Grime4Corbyn – Red Wedge 2.0?

June 8th has come and gone, leaving the United Kingdom (at the time of writing) in a perilous situation without effective government and faced with the looming possibility of yet another general election within the next seven months. Indeed, the most notable previous minority government of 1974 only lasted that long. The reason for this has been attributed by many to the unprecedented amount of young voters that turned out and voted Labour. This surprising turn of events cannot, of course, be credited to one factor, with the newly-formed campaigning network Momentum being a significant non-musical example. But perhaps one of the most significant developments has been the Grime4Corbyn movement. Something remarkably similar happened in the run up to the 1987 election with a pro-Labour group of musicians known as Red Wedge. The most interesting difference between these two movements is, however, their perceived successes despite one movement being almost ten years in the making.

#Grime4Corbyn was inspired in large by JME’s i-D interview with Jeremy Corbyn released in full on May 18th, despite the fact that JME himself never overtly showed his support for the Labour leader. In the month following this interview, the country saw arguably the most youth-driven genre in the country mobilise to support Labour en masse. This, in turn, gave further impetus to those young voters who may have previously felt completely disenfranchised by a political system that has appeared in the past as incompetent and even irrelevant. What the movement did, and is still doing, best centres around the ability of prominent MC’s, Producers, DJ’s and grime platforms such as GRM Daily and TheLinkUp to use their very sizeable social media viewership to their full potential. Such platforms reached young voters where they least expected it, and made the usually easily avoidable news-oriented political debate something that was almost inescapable.

Emerging from the 1978 ‘Rock Against Racism’ march, Red Wedge was formed by prominent artists including Billy Bragg, Paul Weller and Tom Robinson. Taking its inspiration from musical troublemakers in the US including Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Gil Scott Heron and even British export John Lennon, Red Wedge became the catalyst for political change in the newly neo-liberal Thatcher era of the 1980’s. While punk acts such as The Sex Pistols and The Clash were largely anti-establishment, Red Wedge chose to centre its focus around the Labour party. As opposed to a change in the system as a whole, these artists downed tools and focused on a largely more realistic goal, a change in party. The same can be said for the Grime4Corbyn movement. There is little, if any, actual music coming from the artists involved, with artists at Red Wedge events largely performing existing chart hits and grime artists going about their normal performance schedule as usual.

Perhaps this is where Red Wedge simply couldn’t compete, with the 80’s movement still relying on mainstream media for exposure.

Both, then, demonstrated that it is possible to possible to have a political message while not being an expert in political science. While both have their Bragg’s and Akala’s the vast majority of the movement is made up of individuals that do not spend their days engaged overtly in politics. The Grime4Corbyn movement we are seeing now arguably benefits even more from this aspect, with the DIY Culture ethos of grime today being a direct product of hardship and struggle. This works to further incentivise young people in London and across the country who’s current situation mirrors the kind of working-class issues the artists experienced and even continue to experience now.

It is important to note also that the movement has stretched further than just the genre of Grime, with overtly political UK rappers Lowkey and Akala rubber stamping the movement as a legitimate and worthwhile cause. These two have a similar aura to the man that started the Red Wedge movement, Billy Bragg, and as a result have accrued a lot more respect within the more traditional political circles. The movement has benefited for this two-pronged attack, with the intellectual prowess of these two artists working to evidence the passionate and typically grime-esque punchy statements made by the likes of Novelist, Big Zuu and AJ Tracey.

Two days before the election, Jacobin’s Marcus Barnett wrote that ‘in cultural relevance and dynamism the Corbyn campaign will be remembered for outdoing Red Wedge, the eighties movement once seen as the height of cultural intervention in electoral politics’ but pondered whether even this would be enough. Now we know the result, it seems that at the very least a great leap forward has been taken. The dabbing can stop (i’m looking at you in particular Tom Watson), but the desire for politicians to take a genuine interest in the needs and interests of young voters can only be a good thing. The Grime4Corbyn movement does not stop with the election and neither does the need to support a change in public consensus. These artists have been able to lay out their message with the same infectious fervour and frenzy that comes to define their genre. This, in turn, has been a key factor in gradual fall of right wing mainstream media-driven hegemony that has come to define parliamentary politics for many years.


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