18 January 2010

Class Actions

I first met Class Actions through an email asking me if it was alright for them to perform at my Open Mic night.  I don't require artists to pre-book but these guys were travelling from Manchester and wanted to double check their trip would not be wasted.  Their performance was like nothing I had ever seen at Open Mic before.  Shouty, loud, aggressive, hard, difficult to understand but most foreign of all was the fact that they were genuinely political.  My reaction was amazement and joy.  I couldn't help but smile and laugh.  The audience were equally thrown off by this occurrence.  Some sat, stoney-faced and unimpressed.  Others raised a pint in the air and hollar'd words of support in drunken celebration.

They continued to perform every few weeks, occasionally bringing out new material but mostly doing their core set of songs.  I begun hearing lots of audience feedback and as the weeks went by, got to know them by talking about their music and reading their blogs.  Consequently I started to understand the political reasoning behind their music.  The subject matter that is at the fore of their mind when they perform are genuine and serious global issues.  So no wonder they have the confidence to act so outrageous.  The opinions of a few hundred people in a county town in England pale into insignificance when compared to the racial hatred and corporate corruption that they care about.

So having concluded how Aslan feels when he performs I began to think of how the audience react.  Many people take them as a joke, laughing AT them and for a moment I felt sorry for them, thinking their political message was being lost.  But then I realised that they do always get the full attention of the crowd and they regularly get girls up dancing with them while they perform.  This is a massively important achievement for any performer.  Dancing (or indeed any type of body movement including clapping, fist shaking, head-bopping) is so expressive that to make people do it means you've succeeded in intoxicating them with your energy.  So although the words in the lyrics may not be getting interpreted and remembered, I think there is a deeper kind of communication going on.  The girls (and most of the guys) instinctively pick up on the energy and sense of faith that oozes from Aslan's performance.  Although that energy does come across as anger and aggression, which are things most people would choose to leave out of their life, it seems to push all the right buttons to make people want to follow their movements.  They literally demand attention with their performance and they get it!  Look at all the other examples of performers who are often (but not always) angry and aggressive but still get lavished with attention: Eminem, Bill Hicks, Scroobius Pip.

So as disseminaters for a cause they are half-way towards functional success.  They have the pied piper's magic and that is for most performers the bit that comes last (or sometimes not at all).  I don't see Class Actions as being a complete package but I admire elements of them.  If I was producing them I would make bridging the gap of understanding a priority.  I would introduce calm, pensive moments to the performances, maybe by bringing in extra writers or producers.  And whether it be with imagery, quotations from published writers, well scripted between-song skits or any other kind of on-stage communication the next step would be to help the audience understand what I came to know through reading their blogs and chatting to them.  If they can cause that switch of consciousness from thinking locally to thinking globally to happen on the night then they are onto a winner and like the 3 I mentioned earlier, strike a balance of being listened to and loved by people who though they were just going to be entertained.

P.S.  Aslan assures me that his performances go down very differently in the working men's clubs of Manchester and the North.  He freely admits to loving observing how the audiences react in the South compared to back home.  And maybe this backs up my theories.  Audiences in the North are generally already thinking on those bigger issues because the Thatcherite changes to industry affected them much more deeply.  They don't need the knowledge gap bridging.  I think I am going to have to travel up to Manchester and attend an Open Mic in Salford to listen to normal people and see Class Actions perform there.