Arts section writer
Music and Politics have the inordinate ability to turn this usually well mannered lefty into a raging, Tucker-esque ball of fury. Mike will be channeling this obviously righteous anger into coherent and insightful journalism, proving once and for all that if everyone listened to him modern culture would be in much better straights.
(24.07.16) – Music To Watch Trump By
Content warning: mentions racism, rape
Well, that’s it folks, it’s official. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee and one step closer to wiping out all sentient life on earth, sorry I mean one step closer the US presidency. It’s been a pretty terrifying week watching the Republican National Convention, even on this side of the Atlantic, and the hate levels are only set to rise as the human whoopee cushion begins his flatulent rampage towards the Whitehouse. Now, it’s been clear for sometime that the Republicans were going to have a cloud of methane with a wig floating on top for their nominee, however all the pomp and plagiarism (looking at you Melania) has got us thinking about what music should play in a presidential election, particularly one with such apocalyptic overtones.
This week, racial tensions in America have been reignited by the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castle and five members of the Dallas police. The response from the the majority of people of all races has been one of shock and sadness, with many black musicians and artists using their platforms to voice their solidarity with the victims and their support for the BlackLivesMatter movement.
Beyoncé and husband Jay-Z both released statements following the attacks, with Jay-Z even releasing his first new song – Spiritual – in years to support the BLM movement. UK rappers Stormzy and Novelist, two increasingly political artists in their own right, have spoken out, highlighting the issue of police violence in the UK as well as the US. RnB icon Miguel has recorded a song listing the names of black Americans killed by police with plans to update it every week. These are just some of the interventions made by high profile musicians in the last week.
(26.06.16) – Now That’s What I Call Brexit
Are you hungover and full of existential dread? Do you have a crippling fear that life will never be the same? Have you said the phrase ‘let’s face it, we’re fucked’ in the last 24 hours? If you have, then boy, do we have just the songs for you.
This weekend saw the start of Euro 2016, every European’s second favourite quadrennial football tournament. As I write, football fans of every stripe have descended on France and the op-ed writers of every political persuasion are spending their time priming think-pieces about what the clashes between England fans and the French police say about the EU referendum. However, the arrival of not-quite-the World Cup 2K16 also brings with it a chance to break away from eye-ball gauging mundanity of the referendum – to instead talk about, you guessed it, the relationship between music and football.
Football and music have always been locked in something of a confusing relationship. As someone who doesn’t really watch Football but listens to a lot of music, catching snippets of fan-made chants, usually through Facebook videos, has been my main access to the culture surrounding Britain’s favourite sport. The more attention I’ve paid to how the two interact, the more I’ve come to realise that music plays a huge, often vital role in the world of football.
(15.05.16) – Skepta, Chance the Rapper and Rap’s DIY Revolution
The last week or so has seen the release of two of the most anticipated projects in recent musical history; Skepta’s fourth album Konnichiwa and Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape Coloring Book.
With both MCs having made a name for themselves over the past couple of years as being pioneers in their respective fields of rap music, the release of their full length efforts has served to cement their reputations and effectively crown them as kings of their respective sides of the Atlantic. However, while both projects are excellent musically speaking, what’s most interesting about the hype surrounding both Chance and Skepta is that they’re both totally independent artists.
(29.04.16) – Beyoncé, Hillsborough and Unity Through Song
It’s been a pretty big couple of weeks in the pop world. Prince died, Beyoncé pulled a well, a Beyoncé, and today (Friday April 29th) Drake has released his new album VIEWS. If ever there was a week to remind us of popular music’s impact on society and culture, this is the one.
While each of these moments are significant in their own right and worthy of articles of their own, of which there have been many, together they’ve demonstrated the power of music to unite people. Be it through, grief, shock or pure unadulterated hype, the three most significant cultural moments of the past eight days have used music to bring people together and for a few days at least, forget about those intent on tearing us apart.
(21.04.16) – Punk’s Place in the 21st Century
This year, as I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot of as we move closer to summer, marks 40 years(ish) of punk. As such there’s a plethora of punk-themed exhibitions, celebrations and, inevitably, memorabilia knocking around with the aim of inducing some punk-nostalgia in the generation that came of age during the mid to late 70s and early 80s. However, while there’s much to celebrate about punk’s legacy, and the modern punk scene itself, a lot of the ‘official’ anniversary celebrations are somewhat missing the point.
