Post-Punk Christmas

2012 has been a decent year for gay rights.  Well at least for the gay rights issue that dominates the mainstream press.  In the US, same-sex marriage was legalised in three states (Maine, Washington & Maryland) and Obama gave in-principle support to the idea.  It was also legalised in Denmark and parts of Brazil.  A clear majority of Australians support same-sex marriage but a bill allowing it was rejected by the parliament in 2012.  A similar bill did however make good progress through New Zealand’s legislature and should be adopted in 2013.

So it seems fitting to post Pansy Division’s ‘Homo Christmas’ which includes classic lines like  “Don’t be miserable like Morissey, let me do you under the Christmas tree”.  Skip it if you’re sensitive about anatomical references.


Fortnightly(ish) Review: Punk Using Its Power for Good and Evil


Iranian nuclear facilities were recently attacked by malware.  The malicious software, of unknown origin, pumped AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ through the infected computers’ speakers.

It’s probably fair to say that the annual United Nations General Assembly is generally considered to be a bit of a yawn-fest.  This year though a concert called ‘Global Festival‘ is being held concurrently with the UNGA.  Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the Foo Fighters, Band of Horses and the Black Keys are playing, with the aim of raising funds for various causes including polio eradication, which is facing a $500 million shortfall.  The concert doesn’t raise funds through ticket prices: there are none.  Instead, patrons must earn their ticket by completing actions recommended by various global organisations, such as signing petitions and writing letters.

Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan decided to let the world know that he takes his cues from Springsteen this week.  His speech was widely panned for being dorky and embarrassing, but nonetheless praised for being tactically clever.  It both effectively conveyed a message (Swan and the Labor Party are pro-worker and, like Catwoman and Bane in the latest Batman flick, anti-billionaire) and managed to garner significant coverage despite the stiff, Olympic, competition.


Russian female punk group Pussy Riot have been making many a headline over the past couple of weeks because the trial of three of its members has started.  They even have Anthony Kiedis getting political.  If you’re wondering, they have officially been charged with ‘hooliganism’.  Foreign Policy gets a bit overexcited and claims Pussy Riot (who seem to be singularly lacking in musical talent, even for a punk band, just by the way) has “perhaps given punk rock a future as a global force for justice and freedom”.  They reckon that – until Pussy Riot – the “high-water mark of punk’s geopolitical relevance” was Crass’s 1982 song critical of the Falklands War, ‘How Does it Feel to be the Mother of 1000 Dead?’ and subsequent production of a hoax tape, widely believed at the time to be a conversation between Thatcher and Reagan.

The shooting of six American Sikhs in Wisconsin earlier this month is a reminder that punk can also be a vehicle for those with less progressive views.  The shooter was a “frustrated neo-nazi” and leader of a racist punk band.  The same is of course true of any genre.  I always associate hip-hop with progressive, leftist politics because that was its major theme when Australian hip-hop got good in Sydney and Melbourne in the early 2000s.  Here in Mongolia though, the country’s most prominent rapper is proudly xenophobic, frequently rhyming against China and the Chinese.


Inside Story has a brief article on politically and religiously motivated repression of music.  The author draws a distinction between musicians victimised for the content of their music (Pinochet’s exeuction of musician Victor Jara) and for the form of their music.  Apparently the Nazis could not abide twelve-tone music – the form devised by Austrian Arnold Schoenberg.

Fortnightly review: grungy ambassadors, immigrant songs and various metals

A Chinese band in Mongolia

Last week was Mongolia’s biggest festival – sporting and cultural – Naadam.  In the middle of the festivities a big concert was held in Ulaanbaatar’s central Sukhbaatar square.  Unfortunately I only saw half a song from the infamous Gee before his set finished and a dull boy band took the stage.  I missed Chinese rock band Banana Monkey altogether.  The Wall Street Journal have dubbed them China’s grungy ambassadors to Mongolia (luckily we did catch them at another gig the night after – they were a lot of fun).

