As bunting lines the streets of Britain, Channel 4 News looks at the modern day anti-establishment scene and looks for the alternative soundtrack to this year’s jubilee.
Looking back to the Silver Jubilee of 1977, the Sex Pistols’ hit single God Save the Queen has almost overtaken the official celebratory events in terms of its historical notoriety. But there is no equivalent for this year’s Diamond Jubilee – only a half-hearted attempt to get the original single back in the charts.
There were alternative demonstrations organised by Republic and UK Uncut, as well as the odd anti-monarchy tea party. But mainstream anti-monarchy sentiment is hard to come by.
What you have now is the legacy of that missing generation of protest musicians. But over the next five years I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a resurgence. There has been a sudden, dramatic politicisation of the national conversation. Dorian Lynskey
The absence of politics from mainstream music doesn’t necessarily mean that modern day protest or anti-establishment art doesn’t exist however. In fact the last few years have seen a rise of activism with the global wave of the Occupy movement, and in the UK, the increase of demonstrations and protests against government policy.
In terms of the monarchy specifically, although the Queen’s popularity has risen, the anti-monarchy campaign group, Republic, is also keen to point out that support for its campaign has grown by 50 per cent over the last year to 22,000 supporters, despite the overwhelming approval of the Royal Wedding last year and the extended bank holiday Jubilee celebrations.
However the music accompanying modern day activism is different from the 1970s and 1980s in two ways: the monarchy is no longer the main focus of political anger, and the culture tends to emerge from grassroots activism rather than mainstream acts – such as The Clash, The Smiths or the Specials – turning out political hits.
Your anti-monarchy Jubilee soundtrack:
@CatrinaKirkland Common People, by Pulp. Always and forever. #jubileesoundtrack
@padraig48 The Wolfe Tones!!!
@jdm79 Royalism is the new punk rock. Not sure Gary Barlow can produce a punk anthem however…
@emmatominey The SkaToons will be my remedy and soundtrack, live in Gateshead in a dirty backroom, extra loud and shouty.
@cook_rob Will be watching @uksubs in Leicester this weekend, they’ve never stopped, still touring & recording 35 years on.
?@solon_thinker The UK 2012. What a load of s**t compared with 1977. and still a fascist regime full of morons.
According to Grace Petrie [pictured below, credit:Timothy Logan], the 24-year-old protest singer from Leicester who has been taken under the wing of seasoned activist Billy Bragg, political music-making is even on the rise.
“I think political music is now alive and well, moreso than it has been since the New Labour years,” she told Channel 4 News. “In times of austerity, when political decisions are being brought to your doorstep, that does encourage political thought. It drives people to get involved.”
Petrie describes her music as political in the sense that it is “writing about things that piss me off”. At the moment, that is the government’s austerity policies and her song Farewell to Welfare also criticises the money put into the monarchy.
Dorian Lynskey, author of 33 Revolutions per Minute: a history of protest songs, notes that musicians are generally influenced by the generation before, and a gap in overtly political music from the mid 1990s to 2010 meant that it wasn’t on the agenda of younger bands.
“What you have now is the legacy of that missing generation of protest musicians. But over the next five years I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a resurgence,” he told Channel 4 News. “There has been a sudden, dramatic politicisation of the national conversation. If you went to a campus today, politics would be so much more present than it was 10 years ago.”
One example of the modern protest song is MC Next Gen’s Andrew Lansley rap, which was an internet hit and was even mentioned in parliament. Anti-Tory anthems from King Blues and Captain Ska have also gained notoriety in the underground activism scene, while London rapper Akala, Ms Dynamite’s younger brother, reached relative success for his songs of social justice.
However even within this protest scene, the monarchy isn’t the focus of political anger as much as they were in the 1970s. Instead activists have bankers, global capitalism and the government to target.
“Although you did have the Sex Pistols in the 1970s, what you also had was much more deference and much less willingness to criticise the royal family,” says James Gray from Republic. “The punk movement was a unique cultural event tied up with all sorts of things – anti-establishment, reaction against dominant music scene.”
An old lady in a palace – she doesn’t seem to rate so highly on the protest list when it comes to shutting down sure start centres and cutting disability benefits. Grace Petrie
As the new generation of royals are falling out of nightclubs and doing the celebrity meet and greets, they seem to have more in common with reality TV stars and as such, are less obvious symbols of power, money and privilege. In the wake of the expenses scandal and the extremes of cuts to social welfare, the government has become the target.
Alex Massie, blogger for conservative magazine Spectator, has another take on the de-politicisation of the monarchy: “The peculiar genius of monarchy, at least of the kind exemplified by Queen Elizabeth, is that it removes politics (of which there is more than enough anyway, thank you very much) from the office of head of state,” he writes. “One need only look to the United States to see the difficulties that come with electing a Priest-King.”
Or as Grace Petrie puts it, the monarchy is the “lesser of two evils”: “An old lady in a palace – she doesn’t seem to rate so highly on the protest list when it comes to shutting down Sure Start centres and cutting disability benefits.”