BM Blob on punk, reggae, rebel music and the music business...
They say it's gonna die. But baby let's face it, We just don't know what's gonna replace it
(Move It - Cliff Richard)
Ever since punk first came on the scene more musicians in the UK than ever have been quick to join in supporting a very ill defined socialist cause perceived as coming about, inspite of the anarchist labels, through a political transformation of society. Groups like 'The Specials', 'The Jam', 'The Gang of Four', 'Tom Robinson' etc have tagged along behind diffuse campaigns (e.g. racism, unemployment, nuclear disarmament) mounted by Trotskyists, the Labour Party left and center and the trade unions. Without exception they have been dead to profounder, negative and moreover broadly based currents which have prevented these political bodies even at the height of Thatcher's blitz from recovering their former prestige. Somewhat resembling Bianca Jagger's black sobranie dress conscious (M. Leninist) appeals on behalf of the poor of Central America, groups in the UK have been maneuvered into passing around the begging bowl with one hand while laying out for a country mansion with the other.
There has been in the UK for some time a fairly general if not necessarily revolutionary insistence that music and protest have terminally parted ways. It goes from lefty rags like The Leveller right into the headquarters of the music press. Take for instance one recent issue of the NME. No 9 or 90 day wonder stared at passers-by from the newstand cover. Only the wary, slightly paranoiac faces of unemployed teenagers headed towards the annual Tory conference in Blackpool. On page 4 the usual Lowry cartoon. A music Exec of Redundant Records Ltd is demanding to know where the voices of the younger generation are, the new Dylan, the Stones - where? A fawning blood sucking music scout is making excuses. The Exec. cannot hear him. Outside there's a riot going on: the voices of a generation with no credible musical accompaniment.
Cartoonists who make a living from their cartoons are invariably deeply compromised people. Lowry for instance usually prefers to fool around with the fascistoid mummery of the music biz. It says much for the state of the industry as a whole to admit the crisis is leagues deeper than faint hearted censuring of Fuhrer like manipulation, compromising pop star cults, lebensraum record companies and dazed audiences.
It is often difficult for people from other countries to appreciate just how widespread this view is in the UK. Added to which a resolve to sing in languages other than English is a way of saying, 'I'm not in the business to make money'.
Around Xmas 81/82 there was broadcast on radio a program listing 'alternative charts' hits of 1981. The Specials 'Ghost Town' recorded on the commercially successful 2 Tone label got a few bars airing which was ironical considering it shot to No 1 on the British Market Research Bureau's chart during the July days. The BMBR chart is very important to the music industry and to D.Jays, especially on Radio 1 (BBC), when compiling their playlists. But it is far from being the whole story otherwise the spectacular intrusion of small labels into the major charts would never have been possible. In part the Beebs traditionally watchful relative autonomy from the grip of big business is responsible for this.
A fair amount of air time on this particular program was taken up playing American singles, enough to make one suspect the credibility of an alternative chart depended here on much tighter controls elsewhere. Telephone conversations with punk groups in the States had been recorded for the program. Replying to criticisms that bands there were 'politically' feeble in comparison to the UK, the American musicians could barely contain their anger. 'Goddam limies' hadn't the foggiest notion what the power of the 'corporate media' was like in America.
The wide difference that now exists between Britain and America suggests that the Anglo/American near monopoly of rock music is riven down the middle. But strong reactions reflecting the different realities are also inevitable whenever Brits and Yanks get together and the subject of music crops up. With Yanks music is still reckoned to have a modicum of subversive potential, with Limies that response goes right out of the window.
Music and nostalgia. The repression of a revolutionary memory
As a popular music rock was in real trouble once the promise of a good life for all had elapsed into Caymen Isles bank accounts and bullet proof sanctuaries on Malibu Beach for the successful few. So long as the money was rolling in this was OK by the giants of the music biz. But it was contrary to the popular traditions of rock n' roll and not likely to remain that way for long. The music biz may have always wanted to make entertainers out of rock musicians but it then had to contend with the disaffection of the audience.
