Zine of the Week
I picked up Ablaze *11 last week and have been enthused by its writings. SO much so that I did a radio show featuring solely bands that were in it. Karren has a a style of expression that is exciting and she wants you to like her bands. Wants you to know all about them. Not only are there some great interviews but there’sa breakdown of music and releases in there too. So we get the Sleaford mods talking about their outlook on British music scene and then get a critical analysis of their recorded output.
It’s just great. Want to know about Indian Music scene, mostly the post rock of aswekeepsearching well read ablaze. Want to remember Stereolab or read about Sleater Kinney and their conneciton to Sky Larkin? Read ablaze. Want to know about upcoming diy riot grrl influenced bands? Read ablaze. Want to know about Catalan diy band Trebat? Read ablaze. There’s so much in it. Buy for sure
The following piece is taken from Ablaze with the permission of both the editor Karren and the band Thee Faction. Thee Faction are proudly wearing their politics on their sleeves. They want this world to change and they are trying to use music to help effect it
Posterity Not Austerity
There’s a bit of a myth around Thee Faction, which predates the current line up, but
suffice to say that some of the band have been doing their thing since the 80s, while some of us answered the call more recently. This incarnation is a direct response to the election of the 2010 Conservative government while our musical roots are in earlier influences. One is radical soul: that time in the late 60s/early 70s when the likes of the Staples Singers, Curtis Mayfield, and later Motown and the O Jays, put aside singing about love to write songs about the political struggle. Another influence is The MC5, for much the same reason, but we’re not promoting rock
cliché or looking for our next fix: we blend that aesthetic with the homegrown RnB of Dr Feelgood and the original punk/pub scene. Thee Faction are an urgent, wired-up
attack rather than some smug cod-blues lethargy. With Brass Kapital on horns, the
influence of the early Dexys sound comes into the mix too, alongside everything
from northern soul to hard rock.
The 80s hang over all of us, politically and musically, because we’re ruled by
people of that generation, and in pop-culture terms that was a deeply politicised
time, between Thatcherism and the Cold War. Everyone from Springsteen to the Style Council raised money for the miners, and it was standard for pop bands (Communards, Blow Monkeys, Fine Young Cannibals, Frankie, Depeche Mode) to write political songs and use soviet-chic sleeve design. But the underground scene aside, those bands were all supported by major record companies: the revolution was monetised. The situation now has us swimming upstream. Every month someone else in the media bemoans the lack of politics in pop music – or as is implied by omission, all music. We know therwise because we play events with political folk artists (Robb Johnson, Grace Petrie), political hip hop (Akala), political punk (TV Smith, Shocks of Mighty), political indie (Colour Me Wednesday, The Tuts) and socialist bands which defy categories like The Hurriers and the Protest Family. If that’s not pop enough, well, Thee Faction have been compared to Robbie Williams and One Direction as well as The Clash and Redskins. (We’ve been known to sugar the subversive pill). There are plenty of bands putting politics into pop formats, loosely defined (veterans like ADF and Anti-Flag, relative newcomers like Sonic Boom Six, brand new groups like Fight Rosa Fight) but whether their music becomes popular will always be partly down to media exposure, a media that still treats them as a novelty or just invisible.
There’s an element of music hall in Thee Faction. There are pseudonyms, there are parodies, there is an acknowledgment of the ridiculousness of being in a band, and in a revolutionary rock band. We’re from Reigate, because every band should be from somewhere. We’re Guild Socialists, or Marxist Leninists, or libertarian Left, depending on which album or song you listen to. There’s a punk rock “fuck you” in being everything the capitalist West hates. But our rhetorical refusal to take ourselves seriously has been countered to a degree by other people insisting on doing it for us. We’re asked to play benefit gigs and union rallies, political conferences and fundraisers. And while there’s no Faction party line – with 9-plus members all with their own stance on things we’re bigger and more democratic than some splinters of the Fourth International – we’ve bashed out a consensus: a united front, with guitars. We want politics in our music and we want fun in both. We want a progressive music & arts scene in every town, a counter-hegemonic culture promoting a different view and a different world. In Gramscian terms, we’re living through a war of position. Which side are you on?
