All aboaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaardahahaha! Welcome to Riff University, where each week, Dr* Oliver Butler, with his PhD in Riffology** will walk you through some of the biggest, baddest and boldest riffs of all time, right from the genesis of rock and roll, to some of our future classics. By the end of this intensive course, you will be able to recognise a classic riff from the first note, make pub conversations awkwardly unbearable, and alienate Tinder matches from the word go.
*Abbreviation of “Dad Rock”
**Not a real PhD
By Dr Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)
Up this week: Sorry, You’re Not A Winner by Enter Shikari from the album Take to the Skies
Read Last Week’s Lecture on Black Sabbath here
Cast your mind back to 2006, and whilst some of you might be too young to remember, music was consumed through three primary outlets; iTunes, Limewire and MySpace. Hours would be spent on the latter, meticulously picking a song that described your teenage angst as you pulled on your sweatbands to go loiter around the town centre on a Saturday, ready to rip the shag bands right off your crush’s wrist. Shag bands? No? Anyone? Fucking millenials.
However, one artist that found their work being passed around MySpace profiles, and fired through MSN Messenger chats, more than anyone else in the mid noughties, was a fledgling Hertfordshire post-hardcore outfit named Enter Shikari, slowly becoming more and more well known off the back of their first single, Mothership. However, it would be the single that came next that would become a staple of the early Shikari movement, and would become one of their most famous songs… even if the band didn’t groom it for mainstream success.
Sorry You’re Not A Winner, though not the jewel in their crown (oh, we’ll get to those), is easily one of the most recognisable Enter Shikari songs. SYNAW was meant to be the B-Side on the EP that also featured Ok, Time For Plan B and a demo of The Feast, but radio DJs resonated more strongly with the dancey vibes of SYNAW than the ‘heavy, bulldozing sound’ of Ok, Time For Plan B, and instantly became a hit with its infectious riff, and of course, the three claps right afterwards.#
The intro to the original, 2006 version is slightly different to the version that made it to Take to the Skies, but there’s something so nostalgic about that crystal-like synth intro. The video is indicative of Shikari’s DIY, independent attitude; filmed by the band in the living room of Chris Batten’s parents’ house, it features a fresh-faced Shikari performing the song, with a thronging crowd going positively ape around them. Remember when you had just a few friends round when your parents went on holiday and all hell broke loose? They threw a fucking concert in the living room and became international superstars. Maybe it’s because nothing got broken and there wasn’t half-full cans of whatever beer could be blagged from the offy around, but still.
That being said, and as we’ve already alluded to, SYNAW wasn’t groomed to be the flag that flew atop the grand ship Shikari, in fact, quite the opposite. Recorded long before Take to the Skies took flight, all the way back in 2003, not long after a young man by the name of Liam Clelow (whatever happened to him?) had joined the band as a guitarist so that a young Rou Reynolds could focus on electronics and vocals. In the words of the aforementioned frontman and gin connoisseur, SYNAW…
“Already felt a bit old when we recorded for a 4-track EP, long before the release of Take to the Skies, but, as it became a live favourite, we felt including SYNAW on the album was paramount.”
The cultural impact of SYNAW was massive, as almost every MySpace page would be soundtracked by SYNAW, or the more edgy MySpacers would be streaming Mothership in their fight to innovate in the development of their profile. MSN screen names and statuses would reference SYNAW, and it seemed that every greebo, emo and scene kid across the land would know the “clap clap song”. Live as well, it flew into the hearts of fans, with the famed claps just “being another way to include the audience”, along with the gang vocals, the human pyramids and playing shows in the crowd. From first light, Shikari’s message was about togetherness and community, with the policy applying doubly so in the live scenario.
It’s also made itself a mainstay in the Shikari live setup, being played 640 times, according to setlist.fm, with only Mothership ahead of it on 655 times, with SYNAW finding a new home in the “quick fire” segment of a live show, which those of you that have experienced will be able to testify it is the most intensive workout on the planet, and for those have you that haven’t experienced it, imagine being in a washing machine in a sauna, whilst trying to run a record 100m sprint, and you’re about halfway there. Not for the faint of heart.
Another thing worth considering in this lecture is that Shikari weren’t having SYNAW pushed to the top by a money-thirsty label, looking for a radio hit to line their pockets, Enter Shikari were, are and will forever be an independent band. SYNAW’s success came naturally after their music being picked up by fans through the internet, with Kerrang Radio’s Alex Baker even streaming fellow EP track Ok, Time For Plan B straight off the band’s MySpace page. SYNAW found its success organically, and would plant the seeds for the bands growth over the years, culminating with the release of The Spark last year, which was a very, very good album.
Lyrically, SYNAW makes zero fucking sense, and as Rou pointed out in Dear Future Historians: Lyrics and Exgesis of Rou Reynolds, “some of the tracks on Take to the Skies are entirely made up of verse of non-sequitur gobbledegook”, which doesn’t come as a shock, and although a few learned scholars have likely tried to make something of it that isn’t more than it is, SYNAW is simply about…
“The nasty trait of brash over-confidence, and the, though maybe immature, still pleasurable act of informing the cocksure when things don’t work out in their favour. Like most of my pre-Shikari lyrics, it’s mostly nonsense; simple fun with words and images.”
Makes sense, as “Scratch card glory, or waist low pleasure? // Black eyes nose bleeds, don’t look back now” doesn’t. However, with the above considered, it does feel slightly gleeful in the demise of the otherwise cocksure. Same with “But it’s just such a thrill to find out // SORRY YOU’RE NOT! A winner with the air so cold and a mind so bitter”, it’s pretty easy to see the intention of this song lyrically. Maybe the next time you feel like recapturing your youth, why not scream “SORRY YOU’RE NOT!” then sing “A winnerER” in the face of your local workplace wanker the next time the dice don’t roll in their favour. Maybe “waist low pleasure” is about wanking or something. Bet you won’t see that one popping up in any thesis’ any time soon.
And, whilst this song never meant to become the treasure it is today, it’s interesting to see how a B-side with non-sequitur gobbeldegook originally recorded in 2003 made its way into the hearts of fans, guaranteeing it to make its way onto Take to the Skies, and with its catchy riff and easy listenablility, made its way onto numerous MySpace profiles, rock radio stations and probably a few Limewire searches… wouldn’t know, never used it! Heh!
Further down the line, we’ll delve into the deeper Shikari cuts with more intricate arrangements, more inquisitive lyrical themes, and more incendiary riffs, but for the sheer ripples in the music world that SYNAW caused and how it lit the fuse on the interstellar ES craft, it’s easily one of the most important Shikari songs.