You know that stage of drunk when you squint, blink twice, and find yourself in the smoking area when as far as you remember you were still showering? When self-awareness hits you like a brick and everything fleetingly feels uncanny or surreal before reorienting itself? At London’s Mirrors Festival last October I was standing, swaying, not entirely together, watching a band I’d heard buzzed around but knew nothing about and – has the singer stripped off? I squinted, blinked twice, and turned to my girlfriend, whose steeply arched eyebrows confirmed that yes the singer has indeed stripped off. When did that happen? Why did that happen? How? What the hell is- am I alive? What?

It was an apt induction into the band’s headspace. Shame constitutes five guys from South London, just entered their twenties and on the cusp of their debut album’s release, who apply oldschool punk textures to modern indie rock songwriting. They thrive in the uncanny and delight in exposing you to surreality (in addition to the singer’s anatomy). However, the band are conscious of not overstepping the line which separates intensity and alpha male aggression. This aversion to hypermasculinity is explicit in their album’s benign title, Songs of Praise, and in how they’ve conducted themselves during this press cycle; cordial, genuine, earnest, tempering down tales of their rock’n’roll debauchery that have perforated industry gossip. They have no intention of being the saviours of British guitar music, with all the cultural baggage that title invariably carries, and they’re adamantly not lad rock.

“Fuck lad rock man,” drummer Charlie Forbes explains; “lad rock is shit,” guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith agrees. “It pisses us off so much when people call us lad rock or use that image for us, it’s so annoying,” Forbes continues. Lead singer Charlie Steen gets more specific; “I think it’s too reliant on image and lifestyle, and we don’t conform to that. There’s not a lot on underneath there.” Coyle-Smith; “Our album artwork was actually a response to that pidgeon-holing, to fight back against that image” and Forbes; “Yeah it isn’t GRAUGGHH LOOK AT THOSE ANGRY LADS LOOKING REALLY UP FOR IT. It’s the worst thing ever when I read about us being laddish or having lots of bravado.”

Steen admits that they may have tentatively engaged with this lad culture in the past, and that brief flirtation may inevitably translate while listening to the album; “The record’s done over three years when we were 17-20, when we were more immature teenagers and did some pseudo laddy things, so if that comes through then yeh, that’s a natural reflection of who we were then, but we’ve grown, and a lot of the music we listened to then was heavy guitar music, heavily influential for us, and that brand of heavy guitar music is associated with masculine bands and a testosterone past.” Given its prolonged recording, their album charts their emotional maturation as much as their musical one.

Steen also raises a more loathsome consequence of lad rock hegemony; “In the 21st century a separation has to happen [between rock and lad culture]. Misogyny is rife and disgusting in this scene and we’ve got to lead in defeating that. It just shouldn’t be happening now. Looking at the lineups of major festivals including Reading/Leeds and it’s clear there’s still a lot of these bands out there. More importantly, there’s a big problem with how few female-led bands there are being promoted in these types of festivals. They aren’t there, or they’re being promoted as a novelty.”

Coyle-Smith; “Yeh you look at some of these festivals and sometimes there’s like two girl bands across a run of thirty or forty, it’s shocking. I suppose we were part of that problem,” which Forbes quickly footnotes “I least we aren’t distancing ourselves from the problem, we’re trying to do something about it. We’re about to go on tour to Germany with Gurr [occurred last December], these two women who are really cool and talented.”

Steen is animated; “I think it’s slowly emerging that a lot of good female bands I know, that we know and love, are getting their due, like Goat Girl and Honeyblood and Sorry; and it doesn’t have to be all punk bands, but just like, females in bands getting the credit they deserve.”

Forbes; “It’s not just women in bands. I’ve got a friend who’s a sound engineer as a woman and she says the amount of times she’s doing sound for someone, and they just turn to her and say like ‘where’s the man?’”.

Coyle-Smith; “And that’s why it’s so good to see people like Nadine Shah and Princess Nokia, who are angrily speaking out about it and aren’t afraid to piss people off.”

Steen’s also a Princess Nokia fan: “My girlfriend just went to see her, and the crowd is so devoted; and I asked her [Steen’s girlfriend] “what was the demographic in the audience?” and she said it was 50% white people, 50% people of different ethnicities, but the vast majority are young people in the audience. And I think that if you’re looking at someone who’s a good symbol or ambassador, someone who’s iconic on the issue of marginalised people, look towards her and look at the demographic, and interpret how we need to progress through this. She also uses her music’s politics in an interesting way, like with a lot of her music she uses a voice changer to give herself this androgynous, monotone voice that can’t be restricted.”

