Music and politics: do they intertwine today as they have done in Britain over the past 50 years?
When you’re standing there in the stalls waiting for your beloved Paloma Faith to deliver a blistering set and Owen Jones steps out to discuss matters such as tax evasion, your mind, I guess, is right to be slightly muddled. However, it was Paloma Faith who got in touch with the left wing activist to accompany her sets in London and Brighton due to her growing concern that her fan base may be swaying towards the UKIP consensus.
Owen Jones is the author of Chavs and The Establishment, and heavily advocates a socialist agenda. He has stated that “Music is a good way of getting stories across about working class lives” and adds that this was rife in the music scene of the 70s and 80s. Jones also makes the comment that this engagement with political and social issues is quite absent in the music industry today, and that there is a lack of working class people in mainstream music.
Now, when we contrast the 1970s with today’s music culture it does seem that this is the case. How can you really compare John Cooper Clarke’s Salford seething about poverty on Beasley Street with Ed Sheeran’s slathered melancholy about not liking his dorm room in private school? John Lydon’s defilement of Elizabeth II’s face with satire sits proud in many of our bedrooms, and yet many of us still see this as music’s last slam against the class system.
However, when we do look back to the punk-rock era, this was not the popular mainstream culture either. Okay, The Sex Pistols and The Clash did light up the punk circuit along with many other bands featured on Top of the Pops, but this was not the norm of chart music. Punk was seen as a bit of a fad, a teenage rebellious culture breaking through. The charts were still stained with Abba’s infectious strain of crap music.
Now this is even more illuminated by the charts. I don’t know what is in the charts at the moment but I imagine that it will be dominated by Kanye West’s nonsensical rants, Rihanna’s inspirational lyrics about her amnesia-like traits with her name and possibly an Ellie Goulding or Rita Ora lullaby. Chart music will unfortunately be the same for a very long time because that’s what we are told is appropriate and good for us. Chart music is circular, safe and subconsciously fed into us with subliminal excellence – the bastards.
When we pull away from this squeaky clean yet undeniably tempting chart style of music however, politics becomes just as apparent in music as it ever has been. There are several examples of this; the first one being, for me, Sleaford Mods. Tiswas gives us an insight into how out-dated the music corporation is on Denmark street London and how the dated elitist system has fed into our everyday action and appearance.
The Fat White Family seem to walk the line every time they open their mouths, but my god isn’t it just refreshing? The impaled pigs’ heads and shit smearing is questionable (even I agree on that), but their commentary of the Scottish Referendum and the effort they put into it electrified the political scene to an even greater extent. One of the comments from front man Lias Saoudi was that the band would move to East Kilbride if the vote conclusion was Yes. Their live sets even consisted of flying Saltires. Their music alone is not as politically involved as some other bands but they stress the importance of politics on their lives, and on our lives. None of us are untouchable.
The Scottish band Mogwai were and still are active in politics. Stuart Braithwaite stressed his passion for the independence vote, and with the band growing up in the Glasgow music scene from 1995, you can be pretty fucking sure that it shaped their music. I imagine as well that they hold a great deal of influence over their fans – and so they should, as they are concerned with matters affecting the Glaswegian, not the high security of north-by-north-west, or whatever it is.
So I think we need to re-evaluate Owen Jones’ comments on this type of music not existing today. Music works like politics; it has this tiered agenda. For the socialist working classes this music is appealing because it has vigour, meaning and emphasis on people’s everyday lives. You could not imagine this politically engaged music to be bouncing off the walls in the House of Lords, nor from any conservative household, as it just is not reflective of their lives. Commercialism has its place within politics and music, and many politically engaged bands don’t make much of a mark on the dominant culture because they don’t fit into the commercial model. We need to open our eyes and ears more to the sounds of socialism; it changes its whole perspective once we do.
Paloma Faith has taken a step towards engaging with reality by using Jones as a mouthpiece for her beliefs and influence. She has exiled herself from the plasticised world of the music industry and taken an interest in the Fans’ lives directly. Kudos to her for doing so.
From Patti Smith to The Streets, who are your favourite artists for making your political ticker spark up?