How did a fringe British hardcore punk band with no major industry backing end up with a highly-anticipated U.S. headline tour and a widely-praised album from several major music outlets? The answer appears to be purely based on word of mouth and the strength of Chubby and The Gang’s chirpy debut album Speed Kills: Without a publicist sending your music to journalists, a big budget to record or a massive label backing you, bands have a statistically much lower chance of getting noticed outside their circle, much less their home country. Chubby and The Gang seem like the type of band that would’ve been more than happy to remain in their own grubby DIY circuit forever. After all, the music is what’s important, and they wear their fringe status like a badge of honor. But sometimes, when your music is good enough, and it gets heard by the right people at the right time, it just takes on a life of its own.
Chubby and The Gang was formed by members of various British hardcore bands—Violent Reaction, Abolition, Gutter Knife and more. While preserving the spitting ferocity of those outfits, they add the working-class realism and aesthetics of Oi!, plus the how-fast-is-too-fast, surf-tinted punk of The Ramones. All in all, Chubby and The Gang are so much more than the average shouty, loutish band. For one thing, they’re wonderfully out of step with the speak-sing post-punk that has engulfed London recently. Chubby and The Gang play the kind of plug-and-chug, throwback punk and pub rock that never exactly left, but doesn’t feel especially fashionable in 2020. Their embrace of left-wing skinhead culture is one marker of their lack of concern for passing trends—they’re fiercely protective of their crew (“You ain’t no friend of mine!”) and blue-collar principles (“We don’t want top forty / So we keep it underground”).
Lead singer Charlie Manning-Walker (who apparently goes by Chubby Charles) has spent years in British straight-edge punk, so he’s got receipts, but there’s something especially snappy and satisfying about this project. What separates the Gang from their other bands is their discarding of discordant hardcore leanings for melodic fiery rock ‘n’ roll ones and occasional blues and surf undertones. “Trouble (You Were Always On My Mind)” incorporates ’60s doo-wop and surf-pop melodies while “Moscow” explodes into pit of flaming rhythm and blues. Much of the record is rooted in textbook riffs churned out at such a pace that they appear new and invigorated. It’s a reminder of why you fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll in the first place.
Their barrelling energy is the core of their appeal, and trying to nod along to their brisk rhythms for any period of time will probably give you neck pain. Luckily, the album clocks in at 25 minutes, so if you do have the courage, blood alcohol level or amphetamine buzz (the last of which is referenced in the album title) to move along to this album in its entirety, you won’t be in super rough shape the next day. Take album highlight “Pariah Radio” for example: Try listening to that blistering song without feeling a nagging urge to pogo or envisioning yourself accidentally pinching a nerve.
While cutting riffs and breakneck rhythms are their bread and butter, their lyrics are far from filler. They’ve got their eyes on the prize at all times—the preservation and well-being of the gang and its ethos—but it comes off as more lion-hearted devotion than a preachy stump speech. There’s hatred directed at “the boys in blue” for sure, but they don’t have a stick up their behind about it—there’s a jollyness to their music too. They couldn’t pull off lines like “I won’t be told what to do / Especially from the likes of you” unless it was barked with convincing viciousness and personality.
They also manage to rail against staunch, briefcase-equipped conservatism without sounding corny. Track one begins with retro, anti-juvenile delinquency spoken-word, which features a man talking about the evils of rock ‘n’ roll. The main source of such heresy according to this man is “the beat,” which couldn’t be more fitting given that the beat is what fuels Chubby and The Gang: Later on the album, they emphatically yell, “Can you feel the beat / It never went away / It’s always been out on the street!”
Speed Kills spray paints the spit, blood, sweat and tears of their working-class, misfit gang onto a wall of concrete. Its plain-spoken nature and ravishing charm is the perfect accompaniment to their absolute instrumental onslaught. Chubby and The Gang may be the first independent British hardcore punk band in a while to get this much attention, but as Speed Kills tries to hammer home: There’s an entire fringe scene back home that’s part of the gang and that helped shape Chubby’s ascent. It’s one for all, all for one.