“I don’t like politics in music” – that made me look up on the tube as we entered another tunnel of misery on a Monday morning.
Two men sitting across from me were having a chat about music and one had said to the other that sentence and my mind boggled. I’m hardly the most politically active person around but I at least understand its importance in music and life in general.
“I don’t like politics in music” – but why? Obviously I didn’t question the guy because that would be breaking so many rules of etiquette on the tube it doesn’t bare thinking about, but why was this guy saying he doesn’t like politics in music? It stuck with me for a few days until I inevitably forgot about it.
Until today, when Rou Reynolds of Enter Shikari fame tweeted this:
Are they just completely unaware that music would be absolutely nowhere without politics in music? That, in actual fact, as a society we wouldn’t be anywhere without politics in music. That regardless of whether you choose to partake, politics is in every part of everyday life.
Politics and music are deeply ingrained within each other, sometimes nothing but a brief lyric, but often driving some of the most historic moments of human history; anti-war, anti-establishment, pro-equality, whatever.
It dates back years, and through all cultures.
The Civil Rights Movement for one. The movement to end racial segregation was spurred on and inspired by political music, ‘‘The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,’’ said Martin Luther King, Jr. and who can argue with that? But maybe people think political music isn’t part of the norm. Well a little known guy called Bob Dylan once wrote a highly popular Civil Rights Movement song called ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’, not to mention the countless musicians before and after him.
Not long later, politics in music played another vital role in the form of the Vietnam war. Anti-war protesters had one of the most iconic soundtracks, songs that our parents grew up singing and dancing to. There was music on both sides, patriotic tunes meant to inspire and rile support for the war effort and protest music, meant to open the eyes of the nation, show that people were angry, motivate people to move for change. Again this music is legendary; Dylan appears again, as well as Jimmi Hendrix, John Lennon & Edwin Starr. Again, you can’t tell me these artists didn’t inspire generations with their political music.
Closer to home, most people can’t even think of Britain without thinking of Punk music. Music founded for the sole purpose of protest and statement. It was all about anti-establishment, equality, freedom, direct action and free thought. These are bands everyone has heard and many adore or were inspired by; The Clash, Sex Pistols plus many more during that era who didn’t identify as punk but were making noises, like Pink Floyd.
Bringing it up a bit more up to date to show that we’re not living in some sickly perfect world where we don’t need to protest and have political music. The 80’s and 90’s were fundamental in the progression of political music in the form of hip-hop, sure you can spit all the lyrics to Kanye’s ‘Gold Digger’ but Kanye wouldn’t know a thing about rapping if it weren’t for the early political songs from the likes of Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash, Ice Cube and 2Pac.
You can’t write a piece about political music without talking about Rage Against The Machine. A band so impassioned by what they saw was wrong with the world they’re now described as a “youth rebellion” band. They bloody deserve the title too. Through musical protest they managed to close down Wall Street for christ’s sake, something brilliantly portrayed in that video for the excellent ‘Sleep now In The Fire’ a song about greed and US actions during wartime. They also managed to bump the X Factor off Christmas number one that one year, but you know, keep it in perspective.
So are we fixed yet? Hell no. So of course we still need politics in music, thankfully we’ve got people like Rou and the rest of Enter Shikari, as well as band and artists like Hacktivist, George The Poet, Scroobius Pip, hell even Macklemore and Green Day making music and making a point.
Whether people choose to pay attention to what is said is a different matter and clearly some people aren’t, but what we can say is we’re becoming less lethargic to the wrongs we see going on around us, and we need the music these people are making. Movement needs a soundtrack.
Are the guys on the Tube and Rou’s punk trolls saying they only listen to music without politics? Because I doubt that even exists, all music is making some sort of statement, others just do it better.
If some people want to bury their head in the sand and imagine these things don’t need saying or that bad things don’t happen in the world then fine, but you can’t escape it, political music is simply, music. Take soon to be Big Reunion members JLS’ song ‘She Makes Me Wanna’, the only way they could go from “London to Jamaica, LA to Africa” in one song is through successful foreign policy. Boom, politics in music. “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh”
Political music does what music has always done. It takes what you’re feeling and thinking and says it a thousand times better than you ever could. It does it with style, with urgency & it motivates you to feel something other than passing curiosity at what is happening in the world.
Image via: Whenyouwakeamother