Politicization of Popular Culture under Thatcherism

Seminar Paper, 2003

24 Pages, Grade: 2- (B-)



1. Introduction

2. The Punk Movement
2.1. 'Crass'
2.2. 'The Clash'
2.3. 'Class War'

3. Billy Bragg

4. 'Live Aid'

5. The Acid House Movement

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

8. Affix/ CD

1. Introduction

The eleven years Margaret Thatcher was in office as Great Britain's first woman Prime Minister were for political measures as well as for popular cultural measures a very long and eventful period. Without a doubt the Thatcher Era has stamped Britain and the most prominent political events like the Falkland War, The Miners' Strike and the conflict around the Poll Tax have generally changed Britain. But how did Thatcherism influence Popular Culture in particular ? This is the question I will cope with in this work. But because popular culture in the aftermath of Punk Rock evolved in an almost inscrutable diversity, it is impossible for a work like this to analyse that field as a whole and therefore I will only concentrate on some of the most important phenomenas. Regarding the Punk Movement I will mainly concentrate on two bands : 'The Clash' and 'Crass'. Together with the 'Sex Pistols' 'The Clash' are the most popular representatives of Punk Rock and influenced and encouraged later generations of musicians. 'Crass' became by far not as popular as 'The Clash' but represent the important 'anarchist wing' of the Punk Movement and are therefore interesting with regards to political developments. I will investigate how far Thatcherism influenced the work and actions of these two bands and in which way they responded to it.

As a third phenomenon of Punk I will examine the 'Class War' organisation, which was also rooted deeply in that Movement and whose activities can be tracked over most of the time Margaret Thatcher was in power.

A totally different approach offers Billy Bragg. Although he was also influenced by Punk he very early in his career developed a totally different way of articulation and is now deemed to be one of the most important British singers and songwriters. His importance for the British music scene is underlined by the success of his recent CD release which entered the official U.K. charts in early June 2002, 20 years after his very first release. I will give regard to his musical and political development and describe which influence Thatcherism had on both.

'Live Aid' was one of the most important pop music events of the eighties. I will take a look at the creative and political background of this event and will make a connection to the political climate of the time it was organised.

Finally, at the end of the decade and close to the end of the Thatcher Era, the 'Acid House' Movement hit Britain and became the biggest musical movement since Punk Rock. 'Acid House' made way for musical developments like 'Techno' and 'Trance', which dominate the music scene till today. I will work out the most important political characteristics of that movement.

2. The Punk Movement

Since the release of Bill Haley's 'Rock Around The Clock' Movie in 1956 it was obvious that provocation and shock effects could play an important part in making artists popular and successful.[1] The main difference between that time and the early days of the Punk Movement was, that musicians and their managers knew very well about the power of shock effects and Malcom McLaren used these effects to make the Sex Pistols popular. While music and dances of the 1950s were a vehicle for youngsters to offend parents, the display of swastikas on stage and songs like 'Holiday In The Sun'[2] were ideal tools to offend 'the establishment' and to bring a band into the press . In the fairway of the Hype around 'Sex Pistols' there were thousands of bands that tried to jump on the Punk train to become rich and famous and regarded the music and attitude only as being a part of the 'Punk-Image'. But Apart from that, there were also bands that didn't only rely on shock effects and strange haircuts, but had the belief and the ability to combine the raw energy of Punk with a serious political message.[3] At the forefront of these bands there were 'The Clash' and 'Crass'.

2.1. 'Crass'

As one of the many band inspired by 'The Sex Pistols', 'Crass' started playing regular gigs in 1977. But while 'The Pistols' only sang about 'Anarchy in the U.K.', 'Crass' lived the true meaning of that phrase in their commune in North Weald, Essex. The band very soon they realised that what they wanted to achieve was very different. To stress that difference they adopted black clothing in contrast to the colourful appearance of the 'fashion' Punks.[4] They performed actions from graffiti spraying to sabotage and collected money for several causes they regarded to be important and produced leaflets that they spread during their concerts to inform about their activities. Their separation lead to a certain isolation within the Punk scene and rejection by the music press but with their first record release in 1979 the band also got in trouble with the authorities. The first song on their debut single 'Feeding Of The 5000' contained the song 'Asylum' which was judged to be blasheme and obscene. The release led to police raids in record shops and an observation of the group by Scotland Yard. But 'Crass' manoeuvred into much bigger trouble when they released the song 'How does it feel ?' after the end of the Falkland War.

"How does it feel ?

We never asked for war, nor in the innocence of our birth

were we aware of it.

We never asked for war, nor in the struggle to Realisation

did we feel there was a need for it.[...]

How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead?

Young boys rest now, cold graves in cold earth.

How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead?

Sunken eyes, lost now; empty sockets in futile death.[...]

Your blood soaked reason ruled out other choices.

Your mockery gagged more moderate voices.

So keen to play your bloody part,

so impatient that your war be fought.

