What do you get when you cross Fat White Family, Paranoid London and Warmduscher? That’ll be London collective Decius, whose debut album buzzes with seedy acid house, wayward disco grooves and alluring hedonistic fervour

Decius were supposed to be a bit on the side. A fun release. The maxim was to have a good time and not worry about nonsense like “buzz”. The foursome planned to ejaculate 12-inch records anonymously into the night, then return to the commitment of their other bands. But fate had other ideas.

The south London dance outfit comprising one Fat White, two Medicine8s and a Warmduscher are named after a third century emperor who put a pope to death and was famous for his Roman baths. Its members – Lias Saoudi, Quinn Whalley and brothers Liam and Luke May – are no strangers to side projects, with Insecure Men, The Moonlandingz and Paranoid London all featuring one of them. Yet the last thing they expected was that Decius would start to generate their own hype.

“It’s starting to feel like that,” says Liam, sitting at a splattered red table littered with smoking paraphernalia in his south London kitchen, sounding somewhat surprised by how events have unfolded since the band first got together to record the 12-inch of ‘Come To Me Villa’ in 2014. “The buzz is building, but it’s great because it’s been a very laid-back sort of process, almost like a manifesto of no stress and no pushing anything.”

Fat White Family are obviously Lias Saoudi’s main concern, but are Decius becoming Liam’s primary thing now?

“Yeah, I reckon so,” he smiles, tentatively. “I mean, we’re just keeping it open because everyone’s busy. Being non-committal is part of the thing, but I think it’s taken over in some ways. It was a side project that’s now becoming more of a focus. We always say we’ll see how it goes.”

So far, Decius have been a breath of fresh air, putting out five 12-inch singles between 2014 and 2019. Some are collected together and bolstered with additional material on 2022’s ‘Decius Vol 1’, their first album.

There’s a raw scuzziness to their sound that’s occasionally reminiscent of Cabaret Voltaire and the Detroit techno which has inspired them since the 1980s. With suggestive titles like ‘Roberto’s Tumescence’, which conjures Vincent Price growling over vintage Belgian electronica – courtesy of a sample from ‘Disco Computer’ by Transvolta (Dan Lacksman before he formed Telex) – they are great at hitting a minimalist, hypnotic groove that is only enhanced by Lias’ spooky, stream-of-consciousness falsetto.

“I take issue with the idea it’s a minimalist sound,” Luke May tells me a few days after I’ve spoken to his brother Liam. “Much of the high-end hiss is deliberate and exists on multiple frequencies. If you break down the white and pink noise elements into individual parts, somewhere in there a symphony is hiding. I’m behind most of the pink parts.”

I suggest there might potentially be a great future for Decius, provided they can bring all hands to the pump.

“For me, it’s beyond exciting,” replies Luke. “I think if we dream big, the sky’s literally the limit. But then I have a painfully boring life and am widely accepted as the most delusional member of the band.”

Liam and Luke started DJing back in the mid-1990s as Medicine8. They were signed to Regal Records (these days a subsidiary of Parlophone), home to Lily Allen and The Beta Band, among others, and caused some ripples with their debut album, ‘Iron Stylings’, featuring Afrika Bambaataa and Charlton Heston, in 2002. Until recently, the May brothers were based in New Malden, where they did most of their recording. One suspects Bambaataa and Heston didn’t make their way to the suburban south London outpost for their part in it.

One legendary artist who did show some interest, however, was Lou Reed, who went on record as saying Medicine8’s version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Murder Mystery’ was better than the original.

“We were almost gonna do a track with him,” says Liam, still disbelieving. “We managed to hunt him down. He didn’t even have a manager. We got in touch with his press officer, and she was like, ‘Yeah, he really liked that – send us a track’. We’re like, ‘What, really?’. So we sent it to him, and she got back, saying, ‘Lou says where do we go next?’. It was like, ‘Fuck!… OK’.”

Shortly afterwards, Reed got himself what Liam describes as a “big New York manager”, and Medicine8 were ultimately passed over for Metallica.

The seed for Decius was planted around 2013 when the May brothers first witnessed the sordid, primal energy of Fat White Family live at the Tulse Hill Tavern. The pair have run their own Trashmouth label since 2011, putting out music mostly by south London-based acts like Madonnatron and Meatraffle, along with the odd discovery from further afield, such as Belgrade’s The Cyclist Conspiracy.

Trashmouth is the cynosure of a scene that has produced some of the sleaziest, most subversive rock ’n’ roll of the last decade, often in direct opposition to the prevailing trend towards cultural homogeneity. At the heart of that kickback are the Fat Whites, with the Brixton Windmill their domain. It’s a decadent lair that’s fun to visit, although you wouldn’t necessarily want to live there. That said, Fat White Family did live upstairs for a considerable stretch, giving them space to practise and allowing them the time to turn themselves into something special and unique in a city which has become an increasingly hostile environment for bands.

Watching the Fat Whites, and in particular Lias, Liam felt something that he’d not experienced since the unfettered days of acid house.

“That was the catalyst, essentially, because me and Luke were in a pre-Warmduscher band called Black Daniel that never quite connected,” he says. “But it yielded all sorts of stuff like Warmduscher and Trashmouth and meeting the Fat Whites.”

It was while doing those gigs that the Mays first hooked up with the Fat Whites’ on-off drummer, Saul Adamczewski, who opened up for them with his in-between band, Nagasaki Dust People.

“I was blown away by Fat White Family,” enthuses Liam. “Although the music is very different from the acid house I loved as a teenager, this was the first thing that made me feel really excited about new music rather than just old stuff. I’m not saying it was revolutionary, but it was more like something that doesn’t ask for your permission. Like something that’s coming in and being obnoxious and taking it. And I was thinking, ‘What the fuck is this? I haven’t seen this before’.”

