Bob Dylan, Sex Pistols, Crass, Rage Against The Machine – it was once a given that music and politics went hand in hand but in 2011 music and politics don’t mix anymore.

There are lots of factors for the end of politics in pop, the main one is that it’s not the medium anymore. If you have something to say you get onto the internet. Twitter powered the Arab Spring whilst music tried to keep up. The internet may lack the emotional power of pop but it’s far, far faster. In the sixties music was the cutting edge of technological culture. You had something to say? then record and release a seven inch single – the ultimate statement.

In 2011 it’s too slowly. It’s a dinosaur culture. Can anyone keep up with Hackgate? The establishment is collapsing and there’s no time to write a song about it. You get halfway through the first verse and the story has changed again, you get to the chorus and David Cameron will have resigned!

Music’s role has changed. It doesn’t create the slogans that change the debate like it did in the punk generation – it creates the space where ideas can float around, a community for like minded people, a sense of the counter culture, a place of hope and euphoria. It can’t sound track the times like it used to but it still has a role but for getting information out or getting the situation into a catchy slogan the internet has currently taken over – music’s challenge is to react to this.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. I agree that music’s place has probably changed because of the speed of the internet. However, the internet’s speed is also its problem – nothing has longevity anymore. At least with a song there will be a ‘record’ of any political comment.

    Maybe we should revert back to calling them records, like we did in the good old days!

  2. I was expecting a brilliantly incisive 1000 word essay on this, not a 100 word excuse. The reason that main stream music doesn’t cater for politics anymore is because for a band to make a conscious decision to be political is almost suicidal. Record labels want you to stick to writing rubbish about failed sexual relationships because otherwise they could come to a sticky end. The NME is just as bad. They make it so unfashionable to write political material these days but then whinge about it. But then again, they are owned by the mainstream media. It all comes back to the same thing… suppression. Political bands do exist, and ok you can’t constantly add verses whenever a member of the notw team falls on their sword/in to the back of a police van, but you can document your feelings regarding it. Many good records were made about our invasion on Iraq, but hit mixed reviews because of their political nature. I could go on, but I’m no conspiracy theorist, but they’re just a few points to take into account. If you want to write about how you feel about a certain issue that is happening around you, don’t be shameful of it. Document it. Half of the reason we can embrace what happened to slaves 80 years ago is because there was the ability to record their opinions. If you can help to document our failings, you can only help your kids and theirs.

  3. ridiculous.

    the author seems to think that the relationship between music and politics is limited to the punk error, completing ignoring hundreds of years of history. the protests in the 60s, the civil rights movement, the labour movement in the 30s, the establishment of the blues in plantations, communist and fascist crackdowns on avant-garde classical music, wagner, beethoven, bach…we could probably go on to the very basis of civilization, the tribal drumming, the rituals…

    music is a social phenomena and, as such, you cannot separate politics from it.

  4. First bad john robb article I’ve read in decades. He obviously didn’t think it through.
    Even the arab spring has a soundtrack of french and arab hiphop and tunisia is not exactly a world capital for music.
    Twitter exists. But it John Robb right about it’s effect? Doubtful!

  5. Some good responses there. The oppositional Theory strand is very relevant. The left in general responds more effectively when dominated by the right.

    There is plenty of excellent politically charged music out there right now, if you can be bothered to search for it. The thing about the counter culture is you need to input effort to get something tangible out, in terms of inspiration, influence or insurrection. Sitting around reading the NME isn’t going to help now, is it? Neo Liberal culture is very clever in the way it hides subversion under multiple levels of product. Seek, and you will find.

    And . . . Once you’ve found it, do something about it. It’s time for the young ones to pick the baton up and run. I wanna see a little revolution out there. It takes 5 seconds to decide if you are part of the problem or part of the solution. Which side of bed did you get out of this morning?

  6. Culturally, when it comes to politics in the internet age, things are more participatory than they used to be, people want to join a debate rather than take inspiration from eloquent figureheads like they used to do.

    Political pop music runs counter to this trend, it’s about having sundry Manics, Bono, Joe Strummer, Bragg, Crass, Skrewdriver etc tell you what to think while you worship them, it’s not about debate.

    It used to be like that with polical participation back in the 80’s, I remember sitting quietly with hundreds of others in public meetings while Bruce Kent would tell you that, like, nuclear war was bad, man, while we all sat quietly and considered what a good morally authoratative bloke Bruce Kent was.

    That doesn’t happen any more, thank goodness. Things evolve, usually for the better, these are more democratic times thanks to the new technologies and it’s liberating that pop stars (and politicians) don’t get the opportunity to patronise us as much without a right of reply.

  7. […] certainly not directly political, there are no protest songs, this is not in a placard carrying demonstration kind of way. Not in a demand for rights, a demand […]


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