The upcoming general election is a chance to give the Tories the boot, and here’s the music to blast while you do it – registration closes today, so don’t forget to register to vote
On June 8, the UK public decide who will lead the country for the next five years. Aside from UKIP, who are still sketching out their manifesto on a John Smith’s-soaked beer mat, by now most political parties have given us their vision of the future. Under a Labour government we’ll get free university tuition, an end to zero hours contracts, an increase in council housebuilding to phase out opportunistic landlords, a necessary boost to schools and hospitals, and nationalised railways. The Tories plan to tax social care for the elderly, police the internet, reinstate fox hunting, bring back grammar schools, severely curtail freedom of movement, and eventually, destroy all you hold dear.
Creativity, they say, thrives when right wing politicians are in power. We’re not sure about that – with shrinking wages, an increase in precarious work, rising rents, and Tory cuts to the welfare state, the material conditions to actually create art are getting worse – but one thing that is true is that right wing politicians are a great target for artists to channel their anger towards. In the UK, some of our most inventive musicians have been inspired by their sheer, unwavering hatred for the Conservative Party, whether that’s the reggae and dub made in the aftermath of the Brixton riots or the free parties of the late 1980s and early 90s. That means that, with the general election looming, there are plenty of anthems you could choose to belt out should Theresa May’s government get the boot.
Voter registration closes today, so to kick them out, register to vote now.
DING DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD
Throughout the 80s, anti-Thatcher sentiment was as much a staple of pop music as square shoulder pads and industrial strength cocaine. Billy Bragg made a career out of it, and in 1981, Heaven 17 countered crippling austerity measures and racist policies by single-handedly slap bassing the formerly un-woke public into action on “(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”.
Many never knew that Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s iconic 1986 karaoke staple “Don’t Give Up” was written with the plight of the striking miners’ in mind, either. Originally inspired by Dorothy Lea’s Depression-era photographs, Gabriel’s lyrics found new meaning through the miners whose strike ended with their defeat in 1986: “In this proud land we grew up strong / We were wanted all along / I was taught to fight, taught to win / I never thought I could fail,” Gabriel sings as he holds Bush in his arms. (Later, Kate Bush would later declare her love for Theresa May – but we try not to talk about that.)
Paul Weller, in his multiple guises, penned many a tribute to Tory-ravaged Britain. “No peace for the wicked / Only war on the poor / They're battling on pickets / Trying to even the score,” he proclaimed during his time with The Style Council on 1985’s “The Lodgers”, while The Jam’s biggest hits “Town Called Malice” and “The Eton Rifles” aren’t exactly without their, well, malice.
But as the years passed and governments changed, the Thatcher-bashing hits just kept on rolling. Mogwai’s “George Square Thatcher Death Party” essentially set the location for one of the greatest celebrations Glasgow’s ever hosted, and one of the catchiest anti-Tory toe-tappers is found in Hefner’s “The Day That Thatcher Dies”, a dedication to guilt-free revelry found in Thatcher’s demise.
It would be 13 years before Hefner would get their wish, but on the morning of April 8, 2013, it finally happened. Thatcher had died, and ex-mining towns across the north of England and Wales wept golf ball-sized tears of euphoric joy into their celebratory 9am pints at the news. Simultaneously, “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” began to rise through the charts, and by the Sunday of that week, the Wizard of Oz favourite had peaked at #2. Instead of playing the track in its entirety, the BBC aired only a snippet of the record alongside a description of why the record was “one of the most controversial chart contenders of all time.” To this day, millions fail to understand what the issue was.
“Survival / Unemployment / More employment / Brixton / Unity / Strength,” cries Prince Hammer on 1980’s “Brixton Trial & Crosses”. It was a prophetic comment on the social climate of south London at the turn of the century, and a line that forebode the events of April 10-12, 1981, the Brixton riots.
At the beginning of April, a plainclothes stop-and-search police operation was implemented and codenamed Operation Swamp 81, a title inspired by a 1978 statement from Thatcher in which she felt the public feared becoming “rather swamped by people of a different culture.” Over five days, upwards of 900 predominantly young, black men were searched on the streets of Brixton, the police’s now widely acknowledged discriminatory actions finding ‘legality’ through increased powers given to them under the much despised ‘sus law’. After rumours spread of a man being left to die on the streets by the police, on April 10, Brixton burned and would continue to for the next three days.
