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.

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.

Burma, Iran and Pakistan via Queens of the Stone Age

Soundtrack for this post: ‘Goin’ Out West‘, ‘Go With the Flow‘, ‘Leg of Lamb‘ and ‘The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret‘ by Queens of the Stone Age.

There’s been an unrelenting parade of good news streaming out of hitherto pariah state Burma/Myanmar over the last twelve or so months.  In November 2010 a widely discredited election was held and, days later, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from detention.  Many figured her freedom would be limited and short-lived.  But in the last quarter of 2011 there were a number of surprising developments.  President Thein Sein, seemingly responding to the concerns of the Burmese populace, put the kybosh on a Chinese plan to produce hydroelectricity for Yunnan province by damming the Irawaddy.  Then in October around 200 political prisoners were released from the country’s jails.

Burma observers are much too cynical to imagine such moves don’t have an ulterior motive, and the motive generally agreed upon is a desire to move away from Burma’s utter reliance on China.  Burma is ‘Goin’ Out West’, as in this Queens of the Stone Age take on the Tom Waits song.  West in terms of making concessions to tempt – or allow – Western countries to soften and/or remove sanctions; and west in its immediate neighbourhood, by looking to India to balance China (the Chinese hydro snub was closely followed by a state visit to India).  This new turn has likely come from the realisation that a great line in this song, “I’m gonna do what I want, and I’m gonna get paid”, just ain’t true.

The reason Burma gets the ‘good’ mantle this week in particular is because the positive announcements have just kept coming.  Pessimists have pointed to the parlous states of relations between the central Burman administration and various ethnic minority rebel groups as reason for caution about Burma’s progress.  If anything, things had deteriorated in this arena (they were already pretty bad) since the change in government.  The announcement just over a week ago that the government had signed a peace pact with the Karen rebel group was therefore particularly significant, particularly when combined with other developments – all of them happening just this week: more political prisoners released, the United States to reinstate diplomatic ties and Aung San Suu Kyi’s registration to run in April by-elections.

Although a cover, ‘Goin’ Out West’ is, to me, a prototypical Queens of the Stone Age song with its driving rhythm, angular guitars and swagger to burn.  The subject matter also fits in well with their macho-druggy desert aesthetic (refer ‘Go With the Flow‘ – both song and video).  I think of Queens of the Stone Age (Queens to their friends) as the thinking male teen’s dream band.  They scratch a particular itch, often associated with pubescent masculinity, to lose yourself in mindless, relentless, heavy head-bangery.

Speaking of mindless machismo…Iran and Israel/American continue to ramp up their stand off.  Things are tense now, but they could get really bad after the Europeans meet on Monday to rubber stamp their Iranian oil embargo (in response to Iran’s nuclear program).  We will then see how genuine Iran was when it threatened to retaliate by closing the Straight of Hormuz.  That threat has been described as a kamikaze one, a concept that doesn’t really work at the country level.  The stand off is also proving damaging on the domestic front for Obama.  All in all, it’s looking to be a lose-lose.

I don’t know about you, but all these protestations that no one’s about to attack Iran are starting to make me nervous. The Queens song ‘Leg of Lamb‘ is not easily interpreted, but talking as it does of head cases, truth freaks with lies and not wanting to follow the laws of man, it seems fittingly downcast and cynical.  Oh and it has the line “It’s so hard to win, when there’s so much to lose”.

The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret‘ is another wonderfully enigmatic song, shrouded in Machiavellian secrecy and distrust.  Pakistani politics is similarly murky.  At the moment it is like a grizzly car wreck: ugly and totally compelling.  Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appeared in the country’s supreme court this week in the latest installment of civil-military wrangling that has beset the country since its independence.

Pakistan’s military has historically opted for straightforward coups rather than the current judicial theatrics.  Following last year’s ‘memogate’, wherein President Asif Ali Zardari reportedly sought US support to forestall an impending military coup, perhaps they are looking for more sustainable and internationally acceptable modes of dominance.  Many believe the current pressure will force the government to call early elections.  Military man and former President Pervez Musharraf is lined up to run in those elections, and has announced an alliance with popular ex-cricketer Imran Khan.  Mysterious memos, shady dealings…the art of secrecy is alive and well in Pakistan.

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