Ariel Sharratt / Mathias Kom @ The Water Rats, London, 17.04.24

Canadian duo and friends expand their anarcho-slacker manfesto to winning effect, with added conceptual larking around

Apr 25th, 2024 at The Water Rats, London / By Ben Wood
Ariel Sharratt / Mathias Kom @ The Water Rats, London, 17.04.24 Those of you tickled by Burning Hell duo Ariel Sharratt and Mathias Kom's 2020 LP / slacktivist manifesto Never Work have been spoiled in recent months. Our DIY folk-garage heroes are clearly finding the death throes of capitalism a rich source of inspiration. Recent six-track EP Hardly Working saw the pair team up with Shotgun Jimmie to bring us more songs about demeaning uniforms (Polyester Polo), insulting corporate gestures (Casual Friday) and slacking off on your kitchen prep (Yes Chef). It's the post-AI, gig economy era seen through a wry, humane Woody Guthrie-meets-Situationist lens.

All three are now touring the UK, wrapping the two records' smiling shrugs of dissent in a cheeky high-concept wrapping. Apparently, they have time-travelled from the future, to bring us these songs - and (ahem), there's no need to worry - it's all fine and dandy in the AI-dominated future. Thanks, robot overlords...

Armed with electric guitar and drum machine, opener Shotgun Jimmie somehow combines Grandaddy's Zen poetics with a sort of deconstructed arena rock vibe. Working down the AI song mines, sci-fi romance metaphors ('I got caught in your tractor beam...') and off-kilter song subjects (Bioluminescence). There's a lot going on here, ideas-wise. Jimmie's charm, natural comic timing and way with a power chord get an already packed Water Rats singing along.

Ariel's interval compilation of hold music went down well with this Brian Eno fan (niiice!). Then Mathias takes the stage ('I am from 2076') to serenade us with Casual Friday (what if it actually lived up to its promise?!). Ariel arrives, with Jimmie on guitar: her insurrectionary anthem Mrs Patel Versus the Machines tells of how a low-paid wage slave learns how to code, hacks the system and turns the tables. It gets one hell of a roar, people are really feeling this one.

The songs' messages (basically, a call for fun, fairness and a return to more humane values ) are smuggled in among much larking around and in-jokes. We are introduced to Pepper, the band's new 'robot drummer': aka one of those inflatable waving tube figures that you see outside pubs and retail parks sometime. She does a fine job. Rise Up Alexa sees the AI assistant throw off her chains; amid its funny, clever lyrics The Goonies-referencing The Rich Stuff prompts goosebumps with a simple chord change and a killer chorus ('It's their time. Their time, up here / Down here, it's our time. It's our time down here').

Two Jeffs is maybe the hardest-hitting song tonight: Good Jeff dies of a heart attack in a warehouse, working for 'Evil Jeff' Bezos' Amazon empire ('Evil Jeff invented robot spies / And convinced everybody to buy one'). We are given a choice: which Jeff do we want to be? It's a message shared by the heartfelt I Don't Mind Failing, a cover of a sixties anthem that chooses piece of mind over riches. A harmonica-strafed campfire singalong, the crowd roars its affirmation as the lines hit home: 'I'll stay down here with the raggedy crew / 'Cause getting up there means stepping on you...'

The bangers keep coming: utopian anthem Everything For Everyone sees a 'societal cataclysm' end the world of work completely, to be replaced by a happy communal slumber party. It's a great leveller, with a message to get behind ('Before the earth is swallowed by the sun / All we want is everything for everyone'). The changes keep coming: Ariel takes over on drums; rollicking restauarant saga Yes Chef, rather impressively, rhymes 'ramekin' with 'panicking', before everyone briefly scoots offstage.

It's back to Burning Hell tunes for the encore: Bird Queen of Garbage Island is as outrageously funky as ever. Then it's time for the anthem that every Burning Hell audience demands: Fuck the Government, I Love You appears to tell the story of how Ariel and Matias met and is as funny and touching as ever. The duo really ham it up, with some major crowd participation. Every tour, the reception for the track gets more frenzied.

It's a rousing way to end a fine gig. They may have been singing about exploitation and societal collapse, but Ariel, Mathias and co ended up affirming the virtues that make life worth living. Good job, people.