Iron Lady with your stone heart

so eager that the lesson be taught. [...]"[5]

The release of the song created a scandal with heavy reaction on sides of the press and the Tory Party, who ordered their M.P. Tim Eggar to deal with the case and bring it to court.

On October 21st, 1982 'The Guardian' newspaper wrote :

"Prosecute Falkland record, says M.P. [...]

The Attorney General, Sir Michael Havers, has been asked by the Conservative MP, [...], Mr. Tim Eggar, to prosecute an Anti Falklands record under the Obscene Publication Act. [...] Mr. Eggar said: "This is the most vicious, scurrilous and obscene record that has ever been produced."[6]

Two days earlier, the 'Daily Mirror' newspaper wrote:

"Feeling so Nasty. Shock single with a sick message. By Robin Eggar [brother of M.P. Tim Eggar].

Rock Music is often used by the young to voice their protest. However distasteful the Sex Pistols appeared in 1977, their songs were a chilling warning of the coming recession. But anarchist band 'Crass' have gone too far. They released last week the most revolting and unnecessary record I have ever heard. [...] is a vicious and obscene attack on Margaret Thatcher's motives for engaging the Falklands war [...]"[7]

The need to react to the incidents in the Falklands resulted in a hostile reaction the band never expected and that almost ended their career. In an interview, Penny Rimbaud, drummer of 'Crass' remembered:

"Then basically we didn't get threatened with any sort of prosecution until after the Falklands War. We released "How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead", which referred to Thatcher obviously. She was actually asked in the Prime Minister's question time, whether she 'd listened to the record by a sympathetic left-wing member of Parliament, sympathetic to us, that is.[...] We ended up on the radio being confronted by Tim Eggar. Basically he was completely flattened by our arguments."[8]

After Eggar's failure the Tory Party turned down the attempt to submit the case to a court. They confined themselves to circulate a note in which the members were ordered not to respond to any further provocation by 'Crass'.[9] Also the scandal turned out all right and the band even received letters of support from several members of parliament[10], 'Crass' suddenly found themselves in a position difficult to cope with:

"We found ourselves in a strange and frightening arena. We had wanted to make our views public, had wanted to share them with like-minded people, but now those views were being analysed by those dark shadows who inhabited the corridors of power. [...] It was as if we'd hooked for a whale while fishing for minnows."[11]

'Crass' were at a crossroad. In the aftermath of the Falkland war all oppositional organisations were weak. As the campaign for the '83 elections started the group decided to put out a new record as a 'tactical response' to the situation.[12]

They released the album 'Yes Sir, I will' but it was their production of the so-called 'Thatchergate Tapes' that should put them band back on the political stage. They edited a telephone conversation between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and sent tapes of it to newspapers all over the world.[13] In this pseudo conversation Thatcher revealed secret details about the loss of the British Battleship 'HMS Sheffield' and admitted responsibility for the sinking of the Argentine Battleship 'General Belgrano', that cost the life of 323 sailors, and was the turning point of the War in the Falklands.[14] As a response Reagan announced the nuclear destruction of Europe in order to protect America. For almost one year there was no reaction. Then the tapes appeared in the State Department in Washington D.C., where they were investigated and taken as a serious attempt of the Russian KGB to discredit both politicians. At that point also the media became interested in the tapes and although 'Crass' had tried to eliminate all traces that could bring them into connection with the tape they received an interview request by a journalist from 'The Observer'.[15] The band admitted their involvement and were once again in the focus of the press. This time the circumstances for the band were completely changed. The press was amazed about the fact, that

"[...] a bunch of Punks had made such idiots of the State Department.".[16]

'Crass' suddenly received international publicity, they were invited for interviews by the Russian and American media and used the a new platform to inform about their ideas and causes. But their new status as 'media stars' created a conflict with their ideals because they had become what they once attacked. This conflict changed the chemistry within the group and influenced their work. Also they planned years before, to end their musical career in the 'Orwell year', a split of the band now seemed to be inevitable. In the summer of 1984 'Crass' played a last gig together, a concert for the benefit of the South Wales miners.[17] In an interview guitar-player 'G-Sus' described the changes that finally led to the split of the band :

"We'd always said that we'd stop in 1984, which is really what we did. [...] The fun has gone out of it really. The jokes are there, but they're very black, unlike 'Feeding of the 5000', which is full of sort of [...] I think it's very funny, I think it's very lively,[...], but I mean you play it next to 'Yes Sir' I think it's an enormous difference. And I don't think any of us wanted to share that blackness, really, and that way anymore."[18]

His band partner Penny Rimbaud describes the end of the band even more precisely:

"[...] We were a band for political reasons, [...], we were producing stuff out of response [to] social situations. [...] I think we became increasingly angry, increasingly aware of our impotence, which make our work increasingly more desperate. But it was desperate in response to what was happening in the country, or globally, at that time."[19]

2.2. 'The Clash'