Come the early '70s and it was apparent rock music had hit an all time low. The tons and tons of good stuff from the '50s and '60s had suddenly given way to the occasional one off. There was no escaping it: rock music was deader than a Dodo and just about the best on offer was Gary Glitter's tongue in cheek fakes which became even more hilarious as the teen and pre-teen market rose to the bait.
The once important but problematical overlap between music and protest had come to a full stop. It was an unreal time. The world seemed to be settling back into its old ways and the global watershed of '68,69 had been turned into a trauma of world history. People en-masse were flung into reminiscing which somehow always stopped short of vital reflections on the revolutionary events of the late '60s. It was a lead up to nowhere and to this historicizing vein there corresponded a much commented on nostalgic revival of early '60s hits.
But no matter how hard memory of the world shaking events of the late '60s was repressed, a still unfolding class struggle was bound to effect this essentially conservative reminiscing. And in the UK, it took the form of constantly mulling over class origins, a search for roots which in the restricted sense implied here, safe guarded the class system. The main culprits were union bureaucrats, shop stewards, teachers, part-time lecturers and social workers etc coming from working class backgrounds whose structural position finally pitted them against the cause they were espousing. This contradiction some years later was eventually to work through into the punk explosion which also played on this extraordinarily long lasting demagogic response to class divided society in the UK.
The class struggles of the early '70s in Britain barely affected the music biz. It was a period of consolidation for the musical majors, a time to follow up the consequences of the quite superficial rapport that existed between superstardom and the largely working class audience. To restructure for any length of time the audience/performer nexus in favour of the new pantheon of Hollywood royalty was desperately out of tune with the changing economic climate that eventually would push the proletariat in a different direction. Only for a time could stage door johnny's be expected to look on the latter day Rod Stewart - a working class lad made good - without starting to get angry with the mother. Later Sid Vicious of the 'Sex Pistols' was to invert this relationship by pretending to shoot passive onlookers. It was simply a variation on the same old scene but for the big companies it was unsettling.
Big capital in private hands is rarely sympathetic to popular movements and when the punk/independent label explosion occurred the big companies at first reacted to it with a mixture of fear and loathing. Then scenting a profit they began to give chase. It cannot be stressed too often that punk (as a musical experience) was a popular rather than class movement in which the interests of musician and small capital were kept in a state of precarious equilibrium. It brought together 'creativity' and venture capital in a way the musical majors their attention riveted on declining profit margins, zooming production and administrative costs and increasing expenditure on aggressive marketing were no longer capable of pulling off. Fortunately some independent labels like Tony Wilson of Factory Records have been honest enough to admit 'you make money and something special by investing and believing in talent, not by marketing crap'.
Throughout the 70's music from the rock doldrums of the art of the decade through to new wave rock has been in a situation of constant crisis. Inspite of repeated transfusions, music has not been able to recover its former powers. Punk began as an attempt to destroy rock n' roll and the architect of this musical situationism (one of the by now familiar recuperations of Situationist theory), Malcolm Mclaren, called his company 'Glitter Best' emphasizing the continuity between hoax and the guilty pretence of new wave.
Malcolm was able to mint 'cash from chaos' just so long as publicity conscious notoriety overran more radical perspectives. He was the last buccaneer of the music biz, but rather ironically he was unmasked, music's claim to even a pseudo reality also crashed. Punk had wavered as it dipped in and out of the music scene between genuine working class aggression and show case pretence. Attempting to live up to yet another immanent scandal for the sake of a few sensational headlines eventually drove Sid Vicious to murder and suicide. A sticker read 'Mclaren wanted for vicious murder'.
However as an ideology of radical art punk was lethal to all who got involved in it. Never before in the history of rock music had so much emphasis been placed on not 'selling out' which implied a critique of capitalism was taking root. So far so good. At the same time Punk's original mentors have sold out with indecent haste forfeiting all open house claims to being a mass based egalitarian movement, as individuals and groups rose into the supertax bracket and stardom.
It took time to sink in but those who had meant at least some of it felt ever so badly let down. This bewildering mixture of image and reality, astounding hypocrisy and honesty even told on some of the recording artists whose heads had been turned by fat cheque books. Poly Styrene not happy like 'The Police' with raking 'giant steps walking on the moon' fancies she has made several trips to Mars and is only now beginning to comedown...............................
