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Over the last few days, half of England burned. The other half talked witless bollocks about it.

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Bullingdon Club

by Tamsin Chapman

Here’s a binary for you. Over the last few days, half of England burned. The other half talked witless bollocks about it.

Internet reactions to the recent riots in British cities prove more than ever before, the limitations of a 500 character Facebook update or a 140 character Tweet in making sense of a complex situation. Truth dies when news stories are reduced to binaries: good, evil, black, white, them, us. Difficult concepts are dumbed down into sound bites. We click ‘like’ and make a cup of tea. But once a narrative is in place, it’s difficult to unpick. It becomes a snare of bullshit and barbed wire that flattens diverse voices and views. Actual, flesh and blood human beings are lost, leaving only crass generalisations and Britain Tweetwalks its way to ruin. You bray on the internet one day for a water cannon. This time next year you’re living under martial law.

So where are pop musicians in all this? Have they anything to add? Pop is a bouquet of binaries, so no doubt once a few of the silly sods start jumping on the bandwagon, the discourse will get even more facile. Like this:

Note the words introducing it, “This rap is as powerful as anything else as it is created in the same language as some of those involved in the riots understand”.

See what I mean about generalisations? And see what I mean about witless bollocks?

And just think what tit-aching, cut-your-own-ears-off-with-a-rusty-butterknife platitudes of horror we’re in for when the likes of Adele or Razorlight get round to releasing a benefit dreckord.

And YET. Despite all this, there’s still something inside me which is crying out for pop music to start attempting to articulate some of the terrifying shit that’s happening –war, financial meltdown, cuts to essential services, a sense of hopelessness so deep that some don’t even know what hope means. I feel scared, confused and angry about the world, and I want to see that reflected in the music I listen to. Not all the time, but some of the time. And the best songs can sometimes do that. A song like ‘Shipbuilding’ is subtle, there’s no chest-beating. A song like ‘Ghost Town’ is not subtle, but encapsulates a moment in time.

When news of the riots hit, the songs everyone were posting on Facebook were the same ones again and again: The Specials, The Clash, Junior Murvin, The Smiths. These songs are 20 to 30 years old. Where are the songs for now?

I love indiepop. However, the solipsism and apoliticism, the nostalgia and escapism of bands like the Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and all the other hazy, lazy dream-pop girls and boys is beginning to stick in my craw. The lyrics are inconsequential and there’s no engagement with the world outside. I’m not saying that always has to happen, sometimes it’s fine just to write songs about holding hands, or dancing or fucking. I wouldn’t want all bands to write political songs, but just some might be nice. And don’t even get me started on chillwave.

(Before we go any further, I just want to make it clear that I’m talking here specifically about the bands that dominate the blogosphere, those labelled ‘indiepop’, ‘alternative’, whatever. Hip-hop and grime musicians undoubtedly are writing about more that just their belly buttons, and that’s probably why I’ve been listening to more and more of it lately. Here’s one example, not only does he cover about 60 issues in under six minutes, but revolutionarily, he’s a male rapper who talks about being insecure:)

And I’m sure there are loads of people all over the world working in different musical traditions that I’m unfamiliar with, and saying all sorts of interesting things. However, my default setting is indiepop, and it’s what I know about the most. So I want to explore why in particular these sort of bands aren’t writing challenging lyrics? Can it be because they’re largely white? Surely not?

(continues overleaf)

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