Corbyn’s grime cred: something exciting is stirring
An interesting change is happening at the intersection of music and politics
Stormzy: vote Corbyn. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images
Sensible thinking is always hiding in plain sight. It’s the night before the British election, the night before the DUP became the most unlikely queen-makers of the modern age.
In a ski-themed bar in a new boutique hotel in Belfast, there are a couple of people discussing the city’s music past, present and future. It’s a gathering under the Banter umbrella so I’m there to guide the conversation and speak faster than everyone else.
We chew the cud over a range of topics, from Van Morrison and Good Vibrations to Sugar Sweet and the Ava festival, which had taken place the previous weekend in the city. There’s a discussion about what happened in those giddy post-Troubles years from 1994 to 2000 and about what’s going on now with DJs and electronic music producers.
You always know it’s a good night when the contributions from the floor add to rather than subtract from the discussion. There’s an observation about how technology is enabling acts to get their music out far from home, a point about the state of venues and audiences in the city and a comment about politics or rather the lack of politics in today’s musical breed.
One of the panellists is writer and broadcaster Stuart Bailie, an experienced hand who has been there, done that and has the John Smedley woollen shirt to back it up. He has a counterpunch to that argument about politics, and it’s worth weighing up.
There are still politics in music, says Bailie, although they’re of a different ilk to before. The issues now are equality, LGBTQ rights, racism, sexism, identity politics, mental health, abortion and much more, a wide swathe of different political issues that are deeply embedded in the words and music of many practitioners. The songs may not be as overt or pointed as in olden times, but the politics are still definitely and defiantly there. It’s just that their concerns are as much global as local.
The Corbyn spring
Fast-forward 26 hours and the UK general election exit poll tells a tale that is amplified as the hours go by. His party may not have won the night, but there’s no doubt about the extent of Jeremy Corbyn’s personal victory. Written off and rubbished by allies and enemies alike, Corbyn has demonstrated another way of doing things.
You’d get several books, TV programmes and radio shows out of parsing the reasons for the Corbyn spring. Although hard data is hard to come by regarding turnout and voting intentions (it’s a secret ballot for a reason), the youth factor was certainly to the fore during the campaign in terms of rallies and turnouts. For once, the disillusioned didn’t want to settle on being the disenfranchised and repeat what happened with the Brexit vote a year ago.
Tellingly, many grime stars were to the fore in advocating and evangelising for the UK Labour Party leader. While it may not have been on the same organised scale as the Red Wedge movement of the 1980s, it proved to be far more effective in the final countdown to see and hear directly on social media from people such as Stormzy, Novelist and Jme about why they were backing Corbyn.
Couple this flexing of promotional muscle with the new political edge many musicians are now exploring in their music and you have the stirrings of something exciting. It’s a far different kind of manifesto, but all political players would be daft to ignore it.