I remember a few years ago writing a woolly-headed think piece wondering where all the protest songs had gone in Iceland and abroad. Music seemed concerned with aesthetics and fun times but not with politics. I ended up saying that perhaps it wasn’t the music that was the problem per se, but it was more to do with the fact that many people felt themselves as apolitical and disconnected with music as a social force for change.
Since I wrote that, much better writers such as Mark Fisher (Writing for the Wire end of year review) pondered on the soundtrack of Dissent in the UK in 2011. You should read it. In it he notes that there was definitely a soundtrack to the protests of that year, but that all the music was strangely devoid of politics and ideas, The “politically conscious” music of previous era’s was incapable of articulating our present anger, fears and issues. What was required was a “specifically 21st century form of political music.”
But alas we now live in a cultural world where music is now defined by curatorial, consumerist, tastes. Investment without divestment. I Like this/you like that. Your own taste is paramount. In the past your music acted as a soundtrack that helped define your politics, and helped inform the choices. But these days making choices, taking sides, identity-as-stance-as-moral-choice is something that seems to fall outside of what music does for us today.
Despite such pessimism, there are people who still want to use music as a tool, a vehicle to convey their despair and anger at a political class that seem totally broken and incompetent.
First up is a secretive, anonymous artist/group called Íslenskur Heimilisiðnaður who sent an e-mail a couple of days ago with a link to a video for a song called “Að sjálfsögðu.” For non-Icelanders, there has been mucho drama in Iceland of late. The independence/progressive party coalition govt recently pulled out of negotiations with the EU, even though they promised everyone that the nation would have a referendum on whether to join the EU or. This has caused a lot of protests over the issue, and although while this is a big issue, the EU debate seems to have been a flash point for people to vent their despair and frustration with a coalition govt who seems to be trying to do their best to enact an ideological power/land grab and not care about who or what gets fucked in the process.
On initial viewing the video and song itself is, to be honest, a fairly rudimentary affair. You’ve got a rumbling, thumping kick beat and a simple snare roll, with bass gurglings and a rather nice synth arpeggio line. There’s no lyrics, manifestos or messages, just vocals samples of news reporters, the prime minster, and various govt flunkies caught in their endless cycle of bullshit. I suppose there is no need to talk/sing about how awful the situation is when our local politicians seem to be able to show this perfectly without any prompting. Despite the abstract nature of the track, it does grow on you after several listens. And it’s definitely way better than some of the frankly insipid, inconsequential nonsense that passes for artistic protest in Iceland these days.
Straight after this video came out, our old mucker, Bram E. Gieben, aka TEXTURE, released a short film of him performing a spoken word piece titled “Burn.” The video has all the signs of post-scarcity decay. An abandoned factory, chilled flat, dull light, and dragon’s breath in the air, with a droning, sulphurous ambient piece as the soundtrack. Bram, sporting a crumpled suit, sounds tired and desperate due to his situation as he tells us the reasons as to why he is “burning all his money.” The poem drips with despair and nihilism. He knows that this soul cleansing deed he is undertaking is utterly pointless, but he feels that he has nowhere left to turn to have a voice. The institutions and the society we were promised have failed us utterly, so he is checking out. Fuck the world. Fuck me. Fuck you.
Listening to Bram’s flow and style, it reminded me little of this track, but frankly the video and lyrics in that are whiny and naive in comparison. Bram’s definitely telling the situation as it is happening right now. If we haven’t already fallen into the abyss, then it´s gonna happen soon. Very soon.
Keep doing the right thing comrades!