By Chris Jarvis
Bringing together anarcho punk aesthetics and lyrical themes with dub and ska sounds, Manchester based Autonomads are the ultimate sound clash. Their releases move seamlessly between genres. 2012 EP No Man’s Land exemplifies this at their best, drifting from aggressive growls of ‘No more GMP, get out of our city!’ to the bouncy ska singalongs like Supermarket Sweep, before toning down for mellow moments such as Dubbing Up the Downfall, no song sounding suddenly discordant or out of place. Throughout all of their music is an obvious and explicit political underpinning. On Conditions of the Working Class, they declare ‘our oppression’s still the same, as it used to be’ and on their anti-green washing anthem 2000BP they make clear ‘ethics for profit, that’s treason’.
Guitarist and vocalist Iain explains the relationship between politics and the music the band has written and recorded: “I think the social commentary, which is what I feel our lyrics have become, more than a ‘political’ dictation, is inseparable from the music and the two must co-exist otherwise we would no longer be a band.”
The idea that the political framework of the band is a necessary condition for its production of music is a recurring theme within this series. Seemingly, the motive is what matters, and not the medium, as if a group of individuals have come together for the purpose of sharing and shaping political ideas, and the music arises as a coincidence, rather than as a the first step.
“I think we feel that the role of the lyrics in our music is to share our ideas and put them on the table allowing for them to be motivational or alternatively opening them up for criticism so we can progress as individuals. The microphone and platform present when you are on stage are just circumstantial and not something we view as holy, the boundaries between the stage should always be blurred.
“Within the kind of music we play, our view is not final and conclusive. Fighting the dogma of our own ideas is something we have tried to do over the years (not to say that we have always achieved it). After releasing our first record ‘No Man’s Land’ a song ‘Dubbin’ up the Downfall’ came under some criticism for its promotion of ideas associated with conspiracy theories and although by the time this criticism was raised we had already reflected and acknowledged our own political naivety it was good to be challenged like this.”
Iain moves on to talk about the role he sees music having in bringing about political change – the ultimate question for political bands and musicians to answer. If the music you play is not in the business of changing people’s minds, is not in the business of agitating people to create change, then are you not simply preaching to the converted and trapping yourself in an echo chamber – an even more acute problem on small and tight knit scenes?
“I think that music has the capability to bring about a personal revolution. It did for me and did for the rest of the band. The ideas that I was exposed to through music changed how I looked at the world and still continues to this day. It didn’t make me totally informed or totally tolerant but it played a part in putting me on a path.
The ideas that I was exposed to through music changed how I looked at the world
“I won’t reach the end of this path before I die. It is one of constant reflection about myself as well as the world around me. The world is forever changing moving forward and backwards and side to side and we must struggle to find a route steer through this in a way that has as little negative effect on everyone else as possible.
“I think it is realistic to say that we were all politicised so to speak by music. Bands such as Crass, Propagandhi and Subhumans to name but a few. It was something that made radical ideas accessible and digestible when we were growing up. It is also these bands and the ideas they expressed that made us realise that the personal is political and that the lyrics don’t have to be strictly ‘smash the system’ to express a valuable and relevant political commentary on life as we experience it.”
What role does all this play in the rest of their lives then? Does their political activity stop as the last notes of an album or live show fizzle out? Or does it permeate into their day to day lives?
“Over the years we have been involved in a number of struggles, be it in the field with organisations such as the hunt saboteurs association, squatting and housing actions and anti-austerity manifestations as well as playing and organising lots of benefits for a large number of different campaigns and struggles.”
Unsurprisingly given the nature of the band and their uncompromising radicalism, they have a deep history of involvement in direct political action – taking the views and ideas they espouse off the stage and into the streets, bringing together the cultural movement with the political movement. In doing so, they stand in a long and proud tradition of the counter-culture and the more bands like this that exist, and the fewer that see their roles as apolitical, the better our music scenes and the stronger our social movements will be. We live in hope.
This article is part of our series Music That Matters. You can find the rest of the series, including interviews with Faintest Idea, The Filaments and Lobster here.