As I sit down to write this, it is the third time I’ve made a last-minute record switch. It’s been that kind of year once again, hasn’t it? At first, I was determined to write about Death Is A Warm Blanket, and how Microwave made a truly incredible, unsettling record that can change your life, if your life happens to […]
As I sit down to write this, it is the third time I’ve made a last-minute record switch. It’s been that kind of year once again, hasn’t it? At first, I was determined to write about Death Is A Warm Blanket, and how Microwave made a truly incredible, unsettling record that can change your life, if your life happens to be going a certain way. Then I was sure I wanted to write about the recent Jemma Freeman release, and how the band have, coincidentally, been with me in the most pivotal moments of really discovering and embracing my queerness this year, culminating in a record that is ambitious and playful and often downright weird but in the best way.
And then… the election happened. And while I enjoy writing pieces that are semi-review, semi-personal essay almost as much as I love reading them (and I love reading them a whole lot), it just doesn’t feel appropriate any more. Because of all the records I’ve loved this year, the only one that feels like it really, really matters right now is Tough Crowd: a tight 35 minutes of riff-heavy pop jams that carry a tidal wave of rage towards the establishment, the police and the government. It felt rare in its explicitness when it was released in September, and it feels much more so now that we are collectively staring down another five years of a Conservative government. Lyrically, Em Foster leaves no space for misinterpretation – the disdain for bad actors perpetrating injustice rings clearly in condemnation over Grenfell in ‘Engulf You’ (“a charred monument to your neglect // I hope the image never leaves your head”).
A record about how shit everything is runs the risk of feeling preachy and leaving listeners cold; no one really likes to be lectured, after all. Thankfully, Tough Crowd is littered with Foster’s dark humour and gobshite attitude – evidenced most clearly in the inclusion of the now-infamous “I’m sorry you feel that way” line in ‘Where’d You Go?’, referencing her beef with Frank Turner earlier this year – which cuts through the otherwise bleak appraisal of where we are as a society in 2019.
Perhaps what feels most important about this record, though, is that Nervus practice what they fucking preach. And while some bands are content to profit from a vaguely political stance (while remaining conveniently quiet when it comes to real-life situations that would require them to maybe isolate a section of their fanbase by choosing a side), Tough Crowd is as much a call to action as it is a condemnation of how things are now. For every show of frustration (“Does it cause you pain to know the comfort we share // Comes at the cost of thousands of lives and always has done”), there is an imperative for the listener to actually get involved in tearing down those structures of oppression (“every brick that you displace will someday serve as inspiration // For a kid who’ll one day burn the fucker down”).
And there is the crux of why Tough Crowd is my album of the year. Because it was the only thing I could bear to listen to in the days following the election, when I felt constantly sick with fear and sadness for all the people who have been and will be hurt or starved or killed by this awful fascist government. Because it kind of nudged me into the realisation that until now I’ve been coasting in a way that perhaps a lot of people in a certain place of privilege in our community also coast. Most of all, because for every blistering condemnation of the neglect and ineptitude of our leaders, there is an undercurrent of hope. Things are bad, but we can change them.
And while it’s fucked that vulnerable people will need to increasingly depend on the kindness of their community as the state pulls more and more of our supposed safety net away, those of us who were waiting for a sea change at the election need to – forgive me – start being the change we wanted to see, by getting more involved at a local community level. Donate to food banks if you can. Give your time to shelters and charity organisations who help support people who are homeless or living in poverty. Get involved with your local grassroots campaign. Find something you believe in and fight for it. If you are in a place of privilege – if you’re white, or a man, or straight, or cis, and especially if you’re all of the above – learn about de-escalation techniques and be prepared to step in if you see someone being harassed or targeted. Know your rights and the rights of others and intervene when police are acting unlawfully. To choose to do nothing – and for those of us who are not routinely targeted, it is absolutely a choice – in the face of the ever-swelling wave of global fascism is to be complicit in it.
“We don’t need heroes, we need faith // Decentralise because we all can lead the way.”
Fight the power and listen to Nervus. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
Nervus – Tough Crowd
Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something – Oh Really, What’s That Then?