Thee Faction, the socialist R n’ B tunesmiths described by The Guardian as ”Ëtaking down the Tories one song at a time”Â¦’ are in for a big 2012. Ross Keen recently caught up with the band’s guitarist, Babyface, to discuss music, socialism and the war of position.
Ross: Describe Thee Faction for the uninformed. What’s made you reform?
Babyface: We’re a Socialist RnB band. We play visceral, unpleasant Socialist RnB. We take RnB in its rawest form (think Sun Studios, Dr Feelgood, Staple Singers, MC5, Booker T) and make it rawer, dirtier and more unpleasant. We use that as a backing track for revolutionary socialist lyrics designed to change people’s minds, get people to organise, and to change the world. We do it with smiles on our faces and joy and hope in our hearts. But our analysis is cold, clear and scientific. We reformed cos things were looking bleak. We were all back in the UK, and we could see which way the wind was blowing. Our comeback gig was in London in April 2010. We all know what happened the following month. So that’s why we reformed. We don’t really want to talk about the comeback any more. It was a one-off event. Since then we’ve been all about the fightback. With the comeback we were the story. That should never be the case. With the fightback the struggle for socialism is the story. That’s what should be centre stage. Besides, we’re a different group now.
Ross: In 2011, when there’s clearly so much to be worked up about and to inspire an almost revolutionary mood, are you disappointed you’re fighting the ”Ëwar of positon’ almost single-handedly in today’s music market?
Babyface: No. We don’t really look at what is happening in music to assess the quality of the current struggle. We’re far from fighting single-handed. The strike on November 30th? That was a significant moment in the war of position. If you look across society ”â and I mean globally, not just locally ”â you’ll see genuinely broad networks of comrades fighting to occupy ruling class positions in civil society. Blogs like yours are a perfect example. There are so many solid gold comrades doing phenomenal work out there. So we don’t check to see if we’re standing shoulder to shoulder with musicians. We’ll do our bit through music, of course. But we look around and see people doing their bit through all kinds of stuff: trade union activity, comedy, blogging, political work, drama, journalism, community work and so on. So we’re not that fussed that the Mumfords and Horrors and so on outnumber Thee Faction and Grace Petrie. We’ll do our bit to issue the right challenges. So long as there is a broad, deep coalition of counter-hegemonic activity throughout the economy, politics and civil society, the war of position is in good shape. We want to change minds. That’s what the war of position is about. The rest of contemporary rock music is dull, predictable, self obsessed, therapeutic. You can see why 2011”Â²s kids like it. So let’s create a new breed ofyoung soul rebels in 2012 that won’t.
Ross: The few that are challenging the establishment today are veterans of yesteryear (Billy Bragg and The Manics for example). Surely someone like Nick Clegg is the perfect muse for an angry young band to write about? (Your song ”ËDeft-Left’ seems to lament this?)
Babyface: Deft Left? Yeah, that was the first song we wrote post-comeback. It is almost laughably inaccurate now. Nothing makes us prouder than when history overtakes our commentary.“Sometimes I wonder, what happened to the anger, it’s not like I remember, when fighting Mrs Thatcher”Â. Well it is now. It’s just like we remember. Things are on the move, and it feels fantastic. November 30th was a superb day. Everyone ”â really everyone ”â was talking about politics and economics that day, and for the following days. A lot of minds were changed. A lot of people realised which side they were on. That’s a massive moment. That’s the point of the struggle. That’s why we do what we do. But no one is going to turn to Thee Faction, or the Manics, or Billy Bragg, to lead us into a better tomorrow. We’re commentating, giving a focal point to people who want to articulate their anger en masse. We can do something to channel people’s anger and energy in the right direction. That’s all. You don’t look to rock’n’roll bands to lead a revolution. We’ve just written a song called“Don’t call on rock’n’roll, call on GDH Cole”Â about exactly that. Have you seen the newPaco Rabanne adverts on the telly? Selling rock’n’roll as rebellion. Usually they useGimme Shelter or something to back this stuff up. Jagger’s got a fucking knighthood. If you want socialism, don’t look to rock’n’roll bands. Look to the movement, and look to the comrades who devote every waking moment to developing an analysis. Look, in short, to GDH Cole.
Ross: Apathy has killed Anger. Discuss.
