Ain't Music to Nazis' Ears

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(315)

Every generation has produced musical heroes who have been willing to wear their political hearts on their sleeves.

Woody Guthrie in the 1940s, for example, performed with a guitar emblazoned with the words, "This Machine Kills Fascists". In the late 1960s Marvin Gaye and a host of others picked up the anti-racist baton.

Just 30 years ago this August the Nazi National Front organised an "anti-mugging" march in Lewisham, south London. Confronting them was a sea of opposition. Those protesters fought the police and Nazis to a standstill. In the middle of the melee a black woman set up a sound system in her flat window and blasted out Bob Marley's Get Up, Stand Up. For many, a new record was going to be added to their collection.

A lot came out of the victory in Lewisham, and the Socialist Workers Party made the decision to broaden the base of the anti-fascist movement by launching the Anti Nazi League (ANL). Rock Against Racism (RAR), which had been initiated the previous year, then began to organise in earnest. Most would agree that the highpoint of RAR was the famous Victoria Park carnival in east London where punks, reggae boys, rockers and radicals came together in a glorious anti-fascist celebration.

As the anniversaries of Lewisham and the Victoria Park carnival loom, the media have been keen to interview anyone from "back in the day". Yet I am willing to lay a wager that not one of these reports will even mention the struggles and musical protests against the BNP today.

How do I know? Well, in the last two years Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) has organised two jam packed anti-fascist festivals in Trafalgar Square and over 200 sellout gigs across the country.

It has also organised seminars and musical events in schools, colleges and youth clubs, and only last month put on a 14-date university tour opposing the BNP. Yet not one drop of ink or one centimetre of film has been used to report these events in the mainstream media.

A few months ago the Independent newspaper asked me to write a column about an up and coming LMHR gig. After several days of soul searching the editor rejected it. Why? Because the column was too political and I had called the BNP "Nazis". I asked him how you could write about a political movement without mentioning politics. "This is a tricky problem," he replied, but suggested I "write a musical review of the LMHR event in the style of the NME".

These media types moan that musicians today all play it safe and, let's be honest, there are even some on our side who say the same thing.

LMHR is the child of RAR but history never simply repeats itself. Punk and reggae may have taken a back seat, but this time it's the music of indie, grime and hip-hop that brings people together. Pete Doherty is as relevant to today's young music fans as The Clash were, and LMHR is not weaker than RAR - it is just reacting to a different set of circumstances.

In the 1970s David Bowie and Eric Clapton flirted with the Nazis and the NF were trying to infiltrate the punk scene. Today, with the exception of Brian Ferry's fixation with all things Hitlerian and Morrissey's flirtation in the early 1990s with the far right, most bands are openly anti-racist.

Artists like Kano, Roll Deep and Sway were school kids during the resurgence of fascism in the early 1990s. They remember the racist murders of Stephen Lawrence, Rohit Duggal and Roland Adams, and wanted to make a stand.

The Nazis are also organising in a different way. In the 1970s they gained 100,000 votes in the Greater London Council elections and were on the streets. In May's elections they gained 290,000 votes across the country, and have taken off their boots and braces and replaced them with suits. This time round the campaign is going to be longer and has to go even deeper inside the working class.

When The Clash played Victoria Park they electrified the movement, but they only played for RAR once. Pete Doherty has played six huge gigs for LMHR, Roll Deep and Miss Dynamite even more. Billy Bragg and Get Cape have donated whole tours over to LMHR.

So why does the media ignore our protest movements and belittle artists who challenge the status quo? History is a safe bet for these people. Musical rebellion and protests in the here and now are not.

To borrow a few words from the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, "Without struggle there is no progress. And those who profess to favour freedom yet depreciate agitation are men who want crops without digging up the ground and the ocean without the awful roar of its waters."