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Soundtracking the Resistance - Once More unto the Polls (Plus An Interview with Mt. Wolf)

Trump Puts America First, Addressing Climate Change Last

Jun 02, 2017 Mt. Wolf
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This week brings a discussion on U.K. elections, Trump and the healing power of music with Mt. Wolf guitarist Stevie McMinn, plus a round-up of recent events, benefit concerts, open letters to Trump, and a little bit of Radiohead.

The Big Event

The U.K. is off to the polls again because it seems a big vote must be a yearly event now. In 2014 Scotland decided against independence, in 2015 a General Election occurred, people across the country voting for the national government, and 2016 saw the Brexit referendum. Despite endlessly promising not to hold another election, British Prime Minister Theresa May from the ruling Conservative Party has gone and done just that.

On June 8 British citizens will decide who will govern them, and more importantly, who will lead them into the upcoming Brexit negotiations. It’s not been going well so far, as the Conservatives whip up anti-European fervor to steal a few more votes. It’s an effective short-term strategy and terrible beyond that. It’s also why America’s old ally continues to suck up to Trump: there are no other alternatives when you’ve alienated pretty much the entire continent you belong to.

No wonder people are not feeling enthusiastic and there’s talk of a low turnout, but the idea of not voting at all doesn’t sit well with many. One of those is Stevie McMinn, guitarist for Mt. Wolf, a British three-piece that released its debut album Aetherlight last week.

The band, a mix of M83 and Bon Iver according to a quote on their own website-and on listening you can see where that comparison comes from as recent single “Soteria” demonstrates-have been around for a number of years and were poised to break out until lead singer Kate Sproule quit in 2014. Hiatus followed and then the remaining members came back together. After a successful run at SXSW this year, the first record has finally arrived.

It’s politics McMinn starts with, and he’s insistent the U.K. vote should not be shunned. “When you think of the struggles in history many have had to endure in the fight for the vote, you realize just how privileged we are that we can vote. That privilege must not be wasted.”

With the Conservative Party consistently ahead in the polls, for a long time by quite ridiculous margins although that gap is narrowing, the result has a feeling of inevitability about it, putting off voters from bothering. McMinn has no time for this view. “Parts of the media would have you believe this election is a foregone conclusion, but if every young person voted things could be different. We’d most likely still be in the EU for a start.”

Politics is about more than just the big picture though, seeping into every area, as he makes clear. “Even within music this election could change everything. 50% of nightclubs closed in the last five years in London alone, and 43% of music venues between 2007-2015. This won’t stop unless the government protects these establishments. Politicians don’t make policies for people who don’t vote. Not voting because ‘it doesn’t make any difference’ ends up reinforcing those patterns.”

As much as the small things matter, it’s hard not to be distracted by a miserable situation in the West as Britain exits the EU and Donald Trump has come to preside over the most powerful country in the world. Is it really that bad though? McMinn is more contemplative. “On the surface, everything seems pretty bleak right now. I’m saying this directly after the events in Manchester. However, having studied history at university I don’t feel things are anywhere near as bad as they have been. Humans have a lot more empathy than they’ve ever had.”

To emphasize the point, he lists a series of events from the Holocaust to the millions of followers the KKK once had before concluding “most people wouldn’t stand by and allow that kind of thing to happen anymore. While we may have Brexit and Trump, we have a more tolerant society.” He also sees some recent events as having a galvanizing impact. “Brexit and Trump was a wakeup call. Now people are fighting back.”

As a musician, where does this leave McMinn? It’s not a surprise he sees a role for music. “It can act as a form of escapism and can heal and soothe emotions. Music can also inspire people.” It’s what Mt. Wolf with their epically ethereal sound aim for. “The purpose of our music is to hopefully take the listener on a journey, to inspire and to have a positive and uplifting impact on lives in some way. Our favorite artists had this impact on us.”

Tapping into something deeper lies at the heart of what he says they want to achieve. “In all our songs, we deal with human emotions. In some like ‘The Electric’ there are aspects of social commentary, and in ‘Burgs’ from our Red EP there is a clear message: about being a virtuous person and living a purer life. We worked with Guy Burgs, who teaches meditation and mindfulness. We found his ability to communicate a profound human consciousness so inspiring we wanted to put music to his words to help spread that message.”

So perhaps things look bleak today, but there is light. McMinn quotes Nietzsche’s description of music as being able to “break the hardest of hearts with the softest of its melancholy tones.” He doesn’t see this changing anytime soon nor does he see music ever fading in importance. “As long as there are humans on this planet, there will be music.”

What’s Going On

That foreign tour thing seemed to be going so well (relatively speaking - the bar was low after all). Now Trump has got himself into a war of words with Germany, the key ally in Europe with the U.K. busy slinking off into its isolationist corner. After not exactly inspiring Europeans with his commitment to NATO and the Paris Climate Agreement, he sparked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to declare Europe could no longer rely on the U.S. or the U.K. Trump then went off bashing them on trade. It’s all so unedifying.

“Merkel might have a point on not being able to rely on the U.S. After casting ominous hints, Trump has pulled out of the Paris Climate Change agreement having decided the environmentand international leadershipis of little concern. The hope now is it will take so long to formally withdraw that he’ll be out of power by then.

The response from the music community has been unsurprisingly negative, with Thom Yorke calling Trump a “fucking clown.”

So good to see all the green lights protesting in solidarity. #Resist #ParisAgreement

A post shared by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on Jun 1, 2017 at 9:30pm PDT

Back home the Russia probe rolls on, ensnaring more people in the net. Jared Kushner, son-in-law of the president and apparently king of everything if his ridiculous brief is to be believed, is the latest to come into focus. It’s not yet clear if he set up back-channel communications with the Russians, or if he did anything wrong, but this is one unwelcome story that keeps drawing closer for Trump.

Portland, Oregon is home to a fine music scene, but it was the site of a tragedy last week when two men were killed and another injured trying to stop an anti-Muslim attack on teenagers on a train. Yet it took the president a whole weekend to finally respond on Twitter, despite firing off countless tweets on other topics. Here’s Colin Meloy from Portland band The Decemberists showing it needn’t take a weekend to find a bit of humanity.

Speak Up!

The terrorist attack targeting innocent civilians at Ariana Grande’s Manchester Arena show shocked millions, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive, showing love beats hate. Grande has also collected a number of names including Katy Perry, Coldplay and Justin Bieber for a show in Manchester on Sunday (June 4). Money raised from the One Love benefit will go to families affected. The concert will be broadcast on TV in the U.K. (the BBC) and the U.S. (ABC and Freeform).

While artists stand up to terrorism in the U.K., rap icon Nas has taken aim at racism in America, and the man at the top. In an open letter published on Mass Appeal, he talks of the need to act to prevent being swallowed up, while declaring “we all know a racist is in office.”

Those dissatisfied with Trump span the music industry. Last week also saw the announcement of a Nashville Resistance Compilation. Strange Freedom - Songs of Love and Protest features the likes of Mary Gauthier, Derek Webb, Wild Ponies, Matt Haeck and Rayvon Pettis, all coming together to fight back against the Trump era with love. The album is out on July 14th.

Song of the Week: Radiohead - Electioneering

As we’re talking U.K. elections this week, we turn to that all conquering British band Radiohead for our song of the week. “Electioneering” came out 20 years ago on OK Computer and is receiving a new outing as part of the anniversary edition. With Thom Yorke languorously drawling “I trust I can rely on your vote” having just spoken of the need to “Say the right things” it really doesn’t feel like anything has changed.

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