Madonnatron, Shame, Warmduscher, Fat White Family, Meatraffle, the Moonlandingz, Goat Girl, Sorry, Pregoblin, Insecure Men and, yes, Secure Men—they’re all there. Large as life and almost as loud. It’s a testament to his storytelling ability that Dave Thomson, author of Woo! Strange Happenings at the Windmill and Other Tangential Rants, a free-wheeling gonzo history of the last ten-plus years of south London’s fertile music scene, can conjure up such a diverse cast of characters. While the rest of the so-called civilized world suffers through a banal, auto-tuned repetition of vanilla pop, south London has been blessed with artists unafraid of criticism or cancellation and therefore transcendent.
Thomson, who has been an initiate of London’s diverse music scenes since his twenties, hadn’t thought of writing a history of the south London scene in particular, until, as he says: “… after a drunken conversation with Alex Sebley of Pregoblin, during Madonnatron’s debut album launch party (held at the Windmill Brixton in 2017), in which he practically challenged me to write it down, to document it all in some way and capture some of the magic brewing. So, I had a go, the result of which is this book.”
Written with a cutting perceptiveness akin to Hunter S. Thompson, and with Anthony Bourdain’s ability to nose out juicy metaphors and similes, Woo! is a satisfying read. Like that venerable punk bible, Please Kill Me, or Henry Rollins’ hallowed tome, Get in the Van, Woo! is equal parts how-to DIY guide and spiritual helpmeet for the souls of the moshers, the music-addled and the amp-deafened. It’s a balm of Gilead for feedback-starved formerly (ie, pre-Covid) avid gig-goers, interspersed with canny socio-political commentaries and run through with threads of events from the author’s personal life, including an all-too-familiar tale of friendship on the rocks.
Thomson, who owned and operated an alternative record store in northern Lincolnshire before moving to London aged 20, became a confirmed devotee of south London’s musical progeny upon seeing the Fat White Family play at the Electric Ballroom in 2014. As he describes, he was, “…instantly smitten and before long found myself drawn into the heart of this peculiar musical community. I soon realised something uniquely special was happening, but moreover, why it was happening – because unlike the Thatcher years, this time London was suffering too. People felt battered by austerity, exasperated by corruption and angered by gentrification – all of which gave everyone involved a sense of purpose and solidarity, the like of which I had not seen since moving to London all those years ago.”
From attending Madonnatron’s first album launch party (“like a witches’ choir in a Tim Burton movie,”) to Zsa Zsa Sapien’s of Meatraffle’s gold front teeth (“like he’s been punched in the mouth by Midas,”) to the origins of Fat White Family (“Barely noticed at first, like bacteria left to fester within a neglected Petri dish, something alien, unwholesome and seriously strange took form… Something very fucking special,”) Woo! is a series of candid snapshots of a unique place in time. To preserve a history is to perpetuate it; Woo! helps to cast the scene in amber.
At the heart of the book, is, of course, the legendary musicians’ haven known as the Windmill Brixton, described by Thomson as: “… a veritable microculture, a disparate melting pot of musicians, artists, poets, chancers, DJs, bloggers, blaggers, filmmakers, producers, youtubers, self-abusers, ‘oholics of all colours, all persuasions, it takes in the young, the old and every imaginable slice of humankind in between. No one is judged, all and everyone’s accepted, except, perhaps, anyone who turns out to be a cunt.”
“…The role the Windmill plays in a band’s development is significant, for they are channeling something fantastically unique, an interstellar nursery for all manner of burgeoning talent or any nutter with a mad idea.” (Of course, in world of the Windmill, “sanity is so fucking relative…”)
Primarily written and edited during the onset of the pandemic, Woo! delves into many of the terrifying new variables that continue to affect our lives. It may be a book about the past, but it looks to the future, and what we’ll have to do to get there: “We are living through strange, febrile times…Truth and reason so far out of reach there’s nothing left to grab hold of, just a feeling in our bones that we’re at the end of something and the beginning of something else, yet unable to envisage precisely what.”
You can order your very own copy of Woo! on Warmduscher’s Peasant Vitality website (linked here.) All UK proceeds will go directly to the Brixton Windmill.