The Rubberbandits

Note: This review is from 2013

Review by Steve Bennett

The Rubberbandits would be horrified to be reviewed on a comedy website. ‘We’re not comedy,’ they protest in their distinctive Limerick whine. ‘We’re hardcore gangsta rap.’

And in some ways they’re right. Where the original rap pioneers made unflinchingly honest music about life in the poorest suburbs of LA, Blindboy Boat Club and Mr Chrome paint an equally evocative image of their own underclass.

Yet because Limerick isn’t quite in the same class as gang-ridden Compton – whatever some of the local knackers might want to believe – there’s plenty of fun to be had both with the grim stereotypes of their hometown, and with those who do their best to live up to them.

In England, the chavs are parodied by by the middle-class former doctor Simon Brodkin pretending to be cheeky tearaway Lee Nelson. But The Rubberbandits are not only the real deal, but they are also more nuanced, more surreal and more unpredictable, giving them a cult appeal to match their underground authenticity.

Current holders of the Chortle award for best musical act, their breakout song was Horse Outside, an addictively catchy ditty about their favoured mode of transport. Other songs have them wanting to fight a girl’s dad, sniffing glue so they can bring themselves to ride a fattie, or seemingly chanting a pro-IRA anthem. It’s a picture of tough Irish life that would give Guy Ritchie a hard-on.

But they are mocking that tough-guy image and those who glamorise it, as the silly Liar, Liar, Danny Dyer makes abundantly clear. Even that Up The RA chant is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a certain sort of republican pride that supposes all manner of unlikely high profile people – from Ian Paisley to Beetlejuice – secretly support the cause.

Their between-song banter also hints at a rather different side to the broad laddishness that’s undeniably present, whatever their best attempts to downplay it. One of three jokes in the hour (that being the gag rate comedy requires, they determine from a Jack Whitehall DVD) involves a rudimentary knowledge of particle physics.

Nonetheless, sweaty, drunken late-night gigs are their natural environment, but for three weeks they have decamped to the more dignified surrounding of the Soho Theatre – or Sar-Ha as they pronounce it – which has stripped out the seating in its subterranean cabaret room to accommodate them and give the feeling of a proper music gig.

Their beautifully crude tracks are illustrated with slick videos, which might be great for internet promotion, but when screened in a live show can prove distracting, and rather against the grubby homemade spirit they so effectively foster. Better, surely, to rely on their own enthusiastic, if ungraceful, physically to provide the energy.

The duo are defined by their image, only ever performing with plastic bags over their faces. The look has been likened to the balaclavas of the IRA, but they claim – with some delightfully twisted logic – that it makes them irresistible to women. One consequence, though, is that after 40 minutes under the hot stage lights, they have to drain off the accumulated sweat threatening to pickle their own heads.

The pair are backed by their beatmaster Willy O’DJ, who wears a mask of soporific grin to match his trippy movements, the consequence, apparently, of ongoing substance abuse. And that’s a theme that’s continued in Double Dropping Yokes With Éamon De Valera, about doing ecstasy with the eminent Irish President.

It’s not one of their stronger songs, and there’s a feeling that there’s not quite enough of the good stuff to fill the hour – a notion further underlined by them performing I Wanna Fight Your Father twice, in English and in Irish.

But at their best, they are a playful, subversive, reckless act, propagating a cartoonishly exaggerated view of their background, that’s quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. After their 2012 Edinburgh season, this run is another foothold on the Rubberbandits’ assault on the sizeable British market for cult comedy – an assault which bears all the signs of succeeding.

Review date: 18 Jan 2013
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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