On the 23rd June 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union, creating a whirlpool of paranoia and unrest in a country with an already complicated identity crisis. The repercussions have already been damaging, alienating many young people in all sectors and walks of life. At 52% to 48%, the margin was tighter than the latest Conservative budget that would go on to affect the majority of the country with crippling austerity measures. Yet, amidst the chaos and confusion, there has been an uprising of the very demographic that the vote impacts the most. With Brexit seemingly acting as a creative catalyst, the reactionary and impassioned mass millennial revolution began, online and in the streets. The outcry of a disillusioned generation has become a constant presence across platforms, and in particular in the music being created by those with the most to lose.
As with many minor revolutions, the initial responses of protestation and anger began to burn out, and gave way to the growth of a new rhetoric and subculture loudly championed by those who had become disillusioned by the system. As the months progressed, the uncharted political waters that Britain now found itself in personified the atmosphere of the country, with the entire population confused and apprehensive of what was going to happen next. As with the emergence of punk in the 70s and 80s as a response to socio-economic problems, this environment is one in which the creative arts found new inspiration and motivation, with artists of all genres portraying a movement of young creatives whose brand is loosely based on their boycott of conventional ideas. To put it bluntly, there are a lot of British artists who have adopted a ‘fuck the government’ stance.
‘F**k the government and F**k Boris’
Living in the shadow of parliament, Stormzy’s relationship with the UK Government has been tumultuous throughout his career, not least because of the way that media portrayal has historically highlighted negative incidents surrounding the grime-scene and shied away from acknowledging the message behind the music. The London artist has repeatedly called the Conservative cabinet out on major issues in several interviews, festival performances and songs, most recently in ‘Vossi Bop’, with the songs most memorable line, ‘F**k the government and f**k Boris,’ being screamed back at the 25 year old by thousands of impassioned festival goers at Glastonbury. The apathetic handling of a number of different issues by the Conservative government, ranging from the Grenfell Tower tragedy to reports of police brutality and budget cuts which deeply impacted low income households, have directly affected the close knit community in his home borough of Croydon. ‘Gang Signs and Prayer’ expressed different sides to the artists character, moving between angelic style ballads with ‘Your Grace’, to moody rhythmic chart toppers like ‘Big for the Boot,’ but the message was consistent; the misrepresentation of black youth culture. The latest release follows the rejectionist tone of the latter, still highlighting a stern feeling of injustice towards the establishment within the lyrics and slowly manifesting into something stronger and more potent as these uncertain political times continue. It’s relevance continues to grow as the nature of Britain’s departure from the EU and the seemingly chaotic state of the government continues to drive uncertainty and apprehension.
‘I tell you how it is, I will treat you with the utmost respect only if you respect me a little bit Elizabeth, you c**t’.
Not being born in one of Britain’s major cities has enabled Slowthai to contextualise his message of disparity towards the system away from the bustling capital, and highlights the wide reaching implications of the decisions that the government is making. It’s not only in cities like London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds that young artists are using their platform to voice their resentment. His debut album ‘There’s Nothing Great About Britain’ received commercial and critical acclaim, but more importantly it encapsulated the mood of the country and the people within it. This raw and uncensored campaign, with the music itself promoting themes of mutiny, non-imperialism and non-conformity, is inspiring many already disgruntled millennials who felt disconnected from the decisions being made about their futures, to join the conversation.
Though all the artists themselves are strong portrayals of the message, their marketing teams have played on the historic human attraction to a mutinous psyche. The fragmented relationship between politics and music in-particular has been widely documented throughout history, from Johnny Cash refusing to walk the line, IDLES proclaiming that ‘The best way to scare a tory is to read and get rich’ and NWA’s smash hit “Fuck Tha Police”. The projected affect on the UK industry after Brexit is damning, with ISM’s report on the Impact of Brexit on Musicians highlighting that an unsettling 95% of respondents said that Brexit identified a negative impact on their professional work. In light of these statistics, why would a musician not feel stimulated enough to voice these opinions of injustice in their music? To some extent, music is constantly surrounded by hypocrisy, but at the same time, many artists have come to accept the reality that they aren’t actually going to affect any kind of big change quick enough to make a difference to them so they end up having to play the system; not anymore.
The current situation has broken the mould.