Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Sauce | Mixtape | Mixtape XXII, Read and Shout: 21st Century Protest Songs (sort of)

When Silkworms heard about Read and Shout festival, a gathering of indiepop artists including Darren Hayman (of Hefner) and the glorious Jens Lekman (elsewhere featured on Silkworms site here) to protest against impending, catastrophic nationwide library cuts, we knew we had to pay it some attention. For if last week’s Gainsbourg Music As Reading anniversary mixtape thing represented an opportunity to explore musical-literary intersections of an educational kind, this particular coming together of music, literature and activism surely offered a chance to think about things in a more political, practical light. To consider things like libraries, music in libraries, music as protest, the narrative of protest songs and so on.

I met up with Matt Stead, the guy behind Read and Shout (and a librarian about to lose his job slash the frontman of an indiepop band called A Fine Day For Sailing, to boot) to talk about the project. The main bulk of our chat can be read over at Drowned in Sound(perhaps you’ve come from there) but what I’d like to emphasise here is that Matt didn’t so much inspire in me profound new notions about the relationship between music and literature – as others have on these pages – than he offered far more important insights about the role libraries play in fostering and contributing to a culture in which music and reading are genuinely valued, and can therefore properly thrive. And he made it very clear that putting on a mini festival in the hall above his library was the way of making a noise about something terrible that made the most sense to him, that felt most natural. For people like Matt Stead, the coming together of Music And Reading isn’t complicated – it’s inevitable.

Here’s how I put it in my DiS piece:

What I most admire most about Read and Shout is that it reflects Matt doing what he knows and doing it well – that is, making the case against library cuts from the inside, and putting together an elegant bill of related bands – rather than falling back on the comforting generalities of CUTS R BAD protest and, god forbid, protest music. Jens Lekman is no Billy Bragg. As he puts it in Do You Remember the Riots, ‘I’m not a political fighter / And I don’t even have a cigarette lighter / But I wanna see that fire.’

And here’s how Matt put it himself, during our conversation:

Libraries are one of the last great free arts institutions aren’t they, they’re cultural hubs for a community. It’s not just books and reading, there are the dance groups, book groups, people who put on music and plays, I think it’s a great thing that’s still free to people. I really think they are places of learning.

Libraries aren’t just concrete blocks full of books and computers, it’s the services on offer there, book groups, job-hunting, story-time kindling young people’s imagination, and all the skills that professional staff bring to that. The scary path we might be going down is that, because we won’t be able to run the service the way we could with skilled staff, less people will use the library – there won’t be any groups for them to go to. And then it makes it easy for councillors to say, look, usage has gone down the last few years, can we really justify this library being open at all? I believe that as a whole, the library service is being cut harder relatively to the amount it takes out of the budget, because that is a relatively low amount. I went to a presentation a few weeks ago where they were saying people spend more in a year on chocolate than they do on libraries [via taxation]. Which is the more important?

Here, then, are nine 21st Century protesty tracks chosen from amongst their songs by the bands playing Read and Shout. I call them protesty – Matt suspects they mostly just chose their catchiest. Oh well, such is indiepop. I suppose The Sweet Nothings’ Hey Dr Beeching comes complete with enjoyable political overtones. And Jens’ songs are all about ‘riots’ and ‘demonstrations’, sort of. So maybe the indiepop protest song exists after all. Maybe.

1, Do You Remember The Riots? – Jens Lekman
2, You Love Me Too – The Sunbathers
3, Whatever Happens Happens – The Give It Ups
4, Hey Dr Beeching – The Sweet Nothings
5, Summer Promised Me Too Much – Horowitz
6, Shh… – Darren Hayman
7, Village Idiot – A Fine Day For Sailing
8, The Outskirts Of Town – Pocketbooks
9, I Saw Her At The Anti-War Demonstration – Jens Lekman

Read and Shout is going down this coming Saturday, 18th March at Nettlefold Hall, above West Norwood Library. It sold out in under a minute, but that shouldn't stop you expressing your solidarity with the cause that inspired it. Find out how best to do so here, here and here.

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