Fat Dog on 'King of the Slugs' and their upcoming debut album for DIY's Class of 2024

Interview Class of 2024: Fat Dog

Cemented as 2023’s most chaotic breakthrough live band, this South London quintet are putting their paw prints on a debut LP - all with their trusty dog mask-wearing drummer in tow.

New Year’s Eve, not twelve months ago, and Dalston’s Shacklewell Arms is playing host to a very strange band indeed. With not a note of music to be found online, and a drummer in a rubber dog mask furiously pounding a snare at double speed, the five-piece oddball collective otherwise known as Fat Dog are granting sweaty revellers and bemused plus ones a one-way ticket down a cacophonous, strobe-lit rabbit hole as the bells herald the beginning of 2023.

Fast forward to the end of the year and they’ve extended their cult across the United Kingdom, seducing devotees with their beguiling fusion of techno, punk, Klezmer and psychedelia. Having signed with Domino, the band, led by South Londoner Joe Love, now have a total of one single out in the world: a statistic which is dwarfed by the noise they’ve made – both literally and figuratively - in the interim months.

“People were so cooped up over Covid that it was the natural reaction; as soon as audiences were able to, they were ready to go nuts,” synth player Chris Hughes suggests of the band’s allure. “I know that was how I felt before I joined the band. I went to one of their gigs and just went mental.” “The first Fat Dog shows were just me playing over a backing track during that window of lockdown where you could host socially-distanced gigs,” Joe recalls. “It’s pretty depleting to perform dance music to a crowd that can’t stand up.”

However, once audiences were finally granted permission to rise and, crucially, dance, Fat Dog’s primal energy and sonic mayhem proved to be a killer combination to soundtrack society’s re-emergence: an apocalyptic rave for a nation in disrepair. It was around this time, in fact, when Chris first came across the band. Recently dumped by his girlfriend and in need of distraction, he became an early example of Fat Dog’s loyal fanbase before learning that they were in need of a viola player. “I was pretty drunk when I heard, so I lied and said I could play it; then I went on eBay that night to buy one,” he nods.

Following a full week of mastering the instrument, Chris inevitably failed his audition: “It was really bad, maybe the worst thing I’ve heard in my whole life”. But, as luck would have it, Fat Dog’s synth player departed shortly after to take up a job in the art world, leaving a bandmate-shaped hole and a memorable idea of who to fill it. “I liked his confidence,” Joe shrugs.

A relentless word-of-mouth campaign fuelled by the band’s raucous live shows led to their record deal being inked at the tail-end of 2022, following a handful of unfruitful meetings with a major label. “We had a few conversations with [redacted],” Joe recounts. “But they still seem to think it’s the fucking Britpop era: feet on the desk, pile of cocaine on the table, getting you an Addison Lee everywhere”. He namechecks the label for a third time in the space of thirty seconds. “Could we edit that out again? They definitely have hitmen there and I don’t wanna get ski-masked on my front door…”

“Domino is a really nice place to be,” Chris chimes in, his sincerity only slightly undermined by his gold face, which is still painted from the photoshoot. “It’s a big label, but it’s like a home-cooked meal.” So what meal would that make a major? “Huel,” he says, without a moment’s hesitation “A beige slop that is purely a vehicle for nutrients.” “We went into the label to meet them at the top of their massive, evil tower,” Joe says, “and the label guy was all like: ‘I’m thinking Prodigy. I’m thinking…’” “I’m thinking your name up in lights, kid!” Chris interrupts in a gravelly, faux-US accent. “Now bend over and we’ll seal the deal.”

Fat Dog on 'King of the Slugs' and their upcoming debut album for DIY's Class of 2024 Fat Dog on 'King of the Slugs' and their upcoming debut album for DIY's Class of 2024 Fat Dog on 'King of the Slugs' and their upcoming debut album for DIY's Class of 2024

I loved playing the Monsters Inc. theme. It was a weight off my shoulders at the end of the set.” - Joe Love

One might imagine that penning a deal with Domino, who boast the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Wet Leg and Hot Chip among their roster, would come alongside expectations of a certain step-up in professionalism. “No, not really,” Joe laughs. “We’ve been losing stuff along the way.” “Professionalism dipped, if anything,” Chris remarks. “I’ve lost the pedalboard in the airport, and I’ve left the flight case full of keyboards in a venue.” Both members of the band - completed by bassist Ben Harris, saxophone player Morgan Wallace and drummer Johnny Hutchinson - audibly scoff at the notion that they’d have staff on the team to take care of such matters, instead offering a shoutout for their tour manager, Johnny Ray, and the white van in which they schlep to and from shows.

