Socialist Worker

21 seconds from profit

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1781

SO SOLID Crew have been hailed in the media as 'the new Sex Pistols'. Their glorification of gang violence has set cash registers ringing. In the last six months the band have had a number one single and album. Violence and controversy have stalked them from the outset.

Last May one of the band members was shot in the leg after a nightclub scuffle. Later a young man was beaten to death leaving their concert in Luton. In November a gunfight broke out during a performance at the Astoria in London. Two members of the audience were injured.

As a result their entire UK tour was cancelled. The violence surrounding So Solid Crew's gigs is shocking, but it is hardly a new phenomenon. Media hysteria has followed in the wake of all new developments in youth culture. Most of it has focused on violence, whether real or imaginary. Ever since Elvis Presley wiggled his hips, the establishment have been complaining about the degeneration of teenagers.

The press has got itself in a spin over the battles between mods and rockers, 'drug-taking hippies', spitting punks, and gangster rap. Now it is the turn of garage music. Socialists should not go along with the demonisation of garage. All over the country there are hundreds of clubs attended by thousands of young people dancing to garage-by and large free from violence.

Garage music is a blend of hip hop, R 'n' B, house and jungle, from which a completely new sound has been created. It is the music of young urban Britain-both black and white. Much of garage is no more than commercial pop music. Artists like Craig David and Artful Dodger can be heard piped out in any shopping centre.

But another strand of the music is the product of Britain's council estates. Like its US counterpart, hip hop, garage is a mass of contradictions. At its best (The Streets/Ms Dynamite) it expresses rage against poverty and police brutality, and the hope for a better future. But it also reflects the most negative aspects of working class life-violence, bigotry and individualism. So Solid's music represents the negative end of the spectrum.

One thing's for sure-the violence surrounding So Solid Crew doesn't upset the record corporations one bit. After all, that is how they believe black and white working class people live.

One unnamed Sony record company manager (the record label that signed So Solid Crew) boasted, 'I don't understand their appeal but every shock headline means another ten thousand more units go out our door.' Whatever violence So Solid Crew sing about, it is nothing compared to the past exploits of the multinational record companies.

The musical history books are full of stories of exploitation, violence and drugs. I thought I'd just give a couple of examples. In the battle for label supremacy in the 1990s, Bad Boy Records (owned by Arista) and Death Row Records (who come under the umbrella of Atlantic Records) faced investigation for the murder of each other's recording artists. One New York police chief said that they were literally wiping out the competition.

The Prestige record label was responsible for recording some of the best jazz music in the 1950s. Musicians called it the 'junkies' label'. The company recorded the Mingus Trio for the paltry sum of $10, a free lunch and cocaine. Today Prestige is owned by Sony records.

On the evidence of their first album, So Solid Crew are just doing their masters' bidding.

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Sat 5 Jan 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1781
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