When I inquire about the key to maintaining a successful music career in 2023, someone jokingly suggests “benefit fraud”. I am currently gathered with a small group of musicians from Gob Nation, a community of bands primarily based in the south-east London area near Surrey Quays docks. Despite consisting of mostly the same dozen musicians in different combinations, the 10 bands within Gob Nation appear vastly different. The Tubs’ diverse jangly sound on their acclaimed album Dead Meat stands in stark contrast to Sniffany & the Nits’ frenzied punk debut The Unscratchable Itch, which is also very different from Garden Centre’s straightforward art-pop on Searching for a Stream. However, they all share an unconventional perspective, sharp humor, and rebellious attitude. When asked what keeps them together, the unanimous response is “banter”.
“It can be difficult to be in a band with individuals you don’t get along with,” states Owen Williams, lead singer of the Tubs and multi-instrumentalist in five other bands. “Despite the fact that we may find each other irritating at times, our close friendship always prevails and we end up supporting each other.”
“We have a unique sense of humor, as most of us are from south Wales and grew up in Cardiff,” says George Nicholls. He leads the GN Band, which has a “yacht rock-infused” sound, plays guitar in the Tubs and retro oddballs Suep, and was formerly a member of Joanna Gruesome – a beloved noise-pop group that brought Nicholls, bassist Max Warren, and singer-guitarist Lan McArdle together. Despite their differences, the band was united by their love for 80s jangle music and their unwillingness to conform to the popular dueling guitar scenes of the early 2010s. They were too edgy to fit into the twee scene and too pop-oriented to be considered hardcore. “We wanted to be a part of the DIY indie pop scene, but we also wanted to maintain our punk attitude,” Williams says with a laugh. “It was a strange tension where we embraced pop music, but also tried to subvert it at the same time.”
Warren, known as the “head honcho”, founded Gob Nation in 2017 to release music and organize concerts while residing in Brighton, a venture he had previously undertaken in Cardiff under the name Reeks of Effort. The bands within Gob Nation are constantly changing, with their defining characteristic being the creative voice of whoever is leading them. While they cannot be categorized by genre, each band brings their own unique style to the forefront. The Tubs offer a more relaxed sound, but Williams’ anxious lyrics steer them away from conforming to any one genre, instead exploring a range of themes from relationship manipulation to physical discomfort. Josie Edwards elevates Sniffany & the Nits’ already sharp sound with her fierce feminine energy, while pub-rockers the TSG thrive under the larger-than-life stage presence of Taylor Stewart, often compared to a Scottish Liam Gallagher. In addition to sharing members, the bands are sometimes connected by similar motifs, such as a hardcore punk influence in an Ex-Vöid song or a jangly riff in Sniffany & the Nits’ music reminiscent of the Tubs. Williams muses that it’s almost as if their personalities are merging together, although he admits it may not be the healthiest dynamic.
Many of us tend to be very self-critical individuals, which can make it difficult for us to form friendships with others. According to Edwards, who creates illustrations for Gob Nation’s album art, gig posters, and merchandise, this harshness towards ourselves often leads to a lack of interest in getting to know others. It may sound unpleasant, but we have a hard time dealing with boredom or spending time with people who don’t captivate us. Recently, someone described us as a dysfunctional family, and unfortunately, there is some truth to that statement.
During the late-2010s, as more people relocated to London, Gob Nation emerged as a method for coordinating pre-existing projects. Serving as a one-stop hub for branding, promotion, and a digital TV channel, it evolved into a self-sufficient entity fueled by each member’s specific talents. Edwards handles design, Stewart directs music videos, Will Deacon (of Garden Centre/Suep/PC World) hosts Gob Nation TV, Matt Green (of the Tubs/Sniffany & the Nits) produces many of their albums at his studio Head Cold, and Williams is launching a small publishing company called Perfect Angel to showcase the collective’s literature, poetry, and lyrics. And then there’s Warren, whose organizational skills and “normal” demeanor keep things running smoothly.
According to Nicholls, Max is surprisingly well-prepared despite leaving his suitcase in America and forgetting his passport the day before a festival in Spain.
“When any of us go on tour, Max is our go-to person,” says Edwards. “He has a natural ability to connect with others, while the rest of us are too self-absorbed. Max knows how to relax and let loose. He can kick back, take off his shirt, listen to football on the radio, have a beer, and call it a night.”
Gob Nation exists between the worlds of DIY and mainstream music scenes. Certain bands, like the Tubs and Suep, are actively touring and hoping to be signed by larger labels. Sniffany & the Nits have gained a dedicated following and have attracted the attention of Steve Lamacq, as well as playing shows with popular bands like Screaming Females and Deerhoof. Meanwhile, the electronic duo PC World and the new wave group Lash are firmly rooted in underground punk communities.
Warren explains that there is an interesting transition from being a top player in DIY to entering the lower ranks of the music industry. It may seem like a promotion, but in reality, the income decreases due to others getting involved. As a result, they are constantly struggling to stay afloat and welcome any financial support that comes their way.
Georgie Stott, the keyboardist for Porridge Radio, who has a stable position in the music industry, faces a unique challenge within Suep. She explains, “Last year, I was constantly on tour and earning enough to cover my rent.” However, as Suep gains more recognition and they have to navigate the logistics of where to stay each night, the pros and cons are more evident. Georgie states, “While my main passion is making music with Suep, I have to question if I want to spend the next two years touring to build our band’s reputation. It’s amazing to make a living doing what you love, but I feel like I’m getting older.”
The issue of financial instability is not just about money, but also impacts one’s existence. As most members of the group are now in their 30s, there is an unspoken fear of becoming too dependent on each other and losing a sense of individuality. While the collective’s social structure keeps everyone connected, the high cost of rent in London leads them to live in close quarters through flatshares and guardianships. This proximity makes it easy to start new projects, such as Sniffany & the Nits’ debut album being written while living in an abandoned care home during the pandemic, or The Tubs’ in a disused police station. However, it also creates a hierarchy within the group during difficult times.
Urban areas experience constant transformation. Establishments close, communities break apart, and individuals choose to focus on their professional or familial responsibilities. According to McArdle, this may be the reason why we continue to collaborate with one another – we can count on that. While occasionally someone may leave to pursue a traditional career, the majority still desires to spend time together and the most effective means of doing so is by creating music together.
Due to Conservative budget cuts and reduced arts funding, individuals without financial backing are facing limited opportunities within the UK music industry. This has resulted in a divide between major label conformity and persistent independence. Despite facing challenges, Gob Nation offers a self-sustaining alternative. Nicholls shares his hope for the future of giving individuals more control over their creations and promoting cultural expression, but acknowledges that this is not currently achievable.
At present, the nation of Gob has reached a balance that allows everyone to thrive. Edwards expresses a mixture of pride and guilt, likening their group dynamic to children pretending to run a store. This strong bond among them acts as a shield against external influences and conventional measures of achievement.
Many individuals may give up on their dreams of being a musician when the hype dies down because they lack a supportive community. However, this group provides a safety net for us to explore different avenues while always having a solid foundation to return to.