As the Benefits single hits No. 1, we ask, are they the Pistols of 2022?

Interview

As Benefits reach No. 1 on the Official Vinyl Singles Chart, we wonder if it’s The Pistols of 2022?

Benefits “are a band from Teesside in the North East of England who play loud songs about the sorry state of the country we live in”. LTW, NME and politically minded music fans and “progressive” punks like them very highly. But are they, in sonic terms, the “Sex Pistols of 2022”? Ged Babey – who wrote this 18 months ago – accidentally interviews Benefits’ Kingsley Hall on social media.

Benefits’ 7-inch vinyl single, ‘Flag’ / ‘Empire’ released on Yard Acts Zen FC label today (Friday 3/6/2022) reached No. 1 on the Official Vinyl Singles Chart. It’s platinum jubilee week.

The Sex Pistols God Save The Queen hit the top of the charts during Silver Jubilee week in 1977, as we all know.

In measurable terms, far from the same volume of sales, nor of large-scale cultural impact. Benefits are a cult band, despite some coverage (I use the…) NME, but no ‘Filth & Fury’ tabloid headlines. But there are parallels, in some respects at least,

The timing and intensity of the music and the catalytic effect it has on the listener (who has been “waiting for something like THIS for ages” in pop culture – to vent their own inner rage).

The look of seething rage on Benefits frontman Kingsley’s face is the closest thing to Rottens’ look at the end of Anarchy’s So It Goes performance that I’ve seen.

Yet his “choreography” is part Rollins, part Christopher Eccleston. Part bodybuilding, part physical theater. Perks have inherent contradictions similar to Pistols.

Maybe it’s just us old punk-inspired writers who want to invent and create a “New Gun” – see initial press reports from the Beastie Boys, Manics and Jesus & Mary Chain…

BUT… The benefits ARE different. They are serious. Musically, they start at the point where they’ve “destroyed rock and roll” – in that, they’re not playing it.

The fundamentalists of “punk rock’n’roll” have Amyl & the Sniffers and Bob Vylan could undoubtedly be considered as “The Clash” of this generation… mixing genres and contestation.

When I first heard Benefits, I thought of the heartbreaking genius of the Black Mirror episode. Fifteen million merits (Charlie Brookers is the best work in my opinion, despite the critics ranking…). Brooker and Black Mirror, in my opinion, brought a punk attitude to TV and science fiction.

The benefits could be, a band as big as the Sex Pistols, but ironically it has to find a young audience – instead of the generation approaching their sixties who were teenagers in 1977 and who make up my contemporaries and part of their fanbase.

the interview

In the shortest of Facebook posts, I uploaded, on my own page, Flag’s new video (the single edit) and the words: The guns of 2022? I was casual and serious. I meant that maan, and it was a joke about how I’m perceived as a ‘punk evangelist’. An invitation to debate. I never thought for a second that the leader of Benefits would join us.

The first response came from a real friend who happens to be an academic and founding member of the Network of punk scholars, Russ Bestley. What he said was a little sarcastic, partly to cheer me up, but based on a single listen to “Flag”.

I think the difference {between Benefits and the Sex Pistols} is that the Pistols hit upwards.

He precised : This appears to be a generic rejection of small-c working-class conservative culture, rather than an attack on monarchy, government, class or power structures…

Another friend Billy Burke Pilgrim said: I guess what Russ is saying is that attack, dignified as it is, is pretty one-dimensional (maybe that approach is what’s needed these days?) Guns, as we all know , were a multi-faceted attack deliberately and sometimes unintentionally working on many levels at once, mixing , agitprop, art theory and genuine deranged working class anger…

If anything, I think it might be closer to something like Crass than the Pistols. They also had the shock of novelty perhaps not so much musically but in presentation and approach.

A mutual friend alerted Benefits frontman Kingsley Hall to the discussion and he responded. A few of us strongly disagreed with Russ, so oddly Kingsley first defended his opinion that “Flag” could be considered “punch.”

To be fair to Russ, I kind of tried to touch on a bit of what he means in the following songs – this one {Flag} was from early last year when we were trying to find our bearings. I continue to be the sheep myself, screaming in echo chambers, moaning uselessly about people who will never agree, etc. It worked for us because it’s a bit of an obvious rant, an attention grabber. I flesh it out a bit live, I invent lots of stuff on the spot. It’s not a typing exercise, but I understand why you say that. For context, when I wrote this I was working on bins…

Plus, that shit makes more sense live.

I love the Pistols by the way, but we’re not the 2022 version of them…

A last one too, just on the punch because it obviously pissed me off a bit. Maybe our live show is better than our videos. At the moment, I think you have to try to make an impact with video to get noticed – certainly during the pandemic because there weren’t many other means of communication. So our videos were made by me alone or with the help of a boy who lives a few houses down the street, they’re not big budget figures, they’re cheap, they’re cheap, we used what we had at our disposal, hence why they are really basic and there is only me in them. I edited them all myself on my laptop and that’s it.

We have no management, no label, no wealthy backers or anything, no “team”. Only U.S.

The pieces are put together the same way, all on my laptop. I’m going to do a vocal without any support (usually in the kitchen) and then add different layers of my buddy Robbie that he’s recording around his house to make it all fit together. We didn’t go into the studio to record anything, everything is recorded at home.

When we finally started playing live, we insisted on keeping ticket prices as low as possible – less than a ten – cutting costs like getting rid of most riders and getting rid of things like meals offered and the list of guests. Yeah I think there are a few types of Guardians who come to us but the majority aren’t, the people I talk to afterwards aren’t fancy, they’re just really pissed off.

This Flag song I was thinking last night when I was trying to sleep, the lyrics are all pretty autobiographical, they’re all taken from incidents I’ve been involved in and myself or people I know or with who I worked for. If you see that as a punch, so be it, but frankly, I’ll punch anyone. I’m tired of portraying where I’m from (the North East of England) as this racist shit where we all vote Tory now and we’re all thick identikit drones. Like when Sunderland was blamed for Brexit a few years ago. Conservatives swarm here to push this narrative and people from outside the region have fallen in love with the hook line and sinker.

So I’m just a northern clown screaming at the production line and picking on them. They need vocal opposition here because politically it’s not happening, I’m just doing my part. And yes, I am anti-empire, anti-monarchy, anti-nationalist, anti-privilege. It overflows everywhere, it’s just hard to fit it all into a two minute song with a breakdance drum beat.

By the way, we are not the Pistols of 2022. Far. Please note that we are not trying to be either.

Although not intended for publication, Hall eloquently explains where the group came from and shows that he is willing to commit and clarify his intention. And it’s obvious that how Benefits works has nothing to do with the Pistols. They are a world and a life away.

I asked Hall if I could post excerpts from the conversation. He agreed, apologized if some of it was ‘nonsensical’, but he gets up early for work and like many NHS, retail and factory workers, he doesn’t did not have any statutory holidays.

I told him he spoke a lot more sense than Johnny Rotten did in 2022 and congratulated him on getting to Number 1….

God save the benefits. Fuck the Jubilee. Destroy the Rock’n’Roll. Fuck the conservatives. Take care of each other.

Buy a flag

The performances are on tour in November 2022.

As the Benefits single hits No. 1, we ask, are they the Pistols of 2022?

Shop their back catalog here. The vinyl is sold out.

Benefits website

All the words Ged Babey with thanks to KH, Russ Bestley and Billy Burke Pilgrim for permission to use their quotes, in italics.

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