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The Libertines Carl Barat on being a waster, an ex-rent boy and working with Bernard Butler
Eamon Sweeney, 09 Jul 2002
As debut singles go, it doesn’t get much more self-explanatory or beautifully blunt than ‘What a Waster’. If you believe that a libertine is one who leads an irresponsible, immoral life, then the strains of the East London quartet’s first release is all you need by way of a sonic definition. “What a waster / What a fucking waster,” they snarl in their East End drawl. “You pissed all up against the wall and round the corner too.” Throw in a frequent “you two bob cunt”, “talking like a moron, walking like a spiv” and a few references to the Taliban, and you’ve got one of the most compelling and memorable debut 45s in quite some time.
‘What a Waster’ was produced by Brit Rock legend and ex-Suede guitar god Bernard Butler. “Working with Bernard was great because he is just so lovely and grounded,” opines Carl Barat, one of two frontmen within the group. “He gives great advice and he has been through it all before.” Carl and company also do a very original take on the beleaguered and somewhat knackered entity that is British guitar music which has been losing out to its currently cooler US cousins. Take the spiky wit of The Jam, Buzzcocks, Blur at their loudest, add Strokes hair cuts and nick Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s leather jackets and you’re getting the scuzzy picture of barbed wire pop in a libertine style.
Carl is laughing down a very bad phone line from a very noisy London street, at times babbling incomprehensibly not unlike his stream of consciousness geezerisms. It’s a very opportune time to discuss the nuances of ‘What A Waster’.
“You could kinda say it’s autobiographical,” Carl muses. “It’s about you, me, whoever.” The Libertines are clearly not stuck for source material. They used to perform acoustically at Filthy McNasty’s in London’s seedy King’s Cross district. Some of their more colourful periods include unwittingly living in a brothel and a stint as rent boys for all of five minutes. “We’ve had a lot of adventures,” giggles Carl by way of an understatement. “It’s hard to establish which ones really happened!”