I’m slightly torn by showing up at a protest against someone like Donald Trump, who thrives on attention and controversy. What if the clown came to town and nobody paid him any attention? I’m also consistently irritated by the manner in which the US dominates all discourse about global politics, including creative resistance and dialogue against that same power. And look here I am writing about it (I am aware of the irony). If you were to listen to BBC R4 (also guilty) as an alien you would swear that about 50% of this planet’s population must live in this United States country as most of the stories appear to be about it. Every week seems to feature a story about someone from Trump’s inner circle spilling their guts and it being another nail in his coffin (yet here he is); or about the US national debt; or their deficit; or opium problem; or anything else from there. I would love to hear far less about the place generally, even if there is so much beautiful music eminating from there. Does showing up at a protest even achieve anything, particularly when it’s not a direct action? In the past I attended protests which were soul-destroying, banal marching in circles affairs, punctuated by boilerplate trotskyist call-and-response shouting on a megaphone from some shrivelled old lettuce in an army jacket.
It was only when I went to the anti-Brexit R3 soundsystem during the summer that a huge penny finally dropped. I’d been to RTS events before, but to me those were sort of an event in themselves, with their own message about car culture and city life, rather than a protest against something. Of course – it was obvious all along. Just listen to loud house music and get a bit wasted with several hundred other people. I mean, this is generally what I do for a good time in most other weeks of my life, so why not extend that same ethos into a protest. And so wandering around the West End after that event, once again I was drunk with the joy, community, and potential liberatory power of 4/4 music in an inner urban setting.
Did the Tories decide to reverse the Brexit process after seeing several hundred ravers dancing in front of a truck on a side street off Piccadilly? Did the Leave voting flat earthers suddenly have an epiphany / damascene conversion after hearing some UK garage in front of the national portrait gallery at the end of a pro-EU march? Did Donald Trump, upon hearing “Been a Long Time” at the end of the Mall and a few hundred people whooping and cheering, take a long look in the mirror and change his views on pretty much everything he believes in? Well, you know the answers. BUT: what is the alternative? Stay at home with the TV / Netflix on and just accept that what the right wing bigwigs say will be, will be? There has to be some resistance to this oppressive nonsense. And it is far better that it takes the form of bumping, thumping speaker stacks which bring people together and stamps their legacy on your neural pathways with endorphins, rather than some miserable soggy-placard waving, with tired speeches that you already agree with.
Perhaps one niggling doubt in the back of my mind, having attended three of the R3 sound systems now, is the central message articulated via the mic or the publicity channels, which tend to have an “anti-” this thing or “fuck” that person. The music is of course the unifying, uplifting message, and you only have to look at the calibre of the people playing (or who want to play, but it gets shut down before they get their slot!) to realise its potential reach beyond your traditional ‘ardkore acid tekno rave roots. But maybe more of an emphasis of the positive vibes from the collective situation would be welcome.
As the most recent one was getting the inevitable chop from the old bill (seriously, do they not have anything better to do with themselves) there were the parting messages from the PA of “fuck…” followed by a roll call of the usual bogeymen, greeted by the jeers/cheers from the crowd. It felt like a slightly negative sour end to what had been a fun evening. But then, someone else came forward to the mic after a few minutes of silence and cleanup. I don’t know who it was as I couldn’t see the stage, but it was with a message in a south London lilt, asking the crowd to remember that people everywhere, from Hong Kong to Chile, were coming together and protesting in different ways, and that this was part of that wave of actions. It was short and unscripted and a bit chaotic, but heartfelt, and felt like a flicker of hope in an ever increasing atmosphere of the fading of the light. It was enough to send me on my way home with renewed hunger and anticipation for the next R3 outing.