Although 'The Clash' supported 'The Sex Pistols' on their 1977 'Anarchy In The U.K.'-Tour, they had a totally different interpretation of being a Punk band. Where the 'Sex Pistols' were only nihilists with a main focus on the destruction of the status quo, 'The Clash' were political protesters with songs about racism[20], imperialism[21] or Police Brutality[22]. Their lyrics also were determined by an idealistic optimism, that not only distinguished them from 'The Sex Pistols' but also from other British contemporaries like 'Fun-Punks' of 'The Damned' or the American 'Ramones'. In addition there was their ability to push the musical limits of Punk-Rock by combining it with Reggae[23] or Rockabilly.[24] The combination proved to be very successful, and already their second album ('Give 'Em Enough Rope') hit position 2 in the official U.K.

salescharts. Their success took them into a conflict right from the start of their career, when they signed a contract with CBS Records in 1977 for an advance of 200 000 Pounds. But in the early years the band proved to be strong enough to resist the pressure and released several top 20 records that recouped the record company's investment.

The album 'London Calling', that was released in 1979, contained a song, that is very important regarding the 'will to fight' that marked the earlier period of 'The Clash'.

"I'm not down

If it's true that a rich man leads a sad life

N' that's what they do from day to day

The what do all the poor do with their lives?

Have nothing to say on judgement day?

I've been beaten up, I've been thrown out

But I'm not down, I'm not down

I've been shown up, but I've grown up

And I'm not down, I'm not down


But I know there'll be some way

When I can swing everything back my way

Like skyscrapers rising up

Floor by floor, I'm not giving up."[25]

The attitude, that is described in this songs is important regarding the further development of the Clash but it also underlines, that the band could cope with the pressure that was put on them by their success and the money they had received. The following album releases 'Sandinista !' (1980) and 'Combat Rock' (1982) underlined a further political and musical development of the band. In 1985, after three years without a release, the Clash split up after touring the U.S. with 'The Who'.

In 1986 singer Joe Strummer reformed 'The Clash' without former guitar player Mick Jones but the first release of the new formation proved, that not only Mick Jones had left the band but also a great deal of their spirit and creativity. However, 'Cut the Crap' contained one of the most important songs of the Punk Era in Great Britain. The song 'This Is England' is the attempt to strike a balance of the Punk movement to that point of time.

"This is England

I hear a gang fire on human factory farm

Are they howling out or doing somebody harm

On catwalk jungle somebody grabbed my arm

A voice spoke so cold it matched the weapon in the palm

This is England

This knife of Sheffield steel

This is England

This is how we feel [...]

Black shadow of the Vincent

Falls on a triumph line

I got my motorcycle jacket

But I'm walking all the time

South Atlantic wind blows

Ice from a dying creed

I see no glory

When will we be free [...]"[26]

The comparison of 'This Is England' and 'I'm not down' describes not only the development within the attitude of 'The Clash', but also the development within the whole Punk movement that was due to the political situation. Apart from the metaphors of the lyrics and the pictures of 'coldness' and 'deadness', it is the vocal performance of Joe Strummer, that creates an atmosphere of hopelessness and defeat. It is the confession of a failure, the resignation that followed the realisation that the energy of the Punk movement was absorbed by the establishment. An establishment represented by the authority of an 'Iron Lady', that already was in office for six years, when 'This is England' was released. The recognition of the powerlessness of their movement especially hit a band with such high ideals like 'The Clash' extremely hard. After 'Cut the Crap' they split up forever.

2.3. 'Class War'

Class War started in 1983 as publication by a small group of people and was targeted to members of the still large Punk community as well as to supporters of several anarchistic and pacifistic movements. According to the name, the group and their publications were supporting violence to achieve political aims.

"Class War doesn't shy away from violence, it promotes open class violence – the idea of people fighting a common enemy."[27]

'Class War' received a great deal of attention during the miner's strike from 1984-1985 because the authors called for 'direct physical support' and gained popularity among the miners.[28] Encouraged by that success the group decide to organise demonstrations – so called 'Bash the Rich' - marches through prosperous districts of London. By 1985 the circulation of 'Class War' reached 12000 copies.[29] One reason for the increase were the sequence of riots in suburbs of London and Birmingham. The riots occured between the police and predominantly black youth and arose from bad social conditions, unemployment and racial discrimination as well as from hostile relations between the police and the community. 'Class War' of course blamed the police for the riots and gained more and more popularity in the critical communities . The new situation demanded a reorganisation of the group into a national federation with smaller groups all over the country.[30] In 1988 'Class War' organised a national promotion tour called 'Rock against the Rich' which also featured 'Ex-Clash' Joe Strummer. The tour proved to be very successful and was by that time the biggest campaign ever put on by an alternative organisation. By 1989 the 'Class War' publication had emerged into a six-weekly full colour tabloid and in the next years their supporters became the forefront of the upcoming anti-poll tax riots.[31] The biggest of these riots happened in March 31st 1990, when more than 100.000 people gathered for a demonstration march from Kensington Park to Trafalgar Square. A small group of protesters staged a sit down at Downing Street and the situation escalated after the Policed tried to put them away. At that day 400 arrests where made and the riots caused damage of about 400.000 Pounds.[32] After the repeal of the Poll Tax 'Class War' started to organise international group and spread their actions to the European continent and the U.S..[33]

