Thursday, 17 March 2016

Peculiar Protest for Peculiar Times.

Image by Yvonne Forster.
It was not exactly Eddie Izzard's 27 marathons in 27 days but I'm now in my 50s and three gigs in five days, including two trips to London felt like a bit of a big ask, two psych gigs and one folk/punk-I was going to have to pace myself, get enough sleep!

The Oscillation, The Levellers and White Hills were all excellent gigs, wonderful times of transcendence from the mundanity of the everyday. In an instrumentalist post/modernity where so much and so many are seen as a means to an end the importance of benign experiences that are ends in themselves includes that they can be counter cultural, resistance-play.

The Oscillation, The Levellers and White Hills...when I sat down and thought about it there is a theme running through all three bands-they are music of the alienated, they make music that is at least ill at ease in neo liberal capitalist modernity and expresses that alienation, that resistance. even a hostility, in the case of The Levellers,  to the status quo. Most know where the latter are coming from but The Oscillation and White Hills are also protest music.

On The Leveller's 'Last Man Alive' 2005 tour the band came on to doctored recordings of statements by George W Bush so that he was apparently admitting his criminality and violence. The Levellers politics are well known so this gig Intro may not be too surprising but how is it relevant to either of the other two bands? If you can get hold of a copy of White Hill's superb and brave 2007 album Glitter Glamour and Atrocity and listen to track 6 'Love Serve Remember'- what you have is the same form of appropriation and subversion going on, the same means of protest against the Bush regime's neo liberal imperialism and violence. Now remember this was an album released by an American band in the middle of Bush's second term (1), that takes courage and convictions. If you want an idea of how America can view dissenting musicians watch 'Shut Up and Sing'. 

You may also want  to check out White Hills' Hp-1 which looks at structures of control and power and 'So you are .. so you'll be' which explores the individual's agency within those structures (2)-the band attempting to stimulate consciousness and thought about these issues and what our response/s to the world around us could/should be. To quote Ben Hewitt when he contrasts White Hills with more traditional protest music '...what if the protest music of the 21st century... takes (the) form (of) a pure blast of sound?... mind-altering loops of psychedelic rock?' (3) I would want to argue that in his piece he is setting up an unnecessary tension between lyrical content and musical style-but his point that 'protest music isn't dying, it's just mutating into something multi-stranded, multi-layered and altogether more insidious'(3) is an important one, as is that effective protest will always be embedded in, and relevant to (sub) culture.

The Oscillation probably wouldn't be included in many peoples lists of protest bands  but their last two albums have explored the alienation of modern urban life, the lived experience of many in this capitalist age. On their website they commented that ‘The Oscillation’s third album “From Tomorrow” is an attempt to find some kind of new mental and spiritual zones, away from the psychological effects of the modern urban landscape, and the curious emptiness of the digital social world that we are forced to inhabit. The introversion of these bleak and unsettling conditions are reflected back as music with all the ambiguous emotions of hope, despair, aggression, indolence and narcoleptic bliss’ (4) in an interview from September 2014 Demian Castellanos talks of the homogenization and gentrification going on in London and other cities and the accompanying increase in anesthetising entertainment. In a recent interview he commented that the same issues had been present while making the new album 'Monographic' but that he was working on his response to those issues and felt more hopeful of not being 'over run by it' (5). Here is a songwriter conscious of capitalism's corrupting effects on  social space, culture and  the individual-and allowing those concerns to inform his work. Good music and musicians, like all artists, can alert and envision us. Sometimes when I go to galleries I need to read the accompanying text in order to really get a piece of art-extra information opens up the slightly obscured meaning, the same can be true with bands.

Which returns us to unapologetic anarchos The Levellers who need no accompanying notes! I have to admit to being a bit out of touch with them, the last  albums I got were Truth and Lies and Letters from the Underground-2005 and 2008 respectively (6)- and that would have been roughly when I last saw them. I had forgotten how good they are! They still evoke hope and sadness about how the world could be and how the world is. Like the film Pride they contest the top down narrative of consumption, competition and individualism reminding me of what is really important in life; community, hope, the belief you can make a positive difference...and raucous good music. As Emma Goldman implied radical shifts to better should include dancability!
Whether it's The Oscillation's consciousness of the corrosive effects of late modernity and gentrification and the need to resist assimilation or White Hills calling out George Bush and putting together a triptych of albums exploring structures of power and the individual's response or The Levellers simultaneously opposing the capitalist status quo while pointing to something better these bands have more in common than one would initially think. They may be at different points on the spectrum but they all give (at least) hints that things can be a whole lot better than they are.


(2) Terich, J. (2013) 'w: White Hills'

(3) Ben Hewitt 'Review' of H-P1 at

(4) 2014



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