2011 England Riots: A musical analysis

What a tumultuous few days it has been for England. Following the death of Mark Duggan from a police-related shooting, what started as a peaceful protest from Duggan’s family and friends in Tottenham seeking answers and justice for him spiralled into wave after wave of riots. Shops were smashed, looted and torched. Proud historic businesses built up over many years were burnt down with minutes. Copycat riots spread out across cities across the country, with nothing to protest against; instead, scores of hoodlums sought to partake in the supposed thrill of this wanton destruction, destroying city centre shops in their own uprising, with no goal but to cause trouble. More despicable acts have been committed. People’s homes, livelihoods, and more, destroyed. People putting themselves in the way have been attacked and sometimes killed for no reason other than doing the decent thing. Shameful. Absolutely shameful.
As quickly as social networking whipped up the riots, so the vast numbers opposing them whipped up a clean-up operation instead. Londoners, Brummies, Mancunians, Bristolians and more became sick and tired of these hoodlums running through their towns, smashing windows, burning down buildings and looting goods. The riot clean-up operation got under way thanks to Twitter, and there was the additional ‘Anti Riot – Operation Cup of Tea’ going about on Facebook too.  Eventually, the government realised that increased police presence leads to reduced crime on the streets. It didn’t take a genius to work that one out, did it?! Although in typically British fashion, it helps that it’s rained a good deal recently.
Thankfully this crackdown has seen the riots quelled, with many arrests made, and many wayward youths and formerly respectable pillars of society shamed in the courts. That said, the enquiry and the recovery will go on for much longer, you feel. The gap between the have and the have-nots in the UK is wider than ever before and still widening and is in dire need of address.
My aim of this blog wasn’t to take a political stance, or to tie anything into current affairs. It was purely musical. And it still is.

Where I live, it’s a bit sleepy. There was no chance of any riots going off as there’s nothing to nick, although there was a failed attempt at looting a supermarket a little further away. But those few days really got debate going, really got people on the outside talking, and I for one certainly couldn’t take my eyes and ears off the newsreel. And assisted by my MP3 player, I felt inspired to choose a small selection of songs that I feel befit the mood over those few nights. As I listened to them, I felt like they made a connection in terms of summing up these riots and by providing an alternative musical backdrop to those last few days. Not the usual political punk fare and not anything ‘street’. So here goes. Just the three songs. I would have stretched to five, but on further consideration, I’m not sure my other choices fit.

Bolt Thrower – Entrenched
[from Those Once Loyal, Metal Blade, 2005]
The streets of London on Monday night were a battlefield. Tensions were at a real high, and the police were struggling to contain a situation that was wildly out of hand. Bolt Thrower largely dealt with themes of war, and ‘Entrenched’ is no different. But musically it would have been more than befitting of the situation. The intro is the first flaming missiles thrown. As the riots gathered pace and the police struggled through a lack of armoury and indeed numbers to quell the situation, the galloping riff and searing lead in this song evokes the images of a warzone such as what was seen on televisions and monitors around the world, as numerous boroughs of London were brought to their knees by a vast act of criminality, a protest gone wrong.

Napalm Death – Riot of Violence[from Leaders Not Followers: Part 2, Century Media, 2004]
‘Riot of Violence’ was of course originally recorded by German thrash overlords Kreator, but Napalm Death’s version sounds gritter, angrier and spits with intensity. The riots spread to Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and in smaller pockets in other cities and towns and you could cite the song’s turns of pace from verse to pre-chorus riff to the speedier flashpoint that is the ‘riot of violence!’ chorus as accompaniments to the spreading of the violence.
It’s worth noting the song features a lot of lyrics about killing. These riots of course weren’t all about that, but as previously stated a number of people were tragically and needlessly killed simply for standing up for decency. Tuesday 9th August, 2011, was a truly despicable day and just the song title alone says it all about these riots. It wasn’t a protest about getting justice for a fallen family member, or an explanation from police. It had nothing to do with it at all. That was a fallacy, an excuse to go out and cause destruction on the streets. Families and businesses are today counting the cost.
Sick of it All – Hello Pricks
[from Yours Truly, Fat Wreck Chords, 2000]
‘Hello Pricks’ is an anthem about not being a dickhead in the moshpit. Its lyrics could easily apply to the hordes of scum who hijacked a protest and turned it into the worst riots seen since in England since 1981. ‘Don’t be a prick in the roses (true of Manchester, the Red Rose county). The black sheep can well refer to the numerous who feels alienated, ignored, unheard by the government, and the rioters are in that boat as well – just the majority of us don’t go round destroying people’s property or, on occasion, their lives. And the line ‘Stand up for things that’ll keep this action going strong’ should resonate as well, not least in standing up for the decent things about protesting. The community spirit really hasn’t been there for sometime. Who knows, Cameron might get his wish for a Big Society after all, as some in the media have been predicting. I reckon a few people would to well take lessons from this tale of the moshpit.
Make no mistake, I’m not attempting to make these riots entertainment value whatsoever, as I’m sure some opportune filmmaker looking to make a quick buck surely will. There’s many, many lessons to be learnt from the last few days. I’m not the person to make the suggestions as how to improve this country. But a lot of people need to take a good, long, hard look at themselves. Particularly the looters, the criminals, the violent. All of you are a disgrace to Blighty.
Peter Clegg
Bolt Thrower – Entrenched
Napalm Death – Riot of Violence
Sick of it All – Hello Pricks


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