General Election 2015: Muse, Noel Gallagher, Savages, Du Blonde, Ghetts And More On Politics And Protest Songs

Judgement day awaits. Britain takes to the polls next Thursday (May 7) to vote in the 2015 General Election, the first since a hung parliament in 2010 sentenced the UK to five years of a bickering Coalition government. In the run-up, with UKIP on the rise, voter apathy under scrutiny and the economy still in repair, some people have wondered why more musicians aren’t confronting the rather grim current state of things in song. Is protest music dead? On the eve of the election, we asked British artists from Emmy The Great to Sleaford Mods to tell us if, how and why politics enter their work.

Matt Bellamy, Muse
“I don’t think anyone can pinpoint any one of our new songs [on new album ‘Drones’] and say that it’s about a specific political issue. It’s the emotional journey on the album that could be seen as a fight for free thinking or independence. Personally, I’m against the concept of party politics. If you live in Teignbridge, or wherever, the person should represent the people of that area, not what some other ‘party’ wants. The whip system is just a hijacking of democracy. For instance, when it comes to whether we should go to war, that voting should only be done on the basis of what the people they represent want, not what the party wants. I was thinking the other day we should start the Direct Democracy Party. The way to play the existing system is to be an MP and say that ‘every vote I take in parliament, I will take an app vote from my constituents’. The argument that MPs should decide because they are better researched on the topic at hand, to me, really supports the old idea that the masses are not clever enough.”

Jason Williamson, Sleaford Mods
“Politics and music should mix, and especially at the moment because things are just miserable. But it’s been like that for years and that’s why Sleaford Mods started. I sometimes worry that what people think of as the politics in our songs – the opinions – overshadows the music itself. What’s going on around us is a driving force for the music we make but we don’t offer solutions. We don’t look for them either, because I’m not sure there are any. All you can do is practice a bit of compassion and a lot of intelligence and that can be more powerful than getting on a podium and telling people they should do this or that. But there are some specific issues that I think are important in this election – a solid rent cap, the end of the bedroom tax, tuition fees, among other things.”

Fay Milton, Savages
“It’s a common feeling for people to want to do something about a number of issues – social problems, climate change, whatever – but not know what to do. While I do think musicians are a bit frightened of attaching themselves to political causes, I also think that music is just an expression of how people in general are feeling, and that fear of politics is universal. We don’t know what causes to associate ourselves with, but at the same time we feel cheated and at a loss. We’ve grown to distrust our politicians and with that a sense of hope has gone. But you can do things. I recently got a playlist together for The Future, who are climate change activists. They hold politicians accountable and try to not let things slip under the carpet. We doorstepped [Tory MP] Michael Gove to ask him why he didn’t let any of our politicians go to the Lima Climate Change Conference last December. Anyone can knock on a politician’s door and tell him or her what they think.”

Rou Reynolds, Enter Shikari
“In 2015, popular music is devoid of its Marleys, its Lennons, its Dylans and is now and saturated with utterly insipid music with little to no lyrical content other than the glorification of violence or greed and the glamorisation of narcissism. This reflects the dominant culture of consumerism and the selfish nature of capitalism. Profit is put before people and that is no more evident than with popular music. Music is political by definition. If you’re broadcasting your music in any sense, you are putting ideas out there into the public mind. It then becomes a choice and a responsibility as to what ideas you wish to ventilate. We’re born into a world that we’re told is ‘fixed’. The systems of economics and politics are concrete and anyone who stops to think of how we could better design and run a sustainable society is often dismissed as a dreamer. As a band, we try to empower that belief that humanity can and must do better. We try our best to stoke that fire of discontent in people as well as promulgate new ideas and alternatives to the unsustainable systems we have now.”

Faris Badwan, The Horrors/Cat’s Eyes
“Politics doesn’t mean anything to me. The stuff that gets discussed on Newsnight isn’t relevant to me, and it’s pretty much not relevant to anyone. I don’t think you gain anything from voting. I find it funny that someone would vote for another person, whether it’s on Celebrity Big Brother or as a politician, on the basis that they could imagine going for a drink with them. I just think voting is for people who don’t have their own imagination. It’s for a different generation. You’re not accomplishing anything. The problem is, my opinion on it isn’t fully formed – the only thing I really do think is that, realistically, voting doesn’t make a great deal of difference. I don’t feel like I know enough, or care to know enough, about any of this stuff to be able to answer properly. If other bands really care about it, whatever. I just don’t think anyone should ever listen to anything I have to say about politics.”