3. Billy Bragg

One of the best examples for an artist whose work and life were influenced and politicized by Thatcherism is Billy Bragg. As a singer and songwriter his commercial and mainstream chart-success remained behind singers like Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel, but his influence on the British music scene is undoubted. After collaborations with several important musicians like 'The Smith' or 'REM', in 1998 he reached a peak in his career. His album 'Mermaid Avenue' was nominated for a Grammy Award and included in the Rolling Stone's magazine's list of the most influential albums of the '90s. The album was initiated by Nora Guthrie, daughter of U.S. folk legend Woody Guthrie. She approached Billy Bragg to offer him unreleased lyrics of her father to write tunes to them. In an interview with 'The Independent newspaper' in November 2000 Bragg was asked if a comparison of himself to Bob Dylan could be justified. Bragg answered:

"[...] There is a direct line from a singer-songwriter like myself, whose writing is social commentary, that goes back to Bob Dylan via 'The Clash'. But really Dylan is not the father of this tradition, Woody Guthrie is."[34]

The fact, that Bragg and not Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen e.g., as American heirs to Guthrie were asked to do the project, may be a proof his musical and political importance . The success of 'Mermaid Avenue' led to a sequel of the project. 'Mermaid Avenue 2" was released in 2000 and also nominated for the Grammy.[35]

Billy Bragg was born in December 1957 in Barking, Essex. He was 19 years old when the Punk movement started to change popular culture in Britain and anywhere else in the world. Mainly Influenced by 'The Clash', his first step into the music business was the formation of an own band . But despite these Punk roots he joined a tank regiment of the British Army in 1981. In an Interview with readers of the Independent newspaper he said about this decision:

"I ended up in the army because I wanted to go away and not have a past. Also I didn't have much choice, it was that or the Ford Motor Company. But once you've driven one tank, you've driven them all. It took me three month to work out it wasn't for me."[36]

He bought his way out again for 175 Pounds. Although this was only a short career in the army it was a experience that influenced his later work very much. Bragg started his next attempt in the music business as a one-man band: Only armed with his voice, an electric guitar and an amplifier he played anywhere he could and soon developed his very own mixture of Punk and Folk music, combined with political lyrics. By his massive presence on stage he soon gained a certain popularity in the London underground scene and managed to grab some time in a recordings studio. The result of that studio session was his first Album 'Life's A Riot with Spy Vs. Spy' which was released in 1983 and hit the U.K. Top 30 in early 1984. In an interview Bragg compared his further development after his first album:

"The first album had ideas on it [...] that were ignited by Punk but driven by the much worse reality in the early 1980s. Then in '83 Thatcher got in again. Clearly it was because of the Falklands War, it seemed to me. That was my political awakening. It was clearly because she had killed all these people. Then she got elected purely on the back on that. That shocked me. [...]"[37]

In an interview with the BBC Bragg admitted that he didn't vote when he first had the opportunity at the age of 21 in 1979:

"Part of the reason for that was because I was a Punk rocker and therefore, I believed in an anarchistic kind of haircut [...] I really couldn't discern any difference between Jim Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher."[38]

According to this personal development Bragg's songs became more and more political and his political commitment grew. He became a fixture at political rallies and benefits, particularly during the 1984/85 Miners Strike. Bragg:

"By the end of the miner's strike I was defining myself as a socialist, clued in and looking for the next opportunity to defeat the Tories. It was Margaret Thatcher's encouragement that forced me to become ideologically politicised instead of leaving it on a purely personal, humanitarian level [...]."[39]

This progression became obvious on Billy Bragg's second album 'Brewing Up with Billy Bragg' that was released in late 1984. Among the eleven song on the record there were still those personal reflections about love or relationship but the growing importance of political engagement became visible because it was a critical song like 'It says here' that opened the record. This song clearly targeted the 'popular' press and their overwhelming support for Thatcher:

"It say here

It say here that the Unions will never learn

It says here that the economy is on the upturn

And it says here we should be proud

That we are free

And our free press reflects our democracy

Those braying voices on the right of the House

Are echoed down the street of shame

Where politics mix with bingo and tits

In a strictly money and numbers game [...]

If this does not reflect your view you should understand

That those who own the papers also own this land [...]

Could it be an infringement

Of the freedom of the press

To print pictures of women in states of undress

When you wake up to the fact

That your paper is Tory

Just remember, there are two sides to every story."[40]

In the song 'Island of no Return' Bragg worked up the war in the Falklands and his own experiences as a soldier:

"Island Of No Return


I hate this flat land, there's no cover

for sons and fathers and brothers and lovers

I can take the killing, I can take the slaughter

But I don't talk to sun reporters

I never thought that I would be

Fighting fascists in the southern sea

I saw one today and in his hand

Was a weapon that was made in Birmingham [...]