Immigrant songs

It was recently the 100th anniversary of Woodie Guthrie’s birth.  Denise Sullivan writes how Woodie was “the first contemporary singer to take on the dignity of the immigrant as the subject of a song”.  She draws parallels between that song, ‘Deportee’, and The Clash’s ‘Straight to Hell’.  The latter was famously sampled by M.I.A. in her breakthrough hit ‘Paper Planes’, another song concerned with immigrant experience.

Sludge metal in Georgia (USA) and Death Metal in Iraq

I’d never heard of sludge metal before reading this great article about Savannah band Baroness.  The author reckons sludge, “where the workaday southerner’s music—the blues, country, jazz, and southern rock—melts together in metal’s crucible”, is a response to the conservatism of the southern bible belt.

In other metal news, The Atlantic has an article on death metal in Iraq, where that genre’s traditionally anti-Christian messaging is being adapted to rail against Islam.

Pashto Popstar Murdered

A 24 year old female pop star was shot dead, along with her father, in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (previously North West Frontier) province on June 18.  Ghazala Javed was a member of the Pashtun ethnic group that straddles the Afghani-Pakistani border.  She was popular with Pashtuns in those two countries and the diaspora in the Middle East.  Read about Ghazala and the risks that musicians in Pakistan take in this article from the Pulitzer Centre.

A catchy tune from North Korea

The Atlantic has a translation of North Korea’s newest propaganda song, for its new leader, Kim Jong Un.  The male choir sings lines such as “by exploding the mental strength of the united heart of our million citizens, Joseon resounds the marching drums of the powerful, prosperous nation”.

Peter Garrett

I’ve previously written about Australian musician politician Peter Garrett.  This detailed and interesting profile of the man by BBC correspondent Nick Bryant manages to simultaneously talk up Garrett and dismiss his political efficacy (the publication requires subscription but you can do a 30 day free trial).

Fortnightlyish review: Iranian pop, Tunisian hip-hop and one very silly Trade Minister

This 4th of July was about much more than America, but I do like some of the songs highlighted by PopMatters in their 4 July list (of course) of American punk protest songs.


News: Atonal Australian Politics, It’s a Dance Off and Jazz in Kyrgystan

The incredibly divisive price/tax on carbon (dioxide) came into effect in Australia on July 1.  Over the last 12 or so months the opposition Liberal party has been running a pretty successful scare campaign against the measure, which once enjoyed bi-partisan and broad public support.  The governing Labor party was in turn hoping to turn that negativity upon itself by highlighting its absurdity when the world didn’t end with the policy’s commencement.  This is all by way of explanation for why the Australian public was subjected to the horrific spectacle of Trade Minister Craig Emerson singing Skyhooks this week.  What Emerson (and presumably Labor-party strategists) failed to consider was the fact that the public would not be impressed  by a an attempt to discredit cynical political stunts with a cynical (and poorly executed) political stunt.

In other news, Malaysia and Indonesia are squaring off over ownership of the Tor-tor folk dance, with two people arrested outside Malaysia’s embassy in Jakarta.  The Jakarta Globe reports that the dispute has been escalated to Foreign Minister-level talks.

The Washington Times has an article on the flourishing jazz scene in Kyrgystan.  All ‘western’ music was banned under Soviet Rule in Kyrgystan, but for reasons left unexplained, jazz was particularly reviled.

Opinion: Simone Felice, Excentrik and Sociopolitical analysis via mp3

The Australian‘s Denis Atkins loves Simone Felice.  I’m not a huge fan of the production – ‘uplifting’ piano and handclapping is rarely a good thing – but otherwise reckon ‘New York Times’ is a great song.  I guess it’s about how it’s better to stay anonymous and out of the cynical big city and its newspapers.

Rebel Frequencies has an excellent piece on Palestinian-American musician Excentrik.  I highly recommend checking out the article and the track below.