When rock music borrowed from more authentic R. and B. sources, essential details that place the music firmly in the context of everyday living would frequently be omitted. Punk did the same only this time by recuperating revolutionary critiques. Take for instance the fly sheet promoting the 'Sex Pistols' 'Holidays in the Sun'. The only reasonable bubble speak is the last line… 'A cheap holiday in other people's misery'. Otherwise it is a nonsensical mosaic of deservedly throwaway lines.
'Wanna see some history cos I got a reasonable economy' (?????) 'I don't want a holiday in the sun, I wanna go to the New Belsen' (huh, you what??????)
'The Clash' also at a recent concert in Paris refused to publicize the plight of Libertarian prisoners in Spain jailed on raps ranging from 10 to 40 years. Yet they were prepared to devote an entire album of 3 LPs to the Leninist/Guevarist Sandanistas in Nicuaragua whom in comparison haven't an ounce of revolutionary potential.
'Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged...'
Like most populist movements the proletariat was important to the new wave just so long as it never had the final say. It was amazing the speed at which the relationship between punters and groups began to turn sour once a number of punk musicians began to make it. We can recall talking in 1978 to a couple of unemployed brush hands in their late teens who only a year ago had been squatting with 'The Police'. The group had really started to make it and rake in the dough and one of the youths in particular was full of contempt referring to 'The Police' as 'cunts' (a kind of obligatory sexist put-on). His dismissal of the group was damningly retrospective because he could find nothing nice to say about them even when they were just squatters who liked to play music.
This attitude reflects some of the savagery and complexity of the social apartheid. Those who make it can never be washed 'clean' because it stems almost from an accident of birth. This subjectivity has been the basis of a workable paradox which UK capitalism has effectively applied to keep the working class in its place. Because origin is primary and structure secondary within these topsy turvy scales of class identification, it is feasible for a PM to say 'I'm working class mate' - and to a point get away with it.
The independent labels have manipulated this subjectivity to their own advantage. Once it was clear the 'Sex Pistols', 'The Clash', 'The Stranglers' were not destined to a life on the dole it made a nonsense to sing of survival drudgery. On the maintenance of this paradox depends the survival of the music industry because the consumer is continually breaking away from their unfaithful representations in search of ever more accurate expressions that catches both the intensity of their desires and everyday miseries.
To an hitherto unprecedented degree pop music in the 70's has played on class and roots. Because of its associations with reggae 'Roots' has something of a racial connotation but as will be seen class and roots, as a concept of identity was, for both black and white, interchangeable, forming a part of the corporatist strategies of independent labels. When Haley's 'Roots' was first screened on British telly NME devoted a front cover of the magazine and a centre page spread to the book. To a black living in America and the Caribbean to know your ancestors arrived there bound hand and foot in a slave ship matters but what overriding interest can that serve in a largely white music industry in the UK? In fact the industry had just lent over backwards to acknowledge the UK's particular form of 'rootism' which by a sort of infinite regress allows a Lord (Tony Benn for example - the former Lord Stansgate) to lay claim to working classness on the basis of some long dead ancestor!!
This typically British duplicity was also present in Punk. It came as a surprise to learn later how many musicians had come from high up backgrounds, been to posh schools etc. One would think from 'The Clash's' first LP that all the group had ever looked out on was the Westway flyover in London W10 from the top of some tower block. It later, much later, turned out Old Joe (Strummer that is) had been to a public school and Dad was a diplomat. Lack of honesty in these matters is in the UK astonishing and Americans for one find this ability to successfully cover all traces very puzzling. It tended to confirm their impression Britain is a nation of born double-agents.
The ideal of the independent labels is a music business made up of small independent producers. If they could ever get a political act together it would undoubtedly include the disbanding of the centralised monopolies of the music business. As a fraction of the bourgeoisie they do engage in struggle against their far more powerful brethren. For example Branson of Virgin Records in a statement damaging to the interests of the big companies drew attention to the way they hyped charts. Exposures like these are welcomed by the majority of musicians because more of them are likely to be represented in the record market if the practise of chart hyping is stopped. But it does not automatically mean musicians will therefore speak kindly of the independents because they are when all is said and done into the business of making money out of musicians.
