Rebel music has always thrived when times are hard. It seems that as the people suffer their creativity flourishes. Born out of a refusal to accept the status quo and determined to have their voices heard, this fight against the system has provided modern culture with some of the greatest sounds and anthems of all time.
Take for example the hippy movement that evolved during a time of war in Vietnam, it both reflected and help further the civil rights movement in America that resulted in turning popular opinion against the war and helped lay down the framework for equal rights based on race, gender and sexuality.
In the seventies we had Reggae music rising from the townships and slums of a divided Jamaica but that ended up reaching a much wider audience all of whom felt something stirring within them when they heard its primal rhythm and listened to the frequently political yet poetic lyrics of such geniuses as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Lee Scratch Perry.
Then of course there was all the energy that came with Punk rock. But it was only with the ascendance of “Thatcherism” that things really kicked off. By using the sheer fury and anger of punk but combining it with top quality political commentary, bands like Crass and The Subhumans led the way into an age of top quality rebel music. From collaborations between reggae and punk all the way to the ultra short walls of noise that characterized hardcore. Despite the many and varied styles of music they all shared a similar ethos. One of rebellion against authority but of equality and fairness for everyone, a youthful explosion of DIY music creation that avoided major labels and the traditional music industry. It took the power back from the rich executives and back into the hands of the music makers themselves.
Come the ninety’s and techno or rave culture exploded onto the scene. While lacking in political lyrics it fairly throbbed with primal rhythm and all across the country thousands went out to all night gatherings across the countryside and got down to some good wholesome anti authoritarian revelry.
This all night raving quickly assimilated with the anarchistic free festival scene that had been flourishing all through the 70s 80s and into the 90s. This crossover resulted in the legendary Castlemorton free party, that lasted for over a week of MDMA fueled hedonism and love.
Of course watching an entire generation of youth turn away from the establishment and move on mass to an essentially anarchist worldview was seen as a serious threat by the powers that be. So it wasn’t long until the Tory government came up with legislation to stop all these people having fun. The 1994 criminal justice bill was an evil piece of legislation and was the final nail in the coffin of the free festival. However what it achieved in stopping these parties it lost in the way that numerous disparate groups organised themselves into a broad campaign to fight it, and while they ultimately lost and the bill was passed into law. It did sow the seeds of the anti capitalist and climate change movements of the millennium and created a new sense of empowerment in activists all over.
Since then there’s not been so much in the way of youth based counter cultures and their associated music genres. What has happened though is more and more crossover of musical styles. So now we see bands like Sonic Boom Six a socially aware collective that mixes hip hop with punk, ska, reggae and dance. As well as many musical fusions of different world music styles and folk music mixed with modern dance elements like Transglobal Underground or with old school punk rock like Inner Terrestrials or This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb.
It should be added that throughout the decades folk music has always been at the forefront of the protest song. From the songs of Woody Guthrie during the great depression and the great bluesmen of the 40s n 50s, onto the indomitable rantings of Billy Bragg, the raucous jigging of The Pogues and the latest folk heroes like Seize The Day.
The question now is what does the future hold? It seems that the youth cultures of previous years are no longer on the agenda in these eclectic times of mass communication and ease of access caused by the internet. And with the loss of these movements so I see the increase in that vapid pop rubbish that has always been the bane of music lovers and political activists. A capitalist wet dream of photoshopped sexism, manufactured cliché’s and talentless “superstars” Even the taming of previous rebel music with the co-opting of Hip Hop, Heavy Metal, Punk, Indie and Reggae, all of them seeming to give in to the lure of big money and big booties. Places like Glastonbury are now a perverse caricature of their former selves with their souls removed and filled instead with shiny dollars.
But I would argue that now more than ever we need a resurgence of the rebel music. A new musical paradigm to reflect todays world of forced austerity and neo colonialism. As the rich get richer and the poor are increasingly demonized and drained of what little resources they have left, a new counter-culture is needed to once again unite and fill the oppressed with a sense of hope and a little bit of joy.