By Chris Jarvis
Dutch trio Antillectual are known for their fast, thumping, melodic hardcore, which they have toured extensively across the globe since their debut album in 2005. Bringing together influences and sounds reminiscent of bands varying from Bad Religion, Strike Anywhere and Rise Against, they have held onto one of the central tenets of punk rock, socially conscious lyrics and a progressive political outlook. Songs such as No Human is Illegal, Another Guide (To Comprehensive Capitalism) and To All Members of Parliament illustrate this attention paid to political issues and their attempt to address them through their music. Given this context, The Norwich Radical spoke to frontman and guitarist Willem about their political outlook, why Antillectual chose to fuse music and politics, and the impacts they believe political music can have as part of our series Music That Matters.
I start by inquiring as to how Willem would describe his political outlook. As with so many other musicians I have interviewed as part of this series, he is reluctant to be pigeonholed and attach a label to his politics: “I don’t feel comfortable being labelled by traditional political terms like anarchist, socialist, communist and the like. Maybe [it’s] a bit more generic, but I think a combination of terms like left-wing, inclusive, progressive, green, sustainable, anti-capitalist cover my viewpoints a bit better.”
After stating this, he goes on to question whether or not it is legitimate to describe such politics as ‘radical’ – an important question to ask, given the name and nature of this publication. “I think my views are nothing more than realistic, natural and logical; all but radical. Maybe others find them radical. People who use words like ‘radical’ to describe their views are often looking for provocation more than real change.”
Given these rather clear and explicit political positions that Willem holds, coupled with his placement as a musician in a hyper-political music scene, I ask whether it was music that influenced his political outlook – a kind of chicken and egg style question as to how his involvement in political music began. “If by music you mean bands and their lyrics, for sure. But I have always had an interest in politics, which precedes my interest in political music. But when I started listening to music that confirmed my ideas and beliefs got strengthened. Of course I also got in touch with new ideas through songs and music, which changed my outlooks. I learnt from bands like Pennywise expressing the importance of being independent and having a critical attitude. Bands like Propagandhi dive a bit deeper and address issues like animal rights, feminism, which made me think of how I deal with those issues in my own life.”
Unsurprisingly, the above answer is unclear. Whether a general interest in politics came first, re-affirmed by political music, or whether music shaped the beliefs, while at first seeming a trivial and irrelevant question, is actually central to the ability of radical music’s potential to effect change in people, their beliefs and wider society. If music only confirms and deepens pre-existing beliefs, how can it seek to address the issues that it raises?
In order to scratch below the surface of this, I push Willem on how he sees the role of politics in the music he produces, and in the wider scene: “Maybe I sounds strange, but I have mixed feelings about this. To me, the message in our songs, [and] also in the way we operate our band is very important. But I do realise that the content is always subject to its form. In the best case, the message can make the music even better or more impactful or vice versa. In the worst case, people don’t pay attention to the message, just enjoy the music. And nobody listens to music they hate only because the like the message it spreads.
“But to me, politics and music are intertwined. I feel the urge to write political lyrics, even when there is a personal starting point. But we also want to be a conscious band in other aspects. Our merchandise is FairTrade, we play a lot of charity shows, we rehearse in a non-commercial, autonomous space and play many shows in places alike.
But to me, politics and music are intertwined.
“I’m sure a lot of historic radical change occurred without the direct influence of music. But I also wouldn’t want to underestimate the influence music has had on young people and on youth movements that eventually led to broader social change. Music, art and other cultural forms can either evoke, support or spread social change on an incredibly broad level.
“On the other hand, radical political change usually comes from a widespread movement among the people, young people most of the time. It would be naïve to think that music and other art forms are isolated and not related at all, either as the cause or as a result of such movements. There is an undeniable interactions between social movements and its sub and counter cultures, making it very hard to pinpoint or identify what is the cause and what is the result.”
And in that Willem provides a perspective on the central question behind this series, of the capacity that radical culture, music in particular, to play a role in bringing about progressive change. The ‘undeniable interaction’ between social movements and cultural movements is at the centre of it. Undoubtedly history has shown that marrying these two together, whether it’s through Rock Against Racism, the links between the 1960s counter-culture and the student revolt in 1968, or in more recent times, the politics and activism of Pussy Riot, the marrying of radical culture and radical politics can be effective at instigating important social movements and social change.
In light of this, I ask Willem his views on the wider music scene and bands that are contributing to that counter-culture. “Not that many artists do it, that’s for sure. Of course there are different ways and levels of how to mix music and politics. If you look at the mainstream there are almost no bands or acts making music with a political content. U2, Coldplay and others supposed to be political bands are mostly political outside of their musical activities, doing stuff for charity as a celebrity.
“But there are some examples of modern music with a political message. I really enjoyed the music for MIA’s Borders about the refugee crisis. I know Macklemore touches [on] social issues like gay rights and same-sex marriages in his songs. And of course, Lady Gaga also makes some waves with her gay-positive message.
“But bands that predominantly have political content are more likely to be found in subcultures like hip-hop and of course punk and hardcore. I still love what bands like Propagandhi, Anti-Flag, Strike Anywhere, Bad Religion and the like do, each in their own way. Me and my friends grew up on that stuff, it changed us, made us who we are and it caused us to play a socially aware type of music ourselves.”
bands that predominantly have political content are more
likely to be found in subcultures like hip-hop and of course
punk and hardcore
The final question then is to what extent Willem brings together his political views into activism outside of his musical outputs – to what extent he seeks to bring about political change outside of writing and producing music. “By traditional standards, I’m not involved in any. I’m not a member of a political party or an NGO. Maybe it’s cheesy to say, but there’s two activities I undertake that I classify as extremely political: my lifestyle and the music we make. I think people’s lifestyles make a big impact. I try to live as conscious as I can. I’m sure a lot of people do that or think they do so. But with most things I do, I try to minimise my environmental footprint, the use of animal products, the abuse of human labour. I’m trying to get rid of my consumer addiction to products. Basically, I’m minimising the effect of my life on other forms of life and the environment. As for music, I think music with a message can be just as influential to people and the world around us as a political party or an NGO. Maybe not directly, but definitely through the impact that music or culture in a broader sense can have on people, their lives and the world they live in.”