(03.04.16) – The Corporate Underground
The lines between the underground and mainstream music worlds have been blurring for a while now. As with the majority of issues facing the music industry these days, this is largely because of the internet. While it’s been an undeniably positive force on music itself, allowing fans and artists to connect more easily as well as opening whole new worlds of music to potential fans, it’s also made underground music more marketable.
This may not sound like a bad thing, and to a large extent it isn’t. While it would be great if musicians could live off credibility alone, in the ruthless world of capitalism in which we live, you need to be stacking that P if you want to survive. Where this increased marketability becomes less positive however is when corporations start getting involved.
(22.01.16) – Don’t Call It a Comeback
We’re barely a month into 2016 yet it’s becoming plain to see the musical trend that’s going to dominate the next twelve months: comebacks.
For as a long as there’s been a history of popular music there have been comebacks, it’s a natural part of the scene. The bands and musicians you idolise as a child and throughout your teenage years hold a special place in your heart and that’s always going to translate into a desire for more music and more shows form those artists; nostalgia is a powerful force.
Of, course, where there’s nostalgia, there’s money. Artists that have been around for longer can charge more for tickets, command larger production budgets and utilise the demand from fans to open doors not available to their more contemporary peers. This is doubly true for those than have been away and come back again. From Blur to Black Sabbath, Take That to Jay-Z, the combination of die-hard fans and risk averse record label execs sets the stage perfectly for a comeback if you’ve been officially out the scene for more than five years. Money and nostalgia, it seems as simple as that, right?
(11.01.16) – Review: David Bowie’s Blackstar
This review was written over the weekend, when David Bowie was still alive. In light of his death last night, much of the meaning of this album has changed and one can’t help but see this album, released just three days before his passing, as Bowie’s final gift to the world. In this review, no great weight is placed on the allusions to death or nagging sense of dread throughout, the aspects of the album that stand out most today. In my naivety I guess I thought he’d live forever. Listening in light of the news, ‘Lazarus’ especially feels like a resigned goodbye, lines such as ‘I’ve got scars you cannot see’ and ‘just like that bluebird, I’ll be free’ seem to warn the listener of Bowie’s fate and one can’t help but feel like a fool for missing them.
(11.12.15) – The Radical’s Year in Music
2015 has been a pretty incredible year for music, especially that of a socially conscious political nature. Kendrick Lamar cemented his position as the year’s GOAT (Great of All Time for you non-rap-nerds out there) with To Pimp a Butterfly, Sleaford Mods gave a voice to the victims of austerity with their acerbic, bassline backed rants and grime blew up so fast that half the teenagers in the country switched from Hypebeast to Road Man in the space of a month. As it’s the time of year where every goddamn publication lists their top 10, 20, 50, 100 etc. albums we figured we’d run through the year’s best moments, in no particular order, with a special end of year Radical Playlist.
Protest and pop are unusual bed fellows. The noisy, often chaotic world of protest can often seem like the antithesis of the sleek, PR heavy world of modern pop music. However, the two have a long a history together. Whether it’s Punk, the Rock Against Racism movement or afro-beat pioneer Fela Kuti running for President of Nigeria, there are plenty of instances where protest and pop music have joined forces to fight injustice. This is happening again today, not only with the renewed attention on feminism as we discussed two weeks ago, but also with the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
(1.11.15) – A New Wave: Feminist Punk
Feminism has been in the news a lot recently. Whether it’s Femen’s brand of topless demonstrations, protests at the premier of the film Suffragette or straw-man attacks on the movement in the Spectator, for a movement that’s been active for some decades now, its seems that 2015 was the year the cause really broke into mainstream circles.
Pop music in particular has been significantly influenced by feminism this year. Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj established themselves as sex positive feminists and two of the biggest musicians on the planet, bands like Catfish & the Bottlemen are publicly derided for the kind of indie-lad-band antics that would have been celebrated in the NME five years ago and Whirr pretty much just wrecked their career by slinging misogynistic insults at the trans-fronted, feminist punk band G.L.O.S.S on Twitter. Two years ago we had ‘Blurred Lines’ – now we have clearly defined boundaries of consent.
