Wednesday 9th October 2013 | Harry
The recent rise of such acts as Foals, Noah and the Whale, the Vaccines and Mumford and Sons to name a few, has left the UK music industry looking alarmingly aristocratic. With toff-rock the order of the day, is the time of the working class hero well and truly over?
There is no doubt that recent social and financial conditions can go some way to explain the abundance of established middle class artists. The recession continues to be a creativity killer, and with conditions for new generations of the working classes continuing to worsen, the art has suffered. As Dorian Lynskey writes ‘it's hard to imagine Pulp surviving long enough to write Common People under the current benefits system’.
The past decade has certainly seen a drop in the numbers of working class artists. They have become such a minority it seems, that regional accents appear to have obtained novelty value. Remember Kate Nash from a few years ago? She was brought up in Harrow, with as middle class a background as is possible, and yet she converses in contrived cockney, always appearing to be just seconds away from breaking into My old mans a dustman. To a certain extent, accents seem to have become a chic accessory rather than a social identifier in today’s UK music scene.
But sadly, while we fear for the future of working class music, the fact is, music has always been middle class at heart.
Case in point: Punk.
Punk is often romanticised, as working class struggle outraged the stuffy middle-classes and aspects of the establishment. As Dorian Lysnkey writes, while one of its figureheads Joe Strummer was a privately schooled son of a diplomat, he was the exception in a working class genre. Lysnkey argues that ‘[while] public school may be able to give us a Joe Strummer but it can't give us a Johnny Rotten’.
But while it is true that while punk rock was all about the disillusioned working class making change through noise, it was the style of punk that played a vital role in creating the ethos and the subsequent sound. The clothes formed the equivalent of a middle finger to society, an expression of contempt. Taboos were embraced and expressed through style.
And while the style was adopted by the frustrated working classes it was the King’s Road boutique SEX, which most influential in the early development of the punk uniform. And SEX of course, the stomping ground of a young John Lydon , was owned and operated by Malcolm McLaren and Vivien Westwood, both of an upper-middle class background.
In this sense while punk can be seen as a reaction of the working class youth against oppressive social conditions, punk style itself was in fact developed by posh art school graduates. Style played such an important role in influencing the nature of punk, and as Vivienne Westwood and her public school boyfriend created punk style, it turns out public schools may well have been responsible for Johnny Rotten and other working class punk pioneers.
History tells us that while diamond in the rough heroes can capture the imaginations of a nation, ultimately it’s the middle classes that pull the strings.