Beth Jeans Houghton, Du Blonde
“Politics is there whether you accept it or not, and it affects you whether you think it does or not. I’ve written political songs and never done anything with them, because if I put it out, the reaction would be, ‘Here’s another cheesy political song.’ But the new Kendrick Lamar album is so unashamedly political, and when someone comes out with a political record that’s also musically fantastic, it makes it cool. My new record [‘Du Blonde’], even though it’s about relationships, it’s also about standing up for myself and realising that what I have to say is valid even if other people don’t agree. Being a girl in music, you do have to deal with sexual harassment and misogyny. And if you speak out about it, you’re seen as some kind of man-hating bitch, which isn’t the case at all. We’re still in a place where I’ll be on stage and someone will shout ‘Get your pussy out’, or someone will grab my butt at a show. Feminism is seen as this violent outcry for justice, but instead of ‘us against them’, it should be seen as a group effort to respect each other.”

Noel Gallagher
“Protest songs: fucking bollocks. ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ is a protest song, and the message in that is: ‘fuck your recession and fuck you and your government, we’re gonna have a great time’. Nothing more subversive than that. Oasis were raging, but we were raging joy and the sun was out in the songs. If you can’t see the rage and the yearning to better yourself in ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’, you’re dead to me.”

Ghetts
“I have no relationship with party politics at all. I believe, no matter what, that the rich are going to get richer and the poor are going to get poorer. I’ve been on earth for 30 years and I’ve seen nothing change. You could say that grime was political. We were just kids, speaking about things that we were seeing on an everyday basis, so I didn’t really look at it like that. But in retrospect you can see grime was speaking up for a culture that didn’t get heard, and that’s why people took to it. I know a lot of people find listening to rappers that talk about politics and whatnot very boring but you’ve got to be open-minded. There are some people who are speaking their truths and I can appreciate it, definitely. Lowkey’s one of them, Akala’s one of them, George The Poet… I’ve learned more from them than I have anywhere else. Rappers are like the street politicians.”

Bez, Happy Mondays/We Are The Reality Party candidate
“I’ve been listening to a lot of new music and the younger generation seem to be turning political again, but because of the state of the music industry, their message isn’t getting out there. I think it’s crucial that people should be politically aware, and it doesn’t have to stop you having fun. It doesn’t take anything away from what music’s about.”

Sam Duckworth, formerly Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly
“I get annoyed with the argument that music is less political now than it used to be. It rises and it falls, but there’s loads of politics in music at the moment. Groups of musicians are using their cities well, forming DIY scenes – and that’s a political statement in itself. In Newport, a bunch of artists turned an old sports shop into a multi-project space for the community, and that’s happening everywhere. Resources are scarce so artists need to stick together. I don’t want to write songs about governmental or party politics because they’re things that I fundamentally don’t understand. I can’t understand why things are so unjust. Why are a million people using food banks? Why are the nine poorest regions in central Europe all in the UK, but also the richest region, London? It doesn’t make any sense and I’m not the person to give people answers – more to say, ‘I’m with you.’ I’d say that a good proportion of the music out there concerns politics in some way. There are many ways to be political without having to write a protest song.”

G Hastings, Young Fathers
“Right now, the media shuts new ideas out systematically – and that’s something that stems from Thatcherism. New ideas have been deleted from popular culture. If you cause a fuss about something – if you talk about Palestine or anything like that – people say: ‘Oh, what are you starting that for?’ That’s why it’s important that we do what we can do as musicians. We can say our bit and try to push the fact that we’re pop music and that pop music should include us.”

Kayus Bankole, Young Fathers
“The media simplifies everything, whether it’s gender, religion or race. It’s easier to put things into categories so that they can put fear into people. That confines people and makes them think that’s how things should be. That’s what we’re getting at with titling our album ‘White Men Are Black Men Too’.”

Emmy The Great
“If you can change your idea that it has to be a Bob Dylan or a Clash opening up the discourse, you’ll see there’s a lot going on. The stuff Kanye West been saying recently about breaking down power structures is incredibly brave, Azaelia Banks has strong views on pigeonholing black artists and there’s lots of discourse about music and feminism. I’ve always felt that, as a female DIY artist, just the act of making music was political. I increasingly feel like it’s a platform to say something real, which is not to say that I’ve written a song about David Cameron being a less-convincing Mr Potato Head, but I’m leaving the door open for that. I think musicians are either too busy trying to survive or just focusing on the stuff that people like on Instagram – aspirational stuff – which, in a way, reflects the current situation.”

