Wonk Unit on Slaves, DIY punk, and the mainstream media

Wonk Unit are easily one of the UK’s best underground DIY punk bands, and last Friday I had the honour of interviewing the lovely Mark (Pwosion) and Alex. They talked to me about punk music and the meaning of proper DIY punk, the music industry and how the ‘mainstream media is shit,’ and of course about the grime punk duo Slaves. Despite their heavy punk atmosphere on stage, they are also humorous and exciting guys, and genuinely lovely in person as well. The self-described ‘punk rock legends’ formed about ten years ago, and Alex tells me that the band literally never stop gigging, with concerts booked from Friday-Sunday every week. Their first tour in Europe, which they recently got back from, was ‘amazing.’ With 16 gigs over 17 days, the band talk of playing to 40-80 people every evening, with ‘people singing our songs.’ The band have played some huge dates over the last six months; in January they toured with punk duo Slaves on their sold out UK tour, and last October they played loads of gigs in America which they described to me as ‘kinda different’ in terms of the US punk scene. Alex though thinks ‘all DIY gigs are universally the same,’ and the only difference between playing in the US was it was ‘warmer with longer drives.’ Their audiences as well are crazy and diverse according to the band, with an age range of about 14-70. They don’t just play gigs though; each year they have ‘Wonk fest,’ which they tell me is a yearly big party with a crazy audience who are all ‘fuck ups’ (Alex himself tells me he’s a ‘fucking lunatic’). Their reaction at gigs is mental though; even when they supported Slaves, the crowd went crazy for them each night. They see their opening sets and mosh pits as getting the ‘party started,’ and their infectious humour and energy makes their live presence all the more brilliant. We talk about how they got into music as well, with Alex and Mark getting into their first bands aged 19 and 13/14 respectively. At first, Alex had no interest in being a musician, but after being the one to buy pizza and beer for artists (during his job with MCA records) he decided he wanted to be the one getting the booze and pizza instead. The band lists acts like The Jam, The Who, The Small Faces and Jack White as being musical influences, with reference as well to heavy metal and New York Thrash bands. But they don’t ask for anything; ‘we will never ask for a gig, review, or record label. We’re not forcing Wonk Unit on anyone’ Alex insists, but maybe ‘if you don’t ask for anything you don’t get very far’ he argues.


‘I hate the fucking media’ Alex tells me. Wonk Unit aren’t a famous mainstream band, put it that way, and they think the ‘mainstream media is shit’ and the music played is safe and predictable. ‘The BBC is full of shit’ Alex argues, ‘and we are dictated what to listen to. We’re not mainstream material, we’re not safe.’ Although they acknowledge fellow Slaves support band Spring King as a ‘genuinely brilliant band, fucking brilliant!’ they also recognise that even though they were selling up to 10 times more merch after the shows, Spring King are the ones being played all over Radio One shows, like Maida Vale and Annie Mac’s slot. Other than Slaves, Wonk Unit believe younger bands don’t have as much of an impact. The band does believe in ageism to a degree; the fact that Alex is a ‘43-year-old man, not an 18-year-old boy’ definitely plays into why they’re ‘not that Radio One band.’ ‘The music industry really is shit’ Alex insists, and ‘no record company will take risks anymore.’ ‘This has left us a little bit sad, but mainstream doesn’t mean shit, it’s forced on you.’

This leads me on to ask about Kent punk duo Slaves, who have been close mates with Wonk Unit since 2012, and have toured with them continuously over the last few years. Talking about Laurie (guitarist), Alex and Mark describe him as ‘100% focused- whatever he does is full on.’ Alex and Laurie already knew each other through gigs, and Laurie sent him a demo of ‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth,’ which Alex listened to in the bath; the first track he heard was ‘Wishing Well,’ followed by ‘Cease Fire’ and ‘White Knuckle Ride.’ He describes it as ‘fucking amazing’ and Mark says he was ‘blown away by the ferocity of it.’ Wonk Unit took Slaves off with them as their support act, and Isaac and Laurie were just ‘two young kids on their first tour, they hadn’t really become Slaves yet.’ But both Mark and Alex remember the gig where they became a proper punk band, which was their gig at Derby where they did their infamous speech before ‘Girl Fight’ for the first time. ‘They’re not fucking sheep, they don’t follow the crowd’ Alex argues. The only band they admit to influencing them is Slaves; Alex describes ‘Sugar Coated Bitter Truth’ as being the band’s ‘Bleach.’ He told Laurie that their next album (2015’s ‘Are you Satisfied?’) would be their ‘Nevermind,’ but Laurie didn’t believe it! He also told Laurie ‘you will go on to be something major,’ which is why Alex and Mark aren’t shocked by the immense success the band have seen over the last 12 months. He doesn’t want them to be pressured into releasing a new album though, and cause they’ve been so good so far they can’t just release a shit album now. According to Alex, ‘they have the potential to become the biggest band in the world, or they’ll go and fucking lose it.’ Their advice is to simply ‘stick to their punk rock roots.’ I ask them about their thoughts on Slaves’ new track with Chase & Status, and the response is generally good; ‘I think it’s fun’ says Alex, ‘it’s got our stamp of approval.’ ‘I love it,’ Mark agrees. The only issue with Chase & Status is their terrible clothes, they laugh; ‘they look so wack man, take those shit clothes off!’


‘Style is important’ Alex (who’s repping Laurie’s Young Lover’s Club sweatshirt) insists; ‘Ben is my little project.’ Talking about guitarist Ben, Alex talks about him being the ‘style boy in the band, the pinup; if I don’t like his style he gets slapped.’ And despite him being ‘a little sod at times,’ Ben’s a ‘bloody good guitarist.’ As musicians, the whole band are bloody brilliant. Their line-up has varied from time to time, (they had nine different people play on the last tour with Slaves,) but the original band have been together for around ten years now. Having already established that modern indie music is ‘the blandest wishy-washy shit,’ Alex jokes about my blog name, asking ‘oh can we be an indie band, I’ve heard that’s where all the money is.’ But in reality, the band embody the concept of indie perfectly, with their own label, companies, and festival. We talk about punk music too, and what they think punk has become. ‘The UK punk scene is changing, and it’s quite an amazing time’ they tell me. ‘I don’t give a shit about 1977 or any of that bullshit. It was what, 30 years ago? It’s a fucking history lesson.’ We also talk about the influence politics is having on punk music; nowadays, because of the current political situation, ‘we are living in a country so divided’ where the rich are rich, and the poor stay poor; there is no in-between, and this is causing the bitterness that influences punk music to grow.

This bitterness is something that inspires the band’s lyrics. Alex discusses how his lyrics are about ‘everyday life,’ and about 99% is done on his phone between 6am-8am ‘when I’m miserable, depressed and in pain.’ He describes his lyrics as being about the concepts of ‘love, sex, addiction and building sites’, but they also want to create songs of depth out of something simple, such as tracks like ‘Nan’ and ‘Horses.’ Despite the addiction influenced lyrics, Alex has actually been sober for over 15 years now and does mentoring for alcoholics and addicts. But that’s just part of the band’s philosophy; Alex tells me ‘I’m happy. I love people I genuinely like people…and I’m not even trying to fuck them!’


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