In this third volume of the Arena series (£9.95 inc p+p) we gather around the proverbial camp fire where we might listen to tunes to make our toes tap and to words which might reach into our hearts and pull us into a future of wild possibilities, daring us to dream. These songs of freedom push against convention, sing of finding ways and means to move beyond the confines of staid convention and the litany of war, poverty and misery that are the direct consequence of the edifice of capitalism and those frightened elites who hide cowering behind it.
In ancient Rome, after Constantine bent his knee to Christ (or at least saw the convenient propaganda in such a coat of many colours), the music of theatre and of festival dismayed the naysayers of the ascending Christian empire that grew in his wake; the frivolity and joyousness of celebrating life became anathema to the new social order bent on obedience to the will of God and, by divine right, those masters who perpetuated his will. And so they banned it.
But in all cultures, despite the engrained social mores, you can discover the life-affirming music that fuels the carnival and the street parade, strips away the dogma and drudgery of life and makes the heart leap. Life should be for celebrating after all, a Mardi-Gras of moments; not a never-ending struggle up a steep dark hill.
Music reflects the culture around it and ancient folk musics have melded and moulded themselves accordingly over time into a vast amalgam of expression. Latterly this has become a commodity and where once it was unhindered and organic, it is now shaped and packaged and available from all good participating stores. This is largely a Western phenomena and yet even within these boundaries there are still voices shouting over the walls and strains carried on the breeze and over the barricades of history.
Anarchist music is perhaps an ill-fitting term. Robert Fripp, of the rock group King Crimson, who are renowned for their inventive approach to composition, describes Crimson, who consciously avoid accepted (commercial) forms of rock music, as ‘a way of doing things, which is in a sense anarchic’. Much in the same way that advances in other art forms were anarchic, when they broke the rules, such as The Goons or Monty Python who brought comedy kicking and screaming into modern times. It is this same approach which informs the avant garde, that is to say, unhindered expression. It is this approach which could become the bedrock of a new culture.
But form aside, whatever the medium or genre, there are still those voices singing or ranting against what they find wrong in this world of ours — some telling stories of those who tried to find a new world in their hearts, those who were not in the least afraid of ruins (for they knew they could rebuild from the ashes of the old); or those who sing words of encouragement and of defiance and of hope in desperate times; or who applaud the dispossessed and forgotten and celebrate their humanity while rallying against those spit on their misery. And who make us cry, and who make us feel angry, reminding us of what needs to be done — those who can make us laugh at the absurdity of it all, have us dancing in the streets, but who can also make us forget.
In these pages, then, a small selection of musicians and lovers tell of their thoughts and experiences in putting across anarchism, not so much as rhetoric or propaganda, but as expressions and reflections; reminiscences of life-journeys outside of the box and even existentialism. These ideas may influence us, they may be enjoyable to experience but it is when we run with them into the streets and fields, when life again becomes the carnival, that we might crack open the cold edifice of what passes for culture and allow a few bright flowers to break through.
Daniel O’Guérin, February 2012
Daniel O’Guérin is the editor of back2front magazine, a periodical journal which examines, promotes and critiques radical music, arts, politics and culture since 2003. He runs an independent music label and has also contributed to dozens of other publications since the 1980s when he had this daft idea that things could be much better.
Introduction — Daniel O’Guérin ; 1 Daniel O’Guérin — What’s in (A) Song? An Introduction to Libertarian Music? ; 2 David Rovics — Busking Memories ; 3 Phil Strongman — No Future, Nature Boy ; 4 Petesy Burns — The Social Space ; 5 Robb Johnson — What I Do ; 6 Norman Nawrocki — From Rhythm Activism to Bakunin’s Bum ; 7 Boff Whalley — In Defence of Anarchy ; 8 Boff Whalley — Anarchism and Music: Theory and Practice ; 9 Penny Rimbaud — Falling Off the Edge