‘Backstop, Backstop, Backstop!’: The New, Diverse Protest Music

The Belfast Ensemble

‘Backstop, Backstop, Backstop!’: The New, Diverse Protest Music

Belfast composer Conor Mitchell, US country groups Front Country and 10 String Symphony, English folk singer Martin Simpson, and Greta Thunberg and The 1975 have all recently released music that engages with current political and climate issues.

Music continues to be released that engages with the major political and environmental issues of our time. The climate emergency has inspired a range of music and song, but the racist policies of the current US president and the tensions caused by Brexit are also influencing new music across genres.

‘Backstop, Backstop, Backstop!’
Belfast composer Conor Mitchell recently premiered his work Lunaria at the Southbank Centre in London. The work is a ‘semi-political piece’ that traces events over the past two years, including the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry, and which also makes specific reference to Brexit. The work builds to a climax where the voices repeatedly sing ‘Backstop, Backstop, Backstop!’ Mitchell says the 15-minute piece, which is influenced by vocal works by Berio, tries to build tension just as ‘we’ve been whipped up into a storm by political events, which can end in the murder of a journalist’. Listen to the performance below. The work was also broadcast (including an interview with the composer) on BBC Radio 3’s New Music Show (from 20.57). It is performed by the Belfast Ensemble.

‘Sir, I was born here’
Last October, in the wake of Donald Trump stoking up racism regarding immigrants on the southern border of the US, two American country groups released a powerful performance of the Scottish singer-songwriter Kris Drever’s song ‘Ghosts’. The song, written by the Lau singer and guitarist, opens with the lines ‘They say we’re not like them, a generation ago, we came on the same ships, we were hidden below.’ The chorus reads ‘I’m not an incomer / My parents were ghosts / Sir I was born here / So where would I go?’

The song was sung by Front Country with lead singer Melody Walker and 10 String Symphony. The performance took place at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

‘The older generations have failed’
Climate emergency activist Greta Thunberg has already inspired a range of remixes online with her speeches, and now she has released a single with the group The 1975. With a reflective accompaniment from the group, Thunberg states the realities of the climate crisis. ‘We must admit that we are losing this battle. We have to acknowledge that the older generations have failed. All the political movements in their present form have failed. But homo sapiens have not yet failed. … We can still fix this. We still have everything in our own hands. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current systems we most probably don’t stand a chance.’

All profits from the sales and streams of the single are being donated by The 1975 and Thunberg to Extinction Rebellion.

‘Little people standing around’
Finally, English folk singer Martin Simpson has just released a new single called ‘Neo’ which castigates neo-liberal, trickle-down economics and makes veiled reference to wealthy politicians who ‘hijack democracy’ and take apart social services: ‘All the little people standing around, come and take some of my trickle down. My trickle down, that’s what I said. It’s just me pissing on your head.’ The single comes from Simpson’s new album Rooted, which will be released on 30 August on Topic Records. For more, visit https://smarturl.it/martinsimpsonrooted

A new climate group called Music Declares Emergency has also recently been launched. See full details here.

Published on 31 July 2019

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