Generational Signifiers


A Column

“There is scant support in the Square Mile for Jeremy Corbyn and his followers. There is no enthusiasm in a predominantly pro-business ward, such as Queenhithe, for idealistic but old fashioned cooperative socialism” – Brian Mooney (councillor for the ward of Queenhithe)

Even as the Labour Party won a record five seats in the City of London elections on Thursday (23/03/17), so the entrenched stalwarts of the privileged right seek to negate the responses of the left. Picking up the theme of comedian Stuart Lee‘s ‘Content Provider’ from February’s column, it is increasingly difficult for commentators delivering anything other than the austerity party line of the hegemonic right to make their voices heard in the sea of piss-infected apathy that surrounds this septic, crumbling archipelago, circa 2017.

In a nation that once prided itself on being left-orientated, almost by default, my generation grew up under the moral umbrella of organisations and ideals such as Rock Against Racism (RAR), The Anti-Nazi League (ANL), and the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Seemingly united under the banner of ‘punk rock for all’, we had no idea that this nascent ideology would culminate in a startlingly sinister parody of dysfunctionality thirty-odd-years down the line. The social injustice, inequality and pure mania of hatred that fills our news feeds hourly echo the crassest proclamations of any totalitarian project worth its salt mines. In a climate of fake news, false flags and little hope, but for the chosen few, is it any wonder that self-medication is the sport of superkings?

In times such as these, we look to the ‘young men’ (casual historical sexism, notwithstanding, itself a generational signifier, in terms of gender equality!), not the men of Manchester (so much to answer for), I might add, who’s inherent conservatism, it could be argued, ushered in the very cultural elitism that has become de rigueur in a country where only Ed Sheeran makes any money from music in 2017. As we struggle to discern any cultural specificity betwixt underground and overground, these are dark days, indeed, where bodies litter the streets, double-drawer devans litter the countryside, and the rhetoric of braying laughter reverberates around the Commons. Collective memories of the Miner’s Strike, Clause 28, the Poll Tax Riots, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, even the demonstration in protest at the government’s proposed reforms to further education of 10th November, 2010, all pale into the insignificance of history (written by the winners!) when compared to today’s march in London (25/03/17).

In the wake of events in the capital this week, the aforementioned hate of the common right and the orchestrated symphony of judgement from the un-mandated ruling right will join together to berate, condemn and pillory any objections to the continued steamroller of neoliberalism in its inexorably efficient bulldozing of public edifice, as it collapses into the pockets and wallets of the capital-rich elite.

Its at times like this that we look West, to Stevenage . . . less than a year ago, I’d never heard of Bad Breeding. I’d lost hope of a younger generation picking up the baton of protest and running with it. It was with much anticipation, then, that I read Paco Mus’ listing for their debut long player, and immediately sought out a copy from source. An early indicator of the integrity of the group was apparent from the FOC access to WAV files of the record from their An Age Of Nothing cartel. The second indicator being the forthcoming communication from the group’s vocalist, Chris Dodd. My copy of their self-titled debut long player had arrived damaged in the post, he simply replaced it with a fresh copy without question, and a bond was forged. That’s how integrity works. ‘Bad Breeding’ (self-released) marked the birth of a resurrection of hope, for me, a generational signifier that la lucha continúa.

As we shape up to the release of Bad Breeding’s masterful sophomore full-length, ‘Divide’, on the ever-reliable LVEUM, I was motivated to conduct the first interview we’ve run in these pages for some considerable time. That’s the mark of my respect for this group, their music, their art, their determinism, Paco Mus, and the need to continue the struggle, by any mean necessary:

trakMARX – How’s morale in the Bad Breeding camp as we type?

I think it swings between joyousness and indifference. We watched a re-run of that final episode of Inspector Morse the other night, The Remorseful Day, which is a brilliant piece of television, but then had to get up to lug bricks and stock-pick stationary in a distribution warehouse at five in the morning. I think the jump between those emotions are decent descriptors of ours lives at the moment: monotonous swings of ups and downs, just getting on really. Having said that, we’re excited to put out the new record and play shows, although that inevitably means losing our jobs again if we play for anything more than a week or so.

trakMARX – Two long players in a year . . . that’s an admirable work rate! What’s the primary driver of this frenetic productivity?

I think it stems from a fear of not having an outlet for our frustrations and concerns. Stevenage is a town of quite limited options in terms of getting your word heard so coming together in a room and hammering things out feels like it goes some of the way to working off whatever resentment we’re building up at the time. We work manual labour jobs during the day, leaving the limited time in the evenings free to do something that doesn’t involve plasterboard or shifting bags of sand. We don’t really have the money to travel into London, most of what we have has to be self-generated in our own little room. We’ve never really had the financial comfort of sitting back and affording ourselves time. It’s always been very pragmatic, almost dogmatic in some cases, as we break days up between working and trying to write music. If we stop, we just regress into that same monotonous process again – and that’s not to deride the meaningfulness of our work or the type of work we do – it’s just that being able to have a source of release keeps us slightly more chipper. We just enjoy making stuff and playing together, sounds like a bit of a beige cliche but it’s true for us.

trakMARX – ‘Divide’ is coming out here on LVEUM, and on Iron Lung in the States. How did both these arrangements come about?

It was just a case of playing gigs and meeting decent folks. Good people find good people in the end and that’s how I got to know both Paco and Jensen. They were into the first record and stuck it in their distros and from there we just went on to give the new recording a home. Both of them have been releasing amazing things for years and do a lot of good stuff to help bands.

trakMARX – If you had to pick three LPs you dig from each label’s roster, how would that work out?

