Slaves' Isaac Holman: "I never thought I'd go to Transylvania"

Slaves' Isaac Holman: "I never thought I'd go to Transylvania"

Electric Castle 2019

Electric Castle 2019

Bontida, Romania

The rise of British punk duo Slaves over the last couple of years has been hard to ignore. Since releasing their debut album in 2015, which was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, their stock has risen to the point where they are now a mainstay of festival lineups across the globe.

This summer their schedule is absolutely packed, and as part of their festival adventures they'll stop off in Romania for Electric Castle, set in the grounds of the impressive Banffy Castle.

In anticipation of this show, we caught up with Isaac – one half of the duo – to chat about how he prepares for a busy summer, and to find out how he's been trying to make the world a better place. 

Book tickets & packages for Electric Castle 2017 here

Hey Isaac

Hi mate, how's it going?


I'm good thanks. Cheers for talking to me.

No not at all, it's cool man.


Firstly, congratulations. I saw the recent announcements about supporting Green Day and Rancid, and Kasabian. That must be pretty exciting for you?

Yeah it is very exciting, we love doing support shows. Especially for Laurie, Rancid are like his favourite band in the whole world, ever. So yeah it's very exciting.


I want to just take it back a couple of years and talk about the Shutdown cover and the stuff you did with Skepta. It all seemed to be like the perfect storm at that time. How do you see that moment in the story of your career to date?

It was kind of a weird pivotal moment. It got a whole lot of people interested in us that I don't think would have been before. It was just like a bit of a culture clash, which was really cool. I'm definitely chuffed we did that.

The whole grime/punk comparison has become a bit of a cliché of late, but was it something that you had considered when you decided on that cover?

I think so yeah. In terms of the attitude I think we could relate more to the grime guys at that time, than to anything else that was going on.


Recently you've been vocal in your support for Girls Against [a campaign working to combat sexual harassment at gigs]. Do you think that bands are doing enough to tackle what is obviously still a problem?

Girls Against are wicked, but to be honest until that whole thing came about I didn't even really give it that much thought; I didn't realise it was such a problem. It's only when people actually start talking about stuff that you realise it's happening more than you realise.

So yeah I think bands just need to keep the awareness up, keeping doing stuff. I don't know if there are any other organisations out there doing stuff like that, but yeah everyone should be getting involved.


Definitely. And does the current climate – where a man who brags about doing the sort of things it's fighting can be elected to President – make it harder? Or does it push you to be even more supportive?

I think it does both, but yeah it definitely pushes us to be even more vocal and supportive of it.


I've also seen the stuff you've been doing recently with Bands 4 Refugees – I just wanted to ask how that came about and how you got involved?

I'm not sure entirely how it came about, but I know that Ellie from Wolf Alice was well involved with talking to them – it was her idea – and she got on to Josie from Help Refugees, who is amazing, and made it happen.

They were just gonna do one show at Kamio in London, but it sold so quickly that they put on more and raised a hell of a lot more money for it, which is great.

Do you think that being part of the underground – or being a 'punk band'– allows you greater freedom to talk about these sorts of things than people in the mainstream? Just thinking about people like Lily Allen, who gets dismissed for being 'just a pop star' or whatever when she addresses these issues...

Er... I dunno. I think bigger pop stars have got even more of a platform, but yeah maybe you're right that it could be easier for me. But either way I think you should use whatever platform you have, use your status, use all your followers on Twitter for the world's advantage. If you've got a chance to speak to so many people, why would you not use it?


Increasingly veganism and vegetarianism have also become part of Slaves' identity, and it seems more common than ever that it's the case for this generation. What do you attribute that shift to, both on a personal level and more broadly?

I'm not sure what changed it for me, I think it was just a gradual thing. I got to a certain age where I think I was suddenly more aware of what was going on around me. I think when you're a teenager – at least for me personally - you're quite self-absorbed and you don't really think about what's going on in the world. And I think I got to a point where I was just like: "Shit, I'm actually contributing to a lot of this stuff that's happening".

But yeah I think there's definitely been a shift, and it's looking bright for the future. People are just more aware of it all, and the impact it can have on the environment and stuff. So yeah it just seems like people are just a lot more aware now.


Looking forward to your summer, it looks like you're going to be pretty busy. How do you prepare for such an intense touring schedule?

Before we start a tour, or playing a load of festivals, I always get myself in shape. Stop boozing for a bit and eat well. Because it's such a physical performance that if I'm doing it more than a few times a week I need to be properly in shape for it. But mentally there's not a lot to do to prepare, you just go and do it.


While you're on tour is that something you maintain, taking those measures so you don't burn out?

Yeah definitely, I'm way worse when I'm off tour. When I'm off tour, I either get a bit bored or too excited and I end up smashing it a bit too hard. But on tour I like to think I'm quite professional, I like to keep my head in the game.


One of your many festival shows this year is at Electric Castle in Romania, set in the grounds of a Transylvanian castle. Is it exciting to play more unconventional locations like that?

Big time, yeah. That's why I'm really looking forward to this summer because we're going to a lot of place we've never been before. That's the biggest perk of the job, being able to travel and go to these places.

I never thought I'd go to Transylvania, I didn't even realise it was a real place when I was younger (laughing), but I've heard it's beautiful so I'm really looking forward to it.

The lineup's good as well, so hopefully we'll catch House of Pain, Franz Ferdinand, Mike Skinner is on the bill, alt-J – there's some good people playing.

Do you know how you're received out there? Do you know what to expect?

I have literally no idea, we've never played in Romania so we'll wait and see.


Each summer it seems like you're higher up the festival posters, and on the bigger stages. Do you have ambitions for how far you want that to go?

We didn't to start off with. To tell you the truth, when we first started we didn't even think we'd be able to play on a stage. We thought we were gonna be that novelty floor show, the scrappy punk band.

So when things started picking up and we started progressing and playing bigger stages each year, we got a little bit of a hunger for it.

Now I just want to see how far I can take it. We did the main stage at Reading last year, which was ridiculous, and it just made me think I want to see how far it can go.

Do you ever have to change what you do, or approach it differently depending on the stage? I saw you guys at the 100 Club and I've seen you play festivals and it seems like it's essentially the same show wherever you are...

Yeah it's the same show that it's always been, it's the same show we were playing to no-one in tiny pubs in London. I didn't really expect it to work on a big stage to be honest, but in turns out it does so we're happy.


Before I let you go, I feel I should ask about new music. The first two albums came out basically a year apart in 2015 and 2016, does that mean we're due another in 2017, or is there going to be a bit more of a gap this time round?

To be honest I think we're going to keep banging them out now. I don't really want to take a break. If you've got music, then I don't see the point in sitting on it because by the time you've waited ages it doesn't feel relevant to you any more. So I just want to keep releasing it as it comes – and we're well into writing the next album.

Sounds good, look forward to hearing it. 
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Isaac.

My pleasure mate.

Slaves play will Electric Castle 2017 on 13 July. Book tickets & packages here, and see our guide for more information.

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