By Chris Jarvis
In 1993, a new icon was born. King Prawn’s incendiary sound emerged from London, and paved the way for countless other bands on a burgeoning and ever developing scene. Over the next decade, they would lay waste to notions of genre as album after album would reinvent punk, ska, hip-hop and hardcore blazing a trail for many others to follow. Sonic Boom Six, Random Hand, The King Blues all built upon the legacy of King Prawn. So diverse and innovative, they coined their own label to define their music – Wildstyle, and their rebel rousing songs combined with their flagrant disregard for musical convention led to comparisons with American rap-metal pioneers Rage Against the Machine.
As per the cliché, all good things came to an end, and in 2003, after the release of their finest album date Got The Thirst, King Prawn ceased to exist. Former members spread across other projects. Al Rumjen, took on microphone duties at influential ragga outfit Asian Dub Foundation. Babar Luck moved on to a solo career as well as featuring on innumerate recordings with a range of bands from The Babylon Whackers to East End Trinity. Nikolai Jones formed the funky hip-hop group Left Step Band. The sheer variety of post-Prawn projects that were established by its members is emblematic of the versatility of the band.
Another decade later, and the punk world was shocked again as KP announced that they were going to be coming back together. Although the legendary Babar Luck was noticeable in his absence, the excitement on the scene was palpable. A string of festival dates, a UK tour and a two track EP followed, all whetting the nostalgic appetite of old school fans, while bringing KP to a whole new generation for good measure. Although there’s no new album to speak of as yet, crowds across the country are still singing along to classic KP tunes from Racist Copper to Dominant View and from Not Your Punk to Smoke Some Shit. These songs, politically charged and social conscious are what KP have been known for as much as their genre defying sound.
KP drummer Nikolai Jones describes the way politics feeds into their music: “We try and cover lyrical content and subject matter that is of interest to us primarily. If you try and be Mr current affairs then chances are your song will be irrelevant before it’s even been released! We try and cover universal themes that look like they will be a big part of our world for time to come. Looking at many of the topics we have previously covered on past albums they are just as, if not more relevant now than ever.”
Portentously, if you flick through a KP lyric book, you would inevitably find this to be true. Take Racist Copper, a song written for the 1998 album Fried in London. In a time where racial profiling for stop and search policing is still a major issue, and when just five years have passed since Mark Duggan was shot dead on the streets of Tottenham by police officers – the event that sparked the London riots, it is staggering how lyrics written nearly twenty years ago seems just as resonant and as relevant to analysing the world today as it was then.
The public in general has been beaten into a consumerist
coma and musicians are no different.
In that sense, can it be said that bands like KP have failed in politicising and mobilising for change. In writing music that tackles politics, surely an aim must be to influence it, and if the very same scenarios that were being discussed and described and rallied against two decades ago have not changed, has it not demonstrated the inability of musical or art movements to bring about change? Nikolai is nothing if not frank in his take on this – “Realistically I don’t [think music can bring about change]. Look at the state of music, everyone is a careerist, with their clothing line, their perfume. Who do you see these days that sticks their head above the parapet to make any political statements? Sure it happens once in a while, someone escapes the farm and accidentally goes off grid ruffling a few drowsy public feathers maybe even an apology is made about it then it is back to big business as usual.
“Music has been bought and sold. It is a controlled commodity that is primarily used to peddle sex to teens or nostalgia to 30 somethings. The time of politically charged wide reaching musical voices has passed I’m afraid. The public in general has been beaten into a consumerist coma and musicians are no different.”
Perhaps Nikolai’s pessimism comes through having gone through the motions of being in a political band. The idealism of youth has worn off, and the realisation that the world is still as unjust and oppressive as it was when KP burst onto the scene, brings with it the cynicism of age.
Fortunately, this has not led to a dampening of his ire, as we move on to discuss today’s music scene and he aggressively lays into the death of music venues across the country: “The decimation of London’s music venues is to my mind not a coincidence. Tory governments know that music has always been a hotbed for those that oppose their greedy grabbing ways. They are always happy to stifle and strangle any funding for the arts. To them it makes sense. Artists are generally a fairly leftist caring socially aware bunch which is the polar opposite of the pig fucker General and his demonic horde.”
It is this raw, righteous anger that fuelled so many of the best KP anthems and that has inspired a myriad of other musicians. Nikolai lists The Dead Kennedys, Crass, Public Enemy, Rage Against the Machine, and Bob Marley as major influences on King Prawn. It would not be surprising to see Nikolai and his peers on similar lists put together by bands of a younger generation. And as we seem to be moving ever closer to a new KP release, I’m certain that more musical traditions will be torn up, and countless new artists will seek to follow in their footsteps.
This article is part of our Music That Matters series. You can find the rest of the series, including interviews with Babar Luck, Faintest Idea and The Filaments here.