Posts Tagged ‘White Riot’

Yes, it’s fucking political

August 16, 2011

Yesterday, an article by NME editor Krissi Murison appeared on the Guardian website bemoaning the lack of political music in 2011. The argument goes something along the lines of ‘isn’t it lucky that the NME had The Clash on the cover while there were riots going on – why aren’t there more bands writing about politics nowadays?’ Everett True has already written a pretty succinct response over on Collapse Board, so I’m not going to go overboard in my own musings. But since the original article still appears to be stuck in my craw, I’ll weigh in with some thoughts anyway.

Firstly, although it’s certainly not the same magazine I used to read in school, I have no beef with the NME, nor (by extension) with Murison. If anything she’s overseen a significant improvement in quality from the magazine’s dreadful days under Conor McNicholas – when a double-page photo spread with a few paragraphs of text could pass for a main feature. At least the writing seems to be the focus again, and it’s enthused and (usually) well-informed (certainly not always). There are elements of its content that I don’t particularly enjoy, and some of its misguided attempts to tap into localised scenes can go woefully wrong, but that’s the problem with outsider perspective, especially when it’s widely published. Thanks to the still-growing influence of the internet, and the increased stratification of popular culture, a magazine like the NME simply can’t be the authoritative voice that it wants to be. Perhaps recognising this, the self-aggrandising ‘we invented everything’ tone seems to have died down, and it’s concentrating on music again. Which, regardless of how on-the-money it is, is a good thing.

For all that, however, it still rankles that the editor of the NME can write an article bemoaning the lack of political grit in pop. This, lest we forget, is a music magazine that still publishes an annual ‘cool list’ – a pointless exercise in High Fidelity-style cataloging that has continually placed style over substance. Why do we need to know who’s ‘cool’? Who cares? One of the best things Murison could do for the ailing magazine is to axe that list. When our music critics start to concern themselves with such vacuous, page-filling dross as this, it’s a pretty definite indication that they’re not looking for anything below the surface. They’re as symptomatic of the lack of political pop as the performers are.

But wait – there is no lack of political pop. The article complains that there is no Clash to lead the charge – there are still plenty of punk bands writing political songs, if four chords and some informed shouting is what you want. Look at the folk-punk scene, poplated by the likes of Defiance, Ohio and Ghost Mice. Or, closer to the mainstream, there’s the likes of Against Me!, Gallows and The King Blues – personally I’d rather drink bleach from David Starkey’s tiny, pus-covered severed bellend than listen to any of those three, but nonetheless they’re pop and they’re political… that’s both tick boxes covered, right?

And naturally there’s plenty of other artists from a wealth of genres covering Murison’s criteria – again, Collapse Board has the best summary, which basically saves me the job of compiling anything (phew!). A curmudgeon (hello!) might question whether The Clash are really the best example of a political band in any case – their song most relevant to last week’s events (White Riot) is a clumsy statement at best. Cracking tune, like, but its point still seems awkward, even if its heart is in the right place. This’ll go down well with Clash fans, I’m sure.

The only real argument to consider is that there’s very little of the political in mainstream indie. Gone are the days when Manic Street Preachers would serve up dense polemic to rabid teenagers with scant understanding of what the lyrics actually meant. These days mainstream political rock doesn’t stretch much further than Bono’s sanctimonious blethering, which is unfortunately enough to turn anyone off the idea of charity. But isn’t mainstream society distinctly unpoliticised these days?

Granted, we’re seeing more and more protest against the ConDem government (the university fee protests, for instance), and whether you view last week’s riots as politicised or ‘merely’ political, there are signs that things are changing – basically, people are starting to give a shit. That’s a completely separate debate, of course, and the pages of an indie rock blog that no-one reads are certainly not the place to start it. But mainstream pop isn’t going to change unless society does, and it seems daft to expect pop to reflect anything other than its environment.