“The newscaster says the enemy’s among us,
As bombs explode on the 30 bus.
Kill your middle-class indecision,
Now is not the time for liberal thought.”
On July 9, 2007, popular London-based indie-rock band Bloc Party will release the third single from their acclaimed second album, A Weekend In The City. A standout track on said album, ‘Hunting For Witches’ tackles paranoia and fear amongst the British population in the wake of the 2005 terrorist attacks on London, attacks which left 52 innocent people dead and 700-plus injured. The city’s public transport system was targeted, with bombs detonated on the Underground network and a double-decker, the above-quoted “30 bus”.
The bombs exploded on the morning July 7, 2005; ‘Hunting For Witches’ is released on the first Monday following the two-year anniversary of the attacks which inspired it, i.e. on the first-available release date. Which leads this DiS writer to ask: is this a cheap, sensationalist move on the part of the band, or rather their label and management (probably), or does the release of ‘Hunting For Witches’ serve as a reminder that so little has changed since the London bombings? Our televisions and the printed press, particularly the more right-leaning tabloids, are still full to bursting with reports of hostilities generated by racial and religious divisions, small-minded individuals of reactionary demeanours and short fuses. London is a city blessed with a fantastically diverse immigrant population, but to the outsider – the non-Londoner – it seems as if the 2005 attacks were just the headline-generating and attention-throttling manifestation of a deeper problem, of a lack of integration and an unwillingness within the city’s many religious groups to ‘get along’ with their neighbours. Of course, those who live within the city’s boundaries know that this isn’t wholly the case.
Employees of V2 and Wichita have told me on separate occasions, and off-record, that the release of ‘Hunting For Witches’ on July 9 has nothing to do with the London bombings – the release date has been assigned due to T In The Park, which takes place on the weekend of July 6-8, and at which Bloc Party are due to play. The subject of the bombings, apparently, was never raised. The release makes sense, timing wise, from a business point of view, but does the wider picture not present the outsider with the possibility that the release date is a little, for want of a better word, unsympathetic? Does it not smack of a marketing plan – however much the powers that be deny said allegation – standing in the way of a little humanistic compassion?
Bloc Party are a band tied to London – the city is their muse throughout A Weekend In The City, so much so that it could almost be categorised as a concept record based around the many amazing facets – and the not-so-brilliant aspects – London has to offer residents and visitors alike. Sure, it’s dirty and can be dangerous, but it’s a city that many hold dear and close to their hearts; I certainly miss London whenever I am away from it, and it’s not even my hometown strictly speaking. Bloc Party – clearly enraptured by London and presumably keen to allow its wounds to heal – have never appeared to be fond of those above them forcing their wares down the throats of would-be consumers; they’ve always seemed too intelligent for cheap tricks and convenient opportunities. But releasing ‘Hunting For Witches’ on July 9…? Even the demonised Daily Mail could spin the decision against the band and their pay-masters.
Of course, I could be thinking about this way too much – the song was always likely to be a single, and while it maybe should have been the second from the album (‘I Still Remember’ makes more sense as a summertime release, to me, while there’s something about the oppressive beats of ‘Hunting For Witches’ that suits the grey slate skies of the typical British springtime – just look outside) its eventual release really isn’t surprising. It’s also perfect for remixing, given its electronic overtones, and fans will be able to create their own versions of the song using fancy new technology upon its release. I might even have a go myself. Yet, for all the “it is just a song” thoughts that cross my mind, and continue to do so even as I type this, I can’t help feeling that there’s a lack of sensitivity about the July 9 release date. It’s too soon, maybe; Brits have a habit of celebrating their scars, after a fashion – of talking-up failures and reminiscing over unfortunate events – and the ones left by the bombings are still as fresh as any proverbial daisies. Do we need a popular rock band saying they’re going “hunting for witches”, seeking out those who could be seen by fools with tunnel vision as related in some tenuous way to the perpetrators, however oxymoronically knowing such a statement is? In all honesty, probably not.
Bloc Party’s lyricist, Kele Okereke, has said of ‘Hunting For Witches’: “I was amazed at how easy it’d be to whip them (the mainstream press) up into a fury.” It seems, via fair means or foul, he’s going to have his way whether his critics – and more importanly his fans – like it or not. “All reasonable thought is being drowned out,” goes the song at the centre of this DiScussion; in this instance, it would seem that the opportunist individuals in the higher echelons of Bloc Party’s business camp have talked over the doubts surrounding this release of ‘Hunting For Witches’. They have ignored the feelings of not only those directly affected by the bombings, but also those who believed that Bloc Party weren’t the sort of band to look for cheap column inches to flog their records.
To this writer, at least, the release of ‘Hunting For Witches’ on July 9 feels like a poor move, and one that could dent the reputation of its makers. But then again, the doubts keep on creeping: it’s a song, a good one, and it’s a distinct possibility that the London attacks really weren’t discussed when a release date was pencilled in. Ultimately, I’m unsure where I stand on the matter, and it’s given me a big enough headache already (plus, this article is proof that the release date is sure to generate pre-release coverage, so well done business folk!) – so it’s over to you, the readers.