It is frequently overlooked how the meteoric rise to fame and fortune of mid 50's rock musicians was helped along in the early stages by independent labels who hoped they could shift maybe 100,000 copies of a record. Pretty soon they found they could market a million - even more - and some of them like Atlantic began to enter the big league with a monthly turn-over of millions of dollars. Some of the labels like Atlantic began almost as a spare time hobby which in view of today's developments has a familiar ring about it.
Lefties and music
Though today's independents form part of a growth dynamic endemic to capitalism the changed political and social climate prod the independent labels particularly in the UK into supporting radical sounding proposals stemming originally from trade union and Labour party left wingers and Trotskyist militants. Branson for instance closed some of his record shops on the TUC Day of Action in February 1980.
The unique rapprochement between the union biz and the music apparatus is further advanced by their common involvement with mass youth unemployment. There is a certain inevitability in the way trade unions are drawn into making clumsy pronouncements on the music scene unthinkable even 5 years ago. This recognition is gratefully acknowledged by the music press and they in turn particularly the NME reciprocate by continuing to propagate hoary cliches left parliamentarians are anxious to keep alive.
These points are brought out in incidents which occurred in the 'Peoples' March for Jobs' in May/June 1980 and in the NME response to the riots.
When the March reached Manchester on May 8th 1981 (two months later almost to the day Moss Side erupted) amongst the scores of union present to welcome the marchers were a band of drummers from Moss Side who had been prevented from performing through loudspeakers by the police. A regional organiser of UCATT (the building workers union) had immediately sprung to their defence. 'It's disgraceful' he said, 'the police are coming down on their own class'. This stupid view which fortunately the people of Moss Side disregarded is also echoed by the "politically aware' music press.
In a pitiful article on the riots in NME journalist Chris Salewicz came out with the following assinine remark: 'the government is playing a dangerous game with people's lives, the kid's lives and the policeman's lives - working class lives'. Frivolous word-smithing was unable this time to dress up the poverty of music journalism. Waving aside Foot's doddering, Salewicz said the only constructive 'political' (why italicise?) moves he had heard of came from the Labour party Young Socialists who proposed 'the idea of collective action through a socialist transformation of the Labour party, as the only way through and out of our problems. For sure we can't dance our way out of them. End of sermon.'
End of Chris Salewicz. There is not the merest hint of ridding the planet of commodities, the State, wage labour and what have you and it was from the same conservative vantage point that 'The Specials' judged the riots. Their record 'Ghost Town' as an advance warning ('No job to be had in this country/ can't go on no more, people gettin' angry') called for further comment. 'I wish' said Lynval Golding 'the government would listen to our song. We're able to communicate with the kids at their own level. We talk to them in pubs, we know what their problems are'. The song's success in the charts had been undone in the streets. Had 'Ghost Town" the government's ear then things might have been set to rights by courtesy of the State and the riots stopped before they ever started. A depressing prospect.
Some six months later and another ex-Specials member Terry Hall (now the Fun Boy Three) was still harping on the same old tune. '"Ghost Town" was number 1 in the charts and there was still riots and fights long after that, so it didn't achieve anything so far as stopping it'.
Short of social revolution stopping the riots isn't an achievement to be proud of and Terry Hall because the record never went even half way to doing this, was let off the hook. But if wishes were omnipotent 'Ghost Town' should have capped its success in the Hit Parade by clearing the streets. (Ghost Towns?) Whether he knows it or not Terry Hall is siding with all the obstacles that prevented the riots from heralding in a full scale social revolution.
News from Jamaica. What 'appen?
The present wave of politicized rock and journalistic comment provides a mandate that a 'left' leaning party political structure might conceivably use to far greater effect counteracting, particularly amongst the young, a tendency towards chronic abstentionism. But it is to Jamaica we must turn to find the most perfected example in modern times of State patronage of contemporary music.
