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'.