KNOW YOUR ENEMY – AN INTERVIEW WITH JAKE OF SHOCK ! HAZARD

By Chris Jarvis

For most, Norfolk boys Shock ! Hazard will appear as something of an antilogy. Their sound and aesthetics are clearly rooted in and influenced by early heavy metal pioneers like Led Zeppelin and the less flamboyant hair metallers of the 1980s – thumping riffs, extended guitar solos and screeching vocals galore. More than anything, this sound and this scene has been known for its bone-headed hedonism, its sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll attitude, and the carefree and unrestricted antics of its participants; hardly the place you go to find revolutionary calls to action or heavily politicised lyricism. Putting aside the question as to whether participation in a counter-culture is an inherently political act for a minute, unlike other musical movements, from punk to folk to hip-hip, this straight-up, hard hitting, in your face rock and roll, has made its name in part for being almost overtly apolitical.

And this is why Shock ! Hazard are interesting. At times, you could be fooled into thinking they were quite typical of their sound and their contemporaries. On Goin’ Down, frontman Jake declares ‘I’ve got my six-string and she is all I need’ and elsewhere on the same release, a chorus of ‘halle-fucking-lujah’. But within the band is a deep seated political awareness. Earlier this year, they headlined a fundraiser gig for the Norfolk People’s Assembly at The Owl Sanctuary and the video for their latest single Know Your Enemy sets their colours to the mast quite clearly with it being littered with peace symbols and Guy Fawkes masks as well at its depictions of secret police arrests and waterboarding. It would be hard to miss the explicit politics behind it all.

Jake explains the role of politics in the band’s music: ‘When we first started it was very much just fuck you to everything that controlled us! Now it’s actually giving meaning to the songs. We find things we are passionate about and write about it. Our latest song “Know Your Enemy” was focussing a lot on the powers that be and the wars they take us into and the violence they cause globally.”

it’s surprising how many of them spoke out against the system

Given the scene they operate on, it’s interesting as to where the political influences came from – it clearly didn’t come from AC/DC and Motley Crue – so what was it that sparked the politicisation of Jake and his fellow band members? In that way that only a handful of bands do in transcending genre boundaries and fan bases, Jake cites Rage Against the Machine, Enter Shikari and The Clash among others as key influences politically, but is also frank in his argument that radicalism is not confined to those clichéd scenes and circles. “Looking back to other bands we used to listen to and actually taking in the lyrics it’s surprising how many of them spoke out against the system but it never really broke through.”

This optimism around the political potential of musicians feeds into his beliefs around the role that music and art can have in creating political change. “As for starting a revolution I’m not so sure it will be music on its own, but saying that the Arts as a whole will have a huge impact. It only takes a handful of them to unite and encourage their fans to stand up and take action and we have a revolution started!

“Now give me a minute with this but just think if Justin Bieber, One Direction, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift got together and at every show on one UK Tour, told their fans to gather outside the houses of Parliament on a certain date and time, gave them a strong but basic reason why we should stand up against the government. One huge Revolution has just started amongst the young people of the UK.

“This is where bands like Enter Shikari who are now playing arenas have the chance to really do something special. Even just at each show getting them the next day to hold a Protest outside the local Council Offices.”

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Unfortunately, I highly doubt Mr Bieber will be announcing such a call to arms any time in the near future, but he does have a point. Perhaps part of the reason behind inertia in the realm of youth and radical politics is exactly down to a lack of leadership from the cultural spheres. Let’s not forget that it was less than two decades ago when Rage Against the Machine led 8,000 people to a protest concert outside the Democratic National Convention, or that in 1978 100,000 people marched through the streets of London at Rock Against Racism, ultimately to see The Clash, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex and others in an East London park. And while it would take a miracle for Bieber and co. to be the leaders of such activity, is it really so hard to imagine somebody like Beyonce, who has intentionally combined politics and activism with her chart-topping pop music following Jake’s lead?

If fans see their favourite bands and idols standing
up for something they will want to do the same thing!

And this idea stems from Jake’s understanding of the way that music can affect its audience and its fan base. “Even without realising it I was being educated by the bands I listened to from a young age. I used to tidy my bedroom listening to Rage. I found out who Malcom X, Che, King were from those hours listening to rage and then researching who they were. If fans see their favourite bands and idols standing up for something they will want to do the same thing! We need to be getting together more, we need more musicians, poets, comedians, writers etc to stand up and engage their audience in conversation.”

Taking a look at Shock ! Hazard’s Facebook page, with its streams of posts that beam ‘fuck capitalism’ and ‘I’m changing the things I cannot accept’, it’s clear that there is a coming together of the band’s music and their politics outside of the lyrics and song writing they already do. But given Jake’s wish for musicians and artists to be more active in social and political movements, what activism does he himself get involved with? “I’m currently a member of the People’s Assembly, Stop the War and Labour. The People’s Assembly do such amazing things and the campaigns they put together really make a difference.

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“I’ve only recently become a member of the Labour Party and was a Green member before Jeremy Corbyn became leader, but I have always been interested in both. The left need to get together more, Greens and Labour are pretty similar and there are parts I disagree with both, but when it comes to getting the Tories out… WORK TOGETHER!”

That final call for unity is where we leave this. But perhaps bands like Shock ! Hazard have a bigger role to play in that then perhaps they realise. Unlike those on smaller, more explicitly political scenes – the punk bands of the world – the people who come to shows, who download the tracks are not necessarily of the same politics. The echo chamber has not yet been built, and there are many unconverted to be preached to. Perhaps by virtue of the seemingly incongruous application of left-wing politics to a typically apolitical genre, the impacts of their efforts will be greater. We wait and watch in anticipation.

This article was part of our series Music That Matters. You can find the rest of the series here.

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