Monday, December 10, 2018

Protest music is dead! Long live protest music!

“Fossil fueling, masturbation, immigration, liberal kitsch, kneeling on a pitch”
– All the big ones addressed in The 1975’s Love It If We Made It

In this age of Brexit, climate change, huge disparities between rich and poor, diminishing wildlife populations and a thousand other near-apocalyptic predictions for the future happening in front of our eyes, we were wondering where the fuck was all the modern protest music in the U.K.

Well, for starters it’s not played on Pirate FM (the default Cornish radio station). Besides, apparently people over the age of 35 don’t listen to new music. But it’s out there, it’s angry, it’s loud, and most importantly, it’s good to dance to.

Pastoral by Gazelle Twin and Merrieland by Damon Albarn's supergroup The Good, The Bad and The Queen both tackle Brexit head on. Albarn has been examining what it means to be British since the days of Park Life. There's an argument that's been circulating the internet for some time that Britpop helped fuel nationalism, so perhaps this is Albarn trying to make amends, exploring Britain's loss of identity in a variety of musical styles.

Pastoral is scary stuff, featuring an Adidas-clad, demonic pied piper (see the Banksy-esque cover, above, mocking classical music publisher Deutsche Grammophon) touring modern England, from the phone-hacking scandal to false nostalgia. From the outset, the music is a frightening mash-up of ancient, traditional, folk sounds and chants combined with frenzied, electronic beats to create an England divided and adrift. Gazelle Twin is the moniker of Elizabeth Bernholz, a Brighton musician. It comes as no surprise that she conceived of the project whilst watching Fever Ray live.

There's also some chanting on Suede's latest album, The Blue Hour, which gives us a slice of British Gothic horror, reflecting Brett Anderson's recent move to Somerset. Whilst not overtly political, the album's dark themes of a missing child, dead animals and rubbish dumps conjure up an anti-pastoral, modern bucolic realism not often glimpsed in contemporary rock.

It's pretty much a political act in itself to have an album recorded entirely in the Cornish language; more confusing if the singer is actually Welsh. Anyway, this is what Gwenno has done on her album, Le Kov, sounding like a Welsh-Cornish lass singing Gainsbourg-era Jane Birkin via Air and St Etienne.

Whilst the Idles’ shout-singing-post-punk-anthems on their album Joy as an Act of Resistance, “don’t care about the next James Bond", they are "...wondering where the high street’s gone” in an impassioned and timely album.

Though modern dating isn’t my biggest worry for the planet, MGMT also tackle the current political climate and technology addiction on their fourth album, Little Dark Age.

Nenah Cherry, whose last two albums are as good as anything she's ever done (2012's The Cherry Thing and The Blank Project from 2014), released Broken Politics in October, her second album produced by Elliott School alumni Kieran Hebden a.k.a. Four Tet. Immigration and gun control are two issues she sings about as well as more personal issues.

If protest music used to mean folk music, à la Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan or, in the UK, Billy Bragg, with acoustic guitar wailings about times a changing, nowadays a rap, dance or indy song will reach more people and hopefully have more impact. Here's to Anarchy in the U.K.

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