Under Michael Manley's populist social democratic regime (1972/80) reggae, though sustained totally by private capital became a focus of political patronage. Manley made it his duty to put in appearances at special reggae concerts gaining a political benefit from his overtures to Rastafarianism and recourse to patois. In the 'One Love Peace Concert' held in 1978 accompanying the riddims' were huge placards exhorting the people to 'Build Jamaica with Discipline' - 'Work Together for Self-Reliance' - 'Forward With the People's Constitution'.
These concerts may still prove to have been a politico/aesthetic experimental prototype giving a renewed lease of life through the glitterwax of art to this 'battle for production' analagous to Stalinism. Needless to say the revolutionary contents of these festivals are nil.
But the ease with which Manley and the PNP (People's National Party) manipulated reggae musicians meant forfeiting some of their radical claims. The rush to patronise reggae by Manley and the PNP more or less coincided with a draconian IMF loan leading quickly to a further fall in working class living standards (during the 8 years of 'democratic socialism' the cost of living increased 320%) which lost Manley a lot of support. Manley had tried hard to manipulate the more corporate aspects of 'black consciousness' in Jamaica (including calling himself 'Joshua') but in the last analysis religious and racial mystification were unable to make good rising working class discord.
Behind the tough exterior, reggae has a party political soft - Manley's premiership proceeds from reggae musicians performing at these politically inspired concerts wen towards social work and job creation schemes. In fact the Politics of reggae has for a long time been taken up with the management of the unemployed - and its special message for the unemployed has always been to 'simmer down' (the title of Marley's first record a tranquiliser for Kingston's rude boys).
Without seriously affecting reggae's doctrinal credibility, Jamaican fault finding has on the whole been far more of an open secret on the UK scene. There is in Jamaica an organised interface between unemployment and political gangsterisms (prior to the election in 1980 as many as 700 people, the majority of them poor were killed by armed gangs of JLP - Jamaican Labour Party - and the PNP) which provided a platform from which reggae musicians without losing face can call for peace.
In contrast the experience of unemployment in Britain is altogether far more social and let's hope it stays that way. Black Uhuru appalled at the speed youth in Eglington (Canada) Utica Avenue (New York) and Kingston (Jamaica) reach for the holster are compelled to recognise Brixton youth 'leave their 45 Smith and Wesson pistol'. For the present the absence of guns and gun toting political partisanship on the streets of Britain means it is less easy to manipulate violence and social questions can come more out into the open. Enough finally To make nonsense of Black Uhuru's concluding line: 'all the kids want to do is 'go to school'!!! Besides the unique varieties of social breakthrough now being chanced in Britain such lyrics fade into sermonizing nothing - and what remains is the unsatisfying aesthetic of the music qua music.
A rocking black economy: A modicum of respectability
Like no other phase of rock music, new wave drew on the experience of unemployment and a refusal to even contemplate doing the few wretched badly paid jobs still available. Within days it was known as 'dole queue rock' providing a shop-window on unemployment. It spot-lighted in particular unemployed school leavers giving them a measure of incorporation into the circus not achievable to older often chronically unemployed and unemployable people who had 'settled in' to a lifetime on the dole. Being unemployed and a musician represented, between signing on, a sort of vagrant populism awaiting valorization into a gob soaked star.
When new wave broke it was in government circles beginning to sink in that mass unemployment was here to stay. Means had in the long term to be found to alleviate the stigma of unemployment. But with the Tories election victory in the short term, the unemployed were to be harassed and made a scapegoat for all of society's ills.
Choosing to stir things up like this meant the Tories were unable to apply the lessons that could be learn from this freelance experimental sound lab into how best to manage the unemployed. Even so the odd shoestring recording studio can now be found at the back of youth clubs. And social workers any day are a more durable creation of capitalism than Thatcherism.
Monetarists in the UK had no stated artistic preferences but they were bound to doubly dislike new wave because of its past association with the black economy. Records were being pressed and financed from out of the black economy even if signing on and doing the bizo in the seediest job imaginable on the side, was an exaggerated creation of punk mythology. Unemployed punks constantly ran the risk of being bust by the fraud squads at gigs. There was one particularly mad example when a group was bust playing at the local labour exchange Xmas hop.