It’s refreshing to have a band not treat engrained misogyny with vapid lip service, but actively promote female bands as tourmates, and be unafraid to call a harassing prick a harassing prick. If Shame are indicative at all of the next generation of UK male guitar bands, then it’s a cultural shift that’s agonisingly needed. Between the date of the interview and the time of publishing; Noel Gallagher claimed “I haven't heard of anything (in the music industry about misogyny)”, and that “You know you can't afford to be a misogynist in the music business;” Bono has lamented the “very girly” state of music and argues there’s “no place for young male anger”; and Josh Homme kicked a female photographer in the face because he was “lost in the performance”. Misogyny is brazenly endemic in rock music and, as Forbes argues, denial is complicity; “if you know and don’t call it out, you are the problem.”

Shame, like one of the band’s cited favourites IDLES, are vocally political outside their music, but within their songs they subvert conservative parameters of “the discourse” by abstraction and downright weirdness; listen to their standalone single ‘Visa Vulture’ for a primer on why. When I ask them what they make of the state of political rock music in the UK, ever a loaded question, Forbes wryly comments “we can say it, rock is dead.”

Coyle-Smith agrees that it’s, at least, staid; “A lot of people are signed to major labels and I think probably comes with them just wanting to make money. So they want their artists to pretty much have no opinion whatsoever. You're not going to offend anyone and be divisive, you know, just do the music. There are so many massive artists with massive platforms to do politics who say nothing. It's just a bit of a waste really.” Forbes adds “There's a lot more focus on them at the moment at well. So I don't know, people in guitar bands feel like they have to be a bit more careful.”

The opposite can also be true; artists presenting themselves as political because it’s good branding. Forbes; “If there's a left leaning band or bands that could be perceived as left wing but are apolitical and don't speak about it, I easily see a record label saying ‘do a tweet about the Tories, I think it would work well for the image.’ I think that's probably worse than not tweeting about it at all.”

Steen adds; “I think the fear with some people is that they don't know everything about politics, they might not be that politically engaged, and I don't think…that's not the point. It's better to try and have a conversation than shy away. Everyone should try to talk about it anyway otherwise nothing is going to be achieved. We never claimed to be politically versed, we’re 21 and trying at least.”

Complementing this ambition to force change is a more straightforward ambition to succeed. After joking about The Highlight Of 2017™ Fyre Festival - “it was like something the KLF would do” (Forbes) - and discussing their visit to South By South West last year, the conversation breaks into the festivals that inspired them; whether by their decadent past or alluring present. Forbes; “I’d play Burning Man, Woodstock, even though it’s really commercial now. I’d play Glastonbury in the seventies, that’d be really great. I think Glastonbury still holds a lot of cultural cache with people. It’d be cool to play there.” Coyle-Smith agrees – “It still to this day has an amazing vibe about it, still regarded as the best festival in the world” – but Steen plays the devil’s advocate, showering praise on the Netherlands’ Into The Great Wide Open festival; “Without fantasising it we did a festival on an island off the Netherlands; no cars on the island. Everything was well run, music was good, everyone had bikes, just good vibes. I hope that’s the antidote to the corporatisation of a lot of festivals” Though even Steen registers Glatsonbury’s draw; “it’s impossible to keep its controlled chaos to a certain extent; there’s always excitement”.

Though, again, they gently mock rock’s y-chromosome self-seriousness; Coyle Smith laughing about when “people were really annoyed that year when Kanye West headlined,” and Forbes going all-out on the caricature; “WHERE IS MY ROCK MUSIC RAAAARRGGGH THIS IS A DISGRACE.” Yet they naturally revere Glastonbury and its inbuilt Look Mum I’ve Made It implication. Forbes identifies it as a milestone for the band; “and we want to get there on merit,” he says “we’re a fan of the hard graft you know.”

If at times they’re a little too deferential to their influences - they're entirely candid about their love for The Fall and 80s punk - on Songs Of Praise, that isn’t a significant slight; especially considering, as Steen highlighted, many of these songs were written and demoed when they were essentially still children at 17 and 18. It’s a record of excellent craftsmanship and affable self-awareness, with an ear for a strong hook and a mind for clever breakdowns and chord progressions. Given their evident talent, compounded by their level-headed ambition, they’re thrillingly capable of becoming a seminal band, a leader of a progressive punk movement in arms with our great female and non-binary artists. One day Steen will strip on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage and I for one won’t blink twice.

Check out The 405's In Photos gallery of Shame at Scala last October here.