Boisdale Life Magazine (Issue 18) - Page 27

he scenes look vaguely
comic now: hordes of
young men in stonewash
denim, many with
fulsome moustaches, cigarette
lighters held aloft, clambering over
lumps of crumbling concrete on a
chilly Berlin evening. At that
moment thirty years ago, as The
Wall came apart, entry to the West
for GDR citizens held out the
excitements of economic freedom,
liberation from the most closely
surveilled state on the planet, and
the chance to eat at McDonalds.
But to many, one of the true allures
of the West was its soundtrack.
In the GDR, with just one
state-owned record company,and
no official access to new music
that wasn’t sanctioned by state
‘listening committees’, music fans
would listen, at some risk, to the
RIAS station run by the Americans
from their sector of Berlin. Groups
were secretly formed, and often
forcibly disbanded.
In Anna Funder’s book,
Stasiland, charting life in the GDR,
former East German pop star Klaus
Renft recalled how his eponymous
group was forced to perform in
front of a committee in 1975. The
committee’s response was abrupt:
“You don’t exist anymore.”
But those living within hearing
distance of the Berlin Wall could
hear the elusive sounds of the free
world, whether they wanted to or
not. In 1987, crowds gathered on
the ‘other’ side of the wall to hear
David Bowie playing live. A year
later the GDR authorities allowed
both Bob Dylan and Bruce
Springsteen to play concerts inside
East Germany itself. The idea was
to use the concerts as a safety valve
for frustrated natives; the result
was a swell in confidence against
the regime, as tens of thousands of
East Germans sang ‘Born in the
USA’ with The Boss.
None of this could happen now
could it? Conventional wisdom
suggests that in the era of
conveyor-belt pop and the smooth
blandishments of Adele and Ed
Sheeran, the incendiary days of
John and Yoko being wire tapped
by the FBI, Marvin Gaye agitating
Thirty years after it soundtracked
the fall of the Berlin Wall, pop music
is still able to agitate and provoke
Fre e l a n ce w r i t e r,
au t hor a nd r ad io
pre se n t e r
against Vietnam and the Sex
Pistols gobbing on the flyblown
austerity of 1970s Britain could
never be repeated.
Actually, it’s exactly this kind
of wobbly thinking that ages us
prematurely. If you believe pop
music offers no protest these days,
it’s likely that you’ve just got older
and stopped listening. But do not
fear. Help is at almost effortless
hand here. Be reassured: Not only
is pop music in rude health right
now, it’s also every bit as
provocative, attritional and
statement-making as it ever was.
Even better, social media means
pop’s power to provoke to
gargantuan global audiences has
never been more potent.
Matt Healy, frontman of current
hottest-band-around, The 1975,
recently made global headlines by
kissing a male audience member
on the lips during a gig in Dubai,
in defiance of the UAE’s restrictive
laws. Sergei Shnurov, far and away
the biggest rock star in Russia
today, has long flicked his finger
at Vladimir Putin’s regime, most
notably by standing in front of the
Russian Duma (its parliament) to
publicly denounce its stifling of
free expression. In Hong Kong,
Canto-Pop mega-star Denise Ho
has become a full-scale activist,
telling a conference in Melbourne
in August that citizens of Hong
Kong are living in a ‘police state’
and speaking out against the
Chinese propaganda machine.
And although Taylor Swift’s
lyrics are hardly a call to man the
barricades en masse, be in no
doubt as to the impact she had
upon a younger American
demographic when she sang
“American glory has faded before
me, Now I’m feeling hopeless,” on
her latest album.
Last year, Childish Gambino’s
hit, ‘This is America’, distilled the
issues of gun violence and race
relations into a searing blast of
anger and confusion. Best of all is
rapper Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright’,
now four years old but perhaps the
most forceful piece of anthemic
pop for a generation. Its message:
For black people to change the
world, first they have to survive
the present injustices. The “We
goin’ be alright!” refrain itself
became the soundtrack of the
Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s the ‘Give Peace a Chance’ for
our times, and, like Lennon’s
sing-a-long and the best
politically-charged hits, it has the
combination of antagonistic heft,
impeccable craftsmanship and
populist appeal that truly has the
ability to frighten those who get in
the way of the message.
Beyond Ed and Adele, pop still
has the power, and can still be the
soundtrack to change.

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