Up to approximately this point the Labour Party and the Trade union apparatus had despised the black economy regarding it as a cesspool for scabs. Now they had cause to change their mind. Bad taste aside the ideology of punk could with few exceptions be fitted into a leftist framework and with every RAR (Rock against Racism) carnival and gig, new wave gained in respectability. This unprecedented contact with a mass 'socially conscious' art was a vital stepping stone in trade union tolerance of the black economy - or shadow economy as it was politely rechristened.
Having to stretch a point or two does not mean the TU apparatus and Labour party dominated local State in the major towns and cities are prepared to let the black economy run riot. But they would like to keep it in political reserve by progressively linking it up with subsidised community-based industries, co-ops and training initiatives geared to solving local unemployment. They hope against hope all will become eventually self-supporting - perhaps on the day the TUC 'Programme for Recovery' is implemented and begins to take effect.
This eventual objective is not intrinsically alien to the present Tory government. The focal point of the bitter wrangling is the amount of government expenditure needed to save capitalism. In fact the Tones have granted to the black economy a de facto legality if it can be shown a person is drawing benefit for as long as it takes to get a viable business off the ground. Self help must be paid for and a pop group that makes it from the dole queues to needing the services of an accountant is part of that mould.
'You don't know how lucky you are - back in the USSR'
State regulation of the conditions of small business is a product of centralised management which has grown immeasurably since World War II. But it is still a far cry from the economic and ideological constraints that the State Capitalist regimes of the East bring to bear on the activities of small-scale business.
The Eastern bloc has not so far effectively co-opted rock music, unemployment and the refusal to work with anything like the West's success (though the refusal to work in its essence can never be recuperated). There it is a much more explosive combination where riots at rock concerts, unless dealt with promptly can easily spill over into a more general rebellion (e.g. East Berlin 1978). Moreover pop groups don't possess the economic and ideological freedoms their counterparts take for granted in the west. Short of a major shake up it is virtually impossible for rebel musicians to double-deal the proletariat by flaunting, as they take their leave of it, all the insulting trappings of success.
When the musical mode of production changes..........?
A thorough going critique of music, one that doesn't skirt around the difficulties is hard to get going. To dismiss everything that has happened since the mid 50's as the diabolical work of musical conglomerates out to ensnare the proletariat just won't do. Rock music has possessed from the mid 50's onwards a mass following which no other art form has ever achieved. Yet rock is inescapably caught up in capitalism's heady distancing mirror system of representation and contradiction which its largely proletarian audience reacts to in a relevant manner.
But so far there have been few attempts to analyse rock music as a specific branch of capitalist production. The music and the rock artists have hogged the limelight while managers, record producers, recording engineers, financiers have gone about their business unobserved.
The few existing examples are at best ambivalent and ruined by a failure to hit hard. Charlie Gillett in his book on Atlantic records rightly says the 'book is about songs and money' but he then goes on to pussy foot around praising Atlantic as a 'record company with character - not a faceless corporation' extending even into Atlantic's New York office which is 'lively and efficient - compared to any other bureaucratic office I have ever seen'.
Perhaps this is what is meant by the 'soulful corporation'? Gillett's book can quite legitimately be read as a plea addressed to other music corporations like RCA, Capitol, EMI etc. imploring them to mend their ways. There is not one even telltale hint in 'Making Tracks' that musical companies with the rest of capitalism must be abolished.
More than any other art form music gives off a sense of life bringing into play, sex, love and body rhythms. To even contemplate severing Hendrix - that music equal of Charlie Parker - from currents tearing America apart in the late 60's is unthinkable.
Musical venues rarely provide a cathartic release of energy and when the clubs close the real business of the evening commences where the music has left off. Beside what happened outside the Dalston discos in May/June '81 and the club 200 in Balham in July '81, the notorious gig by the 4 Skins at the Hamborough Tavern is a nasty irrelevance.
