Matthew Herbert’s 2010 Address

Global financial meltdown, massive climatic shifts and the end of oil...

Ramble, rant or reminisce, this is an artist’s opportunity to pen their own Clash article.

This issue, lower-case lover Matthew Herbert forecasts the changing face of music in this new decade.

“a challenge. if I had to describe the decade ahead it would surely be with these two words. doubtless it will be full of wonderful events, ideas and moments, but it will surely be a challenge somewhere on the scale between ‘oh dear’ to ‘holy fuck’. we are facing a perfect storm of shit: global financial meltdown, massive climatic shifts and the end of oil. taken in isolation, any of these things would be cause for worry but the three of them combined really is something to start twinges of restlessness even in the casual observer.

for decades now, we in the north have seen a pretty substantial improvement in our standard of living far beyond any sustainable model of growth. we have outsourced everything that we possibly can: the manufacture of goods, the pollution associated with such manufacturing and its transportation, the debt associated with the purchase of said goods, the human rights compromises necessary to keep labour cheap and even the disputes over access to resources associated with consumption on this scale. yet at the same time, we have built a sturdy corporate media and associated entertainment industry that not only fails to question the legitimacy or value of this dirty capitalism but actively seeks to deny this lifestyle has consequences.

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This article appears in the February issue of Clash Magazine.
Pick it up in stores from January 11th.

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if you were to take the thirty biggest news stories of the past ten years, presumably to include such items as climate change, wars in iraq and afghanistan, darfur, the israeli occupation of palestine, the tsunami of 2004, 9/11, the phoney war on terror, financial collapse etc, and then took the biggest selling movies and music of the decade, you would be hard pressed to find any mention of the former in the latter.

the only conclusion one could draw from such a comparison is that the entertainment industry is not only happy with the general order of things, but it is actively engaged in trying to keep this perfect imbalance intact. i’m not for one moment suggesting that the function of popular culture is solely to critique or instruct on wider social issues, indeed the construction of imaginary worlds free from such compromises and the ability to create new rules and methodologies is a vital function of the artistic process, but in an age of unparalleled imminent disaster, an almost total absence of engagement with anything other than itself all starts to look mighty grim.

without cheap oil, a career in music starts to look very dicey. for starters, the technology that has got us this far would become suddenly and vastly more expensive. the electricity supply to power it would become unstable, the ability to casually tour the world would be radically reduced and even the plastic cds and cases themselves would become a luxury rather than a disposable commodity. i’m convinced that people in fifty years will look at the way we just churned out millions of cds and dvds to be given away free with daily newspapers knowing full well that at least 50% would end up in landfill unlistened to or unwatched and shake their heads in disbelief. we have been given one of the most intensely efficient energy sources (in terms of extractability, transportability, versatility and cost), and yet we have used it to put water in plastic bottles and fly it round the world to other people who have perfectly acceptable water supplies of their own.

as musicians and artists knowing that we are on borrowed time, what kind of music should we make? what kind of live show should we present, knowing that in ten years’ time international performances may be an absolute rarity? what kind of vision are we to present to an audience? if this is our platform, and it is fast becoming a shrinking one, what point or purpose do we wish to convey? considering the rise and rise of the x factor school of cynical artifice we should be very worried indeed. four of the top ten biggest singles of the last ten years have been from similar reality shows.

can we really say that in the next ten years this will be any different? do we really see a world where simon cowell’s malicious nafness has been beaten in to submission by a vibrant, expressive, engaged music industry? i for one wish to put up a fight. i want my music to be able to change the outcome of elections. or make people riot, like when people first heard stravinsky’s ‘the rite of spring’. i want to be able to be able to look someone in the eye from east timor, and say that i tried at least to acknowledge the story of their genocide in my work rather than just dj at parties for the people that paid for the arms that allowed it. and in an election year, when the candidates have none of the fire i’m looking for in a leader to take on these enormous moral and physical problems, i don’t want to let apathy and resignation drag me back to another fucking version of ‘you raise me up’ on itv on a saturday night. music has always had the power to crack open the artificial laquer of acceptability and conformity, and it’s there to be rediscovered.

looking forward to the next decade then, I can only make a plea that the challenge for music, along with our culture in general, is to not only create moments of separated and universal wonder, but also to engage directly with the enormity of the coming dramas or be held to account as just another of the system’s willing stooges.”

Big Chill Festival 2010

Matthew Herbert is performing at this year’s Big Chill festival. Join Clash on the road to the Big Chill Festival with news, interviews and features. Visit ClashMusic’s Big Chill hub for all the latest news on the festival HERE.

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