Monday, 24 August 2009

Socialist music

Yesterday on twatter, I had a debate with "The War On Culture" about whether left- or right-wing governments produce better music. It's an interesting concept and I hope he decides to bring the debate over to my blog. It started because I took the piss out of one of his twats, leading to the response:

tory govts lead to music that is style over substance..socialist govts to music that is creative and inventive...

I thought that was a curious thing to say. Do musicians really take their lead from the government as to what kind of music they should produce, or does the music just reflect their take on society at that moment? And is a musical form really that closely aligned to a particular left or right-wing government?


psychedelia vs glam...punk vs new romantic .. always more interesting music under socialists!! ;-)

This is a very subjective opinion to start with: was psychedelia really more interesting than glam? Was punk really more interesting than New Romantic? Psychedelia really was an expression in drug-fuelled self-indulgence which is, in my opinion, a most libertarian music form and ironically, it's the only music form which is both a) primarily British and b) is entirely contained within a single government; Labour in the late 60's. So actually, to me, it looks like psychedelia is a complete refutation (by celebrating the wants of the individual) of statism and hence, socialism. I'm bloody sure they weren't thinking about it in thouse terms, though. They were thinking "Wow! Drugs! Chicks! Music! Money! Cool!" But even if my take on the libertarianism inherent in it, psychedelia is pretty much a footnote to musical history and largely irrelevant, apart from the prog rock that it spawned. Under the Tories.

According to TWOC, handily:

yes, floyd, genesis, emerson formed their vision 68/69 under labour rule!!

Gosh, I never realised what a musical debt we owed to Labour. Bands quickly formed all their visions for the next decade under the genial gaze of Wilson before those eeeeeeeevil Tories came to power.

psychdelia was abt limitless experimentation not pure attitude which can only really happen under cultural flexibility..

Looking at Labour's bully-boy history and creation of "denormalisation" over the last 12 years, I wonder how someone can say this with a straight face. But anyway, I don't think that the "limitless experimentation" ended under the Tories.

Furthermore, nobody is buying Piper at the Gates of Dawn any more, and they never really did. Dark Side of the moon, however ...

And glam is still accessible. T-Rex, Bowie, Queen, Roxy Music - were those really less impressive artists than, The Yardbirds, Cream, the Beatles and Pink Floyd in the psychedelic era? The Yardbirds and Cream and the Beatles all made their names elsewhere and for other music. Floyd is a relative rarity because they started as a psychedelic band and went on from there. And really, if Syd hadn't been replaced by David Gilmour (or someone else, even) it's unlikely that Floyd would have been anything but irrelevant today.

Moving on to the assertion of punk being more interesting than New Romantic ... well, that's an interesting assertion considering the wide range of New Romantic music that was out there, but it's also entirely fallacious to say that punk was a product of socialist Britain:

Punk rock developed between 1974 and 1976, originally in the United States

Which, lest we forget, was the (Republican) Ford presidency.

Once again, apart from a very small handful of accessible tunes, how much of punk music is relevant today, compared to New Romantic music? Ironically, Johnny Rotten is personally advertising butter whereas Adam Ant has cannily allowed someone to bring one of his greatest videos back to life courtesy of Pimms. Which one of them has held on to their "artistic integrity" better?

He then went on to say:

punk in US was an attitude...reaction against Nixon

Certainly, musicians rail for or against politicians all the time, but to actually develop an entire new genre out of the behaviour of just one President? Wow. Maybe we need more Nixons.

Every bit of musical history I've ever read has said that punk was a reaction against the prog rock more than anything else. The same jaded, overblown prog rock that TWOC was quite happy to claims as being fully developed and pre-planned entirely under Labour benevolence.

It's interesting to compare my perception of psychedelia as a refutation of socialism with the idea that punk was a reaction to Nixon. I'm not claiming that psychedelics consciously set out to rebel against socialism, I'm claiming that their behaviour was Libertarian: they did stuff irrespective of what the state said. TWOC is claiming that an entire musical genre was spawned directly because of one politician.

I can see individual songs or even in rare cases entire albums having a political objective, but I can't really see any musical evolution as anything other than a reaction to other music. And I really can't see drug-addled musos being disciplined enough to set out an entire musical direction under the benevolent gaze of a tolerant Labour government and not come up with anything useful under the Tories. Especially when the result of most elections is not a foregone conclusion and they don't have any better idea of the future than the rest of us.

If we look at the vast swathes of influential music produced under a largely right-wing American rule compared to the absolute nothingness that came out of socialist Russia and the eastern bloc, I really do struggle to find anything other than wishful thinking in the original twattering.


old hack said...

Whether Governments hve much to do with creativity or not, the most creative period of recent British history was during John Major's premiership.
All we've got from New Labour is Harry Potter.

the man who fell back to bed said...

I fancy myself as having something of an interest in popular music history, so lets go over the past 30 years shall we?

1979-1997 (tory govt.)
joy division
teardrop explodes
the smiths

1997-now (neu arbeit)
simon cowell/x-factor/pap idol shee-ite


Obsidian said...

Come now, let us at least given New Labour credit for the rise of Gangsta Rap over here!

All those knives, guns, gangs... Something for New Labour to truly leave as a lasting legacy.

the man who fell back to bed said...

even gangsta rap has sucked since liarbour assumed office.

where we used to have artists like Ices T and Cube putting out smart, funny, exceptionally well observed materail, we now have no-marks like fifty pee grunting and mumbling their way through one lot of dreck after another.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff...

They may have a point though....

Perhaps the last notable tune to come out of the last Tory era was "Things can only get better" by D:Ream.


powerman said...

Can't speak for anybody else, but a lot of my favourite music was incubated during periods of high unemployment. I don't see much to like about New Labour but I do expect a bit of a creative renaissance over the next few years.

Optimistic Cynic said...

It's hard to make a connection. There's songs protesting about the government like Career Opportunities and Ghost Town, and these were created under different governments.

Punk Rock was actually, relatively insignificant at the time. The biggest selling album in 1977? Arrival by Abba. 1978? Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It's importance has been massively overrated by people who personally consider it as important. Disco was far more important to most people.

Punk rock was far more of a reaction to the stifling social conservatism of Britain at the time than against either political party. Remember, this was an age when councils frequently banned Life of Brian for blasphemy.

sobers said...

Powerman nailed it. High unemployment equals loads of young lads sitting around with nothing to do but make their own entertainment. And no cash to spend on other stuff. Hence the rise of decent bands in the late 70's early 80's in the high unemployment days. Ditto in the early 90s again leading to Britpop etc.

Economic boom times are bad for music - more people working, chasing the money. Economic bad times = might as well have a good time playing in a band for nowt while living on the dole, as trying to find work that isn't there anyway. Plus if you are on the dole = loads of free time to practise and gig.

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8thGalaxy said...

I'm not quite sure if you're being fair to the Russians there - a lot of very highly reknowned classical music was produced (although, actually, some of the best was as a reaction to, and rejection of socialism, in the same way that much of the best Russian cold war writing is dissedent).

microdave said...

"Perhaps the last notable tune to come out of the last Tory era was "Things can only get better" by D:Ream."

Which was quickly nicked by Nu Liebore as their signature. Unfortunately things haven't quite worked out that way...

John Pickworth said...

Britney, bloody Spears!

I rest my case.

xoggoth said...

Only would-be anarchists produce real music.