We’d be here until Christmas I reckon. In terms of LVEUM, last year’s releases from Anxiety and ES were great. I’d have to say that my faves are definitely the Crisis re-releases and the Disaster – War Cry one that came with the flexi. In terms of Iron Lung, the GAG record is hilariously brilliant and that Copsucker LP from KIM PHUC is a gem too. I have quite a few favourites.

trakMARX – On early inspection, ‘Divide’ feels darker, denser, and possibly even more pissed off than ‘Bad Breeding’! How did, firstly, sociopolitical conditions, and, secondly, means of production, affect the end product?

I’d been working on bits and pieces of lyrics in the spring and I think a lot of the media coverage around the EU referendum – especially the portrayal of opinion in predominately working-class areas – got me thinking about how to thread things together in more conceptual terms. The overarching implications of the campaign coverage and its continued distortion of particular issues pushed me towards trying to write something that was framed just as much by a lack of clarity as it was me simply trying to vent. We wanted to create something that was as claustrophobic and dense as what we were sifting through in Stevenage.

Obviously there are some clear political discussions running through it. With Whip Hand it was my take on how pernicious government policy has contributed to the alarming emergence of social cleansing in the UK – the continued punishment of the disabled, the utter contempt for our homeless communities and the fallout of private-led development projects sanitising space to the detriment of those in need of social housing. The title of that song was looking back at that old English phrase of dominant positions in horse driving, people in authoritative places occupying the forceful role. When looking at something like Death, that was really exploring a community still coming to terms with the tragic death of David Clapson and the impact of abhorrent bureaucracy. On the other hand, Anamnesis and Loss were examinations of things going on in our personal lives – although I still tried to weave in some of those wider conversations too.

We saved for a while to work with Ben Greenberg and I think that was really important. When talking about making the record we kept coming back to this idea of production almost adding another way of communicating. We had this ideal of ‘machinery as language’ that we wanted work into the record – having something underneath the surface gnawing away at the listener. We tried all sorts of stuff to make that work: triggering drum hits against machine noise, sending the vocals out across water to hit a wall and then recording all the stuff that bounced back. We made most of it on an old boat so we had all this peculiar spacial stuff to play with, old tanks that served as echo chambers and other bits like that.

trakMARX – The presence of Killing Joke looms large throughout, to these ears, is that a valid observation?

I think there’s definitely a comparison to be made when looking at that industrial element. We all work with machinery of some kind during the day and have always sought to work that into the songs. I think that similarity definitely has something to do with the idea of us wanting to bring that other language into the record. It might seem odd, but we also got talking about This Heat and what they were able to do with production as a means of another voice – manipulating tape and the use of somewhere like Cold Storage. Obviously it sounds nothing like This Heat, but we wanted to examine that battle between making something human and something that has been steered by technology.

The most obvious song that tried to examine this was Endless Impossibility. Lyrically it was me reporting back on conversations I’d had around warehouses and sites about aspiration in the workforce and the looming impact of automation. You hear these tired arguments about immigrants or migrational workforces taking ‘our jobs’ when there’s this monumental change looming with technology and automation. The likelihood is that most of the work undertaken by us four won’t be there in its current form for much longer, which poses a lot of questions about the working future for people in towns similar to Stevenage. The second half of that song was us trying to demonstrate the struggle between people and technology, basically by layering those suffocated human elements beneath all of that production noise.

trakMARX – As one of the few bands in the UK right now delivering social commentary through their art, why do you think the current generation are seemingly so reluctant to stick their heads above the parapet and actually stand for something, anything?

It’s a difficult one. If you dig deep enough there are still a lot of artists making statements, but most of the discussion remains within circles below the surface or confined to certain corners of the internet – sometimes out of choice and often because it doesn’t fit whatever narrative the cultural gatekeepers in the media are piecing together. I’d say there are other things too: making political statements can often be a ham-fisted thing to do, while it’s also safer financially to make something that’s potentially easier to consume.

trakMARX – The other contemporary band that do ’say something’ are Sleaford Mods, and they’re a pair of middle aged men! What do you make of their art, and their well publicised observations that contemporary British protest music is dead!

They’ve been making music for donkey’s years and you have to appreciate that commitment to remaining outspoken and resolute. To be honest I haven’t really followed those observations about protest music. I think it still exists, you’ve just got to look in the right places. I think people certainly seem less apathetic than last year, you’ve only got to look at the growing number of community movements – but I do think we sufferer from things being so fragmented and self-absorbed. You don’t really have mass UK movements through music like you might have done in the past. Most of the interesting and empowering things happening now seem to be taking place at smaller community levels.

trakMARX – In terms of global protest music, Moor Mother’s ‘Fetish Bones’ was one of 2016’s unqualified successes, did that record affect you at all?

I came to that record late, but it’s really powerful. As a privileged white man it made me witness to so many elements of both historical and present trauma that sometimes get neglected in discussions over here. It’s a record that you can’t really forget about once you’ve heard it. The more time you spend with it the more it buries inside you too. When you start piecing together the lyrics and the collage of sounds it makes your stomach churn. Yeah, it’s something quite deeply affecting.

trakMARX – And finally, where next for Bad Breeding?

We’ll continue making stuff for as long as we can afford to. Making music and keeping a job is a difficult thing to do when you want to record things beyond an eight-track or play as many shows as you can. There isn’t any financial incentive in doing this so just as long as we continue to find the space and time to write, we’ll keep making records.


Jean Encoule - March 25th, 2017

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