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Shambalans Say: ‘Protect the Punk’

We were chatting to our mates over at Shambala Festival recently about their event, and we got all passionate and riled-up about ‘the state of the music industry’ and the usual things that music journos talk about over their 4th pint on a Wednesday. We gave them carte blanche to tell us a little about what makes Shambala’s ethos different, and this is what we got back – the first in an occasional series.

Pussy Riot braving the Soviet snow and secret police to express their views.

Where have all our angry musicians gone? Well if they live in places such as Russia, Burma, Iraq or Indonesia they are probably in prison facing torture, sent forcibly to ‘re-education camps’ or being fatally stoned to death.

The Brit Awards last month – the apparent bastion of all that is good and great in the UK music industry – was again hijacked by the kind of crass and showbiz flashiness associated with an episode of X Factor. I wouldn’t be surprised if Simon Cowell had indeed masterminded the whole production of the event. The same old musicians performed their mundane, formulaic songs, complete with forgettable lyrics. A celebrity studded industry crowd sat around their dinner tables slapping each other’s backs. It was a depressing reflection of the commercialisation of a powerful art form that has the ability to challenge and confront the status quo.

It is good to see that Morrissey, front man of The Smiths, hasn’t lost his “big mouth”: at a recent gig in Buenos Aires, his backing band wore ‘I hate Wills and Kate’ t-shirts, against the back drop of war rhetoric about the Falkland Islands. But sadly Morrissey seems to be one of the few well-known musicians that is still willing to make controversial statements, whilst most shy away from any overtly ideological or political statement.

Dissent and provocation is what punk performers have set in their hearts. I don’t mean the manufactured parody of Malcolm McLaren’s Sex Pistols, which was always more of a fashion statement than a political one, but seminal acts such as the anarchist band Crass from the UK and The Dead Kennedys from the States. This is music that scares the authorities: they prefer a subservient youth.

Some may think punk is dead but its spirit is awakening all over the world where young people are daring to wear clothes that shock and writing lyrics that shame the states that rule them. They are challenging repressive regimes by expressing their individuality against the mainstream.

In Russia, where denouncing rulers is extremely dangerous, Pussy Riot protect their anonymity by wearing day-glow coloured woolen balaclavas. Two alleged members of the all-girl punk band are currently facing eight years in prison for hooliganism, much to the grave concern of human rights agencies. Their crime? Staging an impromptu gig from the pulpit of a Moscow church where they sang songs opposing Putin’s scandalous disregard of the democratic process.

Last December, in the Indonesian province of Aceh, which is under the jurisdiction of Sharia Law, 64 people who had come from all over the country for a punk gig were arrested and taken to a detention center where their Mohican hairstyles were shaved off and they were forced to undergo “moral training”.

It is a strange paradox that the same sub-culture movement that scared our grannies and offended milder sensibilities in the streets of Britain now needs our protection internationally. There is now a Danish charity called Freemuse that claims to be “the world’s leading organisation advocating freedom of expression for musicians”

Freedom of Speech is a human right, as is the right to be who you want to be. Any state that quashes the individuality of its youth does so with shame and potentially blood on their hands.

-Sidharth Sharma

Shambala Festival can be investigated further here.

 



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