Dusted has a review of the compilation Rangarang: Pre-revolutionary Iranian Pop.  Perhaps Googoosha (refer previous post) took some inspiration from Iran’s Googoosh, who is a million times better, by the way.  The reviewer praises the music but is critical of the motives of the label.

I don’t think the Dusted reviewer would like this article from The Atlantic which does the old get-to-know-the-real-country X-through-its-underground-music routine with Tunisia and hip-hop.


We’re about to go on Naadam holidays here in Mongolia, so expect it to be quiet (well, quieter than usual) around here for a bit.

Peter Garrett: Best of Both Worlds?

Note: there is probably nothing new in this post for Australian readers.

In my last post I hailed M.I.A. for the relative subtlety of her political message which was embedded in, but did not overpower, its medium.  Not all overtly political music is necessarily cringe-worthy though.  Case in point: the grand-daddies of hyper-political music in Australia, Midnight Oil.

Formed in Sydney in 1976, Midnight Oil hit the big time with their 1983 album 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1.  At least three of the songs from that album alone are etched on the Australian psyche: the anti-war anthem ‘Short Memory’, the subversive challenge to the bipartisan pillar of Australian foreign policy that was  ‘US Forces’ (the album was also the band’s first American release) and the pièce de résistance: ‘Power and the Passion’.

Despite the strength of their messages, the music is rarely drowned out.  Neither is it hand-clappy protest music.  It is harsh, direct and engaging.  The music moreover more than matches the content for radicalism.  ‘Power and the Passion’ is a perfect example.  How many other top ten hits contain both a drum solo and a brass outro?

The band’s other great album Diesel and Dust (1987) followed a six-week tour of remote Australia.  The album went platinum in the United States and seven-times platinum in Australia.  It contains the now iconic ‘Beds Are Burning’.  You don’t need me to offer an interpretation.

But Midnight Oil are not only interesting for this blog because their music was political.  Lead singer Peter Garrett is (at least from an Australian perspective) the musician politician.  He joined the left-er of Australia’s two major parties, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 2004, two years after Midnight Oil disbanded.  He was elected to the lower house that year and has been an MP ever since.

Garrett has always been a larger than life character, all limbs, bald head and that unique and much-ridiculed dance style.  In 1984 Garrett ran for the Senate as the lead on the Nuclear Disarmament Party ticket.  He polled respectably but failed to gain a seat because the ALP directed its preferences elsewhere.

Labor won government in 2007 and Garrett was rewarded with a Ministry and his dream portfolios of the environment and arts.  In early 2010 he was made the fall-guy (probably unfairly) for a failed home insulation subsidy scheme and stripped of parts of the environment portfolio.  Following the most recent election he was moved to the education portfolio and made a member of the Cabinet.

Garrett has been pretty upfront about the fact that he has had to moderate his views to be a viable member of the ALP.  He has been mocked by the other side of politics, parodied in the media and disowned by many fans.  You only have to look at the comments on some of these YouTube clips to see the deep dismay of many at what is perceived as one of the most dramatic instances of ‘selling out’ ever.  With the recent successes of the Green Party at the federal level – they are a junior partner in the current ruling coalition and hold the balance of power in the upper house – I wonder if he regrets the scale of his compromise back in 2004.  On current polls Labor will be dumped at the next federal election to be held some time before the end of 2013.

In 2009 the Oils reformed to play a concert to raise money for victims of the 2009 Black Saturday bush fires.  Before that televised stadium gig they played two warm up shows in Canberra.  I caught the second.  Apart from the novelty of seeing a Minister dancing maniacally, they were really, really good.  Garrett was clearly enjoying himself (see below clip) and commented on how much better it was than his day job.  The crowd was ecstatic (although crowds are always good in Canberra – we’re just so grateful when someone includes us!)  Thankfully they did not self-censor: ‘US Forces’ was a particular highlight.

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