Babyface: I think there is huge anger. It is not always articulated. We don’t believe in apathy. If people appear apathetic it is because the ruling class have engineered it so that they believe it is futile to fight back. That has been the case for years. Suddenly it isn’t the case. Now, if your radar is tuned in mainly to the more fashionable end of culture you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s no anger and no desire for change. If the music press and the trendy websites are your source of cultural feedback then you’ll certainly think that Mumford & Sons’ moaning angst is the height of the youth’s existential crisis. Meanwhile the real kids are rioting in the streets, the working class is refusing to lie down and take the pensions shafting the Tories are aiming at them, and now workers in the private sector are fighting back too. I see 2,000 are going on strike at Unilever. Lack of anger? The country’s about to boil over with anger. But if you detect apathy, it’ll be amongst people who genuinely believe they can’t change anything. Why? Cos they’ve been told to believe that. That attitude works for one group of people, and one group of people only: the ruling class. They desperately want us all to believe that. It’s like this laughable idea that we can’t change things because ”Ëthe market’ has decided. As if ”Ëthe market’ is some kind of god. It isn’t. It’s a not very efficient medium of exchange. That’s all. It isn’t a mechanism for making moral decisions, however much the Tories might want to pretend it is. It’s just a way of distributing stuff. We all just accept it. Why? Cos the ruling class has very nearly won the argument. But it hasn’t been completely won, and now people are asking the right questions and fighting back. Apathy doesn’t exist. It’s a confidence trick by the ruling class. In fact, the labour movement can win significant victories, and has done. As someone tweeted on November 30th:”Â If it wasn’t for trade unions your kids wouldn’t be off school today. They’d be at work.”Â One of the songs off our next album deals with this very explicitly. It’s called “Don’t Forget What The Movement’s Done For You”Â. It lists the achievements of the movement ”â achievements made in the face of a ruling class desperate to engender ”Ëapathy’ amongst the rest of us. We’ve won a lot. But there’s a hell of a lot more to win.
Ross: How do you see the role of the artist in society?
Babyface: It’s a complicated question. On the one hand, as Marx and Engels taught us, ”Ëthe ruling ideas in any epoch are the ideas of the ruling class.”Ë On the other, artists are in a great position to take part in counter-hegemonic struggle. We don’t see ourselves as artists really. We’re socialists. That’s what we are, and that’s what defines what we do. What’s the difference? When we’ve got a socialist society I think there’s a very good chance that none of Thee Faction would play music anymore. The point of what we do is to do our bit to deliver a socialist society. The point of what we do isn’t art.
Ross: On a personal level you’ve received striking reviews for ”ËUp The Workers’ from the likes of the BBC, The Guardian and even Nicky Wire. What’s the reaction been like?
Babyface: The reaction has been predictable, really. Most reviews say we’re a great band but the politics is a bit over-powering, Which misses the point quite dramatically. We like the reviews which focus on the politics, and, to a certain extent, ignore the music. There have been a few of those ”â Daily Mirror, Huffington Post and others. The best thing about the reviews is that no one thinks it’s run of the mill. We either piss people off or people see us as a vital component in the war of position. That’s the class struggle, really. We polarise people. Just like history does.
Look, the measure of all this is: are people’s minds’ changing? You look around the UK, and beyond, at the end of 2011 and the answer is ”Ëyes’. People aren’t just questioning politics. They’e questioning capitalism. That is deeply significant. In the past people have often seen capitalism as a given, and the change they have looked for has been superstructural. We are so excited that people are now asking whether capitalism is an appropriate way of organizing a society. This is a huge break-through. So we are pleased to have played some part in changing some minds. But there are a lot more minds to change, and in 2012 we will be looking to do just that. They play Thee Faction on the BBC these days. That’s significant. There are people looking for alternatives. We’ll help them find them.
Ross: What’s the plan for 2012 then?
Babyface: There’ll be a new album in the spring, provisionally entitled ”ËThe War of Position and how we are winning it’. We’re very excited about doing a big socialist festival in the summer in the west country. We’re not s’posed to talk about it yet, but it’s going to be tremendous. And we will be looking to change minds, and take hold of yet more of civil society. Most of all, we just want to keep playing to people and encouraging them to see that socialism ain’t sour. It’s full of joy and hope and we want everyone to share in that. And we want them to have an analysis.
Thee Faction’s next gig is on Thursday the 7th June at the Half Moon Putney (with support from Colour Me Wednesday).