Music and Agitation
A fuzzy category – and that’s good thing.
There is the argument that changes in the patterns of musics herald a profound social shift of ideas.(1) On the basis that music is part of our communicative continuum and that change happens by a discourse towards change in all media not simply by a verbal discourse it seems a reasonable conjecture. Musics are certainly part of a continuum of thought and action. Musical thinking does not have to depend on lyrics to do important work like: celebrate change; stimulate collective improvisation; rock human creativity; catalyse thinking of new responses and all the things that make us human.
Although all this is key to a healthy culture that makes change possible – much of that dynamism does not archive. And when the live context is lost any revolutionary content of the music is often so depleted as to need commentary to bring it back to anything approaching life. That is the problem with the Scratch Orchestra, which has a reputation as much though intriguing resonance in many souls as it does as a body of recorded music. I guess that the Agit Disco is interested in what was recorded, stored and archived and its accompanying discursive afterlife and other resonances. And when I say archive I refer to Howard Slater’s theorising of people’s music collections as living archives, played, discussed and referred to, as important to any assessment of musics as any National Sound Archive or BBC World Service list. (2)
The upsurge of British Techno dance music at the end of the Eighties which, altho it was pretty much articulated through recordings, carried a radical agenda of revolt. It proffered musical change without much in the way of meaningful lyrics or even a sartorial statement that could be lapped up by the fashion and image industry. The music was practically wordless but the sense of radical change was there alright in the co-ordinated collective action and the creation of semi spontaneous unmediated and often illegal raves in which people could express collective and full body responses to the DJs proposals about a new computerised mediation of dance.
An Agit Disco is largely reliant either on lyrics or commentary and narratives to reconstruct contexts in any way possible without submiting to the banal idea that music, as a live force, is reliant on words for its force. Agit Disco is about past musics but wedging it up into current affairs it is reinvented in the process of becoming a live performance or exchange of home-made CDs. Anyway ‘Agit Prop’ suggests an overtness of intention whether through lyrics, commentary or caption.
There are many ways that music is political not all of them contained on a recording. But disco is about playing recordings and the way you go about it. So why ‘Agit Disco’ and not Protest Song the conventional category name for political song found on Wikipedia? Agit disco is not about labeling, or rating a song because it’s right on, or because it is timely in supporting a campaign. Agit disco is about finding how political musics can be put together to make a larger pattern or dancefloor discourse. Agit disco relies on DJ skills, from matching beats at the tail and head of a tune to echoing themes and cross referencing contents in an way that emboldens the whole.
Agit suggest agitation, getting worked up about something, a way to feel and focus anger, suggests agit prop, putting the message about how it is, and how it could be, out there to a crowd. It suggests an inner turmoil coming to the surface through agitated movements responding to a DJs musical evocation. And I include the mix-tape selector in the category DJ. The set produces new frames and inner contexts. The drive to avoid cliche and produce fresh resonances that is a part of the DJ art.
Disco suggests getting out of your head and into your body, it suggests rhythmic continuity, and funtime, finding a groove, working out. Agit Disco adds the idea of getting out of politics as a mind game and into more visceral stratas of political expression and discourse. It suggests we can find a kinaesthetic dance expression for urgent issues. And being open to the kinaesthetic discourse of the dance floor. It means double digging into out heritage of recorded musics and creating discursive engines that can be put into gear to produce revolutionary knowledge, it means intergenerational understanding, trans genre, cross-dressing, and realising just how musically rich and ‘tooled up’ we are. Putting tunes together to achieve a synergetic and possibly unforeseeable result.
But overall the Agit Disco project is about asking the question of how we can better use our heritage of political music? Can it be made more potent through a process of mixing, recontextualisation, concentration and discourse. How is it remembered? Perhaps the outcome of a million different home-made selection albums in circulation might be the aim rather than some stone dead canonic discography.
1. Attali, Jaques. (1985). Noise, the political economy of music (B. Massumi, Trans.). Univ of Minnesota. www.notbored.org/attali.html
2. Howard Slater, ‘Canon Blasting for a Living Culture’ (Resonance Vol 8 no 1 August 1999 +
3. List of political songs by BBC world service.
Blog of Agit Disco stuff