I wish Kipling[41] and the Captain were here

To record our pursuits for posterity

Me an the Corporal out on a spree

Damned from here to eternity."[42]

The 1985 released record 'Between The Wars' was another step in Billy Bragg's development from an almost apolitical 'Punk Rock Rebel' to a highly political songwriter and activist. On that 4 Track E.P. he performed a battle song which was originally written by Lee Hays[43] and adapted it to the situation of the striking miners in 1985.

"Which side are you on

This government had an idea

And parliament made it law

It seems like it's illegal

To fight for the union any more

Which side are you on, boy [...]

I'm bound to follow my conscience

And do whatever I can

But it'll take much more than the union law

To knock the fight out of a working man [...]"

Bragg only adopted the refrain from Lee Hays original. The division of society into two parts, as it was produced by this question and the connection with terms like 'fight', 'working man' or 'Union' is a mirror for the radicalisation that took place in his work. The radicalisation on the other hand was due to the more and more desperate situation of the miners. 'Which side are you on' asked: Are you on our side or are you on the side of Thatcher?.

At the height of Bragg's political party involvement in the mid-'80s he agreed to help the Labour Party to find new ways to attract young voters. He became founding member of the 'Red Wedge', a coalition of musicians, comedians and actors, who toured the U.K. in support for Labour Party for their 1987 election campaign.[44] [45]

Members of the Red Wedge were the musicians Paul Weller ('The Jam', 'The Style Council'), Richard Coles ('Bronski Beat', 'The Communards'), Jimmy Summerville ('The Communards'), Jerry Dammers ('The Specials'), Rat Scabies ('The Damned'), Roland Gift ('Fine Young Cannibals'), Kirsty McColl, Tom Robinson, comedian Ben Elton and actor Robbie Coltrane.[46]

Although their huge support, the Labour was not able to win the 1987 election and 'Red Wedge' disbanded.[47]

In the same year Bragg released 'Talking with the Taxman about poetry', a record that still included battlesome songs like 'There's Power in a Union' and 'Ideology'.[48]

In 1988 he released 'Worker's Playtime' which was different to his earlier releases because it shifted the focus from the confrontation of different ideologies towards a more personal view of the political and social situation.[49] In the song 'The great leap forward' he even tries to work up his own position as a political musician:

"The great leap forward


Mixing Pop and Politics he asks me what the use is

I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses

While looking down the corridor

Out to where the van is waiting

I'm looking for the Great Leap Forwards [...]"[50]

In 1990 Billy Bragg returned to his ideoligical influenced work by releasing the mini-album 'The Internationale', which, apart from the socialist battle song contained the highly political song 'The Red Flag'. 'The Internationale'[51] was his last release under Thatcher.

4. Live Aid

A BBC documentary by Michael Buerk, that was telecasted in October 1984, described the hopeless famine situation in Ethiopia, where more than 1.2 million people starved to death. Shocked by these images, Bob Geldof, lead singer of the New-Wave band 'Boomtown Rats'[52] decided to raise money to help the starving people. Because Geldof did not trust in the commercial power of his own band, he organised the 'Band Aid' which consisted of forty of the most popular musician from the U.K.. The Band produced a record ('Do they know it's Christmas') that was put out before Christmas 1984 and earned more than 8 Million Pounds all over the world. It is the fastest selling single ever.[53]

This unexpected huge success encouraged Bob Geldof to increase his efforts. In early 1985 he started organising a concert that should become "[...] the biggest fund-raising event, the biggest TV-Event and the biggest concert in history."[54] Live Aid took place on July 13th 1985, simultaneous in the Wembley Stadium in London and the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. The concerts, that were supported by top acts like U2, Queen, Madonna, Phil Collins or Elton John, were viewed by 1.6 billion people in 156 countries and raised about 40 Million Pounds for the starving people in Ethiopia.

Live Aid had a huge impact on Pop Music and Popular Culture in general and it also altered their position within society. It was organised by a man that was far from being a political or social activist. At the beginning of his career Bob Geldof said:

"All I want out of pop music is to get rich, get famous and get laid."[55]

Bono Vox, singer of the famous Irish band 'U 2' describes in and interview with the 'Spiegel', that Geldof wasn't always certain whether he was doing the right thing:

"Spiegel-Magazine: War nicht der später zum Ritter geschlagene Musiker Bob Geldof für 'Live Aid' von 1985 verantwortlich?