(16.10.15) – Raise the Pitchfork: Music and Mainstream Media
On the face of it, this is a pretty boring piece of news to anyone other than music journalists; Condé Nast is no longer the giant of media it once was, and Pitchfork has a relatively niche audience. As such, this announcement has been met with derision by many in the blogosphere, perhaps wary of the old-world Nasties infringing on their ad revenue, alongside some legitimate concerns for the diversity of its audience and contributor pool. Yet aside from the dull business of one company purchasing another, the deal proves far more interesting than it first appears.’
(02.09.15) – Feed Your Brain
‘Flying Lotus’ new project, alongside Shabbaz Palaces and Thundercat, WOKE released their first single on Monday. Featuring George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic, it’s a typically psyched out, funk laden cut, overflowing with strange samples and squelching synth lines.
Since the release of You’re Dead! last October, Flying Lotus’s profile has been growing. No longer merely the preserve of open-minded hip hop heads, he’s broken out to become a critical darling and gained lucrative mass appeal, having produced tracks on Kendrick Lamar’s latest LP To Pimp a Butterfly. Flying Lotus is also the founder, and head of, record label Brainfeeder, a collective of musicians from around the world specialising in experimental electronic music and hip hop, with a heavy jazz influence.
Brainfeeder has provided a home not just for Flying Lotus’ pet projects such as WOKE, but for some of the most challenging and boundary pushing artists currently recording. As its founder’s profile grows and grows, now is the perfect time to explore some of the other artists on its roster and their releases over the years.’
(20.09.15) – Jools Holland and the Death of Live Music
‘On Wednesday, Later…With Jools Holland returned to our screens for its 47th series. Featuring Foals, Disclosure and My Morning Jacket among others, it was an entertaining, if safe, start to the show’s latest run. Later… is the flagship programme for BBC Music and much of the British music scene generally, and has always hosted a mix of established and up and coming artists. However, recently its bookings have become predictable, their performances lacklustre and the show itself stale.‘
(08.09.15) – A Dismal Day Out
‘Banksy’s anti-theme park is a strange thing to behold. After all the media hype and ensuing comment pieces, it’s hard to know what to expect when entering through its cheap, plastic doors. The queues outside set the tone rather nicely, reminiscent of Dismaland’s mainstream counterparts and laying the foundations of what promises to be a dismal experience.
Once at the front, visitors get their first taste of Dismaland’s stewards. Adorned in Mickey Mouse ears and pink hi-vis vests they are the antithesis of your average, over-friendly theme park worker, barely making eye contact and offering nothing but disdain to those who pass them by.’
(26.08.15) – How Should We Talk About Misogyny in Rap?
‘Between Spotify releasing data showing that hip hop is the most widely listened to genre of music, and the imminent release of Straight Outta Compton: The Movie, rap has been in the news a lot recently. With the spotlight firmly on Dr. Dre & Co., and in light of a fantastic article for Gawker by journalist and MC Dee Barnes, detailing the abuse she faced from the former NWA member and how women were excluded from the movie, questions have begun to be asked about the treatment of women in hip hop.’
(07.08.15) – The White Boy’s Guide to Gangsta Rap
‘Since its inception gangsta rap has been a thorn in the side of the establishment. Brash, violent and loud, its explosion in the late 80s and 90s tore up the rule book of hip hop and reshaped the genre in its own image, introducing the world to the harsh reality of life on the streets of black America. With the cinematic release of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ a week away (August 15th) it only seems fitting to look back at some of gangster rap’s greatest and explore its legacy thirty years on.’
(24.06.15) – Culture Cu*ts
‘The future of the BBC is uncertain. Despite John Whittingdale’s assurances everything is going to be ok, you can’t help but wonder — if they’re abolishing grants for disadvantaged students, cutting disability benefits and generally meddling in the NHS, why would they save the BBC? As the Tories start to enact their new budget, it seems nothing is safe.’
(27.05.15) – Radical Review: Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
‘Introducing the Radical Review; a semi-regular feature focusing on one artist or album in depth, getting to grips with the work in question and its politics.
Given the recent tragedies in the US, it seems appropriate to kick things off with California rapper Vince Staples’ debut album Summertime ‘06.’
