In the past five years the social provisions that have traditionally provided support to the artistic community have been aggressively disemboweled by the coalition government. Since 2010 the Arts Council’s budget has been cut by 36%, the benefits for a single person have been capped at £350 per week, rents in England and Wales have increased by 15% and the unemployment rate for people aged 16-24 stands at a staggering 14.4%.
In the face of these cuts and the broader austerity measures placed on society by the coalition government, musicians - once rightly or wrongly looked to as the bastions of political descent - have remained eerily silent as if almost universally towing an invisible apolitical line. Now in the run up to the most important election in decades a few artists have finally dared to cross that line.
At the start of the election campaign it was largely the old guard having their two pence worth. On Twitter Johnny Marr urged people to “Get rid of this lot on Thursday #Fightback". Tim Burgess also tweeted, “never mind who David Cameron does support. Let's concentrate on who he doesn't support: you, me and anyone who isn't one of his cronies”. Whilst, having a day off from his usual ‘bants’ about Liam, Noel Gallagher was quoted helpfully as saying,“I'm not sure I can get behind any of them at the minute”. Before bizarrely labelling Ed Miliband “a communist” and possibly crossing out Russell Brand’s phone number from his Filofax.
As the election has crept closer like a towering monolith ready to fall, some younger artists have finally stepped up to talk about it...for better or worse. Faris from The Horrors was quoted in last week’s NME as saying,“I don't think you gain anything from voting”. In contrast Spector’s Fred Macpherson wrote an impassioned response that stressed the importance of artists not dissuading their fans from voting. Whilst Sleaford Mods, regularly heralded as one of music’s few political voices, said that they too would not be voting.
Aside from some forced political prodding by the NME, generally most bands have stayed away from independently commenting on the election. Although, now at the eleventh hour - raising their heads above the parapet with a missing toothed wild-eyed grin - are the Fat White Family.
Fat Whites have never been a band to sh*t their pants in the face of a political conversation, if anything they’ve been more likely to smear it all over themselves. The band first got noticed when they held up a banner at the Margaret Thatcher death party in Brixton that said, ‘the bitch is dead’. When they were squatting and playing in South London, Saul and Nathan started Yuppies Out to protest against the gentrification of the area.
Even with the Fat Whites’ growing popularity they’ve not shied away from being political. In August last year they organised and headlined a benefit gig for Palestine in Brixton. Their Facebook and Twitter pages are regularly daubed with posts about ‘class war’; only this past weekend they posted an image of the royal baby with the words: ‘another fucking parasite to feed”. It’s true their debut album, Champagne Holocaust, rarely features politics (although ‘Garden Of The Numb’’s infamous line “you would sell your mother’s cunt to open doors’ could easily apply to most politicians) they are still a welcome adverse voice in a wave of conformity.
Currently on tour in the US, the band at first proved harder to track down than Andy Dufresne. Multiple texts later and we finally caught up with Jack (Everett drummer) via Skype whilst they were taking a pit stop in Ohio. We spoke to Jack (with keyboardist Nathan occasionally shouting in the background) about whether artists should talk about politics, how to fight the class war and why they think we should vote Labour in the election.
DiS: Do you think bands should speak about politics?
Jack Everett: I don’t necessarily think they should, but I think if they want to they should. Whatever their views would be, I don’t really think there’s a right one or a wrong one; people are gonna follow what they believe in. It is good to do it, but it’s not good to do it for the sake of it. “Oh, maybe I should be political because it’s cool.”
Did you read Faris from The Horrors quote in the NME about politics? Part of the quote was: “Politics doesn’t mean anything to me.... I don’t think you gain anything from voting.”
I agree with it to an extent, but every time you don’t you’re just giving to someone else who could make it potentially worse than it already is. I don’t think there’s any one person you can vote for that’s going to make a difference, but if you’re going to vote for anyone I think it should be Labour.
Are you going to vote?
Yeah…we’re in America so I haven’t sorted anyone out to vote for me. I’m not sure, I’ll try to by proxy.
Damon Albarn said recently that young artists aren’t talking about politics and it’s a “selfie generation”. Would you agree?
To an extent, I think there’s a certain type of person who’s into selfies and a certain type of person that’s into politics so maybe sometimes they cross over, I doubt it. I don’t think any generation is entirely non-political.
Are there any bands right now that put themselves out there to talk about politics? For this election it seems to only be older musicians, like Damon Albarn. Do you think young bands are afraid to talk about politics?
Maybe not necessarily ‘afraid’
Nathan (background): “Worried that they’re gonna get it wrong”
Yeah. I think people are worried they’re going to say the wrong thing in everyone’s eyes or choose the wrong person to vote for, but it’s inconsequential. I don’t know, I can’t think of any bands at the moment who are openly political... Pussy Riot?
Do you think bands don’t speak out as they’re worried about the negative PR? Whereas you’re not on a label and are relatively independent, so you don't have to worry as much about toeing the line.
I mean we’re a kind of bit more liberated in that way, I guess. For a lot people it doesn’t really enter into their minds, politics. A lot of bands at the moment are perceived to be …I think it’s kinda of a loaded thing to say, but they’re not really like they were… a lot of bands at the moment are people who have the time and money to go around playing music and people who have money in the first place.
Maybe the people who would be more political are busy working or trying to find money; they don’t have the time to spend on projects, vanity projects, like starting a band for no reason.
