In an exhibition from last year about links between the economy and everyday life, Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz re-enacted various ‘Class Drag’ performances from the life of Lorenz Hannah Cullwick (1833–1909), a domestic servant in Victorian London.
They describe how “Her diaries, letters and photographs document her labour as well her sadomasochistic relationship with Arthur Munby, a bourgeois gentleman fascinated by working (as in working-class) women. In many of the images Cullwick posed as herself, drawing attention to her powerful muscles, large calloused hands and the black bracelet she wore to mark her servitude to Munby. In others she appeared as a bourgeois lady, a young male and a ‘blacked-up’ slave.”
Serious Thugs are all smooth hands, but their fashion-shoot London pop videos fall on the same lines of class, taste, and sex that Cullwick and Munby’s story epitomizes:
Whereas a band like Sleaford Mods (arguably Serious Thugs’ polar antithesis) return a condemnatory government gaze with spit and rage, ST create enough ironic distance to act as both the ‘subject’ and ‘object’ of class exchange — building an unsettling, cartoon model of council estate life that plays on wider fantasies about working class urban areas.
They fix and eroticise an aesthetic that has been so repeatedly washed out of wider representational existence, or wilfully attacked as repugnant. Musically, it’s a similar story: a cameo by Hannah Diamond reinforces Serious Thugs’ connections to the “BabyCakes” school of proactively saccharine speed pop, while DJ Warlord’s plastic sound-board is dangerously near enough to THE BEST SONG OF 2013 to make the harbingers of taste who compile such lists feel uneasy.
The reception to Serious Thugs’ videos seems to be either outright derision and vitriol or proclamations of ‘liking’ and ‘getting’ it that presuppose such a negative response, theirs is a music acutely interested in finding and amplifying the nuggets of provocative unpopularity within pop itself. Self-defensive assessments like, “you could discount it as a fad or whatever you will but this is actually a mirror of their friends and close realities.” miss the point — Serious Thugs know full well that the world they foreground is not their own, that’s its very attraction.
This is class drag meets accelarationist pop, horrible yet compelling. As such, the song ‘package’ feels scarily fitting for — as the critics it mocks might put it — our shitty, contemporary epoch.
• Serious Thugs : http://seriousthugs.tumblr.com