Bono Vox: Am Ende schon, aber erst wollte er nicht und nörgelte: "Hört auf, Jungs, lasst mich in Ruhe. Wir sind Rockbands. Wir sind ein Stück Plastik. Lasst uns damit Spaß haben und uns nicht unsere Zeit an große Ideen verschwenden."[56]

The event showed that Pop Music had a cultural worthiness that reached beyond the 'plastic image' and the greed for fame and fortune, and that it could create enough power to save people from starvation.[57]

In an interview with the 'Spiegel', Bob Geldof describes the changes that Live Aid made possible:

"Live Aid was about creating a political lobby for taking an issue nowhere on the political agenda and placing it at the top. The potential death of 13 million people in Africa at that time was obscene.[...] The event was watched by 1,7 billion people and as a result I could go to the White House, Downing Street and the Elyseé-Palace. And we were able to help change 37 laws as a result, and the United Nations discussed Africa for the first time."[58]

Live Aid made no political statements and had no political oppositional attitude or shock effects like Woodstock. It wasn't planned as a public accusation of a mistaken policy either. But the whole event itself became very oppositional by asking the question 'Why is Africa not on the political agenda ?'. By asking that question and by the mobilisation of millions of people all over the world, Pop Music demonstrated its political power and underlined the failure of politics. People started to ask, why a disaster like in Ethiopia was possible and who was responsible for it. It was also remarkable, that an event like Live Aid could happen in the political and social climate of the '80s. Where the striking miners felt the lack of solidarity, the concert showed that there was a lot of solidarity left within society. Or as Bono Vox described:

"Wir mögen naiv gewesen sein am Anfang und unsere Haarschnitte vielleicht sogar unverzeihlich, aber dank Leuten wie uns konnte in den materialistischen kalten achtziger Jahren, wo es hieß 'Gier ist gut', ein Klima für etwas wie 'Live Aid'

überhaupt erst entstehen."[59]

5. The Acid House Movement

In the late eighties a new style of dance music became popular in the British club scene. It was a mixture of different house music styles from the U.S. and European dance music from Italy and Spain. The new 'Acid House' was purely rhythm- orientated and besides its total lack of lyrics or longer vocal parts it was only produced to work on the dancefloor and not as music to listen to at home. Computers, synthesizers and samplers were the sources of the new sound and only these machines were able to create the monotony that distinguished Acid House . Along with the new music a new kind of drug was introduced to the scene: 'Ecstasy'. The combination of both made the 'Acid-House' movement the biggest influence on popular culture since the early Punk Rock days. But where Punk Rock wanted to shock and provoke the establishment, 'Acid House' offered an opportunity to escape from reality and the pressures of everyday-life. With the help of 'Exctasy', the so-called 'Ravers' could dance for hours. The music wasn't a medium to express attitudes but only an instrument to escape from reality. With its emphasis on the retreat from society and the lack of provocation and shock elements, 'Acid House' could at first develop unnoticed by society. The scene moved from Clubs into illegal locations like former warehouses and closed factories to celebrate without disturbance. But as these events became bigger and bigger, the press as well as the authorities became attentive. In 1989 the situation of the 'Acid House' movement changed dramatically. The press emphasized the drug abuse in the scene while the police tried to stop the illegal events. The new pressure that was put on the scene led to a totally new alliance which was rooted in the mid-eighties. In 1985 a massive police operation cancelled the traditional music festival at Stonehenge.[60] The Stonehenge festival, that was attended be more than 50000 people in 1984, was one of the centres of the so-called 'traveller-culture', a widespread community of people, living and travelling around the country in caravans. The 'travellers' showed the most extreme form of rejection of the system and lived their lives as dropouts of society. During the whole year they performed so-called 'peace convoys' that didn't only lead them to demonstrations at American Army bases or British military facilities but also to a great number of outdoor music festivals.[61] The termination of their biggest event in Stonehenge was only the beginning of the Thatcher government's attempt to restrict the traveller culture. In the 'Public Order Act' of 1986 the government tried to outlaw the 'peace convoy' and gatherings of the travellers.[62] The five sections of the Act, that were concerned with topics from 'Riot' to 'Harassment, alarm or distress'[63] gave the police new powers to control assemblies and processions.[64] As an example, the police then had the power to order people to leave a place if they were believed to be a) preparing an event, b) waiting for an event to start or c) actually attending an event. Ignoring the directions of the police could lead to 3 month imprisonment or a fine of 1000 Pounds[65] As a consequence of the 'Public Order Acts', that criminalised most parts of the traveller scene, there were more and more violent turnouts of participants of the musical events and 'peace convoys. This threat almost disabled the network of the travellers and more and more traditional gatherings disappeared in the following years.[66]

In 1989 began a cooperation between remaining parts of the traveller culture and the 'Acid House' ravers. The travellers brought in their experience and know-how to staff and run events that could last for days and not just for hours, like the illegal 'Acid House' Parties. The travellers also knew about good places for these events while the ravers had the new electronic sound and the popular drug 'Ecstasy'.[67] The result of this cooperation was a series of huge open air raves in 1989 and 1990 that also enforced the mainstream success with the first 'Acid House' tracks hitting the official U.K. sales-charts. The Thatcher Government reacted in the same way they did with the travellers years before but this time, the conflict exceeded her term in office. The Public Order Act from 1986 proved not to be efficient enough and was tightened by the 'Criminal Justice Bill'[68] of 1993 and the 'Criminal Justice Act' of 1994.[69]

6. Conclusion

The different examples reveal, that there was no 'typical' way of politicization under Thatcher and no representative developments or movements.

