LONDON — On a recent afternoon, four members of the band Fat White Family were sitting in an East London cafe, dressed, as always, like they’ve been riffling in the trash bags at the back of a thrift store. And that is being polite.
The band’s third album, “Serf’s Up!,” had just made the Top 20 here, and the group was returning from a photo shoot at a nearby children’s playground, where it had been instructed to vacate the merry-go-round. This was very much in keeping with its image as naughty misfits from London’s grotty underbelly.
Fat White Family has a knowing disregard for good taste. The band has sung about Hitler and Goebbels, Ike and Tina Turner’s abusive relationship, serial killers and heroin abuse. “Serf’s Up!” is more accessible than its first two albums, geared around thrusting disco and psychedelic country, and yet there is still the nuclear-pop of “Kim’s Sunsets” (probably the sexiest song ever written about Kim Jong-un) and one inspired, in part, by Theodore J. Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber.”
Fat White Family formed in 2011, in south London, and came out of a squat-party scene that shaped its politics. The group is anti-gentrification, anti-consumerism, anti-censorship, and at points some of its members have been homeless or struggled with addiction and mental health issues. The band also rejects the notion that pop should have a politically correct agenda, and its music explores — sometimes gratuitously — the grim, often more perverse side of subjects like toxic masculinity and sexual desire.
“We’re entering into an age of new puritanism,” said Lias Saoudi, Fat White Family’s frontman. “It’s depressing that we’ve let things drift in that direction. If you can’t explore difficult ideas in art, where can you explore them? Not everybody can afford a therapist.”
“We live in an offensive world,” he added. “It’s not polite, it’s not kind, it doesn’t care what you believe. It’s solipsistic rubbish to think otherwise.”
The band’s history of drug and alcohol abuse is well-documented. In 2016, after playing its biggest headline show, it kicked founding member Saul Adamczewski out, again, because of a spiraling heroin and crack habit. He has since rejoined, and wrote many songs on “Serf’s Up!,” but he declined to be interviewed.
“You can never get rid of the heroin problem in this band,” said Saoudi. Instead, the group has gotten used to the unpredictability this brings: So far, there’s been a revolving cast of 26 members, though the other musicians present during the interview, Lias’s brother, Nathan Saoudi (a keyboardist), the saxophonist Alex White and the guitarist Adam J. Harmer, are the band’s current mainstays.
What is constant, however, is that Fat White Family likes to blur the lines between self expression and shock value, irony and the impulse to be outraged. During early live shows, Saoudi tried on a few old punk-rock tactics: smearing himself feces or appearing onstage naked.
Back then, he said, “everything was so boring, and tame, and homogeneous” in guitar music, and Saoudi thought that “somebody should give it a nudge in the explicit direction, to heighten the medium, so it’s not all moronic indie-boy pop.”
The Irish pop musician Róisín Murphy was so taken by the band after seeing one of its live shows, she got in touch via Instagram and asked whether she could direct a music video. She dreamed up the Monty Python-inspired visuals for Fat White Family’s recent single “Tastes Good With the Money,” which depict the band at a bourgeois tea party that goes awry.
“They have a true punk vein running through them,” she said in a phone interview. “Bands like that don’t come around that often.”
Lias Saoudi said that being anti-establishment “will always be our politics” but “Serf’s Up!” marks a shift in tone away from nihilism: It is “upbeat and melodic,” said Saoudi, rather than “dismally pessimistic” like their previous material. The album is about “learning to celebrate” the world’s harshness “in a beautiful way, so it’s not so disturbing,” he added.
The band was interested in “sneaking interesting ideas into a pop song,” said White, the strikingly mullet-haired saxophonist, and seeing what it can “get away with.”
The day after our interview, Fat White Family hosted its own “pop-up boutique experience” at an empty store in South London — a sarcastic nod to the retail trend that is often a harbinger of gentrification. At Fat White Family’s store, however, fans lined up to buy radical pamphlets that poked fun at the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and secondhand items such as a pair of Lias Saoudi’s soiled sneakers. Bands with similar anti-consumerist messages performed, with names like Pregoblin and Scud FM, that have sprung up here following Fat White Family’s success.
“They definitely created a revolution,” said one fan, João Oliveira, 21. “I like when art offends me. I like it when art makes me uncomfortable.”