In their wake, riot-inspired dub, ska, and reggae became something of a sub-genre in itself. Purely by coincidence, The Specials’ era-defining “Ghost Town” – the dystopic but in no way distorted comment on Britain’s urban decay under Tory rule – was recorded in the weeks either side of the riots. The song later became a prelude to the displaced workers’ communities that would be left vacant in the wake of the 1984-85 miners’ strike.
Released in 1981, Roy Rankin & Raymond Naptali’s “Brixton Incident” spoke of black identity and youth uprising, a staunch message in the face of press prejudices that tarnished the rioters as opportunistic vandals and stoked anti-immigrant sentiment – a stigma that remains to this day.
As the early reggae influences of disco and calypso in the early 80s grew into dub and lover’s rock throughout the era, names like Demon Rockers had the Tories in their sights. “The Labour party / Are trying to help we / While the Tory / A kick we out the country,” reads one of the most potent lines on “Iron Lady”.
THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND PUBLIC ORDER ACT 1994
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was an unbelievable contortion of the law to redefine anti-social behaviour. By 1994, rave culture had already hit its peak and was edging closer to the superclub, yet that didn’t save it from the Tory crosshairs. The government attacked rave with Section 63 (1) of the act, which allowed police forces to remove attendees of any event that was “wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” In simpler terms – akin to a dystopian, Kappa-branded version of Footloose – they tried to ban rave.
Before the act was put in place, free party culture was relatively apolitical, with the act of consuming Class A drugs on a farmer’s land being a statement in itself – you might have even spotted a young David Cameron at a rave. But thanks to the Criminal Justice Act, rave had something to fight against.
Autechre’s 1994 Anti EP remains the only record from the experimental electronic duo to hold any form of overtly political intent. Meticulously crafted to ensure that no drum pattern is ever quite the same, Autechre had found a loophole to the act, albeit one where the listener would “accept full responsibility for any consequential action resulting from this product's use,” according to its packaging.
In the same year, Orbital’s Are We Here? EP hosted a four-minute track called “Criminal Justice Bill” comprised of pure silence. Zion Train’s acid belter “Resist The Criminal Justice Act” encouraged ravers to do just that, and Retribution stuck two fingers up to the act on “Repetitive Beats”. In the mainstream edges of anti-Tory acid house, The Prodigy defined rave and the repetitive beats bill as two rival camps in “Their Law”.
Arguably the greatest work of anti-Tory acid came long before the Criminal Justice Act came to pass at all. In 1991 V.I.M released “Maggie’s Last Party”, an imagined love letter to rave by Margaret Thatcher. Sampling excerpts from Thatcher’s past speeches, Maggie ‘declares’ that “The bass goes on / Acid party / Today for freedom / … / Crucial party, let’s have a party.”
Musicians have historically aligned themselves with left wing parties (with the exception of perhaps Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who voted for Thatcher’s Conservatives in 1979). Labour, in this election, can namecheck Stormzy, Skepta, Wolf Alice, Akala, and Sleaford Mods as vocal supporters, and the #Grime4Corbyn campaign urging young Britons to vote has seen the party leader become the newest honorary member of Boy Better Know. The Tories, on the other hand, have Gary Barlow.
Lewisham MC Novelist has long been making former PM David Cameron the subject of his tirades. “Hot-head like I'm a Tory / Real gangsters don't do this for the glory / Same shit, another day, another story / When the government talks shit, it bores me,” he rhymes on the David Cameron-sampling “Street Politician”. Grime instrumentals “Tax The MPs” and “David Cameron Riddim” only cement the young MC’s views. The David Cameron scathing goes further in Ghetts’s “Rebel” as the east London MC repeats with ferocity, “Black everything, you can ask David / Cameron if we're living in the dark ages.”
However much impact this heightened political interest from grime’s biggest stars has in kicking the Tories out of Number 10, we do not know. One thing that is certain, however, is that this rise to action will be futile unless you get out there and vote.