Opinion

When lockdown opens new doors

Amid the shock of the new normal, Fat White Family’s Lias Saoudi was faced with another shock – he was actually pretty content

I think of the (first) great lockdown now as an oasis of calm, a long-overdue silence in the war raging between the individual and every other individual, a glimpse of life lived without its demented late-capitalist insistence on the withering of people’s attention spans down into a sort of narcissistic paste.

Like everybody else I spent the first month looking at my phone. I then reached phone saturation point and began learning to put the thing down altogether, disentangling myself from the schizophrenic hive mind of the online realm. My ambitions for the year lay in tatters, of course; there would be no long-anticipated tour of Asia and Australia, there would be no recording of a fourth record in the mountains of Algeria, there would be no festival season and there would thus be no income, so as you can imagine, I was a little dismayed at first. By the time I’d gotten used to it though, to the fact that nothing was going to happen – anywhere, for anyone – I found myself surprisingly content. I found the first genuine peace of mind I’ve known maybe since I was a teenager locked down in County Tyrone with my first girlfriend, when life consisted of nothing more than watching Elvis movies and trying to work out which period of Bob Dylan’s career was in fact his finest hour. I’m not sure whether I was born viciously competitive or whether the world made me that way, but that part of me began slowly dissolving into something approaching an acceptance of self.

I had the first visions of a life I might actually be capable of living beyond the age of 40

Anything that distracts you from confronting your own mediocrity is an enemy of the art-making process, whether it be your social life, your drink and drug habits or your ideological perversions, anything that sets you apart from the process of mercilessly dissecting the seething, contradictory mess within is a burden. My world had become inundated with soft options, that was the principle lesson I took from the quarantine experience. Music hasn’t made me wealthy, but it has granted me a kind of access. I may not have anywhere stable to live (considering rent a little decadent is common among the musical ilk these days, even when you’re selling a few thousand tickets in London) but I have friends and collaborators dotted around the world. I thus fashioned a transient life for myself, never standing still long enough to truly confront the stagnation occurring within my own head. Within the group itself, with them all isolated elsewhere, it led me to realise that in my dependence on the superior musical heads I endeavour to surround myself with I had all but forgotten how to go about the song-building part of my craft, instead becoming just a lyricist, plain and simple. On a more positive note, quarantine led me to start trying to write prose for the first time, a desire I’d harboured for as long as I can remember, but had always been in too much of a state of chemical, spiritual and psychological flux to really take a stab at. I found it was something I enjoyed as much as performance, or rather I found another form of performance, one where I was beholden to no other party but myself and where I wasn’t drowning in insecurities regarding my lack of musical wherewithal. I had the first visions of a life I might actually be capable of living beyond the age of 40.

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Now that travel restrictions have eased, the band have reunited at our former pub landlord’s fjord-side retreat a few hours north of Oslo. He’d spent years running what was basically a den of iniquity in South London and was now committed to a relatively simple life out in the sticks for his sins. Liquor is prohibitively expensive and there are no drug dealers here. We’ve come to refer to it as ‘the Betty Fjord Clinic’ over the years, it’s where we send the broken machines and it’s where we meet up to write new tunes. Musical ideas flow thick and fast on the one or two days of the week we can muster up the will to actually get into the studio and toil, other than that it’s an endlessly recurring succession of sauna, eat, trek, swim, movie, sleep. Life has slowed to a dead hum, and with no touring possible until perhaps as late as 2022, it may as well. The hibernation continues…

Lias Saoudi is the singer in Fat White Family fatwhitefamilymusic.com

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