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Nick Pickles is Director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, and a music photographer whose work can be viewed here. Follow Nick on Twitter.

When
I was asked to pen this column, the idea of bringing together politics and
music seemed an entirely reasonable ask. I could try to find an analogy between
Nigel Farage and Justin Bieber; plug my weekly Spotify playlist; and hopefully
demonstrate, as Jessie Norman did at the ConHome Victory2015 conference, that
the cultural industries are awash with conservative values, and anyone who
dismisses the arts as leftie claptrap should be locked in a small room with
Keith Richards and a bottle of tequila.

Foolishly,
however, I agreed to write my first article the week after Paul Abbott’s stellar
juxtaposition of comic books and Conservativism
. Perhaps more in
desperation than well-considered design, I took my inspiration from a bloke
who, under the moniker Deadmau5, performs wearing a rather large mouse head on
his head.

Last
week, Mr Deadmau5 – or Joel Zimmerman, as his parents know him – spoke at the
South by Southwest festival in Texas, an annual gathering of music industry
folks, artists and journalists engaged in a spectacular crawl of parties, free
gigs and borrowed floor space.


In
his talk, Zimmerman argued:

“…many
of today’s [electronic dance music] musicians have developed an instinct to
copy rather than create,”

And went on to say:

“There’s a manual now. 
The attraction was doing something different.  I had to do my own
thing.  The double-edged sword is taking a little bit of the life out of
it.   Maybe that’s why EDM is so big now.  It’s homogenised.”

Given
that I’m currently reading The
Unfinished Revolution
, this struck a chord with me. Has Westminster
fallen foul of the same pitfall? We have a manual, of a sorts, in the various
first-hand accounts of New Labour, and we have enough polling data to build a
fairly accurate picture of what the public want. Chuck in some micro-targeting
and a few wedge issues and you have exactly the same problem. Why do something
different, something new, when you can pursue homogeny and hope your machine is
better than the other side’s?

This
mantra – perhaps still best summed up by the refrain of civil servants for
decades that ‘nobody ever gets fired for hiring IBM’ – is one of caution, one
of incremental change and, ultimately, one of a politics coloured by tactics
not values.

This
leads me onto a point in last week’s column. Paul’s argument that “comics succeed where Conservatives often
don’t – in terms of popularity and cut-through” reminded me of
the baffled media reaction to Adele’s complaint that “when I got my tax bill in from
19, I was ready to go and buy a gun
and randomly open fire.”

The Guardian was
quick to react, complaining that her “gripes are as tired as the most
moat-friendly Tory grandee,” in an article headlined “Adele's tax grievances
won't resonate with fans.”

Well,
her sales don’t seem to have suffered, so – shock, horror – perhaps the
Guardian got it wrong. Perhaps the public do think that they pay too much tax
for public services that fail too often to serve them as they expect. And perhaps
the public might even reward such a bold, seemingly apolitical, statement of
the obvious by someone they didn’t see as a politician. I wonder if Nigel
Farage owns a copy of 19?

Back
to Zimmerman:

“I’m surprised the record companies that sign these
people aren’t just going home and making the music themselves.  Cut out
the middleman”

The rise of the
political class, of a career route that starts and ends in Westminster, clearly
chimes with this concern. The broader question – do musicians make music for
the enjoyment of record labels? – should set alarm bells ringing.  Is policy driven by values, principles and
belief or do we come up with policy primarily motivated by a desire to please,
or avoid irritating, our fellow occupants of the Westminster bubble?

Zimmerman’s concerns
speak to an industry questioning how great records can be made when bands have
a shorter and shorter window to produce the ‘hit’. Will anyone pay for a band
to produce a few duff records in the belief that down the path is the next OK Computer or Dark Side of the Moon? In politics, the period of time to develop
ideas, a narrative and a public presence is equally pressured, driven by a
quasi-academic assessment of “the manual” and the supposed homogeny of the
time.  

Sadly, this
approach risks cutting off transformative political figures before they even
flourish, just as it risks great bands being culled before they reach their
creative prime.

One band that bid
farewell last year was LCD Soundsystem. The New York Times summated their
impact being that they ‘offered listeners a new language with which to explain
themselves.’

To me this is the
essence of art, of music, that we risk losing in Westminster. Rather than
taking the everyday concerns and aspirations of people and trying to make sense
of how those concerns can be addressed and plot a course to a better future, we
trap ourselves in the mantra of the established orthodoxy of the time.

Put another way,
the powers that be have reached the same conclusion as record label execs. Diverting
from what is popular now is risky. Short-term retail pressures are the driving
force and, to keep ahead of your competitors, give them more of the same, with
some cosmetic changes. Just hope nobody looks at the substance.

And in that, I appear to have found my Nigel
Farage and Justin Bieber analogy. Which strikes me as a good time to stop. 

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