiliation in the first place. An updated version of Father John Misty’s Bored in the USA if you will, only British and with synths.
To find out how they made a Brexit-inspired anthem that doesn’t make listeners want to shrivel up into a ball and hide from the world, Another Man met Little Cub at their local, the Old Nun’s Head, in, surprisingly enough, Nunhead. It’s a pub so tied into the group’s career that not only do they know all the staff by name, a portrait of the group even hangs on the wall behind the bar.
“There’s a lot of failure and absurdity in there,” says Dominic Gore, the group’s frontman. “The worst thing about writing a protest song is the feeling of telling people what they should think or telling them what to do,” he continues. “That’s a difficulty with a lot of political protest.” Instead of setting out to write an earnest state of the nation address, Gore and his bandmates Ady Acolatse and Duncan Tootill approached Millennium People with a sideways glance, employing what those who spend far too long on Twitter might call an ‘online approach’ to songwriting. “We’re very influenced by the kind of satirical culture that we grew up loving or people we like now like (left-wing podcast) Chapo Trap House, the more absurd internet satirists.”
The trio grew up across England, playing jazz and modern classical music before relocating to London one by one, sleeping on each other’s sofas and constantly working on music together until one day, they looked up and they were in a band. Their debut album Still Life, released on indie-stalwart Domino, positioned the group as the successors to the likes of Hot Chip and Metronomy, indie outsiders with synths tucked under their arms. However, having been based in South London for the best part of their collective twenties and early thirties, the group are equally inspired by institutions such as NTS Radio – which boasts shows from the likes of Four Tet and Floating Points – and The Windmill, the Brixton pub credited with launching a new generation of punk and indie talent including Shame and Goat Girl. While they’ve never felt totally accepted by either world, in the course of making their second album – when I meet the group they are waiting to get into the studio to mix the final tracks – they’ve come to accept their positioning as perennial outsiders and recognised a power in that.
The result of all those influences then is a song that feels obviously political without being obvious in its politics. Lyrics such as “the domestic man, took a stand, and pulled down his trousers on the strand” and “we’ll degrade ourselves for public health, ‘til no one gives a shit,” could be read equally as right-on criticism of the debate that has raged since the referendum and as a critique of certain attitudes towards those that voted for Britain to leave the EU.
Ultimately, Gore says, Millennium People is about “wanting to make a statement but feeling stupid when you do”. For Little Cub, it’s a product of “the age we’re in” but also a more general self-awareness that runs through the group’s work. Since the beginning, Little Cub has sat between worlds; equally influenced by dance music – Acolatse and Gore first met at London superclub Fabric while Tootill, who grew up in Leatherhead, the same town as Gore, has produced records for George FitzGerald and also maintains a solo project under the alias Lawrence Hart – and indie, the group has also had a somewhat meta-view of not just their politics, but also their place in the world.
Yet despite feeling caught between worlds, the group are slowly but surely creating their own. A few weeks before we meet the group played the Nun’s Head as part of a local free festival and midway through our chat, a pub regular’s dog bounds in, jumping straight into Acolatse’s lap; though the trio originally hail from Leatherhead and Manchester, they’ve been embraced by South London as hometown heroes.
Of course their roots still shine through and as work began on their second album, they looked to Manchester and the hey-day of the Hacienda for inspiration, a time when bands and electronic music shared a space and a sound. As much as Millennium People is a protest song that combines satire and genuine political ire, the group hope their new album will be a stronger combination of dance music and indie. “The difference is that maybe before we conceptualised it as a live band with electronic instruments,” Gore says. “Whereas now I think it’s an electronic band with live instruments, which kind of shifts the way you think about it… We want to incorporate the music we like, but we also want it to challenge those genres too.”
Millennium People is out now on Domino Records.