Mike Morton, chief jacket wearer of the band The Gift, said on twitbook the other day that he gets loads of reaction when he talks about politics online, but relatively little when he posts about music. This led to a discussion about politics in music, how political people like their music, the sense some have that political music seems to have gone the way of the dodo. A lively discussion was had.
More than one person made the well known argument that everything is political and if you try not to be you’re simply saying the status quo is fine.
My initial reaction to that was to disagree. I write songs that tell silly, horrific, or horrifically silly sci-fi stories. There’s nothing political in them, I’m not writing them to make any kind of point.
Which isn’t to say I’m not political, I am very interested in politics. I’m on holiday this week and one of the things I did was visit the houses of parliament for a guided tour. I listen to relatively nerdy political podcasts, read an awful lot of non fiction and am pretty much addicted to my list of political journalists on twitter. Politics is fascinating and I really, sincerely wish our politicians could be persuaded to get involved in it.
There are two things I don’t do. I don’t talk about politics on twitbook (doing so is pointless and just feeds the online rage farm that they sell to advertisers) and I don’t write about politics in my songs. Politics is complicated and hard to communicate and I am not certain about my opinions on any of it. An eight minute monologue of my political ideas wouldn’t entertain anyone (though Akala’s would).
But if everything is political, then there must be politics in my music, right?
Happy People, my last album, could definitely be said to be political. It’s about a near future dystopia in which individuality is destroyed by the state, where love is regulated and where the population are kept in the dark through propaganda. My intention when writing it was just to tell a story and sketch out that world, but it would be totally reasonable to interpret it as a comment on today’s politics, or see my political views reflected in it. Certainly my attitude to issues of the individual versus the state are similar (I’m not a fan of the state getting in the way of the individual – but please don’t interpret that as a right wing ‘libertarian’ viewpoint).
What about the older steampunk stuff? Any politics there? My Seven Bells John songs are about a criminal who redeems himself after being freed from a prison cell by a policeman. You could definitely find similar anti-establishment sentiments in there, and probably shoe-horn it into a lefty critique of the role of the police if you wanted to.
As I’ve said many a time, meaning in pop music isn’t communicated primarily through the lyrics. So what else is being said with my music?
It’s influences are those you’d expect of a lower-middle class white Londoner born in the 80s: lots of rock, hints of folk, ideas nicked from classical. The business model is decidedly indie and the musical choices speak to that as well. You don’t write twenty minute songs if you’re hoping for commercial success. The steampunk thing elsewhere tends towards nostalgia for an era that was decidedly unpleasant for anyone bar the rich (but then, that’s most eras) but I think I’ve mostly gone for the horrific or weird end rather than the flag waving nostalgia. All of those things could be analysed through a political lens, regardless of whether I had political intentions.
Does intention matter? No. Stuff can be political, even if the person making it doesn’t mean it to be.
In short there are lots of ways you could interpret my music. Even the very fact that I’m suggesting my music exists within a political culture would be considered extreme left wing nonsense by some with a certain kind of right wing view that sees only individuals and discounts the notion of cultural analysis.
I don’t try to write political songs, I’m not going to try to communicate what I think about politics online – ask me in person if you want. But yeah, I guess my songs are political.