How do we get through this – how does anyone get through a crisis? You do a combination of things. You reflect and regroup before you reassert. You remember who you are and what you believe. You link with others who feel the same, and take steps to re-assert control over your life and the world around you, with ideas and action. Without getting too inwardly-focussed, selfhelp is obviously important, in the sense of reminding yourself that you’re not alone. Enabled by a strong support network, you can make a start at taking on the world. The We Shall Overcome crew (Joe Solo, The Hurriers, and the hundreds of others who organised gigs and fundraisers for WSO on the first weekend of October 2015) have been very clear on this point: there is a great need, for our sakes as individuals, and as a political community, for a combination of progressive charity support (e.g. for foodbanks) and political solidarity work (with all those affected by cuts) alongside a collective assertion
of anti-austerity values. Small actions such as benefit gigs or demonstrations can obviously be good in themselves (there’s that idea of ‘temporary autonomous zones’ to help activists recharge their batteries) but are better still when they help to foster the spirit of solidarity, demonstrate it practically, have the potential to win converts, put our values into practice and spread the feeling of hope. At the same time, we should all join things that this government hates: libraries, community groups, campaigns, trade unions, political parties, however imperfect most of them are. If Labour aren’t for you, join the Greens, or Left Unity, or the solidarity Federation. If you can’t join PCS, join the IWW, or vice versa. To an extent some of these measures are survival strategies, ways to cope or alleviate symptoms, if only the personal feelings of powerlessness and meaninglessness, of a deeper social problem. Whether it helps on a more abstract level for us to feel more empowered, or less alone, if the fundamental root causes of our problems go unchallenged, is merely a philosophical conundrum: people don’t live in the abstract, and we must protect our morale in the real and present moment, which is one reason why these small actions matter. Challenging larger social problems begins with such small steps.
However, we must prepare to go beyond survival into selfdefence and from there to intervention in political struggles. That in turn involves ideas, including an analysis of our current situation and of what kind of society we want instead. It is not enough to be anti-austerity, or anti-capitalist or anti-globalisation: we need to know and communicate the positives of what we are for. Ethical ideas such as social justice lead to political theories of socialism, despite the doubts some have over such labels. The fundamental question is still now as it has been for generations: what that socialism should look like – and that’s up to all of us. When people say that socialism is dead they may effectively mean, from historical example, that Leninism has failed to come to terms with democracy, that anarchism failed to counter power, that ‘social democracy’ is bankrupt. But socialism is the realisation of democracy and equality, it is something that has.not. happened. yet. and it cannot die as long as we aspire to those ideals. Anyone dismissing it as outdated should be reminded that “democracy” is pretty old, too. Those who claim that putting social justice back on the political agenda is a reversion to the politics of the past imply that right-wing politics are something new – but dog-eat-dog is the oldest rule in the book. The political norm or mainstream is not fixed, it changes. The centre is subject to unequal pressures from different directions; things fall apart, it cannot hold
There can be no more swings to the Right. Mainstream politics has now swung so far rightwards that a backlash has taken off in an organisation – the Labour Party – that many of us had given up on. Her Majesty’s Opposition now has a leadership and a membership committed to an anti-austerity programme; there’s just the awkward matter of the current parliamentary party being in opposition to that. Tens of thousands have joined Labour as a gesture of support or with the desire to get actively involved – and many outside the party have vowed to step up their activism and pile on pressure from the Left. Will those politics resonate with the small number of right-wing voters in key marginals who have recently dictated election results? Probably not, but they can and should be made to resonate with the 16 million stay-at-home voters, and many of the millions of protest-vote UKIP supporters. Because issues around housing, employment, and the cost of living sustain most protest votes, and this is the natural domain of the Left. If these issues don’t drive the politics of the labour movement then it has reneged on its duties. All progressive political activism puts pressure on mainstream politics, although for obvious reasons you won’t hear governments shouting about it. The Tories famously dropped the Poll Tax because of extra-parliamentary pressure, and more recently compulsory Workfare has largely gone the same way. (After antiworkfare demonstrations changed company policies, Cameron whinged that businesses should “stand up to Trotskyists”!) In the 90s a massive ongoing road-building programme was quietly abandoned due to policing costs from anti-road campaigns, and successive governments have been forced to reform policing in response to community struggles against institutional racism.
Not all campaigns are successful, but the examples show what can be possible. Some activists demand the impossible, some demand the immediately achievable, and at each point on the evolving spectrum between the two there is a dynamic, dialectical relation between public support for the status quo, and public support for change, as well as a question mark over who constitutes the ‘public’ and who gets to ‘represent’ their views – so that no political situation is static, change is a social fact and people who state that ‘things won’t change’ or ‘human nature this or that’ are not paying attention to history or the world around them. One thing is for sure, though: if we do nothing, our situation will worsen. If the 99% don’t put pressure on the political mainstream, the 1% alone will. The rich, big business, city lobbyists and special interests will run the world as long as we let them. Take heart in the knowledge that together we can – we have and we will again – stick a spoke in their gears today, and grab the steering wheel tomorrow.