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Meet Fat Dog, the genre-spanning South Londoners with a love of the silly and surreal

Dance, punk, klezmer and just about everything else: electrifying South Londoners Fat Dog are proving impossible to pigeonhole.

By Lisa Wright

Fat Dog (Picture: Dylan Coates)

Fat Dog are all about the vibe. The latest group to emerge from South London’s fruitful alternative hub, their chaotic live show – a rabble-rousing cacophony of dance, punk, klezmer and just about everything else, designed for maximum madness and kept in time by a drummer in a latex dog mask – has built them one of the most excitable word-of-mouth reputations since the pandemic. Picked up by Domino Records (home to Arctic Monkeys, Wet Leg and more), their recent debut single ‘King of the Slugs’ proved they could also bottle the party successfully on record. But even when it came to finalising their line-up, a priority of spirit over seriousness was front and centre.

Speaking today from a hotel room in Sheffield, midway through a current headline tour that’s already seen them sell out London’s Scala, vocalist and main instigator Joe Love explains that now-keyboard player Chris Hughes was originally hired when he volunteered as the band’s violinist. “I told them I played the violin and the next day I went out and bought a violin. I gave myself a week to learn it,” Chris laughs. “It was the worst fucking thing when he came to practice,” Joe groans. “Violin is not the sort of instrument you can learn in a week. But I liked the confidence.” “And that’s why I’m in the band,” Chris concludes.

Having started Fat Dog both as a visceral reaction to the pent-up frustration of lockdown and as an antithesis to the self-serious bands surrounding him in the South London scene, Joe’s vision for the outfit has always been to make something designed for letting loose. “When I was making the demos in my room, I was making songs that were a bit too ridiculous, that weren’t music,” he chuckles. Now, the quintet have distilled that energy down into something that just about resembles the shape of a series of songs, but Fat Dog’s uncontainable spirit is still howling free, as Joe and Chris explain…

You’ve been called every genre under the sun from rave to punk to electronic and more – how do you see your music?

Chris: I always just say it sounds like rabbis on ecstasy, but I don’t know…

Joe: I think that’s a perfect answer. You listen to stuff and you put pieces together, and you steal a lot of shit: stealing is a massive part of it. I think musicians should be a bit more honest and say, ‘I’ve just stolen everything’. If you steal 13 songs in one song, then no-one can realise.

There’s a klezmer (traditional Jewish folk music) influence that’s unusual; where did your love of that come from?

Joe: From video games. I just played Serious Sam 2 a lot, where you’re in the pyramids and you’re shooting loads of tentacle aliens, and I was listening to the soundtrack from that. I use the same scale in all my songs, I should probably change it up…

Your gigs have become the stuff of rowdy legend – can you remember the first?

Joe: There were lots of sitting down ones [during the socially-distanced period] but I remember the first standing up one at Laylow [in West London]. When people started moving, I got so gassed that I went into the audience and slipped over, sprained my ankle, and I couldn’t walk for two weeks. There’s videos of me just falling flat. It’s very embarrassing. You look around the room thinking, ‘Has anyone seen that?’ And then you realise you’re playing live and a lot of people have definitely seen it.

Any other particularly memorable shows?

Joe: We played Bristol the other day. There’s this woman who always brings me a boiled egg every time we go there and she writes a little note on it. Nice lady. She’s about 70.

Chris: He only eats it at the end of the tour as a good luck charm.

At what point did drummer Johnny’s customary dog mask come into play?

Joe – I don’t know, but I still think it looks way too latex-y. A bit too erotic… I thought we were all gonna wear dog masks at the start so I bought one and tried it on for about three seconds and I started feeling very claustrophobic.

Chris: Just running around the house, crying and screaming with a dog mask…

So, ‘King of the Slugs’ – what is the slug mentality in your eyes?

Chris: Not everyone’s gonna be a lion out here, most people are probably slugs, so just reach the top of that.

Joe: Just slugging it up. Reincarnation, first cycle. I think slug would be fifth cycle actually.

Chris: First one would be a piece of dust, I think.

How did you try to contain the energy of the live version when you were recording the single?

Joe: We did about 16 versions of that song, but I think we got it to a point where it was good. There were some really wacky-sounding ones; we tried to make our own choir and it sounded very incel viking.

You’re working towards a debut which will be out on Domino – do you feel like Fat Dog could be their next in line for greatness?

Joe: We’re just taking it day by day, focussing on the music…

Chris: I’m more worried about Alex Turner’s career to be honest because he sort-of pays our salaries, so I’m always looking at how he’s doing. He makes the big bucks for us; we’re eating steak if he makes a few hits.