Industry buzz, however you might define it, may be hard to substantiate whilst you’re in the middle of it, but both present members of Fat Dog carry themselves without any visible pretentiousness, cracking jokes throughout with the ease of any normal chat. Normal, that is, with a dash of slightly unhinged kookiness about them, like two strangers you’ve built a rapport with at a house party where there’s a mattress on the floor.

One tangible perk of the band’s rise has been the opportunity to work with producer James Ford (Gorillaz, Kylie Minogue, Florence + The Machine) on their debut album, albeit in a manner which is typically Fat Dog-ian in its casual nature. “He’s just a nice guy,” Joe says. “We were doing tracks in his house, in a little bedroom studio, it’s pretty chill.” “Yeah, it was homely,” Chris agrees. “There was a bit of, ‘You can’t play drums after a certain time because it’ll wake up the neighbours’.”

The tracks that will make up Fat Dog’s eventual debut LP are mostly songs that have grown from the band’s live outings, put together by Joe on his computer before being beefed up by his bandmates. “We’re trying to follow the demos as much as we can,” he explains. “I took what we had over to James [Ford] to thicken everything up.” Does this imply that Fat Dog’s inaugural album is on the horizon? “The album is nowhere near done,” he continues, after a long, excruciated noise from Chris that implies that the subject is a sore one. “I should be in the studio now but I’m taking pictures with a gold man,” he shoots a look at Chris. “I have about four weeks to make six tracks.”

“Domino have been nice. They’ve said, ‘We like the songs that you’ve written so just go for it’,” Joe continues, touching upon the artistic freedom that accompanies life at an indie label. “To be honest, I’m doing a lot of talking about songs which I mostly haven’t actually made at this point. I’m happy with the first single, though.” “And that’s a good one,” Chris concurs.

“People were so cooped up over Covid; as soon as audiences were able to, they were ready to go nuts.” - Chris Hughes

To call Fat Dog’s debut single, August’s ‘King Of The Slugs’, a “good one” is an understatement. The most ambitious opening statement from an artist since LCD Soundsystem announced themselves with ‘Losing My Edge’ in 2002, ‘...Slugs’ is the sound of a band setting out their stall with intent. Clocking in at over seven minutes, the track opens with a murky electronic soundbed before an Arabian riff enters proceedings, descending into something akin to a nightmarish, amphetamine-fuelled snake-charming exercise. “I’d probably suggest that putting a seven minute long single out is fucking stupid,” Joe says of the bold release. “But in retrospect, it was probably a good idea.” “The fans wanted us to put ‘King Of The Slugs’ out,” Chris notes.

When a fanbase has done as much heavy lifting for a band’s early notoriety as Fat Dog’s, it seems only fair to grant them their choice for the first single. Numerous members of the Fat Dog faithful have already followed the band across multiple shows on the same tour, and handfuls of audience members fondly remember the days when the Monsters Inc. theme tune was still a cornerstone of the Fat Dog setlist.

“I loved playing the Monsters Inc. theme,” Joe reminisces. “It was a weight off my shoulders at the end of the set. I’d be heaving up, because I’m so fucking unfit.” “On several occasions,” Chris continues, gold face shining in the glow of the room’s artificial lighting, “we thought that the Monsters Inc theme, as performed by us, was going to be the last Joe heard before he died.” “It’s not a bad way to go,” he reasons.

If 2023 has offered anything by way of a theme in regards to new music discovery, it’s a resurgence of the word-of-mouth sensation which was once thought to have withered in the clutches of the internet. Perhaps it’s a renewed yearning to be part of a larger community or the result of a backlogged class of gig-goers catching up on time lost to lockdown, but tangible, real world fandom seems to be back in a big way, and it’s abundantly clear when you attend one of Fat Dog’s euphoric live ceremonies.

“I know it sounds crazy, but when you’re releasing stuff to a big audience, the best you can hope for is that 50% of people love it and 50% of people hate it,” Chris says of Fat Dog’s polarising sound and the fans who are delivering it to public attention. “If people just have a lukewarm response then what’s the point? You just have a nothing song. I think some people fucking hate Fat Dog and a lot of people love it, so I’m happy.”

The Kennel Club

From your experience, what kind of people come to the shows? What does a Fat Dog fan look like? 

Joe: They’re good people. Good, hard-working people. 

Chris: Fun-loving people. I did see that, when we were releasing our first single - our only single - someone tweeted saying, ‘Fat Dog finally release some music, a big day for unbearable people’, which I thought was fucking hilarious. We have really loyal fans - what are they called? They have a name…

Like Swifties or Beliebers? 

Joe: Oh, yeah they all seem to be called George.

Chris: Yeah, all our fans seem to be called George. 

Joe: Shoutout to the Georges who come to the gigs.

Tags: Fat Dog, Class of 2024, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

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