In the first of a series of urban riots to hit Britain, the Carnival riots of '76/'77, frustrated expectations of fulfilment and the provocative presence of the police contrived to produce an explosion. They made as great an impact on the 'black community' as on 'white society' because it was at once apparent to many people that West Indian youth born in this country despised the traditional Trinidadian merry go round in the streets of Notting Hill. Appeals from the organisers to stop 'wrecking carnival' went unheeded and crestfallen steel band floats and nerve shattering sound systems called it a day and went home sorry they were prevented from playing through to the early hours as they had done on previous years.
Unlike the police and the plate glass shop windows there was never any question of the music machine being directly in the line of fire (tho' rumour has it, on occasion it nearly was). But for the bands and owners of sound systems the gnawing realisation they had been unceremoniously pushed aside was hard to stomach. Even if it was still pitched at a pretty low level, they had been made the object of a critique that almost by default included music.
There is an even chance that at least some of the young blacks taking part in the Carnival riots also belonged to mobile sound systems. Some use it as a means of topping up dole payments and often are remarkably unassuming people. Though they are involved in music the artistic ego is not for them having acquired a take it or leave it attitude to music.
This casualness is amongst other things a product of technical factors relating to the increased mechanisation of music eroding the status of manual dexterity on an instrument.
Co-incidentally the greatest impetus to this development has come through the evolution of reggae in Jamaica where the part played by electronic processes in the recording studio has pushed live performances more into the background. Dub grew from the mobile discos and sound systems. King Tubby, one of the first innovators, was originally by trade an electrical engineer. Shot through with massive voltages of reverb and echo, the essentials of bass, drum, keyboard and vocals were dropped in and out of the mix in random sequence. Small wonder then that black kids in the UK lean more towards sound systems than to becoming themselves performing artists. In contradictory ways they are already leaving behind the concept of the artistic individual.
There are now so many inter-related technical and subjective factors pressing towards the supercession of the musician and the music industry. The making of music is becoming available to all. And for many years, like few other 'folk' traditions, rock has reserved a special place for the 3 chord wizard. But the 'cult of genius' and sales combining as never before, lifted the chosen few to a higher, much more well off plane, where they alone were the music masters.
It was an inevitable sequel to the gross capitalisation of music involving something approaching a signing away of common property rights. This conveyancing was made possible through the connivance of professional musicians set on making a superlative career out of music. Professional musicians who in no time at all like to regard themselves as such goddamn important people with special privileges, already are the targets of derisive comments but it still needs to be made much more explicit. For the moment the pro's main line of defense is to pull the populist wool, something all professionals do once their role is in jeopardy. Hence a critique of music is organically connected to recovering other functions which capitalism has withheld from the proletariat. There must be a huge demolition job on music. Only when the planet is rid of commodities will music cease to fall well short of our desires but then can we be sure it will be called music? Until that beautiful dawn down with musicians! And while we are at it, down with all art and artists. It has been said before but its comeback is long overdue.
ABOVE: Race not class. A typical ANL (Anti Nazi League) Tableau from 1978. A liberal campaign for liberal minded professionals, the ANL was set up in 1977 by a detestably middle class crew after the success of the National Front in the GLC elections. The founding statement was drawn up by Ernie Roberts, ex-CND campaigner and former assistant Gen. Sec. of the AUEW, Peter Hain then a Post Office Workers Union research officer, and organiser of 'Stop the '70 tour' opposing the South African cricket tour and Paul Holborrow, former teacher, freelance journalist and member of the SWP. Taking it to the limit even one time could not be more alien to this lot. A year earlier RAR (Rock Against Racism) had set up shop in response to David Bowie's camp fascism and Eric Clapton's bad mouthing of black musicians. RAR was founded by Larry Lensman a designer (NB) and the two organisations started to work hand in hand as finger wagging anti fascist but not anti capitalist musical tents were pitched next to the likes of Brian Clough (the real manager of the NF - Notts Forest) and Arthur Scargill. The flogging of anti fascism - the badges, the posters, the instantly recognisable ANL lollipop with the red arrow symbol deeply affected more TUC backed campaigns (like the 'People's March for Jobs').