“Knock knock. Who’s there? It’s Chubby and the fucking Gang, and we ain’t no fucking joke,”goes ‘Union Dues’: the closing track from the London rabble-rousers’ debut album ‘Speed Kills’.
Originally released in 2019 via niche label Static Shock, soon Chubby and the Gang - made up of veterans of the UK hardcore scene - had quickly turned the right heads, and the record was given a second outing in 2020 on Partisan Records, home to IDLES and Fontaines DC. Though the former of those two label mates could be said to occupy the blunter end of the punk spectrum, hardcore itself has more widely slipped out of favour. Chubby and the Gang’s simple, loud approach couldn’t be more out of step with the general zeitgeist; black midi, it’s safe to say, they are not. So just how have they won over the hearts of fans from well outside their hardcore origins?
Despite only forming back in 2019, just before recording ‘Speed Kills’, when Charlie ‘Chubby’ Walker is asked to recount their journey thus far, he can’t help but laugh; “2019 man, it feels like ten fucking years ago.” The Gang have proper credentials, pulling together members of Arms Race and Vile Spirit, but Chubby have managed to break out of that insular world too - something none of their contemporaries have achieved thus far.
What makes the quintet unique is their cross-pollination of solid hardcore foundations with elements of pub rock, doo-wop, and punk, resulting in something thrilling, propulsive, and wholly unique. It’s this contrarian DNA that runs right through this month’s second album ‘The Mutt’s Nutts’ - its first half populated with hammering guitars, and second more preoccupied with ballads. “I’m quite a kickback person,” Chubby explains. “I just think, ‘Everyone’s doing this, so I’m going to go and do something else’. It’s the way I’ve always been.” He pauses, and then chuckles. “It’s probably a bad trait to have…”
Running parallel to their broad church of influences, Chubby and the Gang have always retained the DIY ethos and breakneck pace of the hardcore scene, too. Their frontman is typically understated about turning out their debut within weeks of forming. “We just got the lineup together, we probably had about five or six practices, and then just fucking went in, did a couple of days in the studio and just went for it,” he shrugs, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m just trying to go for a fucking ride on it.”
— Charlie ‘Chubby’ Walker
Yet despite their rapid success, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Chubby is pleasantly bewildered by the band’s crossover appeal. They may have shared the stage at SXSW’s online edition this year with bands like Squid and Black Country, New Road, but The Gang’s approach couldn’t be further from the meta ruminations of those acts. They make no attempt whatsoever to intellectualise their music; the band does what it says on the tin, plain and simple.
“I think people get bogged down in this idea of progressing music,” the singer explains. “Music is a lot like art - sometimes you want to go to see a modern piece of art, just abstract blocks, that makes you think, and sometimes you want to go and just see a picture of some knight on a horse. And I think there's room for both of them,” he laughs. “People turn their nose up at the idea of simple, straightforward music, but sometimes that's the best thing. Like a stiff pint. It’s not complicated, it's just there and it's great.” After a year of introspection, maybe everyone’s ready for life’s simpler pleasures? Chubby nods: “Right place, right time, bit of luck. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m just trying to go for a fucking ride on it.”
This ethos of honesty and simplicity extends to his lyrics, too. The frontman’s frank documentation of the world around him has led the band to be branded as political, but Chubby doesn’t quite see it that way. “We get labelled a political band all the time,” he explains, “and politics is sort of a dirty word. It's associated with party politics, and I think it gets over-intellectual, and to be honest, I don't think it needs to be. When I talk about politics on a record, I'd rather talk about it in a way that's like someone talking to you in a pub, rather than someone talking to you in a lecture. I don't need to sit there and outline how I feel about Keynesianism.”
It’s this directness that lends the band their power. “What I want to say is: ‘Look, this is why I'm in a trade union, this is why I go on strike’. I want to put it in such a way that it almost feels not political,” he enthuses. “I think us as the Left, we splinter everything, and it doesn't need to be like that, man.”
Chubby and the Gang clearly never expected any of this. Its members are still doing what they’ve been variously doing in multiple projects for the past 15 years: documenting working life in the UK, and backing it with raw hardcore. It just seems that, in this particular incarnation, the outside world might have finally caught up with them.
“I had no fucking idea it was going to be like this,” the singer says, after a long pause. “I was happy with the outcome of the record, but I didn't think it was going to be picked up like that. At the start [it felt like] imposter syndrome. ‘What? Us? Really?’ Now I just think, fuck it. We’ll blow the back doors off it.”
‘The Mutt’s Nutts’ is out 27th August via Partisan.
As featured in the August 2021 issue of DIY, out now.