Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Another Great Insurrection

Among the disappointments out there, some are great, some are small. I want to mention one that is a little smaller than those I usually speak to. Amidst the turmoil in the UK this week, 150 independent record labels have had much of their stock destroyed in a warehouse fire in London. (I imagine those labels will appreciate some digital sales to help them bounce back without putting pressure on them to move physical stock, if you're so inclined.)

In London (and other English cities) there is mass civil unrest that some folks call riots and some folks call insurrection. The initial spark was the institutional racism of the police state and the way it intersects with economic oppression and other class issues. These issues often affect musicians and artists whose work is not expressed in contemporary economic terms.

So I hope that people who love the great music on some of the affected labels can appreciate how important it is to lend sympathies (and solidarity, and material support) to the marginalized over the oppressive. I think it is mindless, privileged drivel to dismiss the unrest and property destruction outright as the work of thugs and criminals. Only politicians and the BBC speak with such willful lack of subtlety or understanding.

There are folks venting legitimate grievances. And surely there are people coasting along and enjoying the chaos. And surely there are brutes in the streets taking advantage of it. But these brutes, it must be said, are far outmatched in their brutishness by the people in power, who wage aggressive war in faraway places, who dangle education beyond the reach of those who need it, who force an eternity of nuclear devastation on the soil and water, who enact policies that further marginalize culturally meaningful pursuits (like making good music and getting it to the public).

I think it is important not to vilify the insurrectionists and their legitimate grievances in the same sentence as we regret the damage seen by these independent labels. What is the incidental burning of records to the intentional burning of villages? Speak of strategy and effectiveness in expressing anti-establishment unrest, sure, but not in the absence of a clear, outright condemnation of a systematically racist political establishment that would burn our records, our instruments, and our children in a flash if it was economically expedient.

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