UK reggae has seemed increasingly detached from current affairs in recent years, but anyone who’s checked my eighties mixes will know it hasn’t always been this way. I guess the focus has moved to a more international market which means the particularities of life in specific areas of London or Birmingham don’t get a look in.
Plus of course, music is shaped by the society and economics around it. Perhaps Dan Hancox’s excellent article about Grime and the riots marks the beginning of a cultural shift (or perhaps it’s wishful thinking by youthful lefties like Dan, and knackered old ones like me).
Either way, I’ve been looking out for songs about recent events and have collected some of the better efforts below for your delectation. These are mainly thanks to the good people of the Blood and Fire board. I’ve not had much luck looking for things myself, but there do seem to be a bunch of people re-tagging their tunes on Youtube to tie them into the recent disturbances.
(Any further tips on 2011 riots tunes would be much appreciated, especially if they are any good – leave suggestions in the comments box if you find any…)
So here goes, in no particular order:
1. AMPASOUND – RIOT!!! FWD – London Riots!!! (Reggae Mix – Preview)
A skippy upful roots stepper, with suprisingly incisive lyrics (dissing Cameron for being on holiday), some good Darcus Howe samples and pretty great video.
2. Dub Investigation – Fire In The Town
Mournful, and melodic with a nice xylophone thingy. Reminds me a bit of Manasseh’s recent productions, which is a high compliment. Some different Darcus Howe and an articulate member of the public get sampled.
Dub Investigation are from Dublin, incidentally – a city with worries and troubles of its own. Indeed, the fucked up economy of the Republic of Ireland is one of the main reasons for Woofah not coming out and for its esteemed editor having to paddle twice as fast just to keep his head above water.
3. The Blackstones – Heat In The Streets
Languid one drop, in which the youth are instructed in no uncertain terms not to disrespect their culture or skimp on education. I think the Blackstones were a UK group who recorded at Studio One, but not entirely sure. Please note I have avoided googling them to bolster my credibility!
(Apparently this actually came out two weeks before the riots, so cue lots of “prophecy fulfil” type of talk… don’t call it a cash-in!)
4. Big Youth – London’s Burning
Mad Professor production – nice to see some legends stepping up but this isn’t my favourite by any means. Looking forward to checking the dub though!
5. Fresharda – 2011
Some contemporary dancehall, complete with vocoder! I actually quite like this – consciousness wins though I guess.
Dan Hancox linked to this from his ace Guardian piece, but I’ve included it here for completeness. I think Fresharda was probably first out of the blocks in terms of riot songs, but the lyrics are quite general so he may have had it in the can already…
6. King Hammond – Riot In London Town
And finally, the ridiculous King Hammond with a tune recorded in March. A perfect pastiche of 1969 Skinhead Reggae which gets huge points for namechecking Clissold Park, Stamford Hill and Manor House as well as many other London haunts. Well cheeky, this one makes me smile a lot.
From the not quite as good, to the downright cringeworthy. Includes some jaw-droppingly bad lyrics, but also the occasional genius moment.
Incidentally, that old William Burroughs quote “riot sounds produce riots” – that’s been rendered a bit redundant in the era of 24 hour media overkill, hasn’t it? Old Bill reckoned a group of you could wander about with cassettes of riot noises playing and people would get so agitated that they would actually riot themselves. But everyone in the UK has now heard more riot sounds than they know what to do with on the telly, with mainly zero result.
In the more innocent days of 1989, some courageous souls tried out Burroughs’ idea every day at The Festival of Plagiarism in Glasgow, “with mixed results”.
I was up there, but the experiment was too early in the morning for me, so I missed my opportunity to see it all for myself, as did the wonderful people I was staying with. But this did have the unexpected bonus value of us all being slagged off by Stewart Home for being “bohemians”, the first and I think only time that word has been used in connection with me.