Rob Graham, Drenge
“In the past, there was an alternative that people could side with. Now there isn’t one – all the parties are the fucking same. It’s all a fucking mess. What is there to write about that other than ‘This is shit’? You might as well be abstract and do it with a mood.”

Eoin Loveless, Drenge
“Most of our friends are our age and most feel really disaffected… I think it’s important that we help other artists in Sheffield. That’s the most political thing we can do. I don’t want to side myself with a party. It doesn’t help to moan.”

Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai
“If you’re expressing yourself through music and you’re doing it to try and make the world a better place rather than to make yourself rich – which is hopefully the reason why we do it – then that’s a political act. Sadly, an awful lot of music reflects the current political climate all too well – it’s very bland and safe, and tries to not upset anyone or rock the boat. The thing about people looking back at the so-called golden eras of political music – the late ’60s, the late ’70s and the mid-’80s – is that a lot of it was quite shocking, and it’s almost impossible to shock these days. The [2014 independence] referendum made a big difference in Scotland, because people felt that their vote mattered. People in Scotland are much more politically aware and they’re also more motivated to be involved than ever before.”

Chilli Jesson, Palma Violets
“We’ve tried to consciously not be political. I feel like we’ve got a lot more to write about before the political stuff. During the punk era everyone was writing about it, but everything is so fucking politically correct at the moment that if you say something out of line it’s almost like you’re trying to provoke something. When I look back at footage from the punk era, it seems that there was more to fight against. At the moment, I think it’s everyone for themselves in a weird kind of way. We’ve got mobile phones and the rebellion seems to be on the internet rather than the radio.”

Cian Ciarán, Super Furry Animals
“I don’t think popular music reflects the current climate. I’ve just recorded an album with Steve Mason, Stephen Morrison-Burke and Hollie McNish which voices our own opposition, our disgruntled-ness and how pissed off we are, and there are various hip-hop artists out there who are singing about these things too, but it doesn’t get the right amount of attention. There’s always the danger of a backlash – that people will get pissed off with you, going, ‘What does he know, he’s just a musician?’ But there’s a rich history of pop and politics throughout the ages. They kind of go hand in hand, I think.”

Jonathan Higgs, Everything Everything
“Do bands have an obligation to use their platform to talk about politics? No, not at all. I could be a stockbroker and keep a blog about this stuff – everyone has their own personal responsibility and it’s nothing to do with being in a band. More than give an opinion on whether something’s right or wrong, I’m trying to communicate that motive is much more important than preaching. Leave that to the news and charities, we’re a band. I feel personally responsible about this stuff, but not as a band.”

Johnny Marr
“Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be many people talking about politics in music. I think it’s a buzzkill, and no one wants to put that out there. Maybe we need to dance while Rome burns. Maybe culturally that’s what needs to happen. Maybe people feel powerless, full stop, and want to get on with being in a band. And that’s OK. Thank god there’s being in a band for people to fall back on. And for everyone associated with it. Thank fuck for bands in this country.”

Tala
“Having a voice and a platform to voice your opinions through music can be extremely powerful but at the same time I’m not a politician and it’s not something I know enough about to speak about. I think that using your platform for the wrong reasons or if you don’t really know enough about what you’re speaking about it can convey the wrong message. That’s when pop and politics don’t mix.”

Tom Clarke, The Enemy
“Our first album was us wanting to escape the recession that was happening up north but wasn’t really happening down south yet, but that’s societal rather than political. Real political music is stuff like Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. There’s some brilliant political moments in music, but it’s hard to find it in songwriting. There’s artists who you’ll think, ‘Yeah, they’re a political artist.’ But when you actually look for evidence of it in their songs, it’s not there. The risk with music and politics is the risk with letting your personality get out there, which is that there will always be people who don’t like it. You don’t make many friends.”

Dan Snaith, Caribou
“When I see young artists like Grimes and Chvrches taking a stand against online abuse, or even FKA Twigs’ presentation of herself, I find that really exciting. But it is hard to know when and how to get involved. Should I be actively engaging with more political issues on Twitter or should I leave my music in the world that it is without imposing my political views on it?”