Politics and Unsigned Music: Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the Bono.
Over the years, politics and music have been the most natural of bedfellows. From the blues, to folk, to rock and roll, to punk, to hip-hop, disenfranchised voices of every generation have used music as a platform to put forward their views, and in turn the prevailing music of the time has acted as a good barometer for the thoughts of ‘the youth’.
America still manages it, from Run The Jewels to Kendrick Lamar to Propagandhi to Against Me! to Beyonce; America isn’t scared to talk about politics in its music. So what happened to the British political anthem?
At a time when the country is so thoroughly divided, why has there been no great musical carrion call, for either side of any debate?
1. It cost money to be in a band.
Being in a band is expensive, and the pay is generally not good. Once we’ve gotten past the cost of entry (some half decent kit, rehearsal costs, recording costs) and we’ve then looked at the next bit (PR costs, tour overheads etc.) suddenly a few beers and some ‘exposure’ doesn’t sound like a good way to balance the books.
That’s not to say that it can’t be done (if you’ve got the stomach for a lot of hard work) but it is pretty plain that being ‘independently wealthy’ or having some cash injecting benefactors might help proceedings.
What’s this got to do with the political content of the songs Thomas? Well, money breeds comfort, and comfort kills political activism. It’s not an unreasonable step then to assume the bands without money worries are less likely to be first past the post when it comes to discussing more political issues (whether that be socio-economic, race, gender-politics or anything else).
How to fix it:
Can you remember that band you saw that one time? The one that said some interesting stuff, sounded angry and energetic? The ones that looked skinny in less of an ‘elegantly wasted’ way, and more in a ‘probably actually starving’ way?
Buy their fucking merch!
2. Too many ‘sad white boys with guitars’.
Speaking as a card carrying ‘Sad White Boy With Guitar ™ ’, I’d like to put forward the immediate caveat that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being a ‘Sad White Boy With Guitar ™ ’.
However, I am saying that the ‘Sad White Boy With Guitar ™ ’ perhaps doesn’t represent the most diverse of viewpoints. Now, before every ‘Sad White Boy With Guitar ™ ’ hops into the comments to tell me I’m an arsehole, because “actually, I’m really right-on and go to BLM marches and consider myself an ally”: step back a second.
Well done for being all those things, I mean that, and don’t take from this that I think your opinions are less worthy; but no amount of awareness can be exchanged for lived experience. So, whilst entirely capable of possessing valuable insight, bands consisting entirely of straight, white, cis-gender males aren’t always beneficial to a diverse discussion about politics.
How to fix it:
Diversification of line-ups for gigs, safer environments for women at shows (check out www.sgfw.org.uk) and less tolerance of misogynistic bullshit (that extends to bands, promoters and security too!), and getting out to some shows you might not normally go to! All of the above is going to help nurture new (and potentially dissenting) voices.
3. Writing political songs is HARD.
Writing political songs is difficult. Here’s a few reasons:
• It’s easy to make yourself look stupid. I’m probably doing it right now, and I’m just writing about writing about politics. It’s fucking terrifying.
In the age of the internet, everyone is a Wiki click away from being sufficiently well informed about something to make your righteous statement look stupid. And they will, with glee. Regardless of whether they agree or disagree, they will try to fuck with you.
Fix: If you care about it; grow thicker skin and say it anyway.
• Unless you’re speaking in broad strokes, songs about the political issue de rigueur can age very badly and very quickly.
That song about Brexit is going to get dated, hard.
Not exclusively because Brexit is a fucking stupid word (it sounds like cereal for people with constipation) and thus difficult to put into a standard rhyme structure without wanting to vomit into your own ears to avoid hearing it; it’s gotten old now, even while it’s still happening.
However, the alternative is singing the sort of Bono-esque save the world stuff that makes you sound like, well, Bono.
Fix: Find a middle ground. The only answer to this is to think a little harder about the underlying causes for the issue you want to shout about, and do a bit of research…
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• You might be alienating some of your audience.
You might think your political stance makes perfect sense; you’re one of the ‘good-guys’ right?
Well, unfortunately, every ‘good guy’ is someone else’s ‘bad guy’. Your rallying cry for equality or social justice might get you labelled a ‘snowflake, cuk, virtue signalling, pinko, Bolshevik, cultural Marxist’ by one portion of a potential audience in the same way as (hopefully) Morrissey’s ticket sales drop every time he talks about hating Muslims.
People can, will and should vote with their feet.
Fix: Let them!
So, in summary:
• Treasure bands that have something to say (and give them your patronage).
• Call out bullshit at shows and create a safe environment for everyone to share ideas.
• If you’re passionate/concerned/angry about something, write a fucking song about it!
Sound off in the comments with links to local bands bucking the trend, or to tell me I’m talking out of my backside! Thomas x