Music scenes have never really detached themselves from the changing face of political discourse and social events. That music itself acts as a medium to reflect upon the changing face of society, is the one constant we can rely on. Late last year, prominent voices in the London scene came together to discuss how artists are shaping identity within the contemporary political climate, and how music production is providing the catalyst for such work. It was a discussion that focussed on the role of community, pointing towards a future of music with greater depth and authenticity.
You can tell the difference between people trying to capitalize on a trend and those who are trying to authentically sound like nothing else – Aimee Cliff
As part of the Native Sessions events series New Identities, the discussion set out to further the conversation surrounding evolving styles and diversity. Held late last year at The Pickle Factory, the London event featured various topical showcases and talks, with an annual review acting as the main showcase. The thirty-minute discussion entitled Deconstructing a Year of Change, featured Ansel Neckles from the cultural agency, Let’s Be Brief, alongside associate editor of The FADER Aimee Cliff, director of the Butterz label Elijah, and music lecturer Tony Nwachukwu acting as moderator. By focussing on some of the today’s more prominent artists, and their subsequent styles and commentary, the analysts painted a world where community plays a more integral role than ever before.
Fabric’s temporary closure, Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy Awards performance, and the rising prominence of grime within the mainstream media were all cited as key moments. “It’s the year of independence, and artists recognizing their power as platforms,” acknowledged Ansel. Reflecting in particular to Run The Jewels, and the video produced for DJ Shadow alongside director Sam Pilling, Neckles refers to the need for counter-cultural narratives, something the hip-hop group excel in. “We’re looking at an era of Trump, and we’re looking at an era of Brexit and we’re looking at how folks can shape political spaces through poisonous rhetoric, and these guys really effectively tackle that, with this video being a clear abstract embodiment of these things.”
It’s the year of independence and artists recognizing their power as platforms – Ansel Kneckles
The discussion also acknowledged the impact of grime, and its overall messaging. “People have realized over the past couple of years that you can be yourself, and be widely accepted” Elijah notes. Alongside fellow cohort Skilliam, Elijah runs the distinguished imprint Butterz, a label that has released music from the likes of Swindle, Terror Danjah, Royal-T and more. Taking note of award-winning Skepta’s popularity and mainstream prominence, Elijah notes that his authenticity has been an integral part of his success; “Skepta, him being himself in 2016, is the most important thing right now.”
It’s about making people uncomfortable, art should be about that
– Ansel Neckles
Identity politics and authenticity within music scenes is becoming ever more important in our current times, and today’s music community is at that very heart. “For me, it’s a year of increased urgency, [and] has been a kick up the arse for many of us politically and financially” Ansel Neckles poignantly pointed out. As with the artists represented within the discussion – Solange, Kendrick Lamar, Elysia Crampton – the music of our generation, is responding to the needs of its time.
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