The two biggest movements , Punk and Acid House, even reacted in a totally opposit way : Punk started as a powerful, aggressiv and shocking movement and developed into a movement of retreat. 'Acid House' started as being an area of retreat and developed into a powerful demontration of independence of youngsters, which the government could only react to by specialized laws. The development of Punk happened in two stages. The shock effects only were successful als long as there were also shock reactions by the establishments. After the effects faded away only the bands that were based on ideology and politics rather than fashion remained. The two examples I discussed show that these 'ideologists' failed when they discovered, that their music did not have enough power to change society. Far from it, the establishment, impersonated by Margaret Thatcher was more and more strengthened. The helplessness of 'The Clash' was worded in their song 'This Is England'. 'Crass' expressed it in their rather naive attempt with the 'Thatchergate'-Tapes. The popularity they received after the affair only discovered their lack of 'know how' regarding politics. A situation, Penny Rimbaud described as 'impotence'.

'Class War', as the third example, was in a way able to benefit from the failure of the Punk movement by offering an even more radical and violent attitude than 'The Clash' or 'Crass' ever had. 'Class War' very early aquired the necessary 'know how' to use events like the miner's strike or the 'Poll Tax' riots as a platform for their own political work and as a medium to increase their popularity.

'Acid House' started as a movement of retreat, based on the disillusionment that, for some parts, was also initiated by the failure of 'Punk'. It was an offer to escape from society – not to change it. But by the pressure that was put on it, the movement became a political one, because people were forced to protect their areas of retreat. Through the cooperation with the skillful traveller culture the political escapism changed to political activism. The rather harmless parties changed into huge festivals that became demonstrations of independence and rejection of the establishment

Among the given examples, Billy Bragg is the one with the longest political biography. After his his change from an unpolitical 'Punk-Rocker' to a political artist and activist, a development that he himself stated explicitly as a reaction to Thatcherism, he realized the importance to cope even with political set backs. Bragg managed to arrange himself with an longer lasting oppositional role, an ability 'The Clash' for example did not have. In that way Billy Bragg drew nearer to a party political activism that was laid out for longer periods. This activism included an approach to the Labour Party and had a peak with the founding of 'Red Wedge'.

A special position among the investigated phenomenons takes 'Live Aid'. Although it only was single event, its effects on Pop Music and Popular Culture were notable. 'Live Aid' demonstrated, that Pop Music had Power. Where the 'Punk Movement' exploited shock effects, 'Live Aid' exploited the commercial value of 'Pop' as a product to achieve its goals. Bob Geldof used the rules of marketing and business for reasons that went beyond anything that was known regarding 'Pop-Concerts'. 'Live Aid' became a symbol for solidarity in a period of time, that Bono Vox of U2 described as dominated by a 'Gier ist gut' mentality.

7. Bibliography

1. Street, John: Shock Waves. The authoritative response to popular culture, in: Come On Down. Popular Media Culture in Post War Britain, ed. by Dominic Strinati and Stephen Wagg, London 1992

2. http://www.southern.com/southern/band/CRASS/index.html

3. http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/09422b.html

4. http://www.furious.com/perfect/pennyrimbaud.html

5. http://www.syntac.net/hoax/crass.php

6. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_812000/812146.stm

7. http://www.furious.com/perfect/gsus.html

8. http://www.tao.ca/~lemming/classwar/thisis.htm

9. http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/awg/awg_thatcher1.html

10. Thorne, Tony: Dictionary of popular culture, London 1994.

11. http://www.caliach.com/paulr/violence/riots/polltax.html

12. http://www.billybragg.co.uk/words/words14.html

13. http://www.lipmagazine.org/articles/revitalvi_82.htm

14. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_1859000/1859487.stm

15. http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/zobbel/bragg_19.htm

16. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/presenters/richard-coles.shtml

17. http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A514621

18. http://www.cyberspace7.btinternet.co.uk/bandaid.htm

19. http://www.bobgeldof.info/archive.htm

20. http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,142773,00.html

21. http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/musik/o,1518,174774-3,00.html

22. http://www.abisti.demon.co.uk/hedonism

23. http://nwhsa.redblackandgreen.net/public_order_act_1986.htm

24. http://www.idmu.co.uk/lsd.htm

25. http://www.urban75.org/legal/cja.html

26. http://www.libertarian.org/LA/crimjust.html

27. http://www.algroup.co.uk/wpb/people/fraser/freaserrep.htm

8. Affix

- CD with musical examples

#1 "Crass" - "Intro/ How does it feel"

#2 "The Clash" - "I'm not down"

#3 "The Clash" - "This is England"

#4 Billy Bragg - "It says here"

#5 Billy Bragg - "Island of no return"

#6 Billy Bragg - "Great leap forward"

