On Friday I missioned it up to Manchester to watch Joanna Gruesome and Perfect Pussy play Manchester. My mate Jamie and I had a bit of time to kill and ended up at the People’s Museum in Manchester, which charts the spread of democracy in the UK. It’s an incredible place that points out how some people have been more equal than others, whilst all the while highlighting the work of some visionary people in public life, and also some good people in the music industry.
As an American, Chuck D wasn’t mentioned in the museum, but he’s been highlighting race issues in the music industry and beyond for a long time. It’s been 25 years since he first rapped about his disdain for Elvis, who was massively influenced by black musicians. It reflects where society was at (and is still?) that it was only when a white man played rock n roll that it reached a widespread audience.
So despite the fact that most of the music I like has its roots in Blues via Led Zeppelin and the Stones, most rock gigs are hardly ethnically diverse. The audience in your run of the mill gig is suspiciously white, male and pale.
In Public Enemy, Chuck D has the platform to confront race issues. Last Tuesday I saw them play Bristol’s O2 Academy, and they blew the place apart. They’ve often been seen as the rock fan’s Hip Hop band, and with their full band and big sound, there is a heaviness to their music and a power in their rhetoric.
Racism isn’t the only issue the music industry’s been fighting against. Since the first gig I went to when I was 16, I’ve seen the sexism that’s inherent in rock and indie circles. At the ripe old age of 16 I saw my first ever gig at the Big Day Out in Milton Keynes. I remember seeing a woman getting fondled as she crowd surfed. Unsurprisingly, men still vastly outnumber women at the gigs I go to. It was good to see Joanna Gruesome confront sexism in a recent Drowned in Sound article. The subsequent Facebook comments reflected Lewis’ law – “Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”
On Friday I saw them play Manchester’s Deaf Institute as they supported Perfect Pussy. Joanna Gruesome brought the melodies, but they mixed them with discordant guitars and big drums. In contrast to Chuck D, Alanna McArdle seems uncomfortable with the in-between song banter, but as soon as each song started the whole band excels. They’re full of movement and ambition, and Sugarcrush was the perfect song to punctuate a great set.
Perfect Pussy eschewed a sound check and turned everything up to 11. Theirs is a punk rock set and make no mistake, complete with stage presence and shouty vocals. The beats are fast and the whole set is delivered with a frantic urgency that is quite frankly, bloody thrilling. The vocals are a bit low in the mix, but are still a big part of a cacaphonous sound and big performance.
So if you’re wondering if music can change the world, have a listen to these bands before you make up your mind.