Saturday, March 07, 2009

Agit Disco

Agit Disco is an archive project dedicated to political music, initiated by Stefan Szczelkun. The format is a series of CD length selections of tracks with written commentary, with selectors so far including Howard Slater, Stewart Home, Louise Carolin, Tom Vague, Simon Ford and several others.

Stefan's take is that political music is continually being undermined by corporate pop: 'The harmless pop pap is bolstered and promoted out of all proportion to its value as art. Its production values can be lushed up with loadsamoney to hide the inner vacuity. This deluge of light entertainment then waters down the political messages of music until it is practically colourless. But deeply coloured stuff still bursts through occasionally. .. An agit disco would distill the politics out from the weak solution of popular musics. By counterpointing themes and problemmatising genres and bringing the more repressed and uncommon examples to the surface we might respark this potentially inflammatory material'.

I am working on my own Agit Disco mix at the moment, so will refrain from saying too much more about this for now - I guess it should be clear from previous posts here that I tend to take a more otimistic view of the possibilities of pop, seeing it as open to political appropriation even if the producers didn't intend it. But I appreciate Stefan's contribution in terms of trying to open up a space to think through these issues through listening to and talking about actual songs, rather than just in the abstract.

Anthony Iles makes some interesting points in Dissident Island Discs, a review of the agit disco project at Mute. He asks: 'There is a tendency towards music which wears its political content safely in its lyrics. But what of instrumental music? Is music with no lyrical content never political? What of the milieus around musical production? Could we leave Jazz (largely instrumental) out of any discussion of politicisation and music? Techno and Jungle? And if we can talk of a politics that does not claim to represent its aims or political demands - then can't music also build a politics out of its very material, form and delivery?'.

Stefan though certainly doesn't rule out a politically-engaged music that is lyric-free: 'Music is political through its ability to form alliances of like mindedness that can by-pass verbal discursive activity. By its way of forming part of identity and cultural affiliations... Urgent beats can respond to a sense of forwarding of moving the collective energy of which underlies any challenging change against systemic grains'.


Szczels said...

Thanks for this what with this a mention on Wire and a review on Mute the hits have gone up sharply!

Bear with me if I make a clarificaton of what I intended to say... My point is that it is working class music that is undermined or diluted by the corporate pop that jams the airwaves. Agit Disco is meant to be about working class culture - perhaps I should make it more clear?

Transpontine said...

Would be interested in your thoughts on the links between your Agitdisco music project and your wider perspective on working class art and culture. Political protest music is not necessarily working class or vice versa.

But I think defining 'working class music' is problematic - is it music made by working class people (which would include much of what you describe as corporate pop); music that reflects some kind of working class reality; or is it music made from a self-consciously working class political perspective (which would include quite a bit of music actually made by middle class leftists)?

Szczels said...

For the working class to rise up and overthrow the class system we'll need a dynamic and focused culture. A way of processing and evaluating all the different ideas about who we are to become as human beings once we have broken out of the mind cage. Culture is a magical process of coming to agreements

Working class music was always bowdlerised as it came up into dominant media. ie gutted of threatening political and sexual content. So an emphasis on the political is a shorthand for making working class music fit again.

The process of asking working class people to think compilations up and put them about, is like a tiny model of the processes that we need to refocus, re-evaluate and mine the riches of our own creativity so we can tool up to dismantle oppression.