“The rhythms of the chants”

Here’s John Harris interviewing The Agitator (aka 24-year-old Derek Meins) in today’s Guardian. The most interesting bit is Meins’ confession that he was late to politics. While writing the book, I noticed that for every musician who grew up in a politically active household (Country Joe, Chuck D, Tom Morello) there was one who had a Damascene conversion in adulthood (John Lennon, Billy Bragg, Massive Attack’s 3D). As with all new passions, this is an exciting transition.

His epiphany, he tells me, came courtesy of the financial crash, which caused his sudden immersion in stuff he had spent his life avoiding. “It was a coming of age thing, really,” he says. “Moving away from my family and actually fending for myself – it was maybe like what happens to people when they go to university. I was becoming more socially aware, reading newspapers with more interest, and reading different sorts of literature.” He mentions George Orwell, Noam Chomsky, and the Scottish writer and polemicist James Kelman. “The whole thing was almost an awakening for me: ‘Oh my God, I’ve just spent the last 20 years not really thinking about anything apart from my own little bubble.'”

Also worth reading are Jon Savage’s typically excellent analysis of the Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead and why it resonates anew this week (the picture he refers to led my first post about the student protests) and Dan Hancox’s account of the music played on the students’ Parliament Square sound system last week. Though none of the tunes he mentioned are political (just very good), a couple of commenters report hearing Rage Against the Machine’s deathless Killing in the Name. It’s for life, not just for Christmas. The prevalence of grime, dancehall and hip hop reminds me of activist Andrew Boyd’s comment about the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999:

The wild yet focused energies in the streets could never be resolved into a folk song – we were now part of Hip-Hop Nation. The rhythms of the chants were more percussive. The energy was fierce and playful.

As protests move on, so should the music. I think we’re still waiting for someone to combine political comment and sonic innovation with undeniable force — I would rather hear a dubstep Ghost Town than a 2-Tone homage. BUT as 2-Tone homages go, Captain SKA’s Liar Liar is likeable enough, and makes nice use of sampled speeches. Here’s the official video followed by a clip of protesters singing along to it last week. It’s in the second clip that the song really comes alive.

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