(14.05.15) – Never Mind the Sex Pistols
‘Earlier this week it was announced that Virgin Money will be putting out a series of credit cards bearing classic Sex Pistols iconography. The reaction to this has been pretty much universally horrified, as well it should — but really, what did everyone expect?’
(29.05.15) – Pop Power
‘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.’
‘On May the 7th our fair isles will take to the polls. Across this (hopefully) green and pleasant land, the great multi-headed beasts, known to our political class as hard-working families, will be herded into schools and council buildings to cast their vote. It’s going to be, without a doubt, the most anti-climactic, and longest, election of our times. And what’s worse, E4 won’t be on all day.’
(17.04.15) – Home Grown Part 2: Grime
‘Last time round we focused on the explosion of hip hop taking place across the UK, this week we focus on the UK Rap scene’s mainstay: Grime. Grime initially took off in the early 2000s thanks to pioneering production and vocal stylings of artists like Skepta and Wiley, whose invention of ‘Eski-beat’ birthed grime as we know it. Characterised by double-time rapping and generally sticking around 140 bpm, grime is hip hop’s faster, louder, and often far more hype cousin. Unfortunately, I was eight years old in 2002 and subsequently missed out on a lot of ‘OG’ grime.’
(04.04.15) – Home Grown Part 1: UK Hip Hop
‘For the past few years, hidden away from the mainstream media, and even much of the music press, British Rap has been flourishing. Rap in the UK comes in two major forms; Grime and UK Hip Hop. The Grime Renaissance of 2014/5 has seen the genre reinvigorated, keeping the best elements of its mid-2000s domination and pushing its boundaries both in terms of lyricism and production. On the UK Hip Hop side of things, labels like High Focus and Blah! Records have been slowly gaining more and more of a following, carving out a fresh faced, DIY oriented scene and shrugging off the ‘crusty’ aspersions that have come with the genre for so long.’
(20.03.15) – Teenage Kicks: Punk and Politics
‘Recently I came across the 2012 film ‘Good Vibrations’. A stirring tale, based on real events, about a man, Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), who opens a record shop on the most bombed half mile in Europe — Great Victoria Street, Belfast. Terri’s mission is to use music to bring people together as sectarianism tears the city in two. It is through this shop that Terri first encounters punk.’
(06.03.150 – Celebrity Politics
‘Popular culture today is dominated by one thing — the celebrity. Be they actors, musicians, reality TV stars, or vloggers, celebrities are the most visible benchmark of our culture. Yet it seems we don’t really know what to do with them. We proclaim them as role models in the media yet the same outlets feast on their personal failures; we attack them for squandering their platform, yet criticise those who use it for some perceived good. They symbolise both everything we love and everything we hate about late capitalist society.’
(20.02.15) – Smash the Charts – Pop, Politics, and Pussy Riot
‘It often seems today that everything exists in its own sphere — music in one box, politics in another, and visual art in another still. This is self-evident when you take a look at a lot of popular culture. For example, the rise of TV shows and films, such as The Interview, that use politics as backdrop for their plot, yet fail to engage in any substantial political critique.’
(06.02.15) Hip-Hop, Huh?
‘Local festival Boom-Bap announced its line-up last week to considerable hype from Facebook’s ‘heads and a somewhat more muted response from the Norwich/ Norfolk public at large. Boom Bap, as the name suggests, is a hip-hop festival — this year it’s taking place in the Suffolk countryside from 5th-7th June.’
(23.01.15) – Music: The Class Problem
‘Debate has been raging in the US over issues of cultural appropriation in hip-hop and popular music, particularly with regard to the roles of white artists in a traditionally black genre. This debate is a vital one and has highlighted many of the inequalities present between black and white musicians, actors, and other cultural figures.’
(09.01.15) – We Need to Talk About Music
‘If 2014 was the year of anything it was the year popular music started to be taken seriously. Services such as Spotify, and the dawn of Smartphones, means that music is more a part of our lives than ever before; a trend that’s influencing the way we engage with it both in terms of platform and as an art-form. It’s easy to view music as a compliment to life, a melodic enhancer to otherwise mundane activities and there’s nothing particularly wrong with treating it as such — I can’t force you to like Death Grips. Music can and should bring pleasure, but as we listen to more and more of it, its messages and intentions are being ignored.’