It happens that nowadays making political music is often considered gauche, and everything needs to be dressed up in nine layers of irony in order to be considered legitimate. Ironic detachment is itself an attitude and aesthetic born of a feeling of political impotence against a backdrop of rapid technological change and the immense, constant, and overwhelming deluge of contradictory information. Like it or not, artists must grapple with this ironic detachment and find ways to appeal to or circumvent it.
Pandering to that ironic detachment is risky, because the work will just get lost in the wash, or will reinforce a detached affect that defuses political power. Read More
In August 2018, Labour’s John McDonnell called on Twitter and then in a press release for the relaunch of the Anti-Nazi League. Citing the success of Tommy Robinson and Boris Johnson’s Islamophobic likening of Muslim women to letterboxes, the shadow chancellor said, "Maybe it’s time for an Anti-Nazi League type cultural and political campaign... The ANL pioneered highly influential cultural movements like the Rock Against Racism, which attracted tens of thousands of people of all ages to anti-racist festivals and protests.” The response was predictably partisan: the New Socialist was in favour, Dan Hodges against. Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, complained that McDonell was plotting against parliament. ‘McDonnell believes – and says so – that true democracy is on the streets. This seemingly well-meaning tweet needs to be seen in that context. In government, ‘the street’ would be a key weapon in the hard left armoury.’ Read More
“Leveler” was coined in the 17th century to describe those who tore down hedges in the Enclosure Act Riots. It was later generalized. As long as the working-classes have sought political and economic leveling these aspirations have been expressed in art and culture – from the social gospel of Matthew to the gestures of punk and early Hip Hop. Aesthetic leveling can be used in ways that divert class anger toward the wrong targets or toward personalized solutions. But it also can express movement toward proletarian consciousness. And the socially promiscuous artist – coming from, and historically mixing with, all classes – is often predisposed toward leveling (as well as a political volatility that produces the aforementioned variations). Read More
The student butterfly that flapped its wings in Paris, May 1968 led to an earthquake which shook factory walls across western Europe in the 1970’s. Out of the dust emerged an ugly snarling rodent called punk rock.
The 1970s in the UK was a time of open conflict. Strike leaders sent to prison and then freed by a massive strike wave, teenagers fighting in the streets against each other, against the police and against the army in Ireland, miners strikes, power cuts, three day week, women battling for equal rights, Tory government brought down. The working class – loud, proud and winning. Read More
Poor Mike Pence. Greeted with a friendly gaggle of actors who both recognize him and are willing to express well-meaning concern over the havoc he may wreak as vice president. Pity too Donald Trump, who now feels blindsided by the realization that the theater isn't somewhere he and his cohort can retreat from the consequences of their actions.
Trump's reaction is what ultimately makes the action of the Hamilton cast a Good Thing. The man spent fifteen months using his own bully pulpit in a far less kindly way. Read More
President. Donald. Trump. These are three words that never had any reality outside of a grotesque comic. Until now. The man who has bragged of sexual assault, threatened to “build a wall” and refused to denounce an endorsement from a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan is President of the United States.
Hate crimes and proto-fascist incidents are spreading across the country. A right-wing terrorist outfit in Texas is threatening to arrest and torture “diversity professors.” Read More
A collection of anti-racist activist and photographer Syd Shelton’s work from Rock Against Racism has been collected together for the first time. Is this book a nostalgic trip to the bad old days of 1970s racial conflict or does it have something to offer a new generation fighting the changing face of racism in the 21st century? Maybe both?
Shelton’s starkly black and white photographs portray the sharp contrasts in 1970s Britain. National Front marchers and anti-racist crowds, the police and the youth on the street, the punks and Rastas, Sikh pensioners and black and white kids, the bands and the audiences. Read More
Michelle Cruz Gonzales (then known as Todd) played drums and wrote lyrics in Spitboy, one of the most important hardcore bands of the 1990s. Along with bands such as Grimple, Econochrist, and Paxton Quigley they were part of an explicitly political corner of the East Bay punk scene. With an all woman line-up Spitboy’s performances defied expectations of what “women and rock” and “feminism” were supposed to mean at the time. Gonzales’ new book Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band (PM Press) defies expectations once again. People of Color have been part of the punk scene from the beginning. Gonzales is part of a lineage that includes Detroit’s Death, The Bags (Los Angeles), Poly Styrene and Pat Smear. Spitboy Rule makes the invisible visible. It is both a walk down counter culture’s memory lane as well as a serious exploration of identity, gender and race. Read More
The world must know. The world simply must know, must be shaken by the shoulders until it collectively acknowledges that something like the Monks can exist. That there can be such a thing as “avant-garde garage rock,” and that it can be played by active American G.I.’s increasingly alienated with the army. It needs to know, fifty years to the calendar month after the release of their only album.
Ten years back there was in fact something of a surge in interest around the Monks. A documentary was made, a tribute album was put out featuring the (International) Noise Conspiracy, the Fall, and a few other recognized inheritors of the garage rock sound. Read More
There is no getting around the popularity or cultural clout that both Afropunk and Afrofuturism have in contemporary culture. It’s been over ten years since James Spooner’s film on Afropunk came out, the website that bears its name is visited by hundreds of thousands each month, and the yearly festival recently expanded from Brooklyn to Atlanta and will soon be making its way to Paris. Afrofuturism, for its part, has become quite trendy in certain circles, with advertising companies attempting to cash in on its aesthetic. It is not difficult to see its influence in a growing array of artists. Read More