For as long as music has existed, it has bought society together and been used to share ideas. A prominent example: Band Aid. The charity supergroup, formed in 1984, raised funds to help stop the Ethiopian famine. Though they have faced much criticism for their methods, their hit ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ features on playlists worldwide each December.
While Band Aid’s legacy lives on through charity singles and benefit gigs, the fuel of desire for social justice appears to have been replaced. Charitable actions are used more as a marketing tactic than a statement of belief. Labels decide how artists are presented to the public by censoring what their music conveys, curating a public image; they decide who an artist is to their fans.
Somewhat optimistically, I feel this is on the brink of change. We may be reaching a new era in music where once again artists can be and express themselves. In this era, bands choose what they put into the world and marketing by labels can take a backseat. This new wave has been long awaited; climate change is becoming irreversible, Brexit is dividing our nation and global geopolitics are overshadowing the struggles of people worldwide.
I heard the sounds of change at none other than the Reading festival.Headliners The 1975 put on their typical stellar performance, smattered with open discussion of issues the band’s vocalist, Matty Healy, cares about. Healy discussed his latest controversial move of kissing a boy onstage in Dubai, where it remains illegal. Later, the band began their encore by playing a Greta Thunberg speech as a means of introduction to their recent hit ‘love it if we made it’.
Despite these moves not seeming out of the ordinary for the band described as ‘brilliantly odd’ in The Independent, the interesting aspect was their audience. The band has a reputation for its hysterical fans, but these teenagers in hysterics were not just the queers and the activists. Young adults from across the spectrum came in their masses to see the headlining performance; a testament to the compelling manner with which the band presents its music. I’m hoping that maybe the words of an idol are enough to inspire change across the generation, regardless of background or privilege.
The second standout act was a Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes. Early in their adrenaline-fuelled performance Carter urged the crowd to form a mosh pit, declaring it to be for women only. This move allowed for women to mosh without the fear of sexual harassment, showing a ‘prime example of how rock and roll can be a lot of mother-fucking fun without hurting anybody’. The atmosphere created was electric and Carter had the female audience hooked on the high of being seen, respected and empowered. While this simple act of real change shows the ease with which good can be put into the world, the band did not stop there. The Rattlesnakes concludes their set with the hit ‘I hate you’, the opening screen stating, ‘this song is dedicated to our current government’. While riling the crowd up with their rageful melody, big screens showed quotes casting light on the hypocrisy of Johnson’s cabinet. However, the band did not end their set with this anger, instead using their final words on the Main Stage to encourage attendees to register to vote.
Again, the most notable part of Carter’s move was the diversity of the audience. Whilst some of the aforementioned edgy teens made it over, Carter drew in a much wider age range, from children to pensioners in the audience. Despite some admittedly waiting for the Foo Fighters after, the crowd felt united by Carter’s sentiment, regardless of the background they brought with them to the show.
As revolutionary as these performances felt in the moment, they are meaningless without the backdrop of wider change. Musicians needs to use their position of influence for good; times are too urgent for it to be otherwise wasted. Avoiding criticism by the press is too shallow a reason not to act. The sooner labels realise authenticity is the new cool, the better.