Has music become more elitist, especially under this government?
In a sense yeah, but maybe not elitist. It used to be, “people are listening to this, let’s get this band".When now it’s, “what shall we get people to get into next”. The people who are signing the bands are more in control.
In the past you could come from no money and live off the dole to work on your music. Whereas nowadays a lot of bands have gone to private school and are supported by their parents when they first start out, like The Horrors
You can still do that, but it's just more and more difficult to do it compared to how it was. Now it’s nearly impossible to rent a place in London, a cupboard, let alone trying to rehearse and getting instruments together and whatever.
You formed the Yuppies Out, an anti-gentrification protest group, a few years back at the start of the band. How can people fight back against the gentrification?
Just constant pressure. There’s no guarantee that it will even work, it probably won’t, but the less you say the less anyone will be aware that anyone disagrees.
As well as Yuppies Out you’ve also hosted The Fat Whites' Slide In For Palestine and you post regularly on Facebook about class war. Do you intend to keep being politically active?
Yeah, that’s what we all believe - we wouldn’t change.
You posted an anti-monarchy image of royal baby on your Facebook page. What do you think about the way the press has covered the birth of the royal baby, especially at the time of an imminent election?
It’s completely irrelevant, 90% of the people in the UK’s lives it has had no bearing on them whatsoever. A woman of childbearing age had a baby, that’s the way I see it.
Does the UK’s current first-past-the-post electoral system work for us as a democracy?
I think it’s flawed, but I don’t have a remedy for it or an alternative. I can’t really complain.
Russell Brand has come out as supporting Labour. What did you think of that? Should more public figures declare their political views?
Yeah, vote Labour why not? Who else are you going to vote?
I would say Labour, it makes more sense. Nathan’s shouting, “vote Labour”.
You’re spending a lot of time in the US at the moment: recording in New York and touring. What do you notice about the political climate in the US compared to the UK?
It’s a lot warmer here politically, boiling.
As in boiling under the surface?
As in a general countrywide grievance with the police and the government. I haven’t seen any violence or anything like that, Baltimore was quiet, everywhere’s been fairly quiet.
You talk a lot about class war, your Facebook post about the royal baby was also captioned ‘class war’. You speak about it a lot, but what do you think the solution is?
What can you actually do? Just keep causing a problem, that’s about it really. There’s not much you can do, which is the truth really and it’s kind of sad. Keep doing whatever little you can do, vote Labour.
What do you define as class war? In America class isn’t even recognised.
In England it’s more sort of cultural thing, a heritage thing, even if you don’t have money you can still be of a higher class; this archaic imperialist bullshit. Obviously, it’s got something to do with money but it’s that whole lineage, hereditary bollocks; it’s sort of like monarchy and stuff like that you were ordained by God to be there, bullshit. There’s one class, that’s what I think.
In your last NME interview you were hanging out and recording with Sean Lennon and you said a lot of your friends back home had trouble coming to terms with that. It seems like quite a contradictory thing to do as being friends with someone who has inherited wealth is against what people perceive your principles to be.
It wasn’t like we were going to Donald Trump’s offices and hiring people and training to be investment bankers. He was sort of helping us out with the type of music we like, he has very little to do with politics in general; it’s kind of more a mutual interest in the music and someone who can help us out.
In your music you tackle controversial and uncomfortable subjects, like ‘Cream Of The Young’ about paedophillia. Why is it important for you to be a thorn in the side of the status quo?
I don’t see why not, in the past there’s been much more explicit songs by older artists. We seem to have got into this malaise where this kind of thing is, “oh, it’s new. It’s really controversial”. It’s nothing new I don’t think, people have always been doing it; it’s how you progress I suppose in a way.
Has music become too safe?
Yes, it’s just kind of like a business with two-three minute long adverts really. Product placement.
How do you feel about brand partnerships? It seems now bands are quite happy to cosy up with brands whereas in the past it used to be such a big thing not to sell out.
Well, now it’s kind of necessary unless your loaded, it’s almost like having a patron. There’s no way you can do it on your own with the internet and downloading for free, it’s not the same, touring is where you make most of the money now.
Would you ever partner with a brand?
No, I think we’d like to be our own thing.
How’s the new album going? When will it be out?
I’d say it’s just in the final stages just two more things to finish. I think it should be ready by the end of the year, I mean released not ready.
Champagne Holocaust sounds quite different to ferocity of what you sound like live. Does this new record capture more of how you sound live?
No, less so. This record’s very different to the last one, I would say it’s not more of a live thing. It’s just very different to Champagne Holocaust.
What would you say it is like? Three words.
Nathan (background): "Long and Hot"
You’ve changed bass players, why did you get rid of Joe?
There were disagreements between him and the band, just different things.
How would you say relations are within in the band?
Either good or tentative or anywhere in between…Now it’s good, right now this second.
Saul’s not been playing with you as much live...
No, he is. He’s just fucked up his passport, he’ll be playing with us tomorrow from then on.
That seems to happen quite a bit.
Yeah, it does.
What do you have planned after this tour?
I think just festivals in the summer: Bestival, Glastonbury and all that stuff. Then I think some shows around Europe and just more shows, lots more shows.
Any final words about Thursday’s general election?
Vote Labour, from all of us.
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Image by Sophie Wedgewod