Well, this is ironic. This time last year I was finishing the first draft of the book and noting that between the time that Primal Scream recorded the apathy-lamenting title track of their XTRMNTR album (“No civil disobedience”) in autumn 1999 and the album’s release in early 2000, massive civil disobedience had broken out at the WTO summit in Seattle. “Seattle surprised me with its militancy,” said Naomi Klein, who published No Logo around the same time. “It surprised the organisers. It surprised everybody.”
Well, now I know how Primal Scream and Naomi Klein felt. A few weeks ago I signed off on the final proofs, including an epilogue in which I related the decline of protest music to the absence of serious street-level dissent. “Who would be compelled to write songs for the barricade when there are no barricades?” I asked. And then this happened:
It’s hard to tell exactly where all this energy goes now that the rise in tuition fees has been passed but for now I’m glad to be proved wrong. At the beginning of 2010 who would have predicted university students and sixth-formers taking to the streets with such anger and focus? Who foresaw the return of the sit-in? Who knew that the role of Mick Jagger at Grosvenor Square would be taken by Johnny bloody Borrell? It is an inspiring, bewildering time.
The protesters seem to be doing perfectly well without any political anthems. The BBC’s Paul Mason, one of the few reporters to try to understand the students while the likes of Sky News cry anarchy because Charles and Camilla had a bit of a scare, snappily calls it a “dubstep rebellion”, based on the music played on the sound systems in Parliament Square. Still, I hope this will remind young bands that political songwriting isn’t a busted flush, that the appetite is there if the songs are good enough. The Agitator can be a wee bit blunt for my tastes but at least he’s in the fray, playing the UCL Occupation and voicing the anger of the moment.
I thought back to the demos I attended circa 1993 (small-fry by comparison, it must be said) and a song which still has the right mix of ferocity, jubilation and youthful militancy.
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