#7 Billy Bragg - "The Internationale"


[1] Street, John: Shock Waves. The authoritative response to popular culture, in: Come On Down. Popular Media Culture in Post War Britain, ed. by Dominic Strinati and Stephen Wagg, London 1992, S. 304

[2] A referrence to the NS concentration camp Bergen Belsen

[3] Street, John: Shock Waves. The authoritative response to popular culture, in: Come On Down. Popular Media Culture in Post War Britain, ed. by Dominic Strinati and Stephen Wagg, London 1992 S. 304

[4] http://www.southern.com/southern/band/CRASS/index.html

[5] vergl. # 1 Affix

[6] http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/09422b.html

[7] http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/09422b.html

[8] http://www.furious.com/perfect/pennyrimbaud.html

[9] http://www.southern.com/southern/band/CRASS/index.html

[10] http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/09422c.html

[11] http://www.southern.com/southern/band/CRASS/

[12] http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/09422c.html

[13] http://www.syntac.net/hoax/crass.php

[14] http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_812000/812146.stm

[15] http://www.southern.com/southern/band/CRASS/

[16] http://www.southern.com/southern/band/CRASS/

[17] http://www.southern.com/southern/label/CRC/09422c.html

[18] http://www.furious.com/perfect/gsus.html

[19] http://www.furious.com/perfect/pennyrimbaud.html

[20] 'London's burning' on their debut record 'The Clash', 1977

[21] 'I'm so bored with the U.S.A.' on 'The Clash', 1977

[22] 'Police and Thieves' on 'The Clash', 1977

[23] 'Police and Thieves'

[24] 'Brand New Cadillac' on their record 'London Calling', 1979

[25] vergl. # 2 Affix

[26] vergl. # 3 Affix

[27] http://www.tao.ca/~lemming/classwar/thisis.htm

[28] http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/awg/awg_thatcher1.html

[29] http://www.tao.ca/~lemming/classwar/thisis.htm

[30] http://www.tao.ca/~lemming/classwar/

[31] Thorne, Tony: Dictionary of popular culture, London 1994.

[32] http://www.caliach.com/paulr/violence/riots/polltax.html

[33] http://www.tao.ca/~lemming/classwar/

[34] http://www.billybragg.co.uk/words/words14.html

[35] Woody Guthrie, originator of the US Folk tradition (Baez,Dylan), writer of political folk songs like 'This Land Is My Land'. Mermaid Avenue is the Street in New York where he lived after WWII. Unable to get a recording contract because of his left wing views and the cold war paranoia. He wrote down lyrics to more that 1000 songs that were never performed.

[36] http://www.billybragg.co.uk/words/words14.html

[37] http://www.lipmagazine.org/articles/revitalvi_82.htm

[38] http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_politics/newsid_1859000/1859487.stm

[39] http://www.lipmagazine.org/articles/revitalvi_82.htm

[40] vergl. # 4 Affix

[41] English short-story writer, novelist and poet, who celebrated the heroism of British colonial soldiers in India and Burma.

[42] vergl. # 5 Affix

[43] Lee Hays performed together with Woody Guthrie as the 'almanac singers' in the 1940s.

[44] http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/zobbel/bragg_19.htm

[45] http://www.billybragg.co.uk/biography/index.html

[46] http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/presenters/richard-coles.shtml

[47] http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A514621

[48] http://www.billybragg.co.uk/releases/albums/talking_taxman/talking4.html

[49] http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A514621

[50] vergl. # 6 Affix

[51] vergl. # 7 Affix

[52] A term for a gang in a Woody Guthrie Novel

[53] http://www.cyberspace7.btinternet.co.uk/bandaid.htm

[54] http://www.cyberspace7.btinternet.co.uk/liveaid.htm

[55] http://www.bobgeldof.info/archive.htm

[56] http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,142773,00.html

[57] Street, John: Shock Waves. The authoritative response to popular culture, in : Come On Down. Popular Media Culture in Post War Britain, ed. by Dominic Strinati and Stephen Wagg

[58] http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/musik/o,1518,174774-3,00.html

[59] http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,142773,00.html

[60] http://www.abisti.demon.co.uk/hedonism

[61] http://www.abisti.demon.co.uk/hedonism

[62] http://www.abisti.demon.co.uk/hedonism

[63] http://nwhsa.redblackandgreen.net/public_order_act_1986.htm

[64] http://www.idmu.co.uk/lsd.htm

[65] http://www.urban75.org/legal/cja.html

[66] http://www.idmu.co.uk/lsd.htm

[67] http://www.abisti.demon.co.uk/hedonism

[68] http://www.libertarian.org/LA/crimjust.html

[69] http://www.algroup.co.uk/wpb/people/fraser/freaserrep.htm

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Politicization of Popular Culture under Thatcherism
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Politicization, Popular, Culture, Thatcherism
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Marcus Welt (Author), 2003, Politicization of Popular Culture under Thatcherism, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/107532


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