Acid house filled him with optimism and togetherness, but Fat White Family felt more like they were at the other end of the spectrum.

“We’d just gone through Thatcher’s 80s, and suddenly we were gonna break away and have something new and free. With the Fat Whites, it was sort of ominous and hateful but also new and exciting. Everything was so boring before, but now these guys were going to come and sweep away all the boring stuff.”

“Whereas really there’s still a load of boring shit,” chuckles Lias, who’s just joined us on the line from Stockholm.

Lias Saoudi can be a hard man to track down. We’d originally arranged to speak online 24 hours earlier, but he’d been a no-show. Then he sent profuse apologies for getting the time wrong and popped up on a video link from the Swedish capital, where he is playing a solo gig at a “really boozy” restaurant-cum-bar.

“It’s quite an odd booking which came through on Instagram a few months ago,” he says. “So I’ve come over and they’ve put us up in a very nice hotel and been feeding us little bits of fish.”

Photo: Liam May

This is not the first time I’ve struggled to converse with Lias in a foreign country. In 2014, I had planned to interview him in Paris, where I was living at the time, but he started coughing up blood onstage the night before, during the band’s show at the Nouveau Casino in Oberkampf. Sensibly, he made a swift exit back to London to consult with his doctor.

“I had pneumonia,” he remembers. “Yeah, it was bad. I think I’m alright now. You get a little bit of scarring on your lungs or whatever… but I’ve stopped smoking now.”

He thinks for a moment and reconsiders his answer.

“Well, I haven’t completely stopped. But it was bad back then, man.” He starts to shake his head. “It was just… I don’t know. I don’t know.”

I wonder if he’s living cleaner these days.

“It’s getting that way, man,” he replies, emphatically. “The price goes up and up and up, dun’ it?”

His accent is unusual – a charming concoction of Northern Irish, Scottish and southern English, on account of an itinerant childhood – with his speech punctuated with the odd “DyaknowhatImean?”.

“It’ll change accordingly, depending on which bit of the fucking country I’m in,” he explains.

Now aged 37, the hangovers are beginning to kick in harder.

“I had two glasses of wine last night and a little bit of schnapps – that’s not even really a drink. So I went to bed feeling quite proud of myself… and today I feel fucking awful.”

Before Decius, Lias’ partying ways were very different to those of his inveterate clubbing bandmates. If the Mays had an epiphany watching the Fat Whites, then the Fat White frontman had a similar moment of clarity attending the legendary Berghain nightclub in Berlin.

“I don’t think that’s an overstatement. It’s not like I hadn’t done drugs and listened to music before, but I’d always associated dance music with Vauxhall Novas and casual violence – growing up in Northern Ireland where all these young fucking hoodlums were listening to trance. I thought that was what fucking cretins listened to. Not like me, listening to real music.”

At Berghain, he witnessed egalitarianism – a place where you could build your own kingdom on the dancefloor.

“There aren’t very many clubs nowadays with that sense of freedom and immersion,” he says. “There are all these fucking security guards. Maybe it’s because Berlin is such a deeply queer city with this level of theatre, as opposed to just being a bit fucking sketchy, which is how I’d always felt in clubs.”

Lias says he feels like a tourist with Decius, but that suits him creatively.

“I like to be in a position where I don’t know the terrain. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been clubbing clubbing.” He emphasises the word to suggest the alienness of his new milieu. “I’ve always been more into gigs and then sitting in somebody’s fucking living room until dawn doing whatever. I mean, it’s comparatively boring what I’ve been doing up to now.”

“That’s one of the reasons why it’s worked the way it has,” offers Liam. “Because we’ve pretty much spent our whole adult lives in clubs. We don’t really go out like, ‘Hey, let’s go to Fabric’ or something, but we’ve ended up spending a lot of time in clubs doing gigs and stuff, so it’s just our natural realm.

“And it’s easy to get caught up in the heritage or how things are supposed to be, whereas Lias has come in from a completely alien angle. He isn’t particularly imbued with the whole authenticity or history or anything like that, so it’s completely new to him.”

The “alien angle” Liam refers to includes Lias’ falsetto with moments of transcendent echolalia, a nod to Ian Svenonius and The Make-Up which began with Fat White Family’s ‘Champagne Holocaust’ debut.

“Making that first album, I remember recording the initial tracks and them sounding like a fucking tepid Mark E Smith impression, and it was like, ‘This just will not do’,” says Lias. “You’ve got to try to find different angles that sound good with your voice – ‘Cream Of The Young’ and all this kind of shit. I call it New Malden Gimpcore.

“We live in a cultural moment now where the vogue is to sing in one’s own accent. Like that’s authentic, you know? I think that’s kind of the wrong road. I’m an advocate of mid-Atlantic. Culturally, we’re mid-Atlanteans.”

Did he get in touch with his feminine side on ‘Look Like A Man’, perhaps the androgynous highlight of ‘Decius Vol 1’, with its shades of Patrick Cowley and vintage New York disco?

“Definitely!” he affirms. “I think in the Fat Whites and everything else, you’re always in touch with the anima or the animus, dyaknowwhatImean? You get into that in-between zone.”

Liam chips in, noting that what Lias does is the opposite of the traditional vocal style you’ll find on most house records.

“They’re all powerful diva women,” he says. “And then, conversely, you have this fragile-sounding man who isn’t quite a man.”

“Thanks for that, Liam,” says Lias sarcastically, bringing a big laugh. “I think there’s a lack of humour and a lack of sex in a lot of British rock ’n’ roll. New Malden Gimpcore, that’s my big sell.”

And then he’s off. Disappearing into the Stockholm night to perform before a boozy bar of Swedes and eat some more shards of fish.

‘Decius Vol 1’ is out on The Leaf Label

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