POP POWER

by Mike Vinti

It has been three weeks now since David Cameron Inc. and things haven’t exactly started smoothly — there have been protests up and down the country, the SNP are already pissing off half of Westminster, and the new Cabinet is somehow worse than the old one.

Hanging over it all is the question of what the left is going to look like over the next five years and how best to fight the newly upgraded conservative government and their inept, yet terrifying, policies for the new parliament.

One such policy, announced not even a week after their victory, is a new set of anti-extremism laws, designed to counter the fact that, according to Cameron ,“For too long we’ve been a tolerant society, saying to our citizens if you the obey the law we’ll leave you alone”.

it seems an awful lot like the Tories are set on stifling dissent

It’s not hard to see what Dave is getting at here.  Ostensibly aimed at the Muslim community, it’s a dangerous drift into the ‘defending our values from *insert reactionary terror here*’ rhetoric of the Republican Party in the US and the far right across the world; echoing the ‘sit down, shut up’ attitude of the right-wing press following the outrage at Cameron’s re-election.  Chuck in new, tougher laws on strike action and the, now thankfully delayed, plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, and it seems an awful lot like the Tories are set on stifling dissent.

(© mendo)

With all this in mind and facing even more austerity, there’s hardly been a more important time to be a radical or to spread the radical word. As odd as it sounds, popular-music is our best hope for doing this. Chances are, in the next five years there will be no major motion pictures about austerity, nor will there be any coverage of its victims on TV outside of the usual Benefit Street-esque tripe. In terms of popularity, that means pop music has got to step up to the plate.

The Big Weekend just rolled through Norwich taking most the grass in Earlham Park with it and while the majority of artists playing across the weekend were pretty apolitical, the event demonstrates the power and audience popular music has, with over 25,000 people attending each day of the festival.

Tay Tay is unlikely to pen an ode to the one million
or so Britons reliant on food banks

(© BBC)

Take for example Taylor Swift, who recently spoke out, somewhat ironically in an interview with Maxim, against the misogyny “engrained in everyone from birth”.  It’s not exactly bell hooks, and you won’t see Swift manning the barricades against the patriarchy anytime soon, but given her stature and the close relationship she has with her audience it was a pretty radical statement to make, and certainly one that prompted debate.

Increasingly, due to such denouncements of misogyny, Swift is becoming something of a modern feminist icon, demonstrating to the male dominated music industry that pop music can be an empowering tool and not just an objectifying one. Whilst Tay Tay is unlikely to pen an ode to the one million or so Britons reliant on food banks, her high-profile feminism is particularly important in light of the Tories victory, which has seen anti-abortion MP Ben Gummer appointed as Under Secretary for Health.

Swift wasn’t the only artist with a political agenda gracing the Big Weekend. Newcomers Slaves made their second appearance in Norwich on Saturday, following their sold out show at the Owl Sanctuary last year. Slaves are the most overtly political band on the Radio 1 playlist and their energetic mix of punk, blues and, at times, grime, is proving to be the perfect soundtrack to the upcoming #summerofthuggery.

(Taylor Swift © technollama)

a jeering rejection of the disregard for humanity
shown by the last five years of tory-led government

‘The Hunter’ seems aimed squarely at Cameron’s government. With its barbed mockery of the listener (“He was starving, his children were crying to be fed. Now they’re bawling and dying, but at least you are ahead”) and chorus of “You keep it, we don’t want it” serving as a jeering rejection of the disregard for humanity shown by the last five years of tory-led government.

Slaves are brash, consisting of just a drummer and a guitarist, loud and most importantly of all, angry. Yet they are not jaded or cynical, ‘Cheer Up London’ examines the gentrification and corporatisation of the capital with a great big grin, asking “put another O on your pay-check, are you done digging your grave yet?” — a much needed reminder, midway through a decade of tory rule, that life cannot be reduced purely to the economic considerations of Osbourne and the advocates of austerity.

The challenge in the next five years is to forge an alternative, a new vision for Britain that stands opposed to elitist, sneering, and uncompassionate governments of the last four decades.  Popular music will not save us, but it can soundtrack our survival, providing an importantly subjective space in an increasingly objective world.

By supporting the artists that speak to our real experiences
under austerity we elevate those experiences and find others
with which to share them

(Slaves © stylenoir)

The struggle of the left is not singular and the voices that need to be heard will be ignored in many of the conventional outlets. Since Napster we have been predicting the rise of ‘democratised culture’ now it is time our musical culture became truly democratic. By supporting the artists that speak to our real experiences under austerity we elevate those experiences and find others with which to share them. Inadvertently, the Big Weekend has given a launching platform for many people to do just that here in Norwich, and following their performance Slaves’ upcoming show in October has been upgraded to the LCR following high demand.

This is a musical call to arms, to find the artists ignored by the newspapers, the ones that operate outside the never-ending hype of the blogs, to cast out the boring indie-lad-bands and the soulless, gentrified thump of EDM and to reclaim popular-music as the force for empowerment and emancipation it has been since its first incarnation as the blues.  In the words of Slaves’ themselves “the odds are against you but please place your bet”.

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