Friday, 6 April 2012


Part of the reason the nu-folkers annoy me so much is their appropriation of something that in slightly different circumstances could be incredibly worthwhile. I was thinking about this at The Futureheads' gig at Union Chapel the other night, which featured acapella covers from their new album.

The thing about folk music is that it repudiates the commonplace that it's not about where you're from that counts. Of course it's ridiculous to be puritanical about background and origins; Richard Thompson was from Highgate after all. But it's also unequivocally true that there's a definite qualitative difference between music that is made in a context of rootless privilege and music that has at least some meaningful connection to place and history. The whole justification for folk culture is that it can pass on historical narratives and notions that have been jettisoned by the conservative mainstream. That's why the attempt by the latter-day Cameronite conservative mainstream and its cultural avatars to sell the folk myth is both utterly spurious and extremely dangerous in its likely effects: far from throwing the light on stories and places that capitalism keeps in the shade, it offers an enterprising bourgeoisie the chance to colonise the spaces and heritages that were never theirs in the first place.

Conversely, when you do hear real folk music that comes from a good place, the qualitative shock is unmistakable.

Of course it's possible to pick holes in what The Futureheads are doing (they're mid-career rock stars looking for a quirky new angle, they're not as echt working class as they seem, they're complicit with the record industry, etc). But in drawing a line back from their latter-day pop waywardness to a history that is undeniably theirs in specific important ways, they've produced music that is so palpably removed from the Mumford and Sons travesty that it comes very close to communicating something that has been expunged from the records in recent cultural history: artistic truth. You can quibble all you like about this description, but I think that we would all agree that this is something that exists and that we recognise manifestly when we encounter it. Without music that rings true with people's histories and worldviews, without a basic confidence that we have a truth and an authenticity that needs representing and needs to be advocated in opposition to the Cameronite debasement of roots, we're going to evaporate pretty quickly.

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