Preview – Forest of Galtres Festival 2012 3

Mixing Pop and Politics: NME editor claims the protest song is dead?!


The current NME editor Krissi Murison wrote in the Guardian yesterday:
Time was when rock stars, and not just the Clash, used to have lots to say about lots of very big, important things. Or so I’m told. The truth is that in my eight years as a music journalist, I’ve never found one.

This piece of insight dear friends comes from Murison a writer, nay an editor, with a platform: the leader of an organ that still carries weight(even if it’s more symbolic given the NME’s sales figures are in terminal decline).

Inspired Everett True’s wonderful riposte on his site the Collapse Board. It lead me to question why the NME would know about political protest songs or movements, like much music outside of the mainstream they simply aren’t on their radar. The NME wouldn’t know about political music, because it doesn’t really cover it much, It wouldn’t know about metal because it doesn’t cover it. It wouldn’t know about the erm Lock Ness monster because in the confines of the NME’s smug industry driven, commercial music industry editorial none of these things exist.

Or as True puts it more eloquently
: “(the) NME rarely covers political music. So of course – for the NME – there is no political music anymore.”

Murison may have the germ of a point, what she really means of course, is that the mainstream doesn’t often produce overtly political statements anymore. True, you don’t have modern day equivalents of The Clash(London’s Burning), Bob Dylan(‘Blowing in the Wind’), Marvin Gaye(‘What’s Going On?), NWA(F*ck the Police) and Billy Bragg(‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forward’). But many of these songs were inspired by specific events: women’s rights, the civil rights movement, the miners strike under Thatcher. A feeling that change could be manifested through political movements and strikes. Maybe politics is too much about the centre ground careerism now: maybe the art of protest needs a hook? Witness the Iraqi war protests millions of people marched on the streets yet were ignored by a government determined to follow the US into an invasion. Or maybe the lack of overtly ‘poltical music’ derives from the fact that most young people are still apathetic about politics, despite the clear impact it has on their lives?

However there are a myriad of releases from artists either in the middle of or just outside the mainstream, producing works that are laced with political messages, and meanings. You don’t have to scream from the rooftops or sloganeer in sixth form prose to produce a worthy political statement. Indeed the best political music is as Billy Bragg put it a mixture of personal ‘pop and politics.’ Indeed many artists use politics as a metaphor for a deeper malaise in their own lives, the society around them, and as a means of escape.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan provoked a range of politically motivated songs, that sought to show up the hypocrisy of George W Bush(including efforts from artists as diverse as Bright Eyes and Pink). The Cuts agenda from the CON-DEM coalition has inspired many to form groups, write prose, and ponder upon the validity of their policies that attack public services and those weakest in society. Indeed without a Spitting Image to mock our MPS, Youtube has become a breeding ground for parodies of our Poltical leaders, their backgrounds and motivations (see Common People Parody). While Jarvis Cocker’s finest solo cut ‘(Cunts are) Still running the World’ is perhaps one of the greatest political songs of the last ten years. This year we’ve seen an album from P J Harvey “Let England Shake’ that tied the history of England to the potential simmering resentment that lies beneath the surface, an anger that has reared its head in the last few weeks with riots across the UK. While in the US Aloe Blacc used an old soul grove on his hit ‘I Need a Dollar’ to symbolise the lack of jobs and house foreclosures that has characterised the American economy since the failure of the banks that plunged the world into a deep recession.

To disprove Murison’s sweeping statement here are some recent-ish Poltical songs.

Last year an Electio pop album was released on London label HLP1. An eleven track compilation album it was “the first record the new ‘coalition government’ to gather together the feelings of betrayal, anger and boredom we have at the UK’s undemocratic political system. It also features the likes of David Cronenberg’s Wife, Paul Hawkins, Tim Yen Yen, Kingmaker MMX and more…”

Electio Pop by hlp19

08 The Extremist Party by Ceri James

London based duo Dan Le Sac & Scroobius Pip deliver ‘Great Britain’ a nuanced sermon on the problems with life on the streets, knife crime, and the lack of personal responsibility. Taken from their album of last year ‘Logic of Chance’ that contained empowering social commentary.

Berlin-based former Rwandan refugee Barbara Panther delivers insurgant tropical pop on ‘Empire.’

Barbara Panther ‘Empire’ from Nexus Productions on Vimeo.

Captain SKA’s “Slipping Back In Time” a lament to the current government’s adoption of Thatcherite policies and a call to take action against the destruction of the UK’s public services.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Returning with their first new material in over ten years, Ultrasound’s ‘Welfare State’ is a storming pertinent single, littered with spite, twisty time signatures and skyward looking chorus’ basically everything we loved about them first time around! It’s informed not only by their own bittersweet history but the state of the nation.

Ultrasound – Welfare State / Sovereign (Released Aug 29) by Label Fandango


Can you name any more poltically inspired songs from the last five to ten years?

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.