“Wearing badges is not enough, in days like these….” (Billy Bragg, ‘Days Like These’)
You don’t need me to tell you what’s happening in Ireland today. The chances are that you’ll have a strong idea of what you think about it. While any with an opposite view may well be keeping it to themselves, it would seem that the music community is fully behind a Yes vote. Given the demographic of those involved that’s perhaps no surprise, yet the past few months have seen a change on the Irish landscape. As with many other sectors of our society, musicians have been ready for the fight.
For the big names, this has involved the usual pledges of support, reaching a worldwide audience via social media – of which Hozier’s was particularly moving. Even dear old Bono got it right for once. Yet it’s at the grassroots level that the most impressive work has taken place. It was just over a year ago that Le Galaxie, Ships and Daithí hosted the Love System fundraiser at Dublin’s Academy, even longer when the likes of Heathers were playing smaller benefits. Back then it was impossible to predict just how intense the campaign would become, that what seemed such an obvious step would be argued against in such a manner. Even when we staged our own show at Christmas it seemed that this would be a straightforward process.
One look at the number of inflammatory No posters around every town in Ireland indicates how that has changed. It’s always easier to sell a negative than a positive (just take a look at most political campaigning) and so the argument that “well, it’s just fair isn’t it?” has been countered by a string of emotive points – albeit ones based on false premises. Some behind the Yes vote, however, have responded by getting out and doing what they know best.
Thus recent weeks have seen a growing number of benefits taking place, drawing in performers from across the board. Noticeable however has been the punk and hardcore community, lending a musical edge to the political ideology. It helps that for many of the band members involved this is an issue that affects them personally, giving these shows an added urgency. Whatever the motivation, the likes of Kate’s Party, The Winter Passing, Sissy, September Girls, Val Normal, Homecomings, Fang Club and more have brought the ethics and drive of their DIY scene to bear on the situation. They’re not the only ones of course (given the nature of the debate, inclusivity has been the key) but their involvement has crystalized what has been so special about all this. Replicate this in the worlds of sport, literature, film, TV and Irish society in general and you have an undeniable sense that this will be a turning point in our cultural identity.
What, though, happens come tomorrow? This has been too positive, too important to let it fade away in victory or defeat. The nature of such protest means that any movement will always need an opposite to define itself against. There are plenty of those about. The political system may not inspire strong feelings either way but this experience has proved what can happen when people feel they have the power and there are still battles to be won (here looks like a good place to start). Alliances have been formed, points of view exchanged and, perhaps, a new dawn has broken. After all…