It has been a seismic couple of years worldwide, with ordinary people from Tunis to New York, from Moscow to Cairo stepping – with anger, with optimism, with despair – outside of mainstream processes to demand change, road-test prototype new models for cooperation and political engagement and sometimes, actually bring down governments.
In the UK the “sprawling and growing” Occupy movement first came to people’s attention with the – well – occupation of the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and has spawned a multitude of projects and offshoots that are still very much active, despite the eventual clearing of the main camp. One of these, particularly close to the hearts of music fans, was the songwriting/recording workshop for young people that was organised by the Occupy Citizenship group last month. With high-profile contributions from both Kate Nash and Sam “Get Cape” Duckworth, we spoke to one of the event’s organisers (and Cardiacs superfan), Jamie Kelsey-Fry about the movement, the School of Rockupy event, and the wider context of this special project.
What is your role in the Occupy movement?
“Like everyone, I arrived on October 15th not knowing what to expect other than a massive rally against the destructive nature of the London Stock Exchange and, like everyone still in Occupy, the last five months have been an extraordinary experience. Literally, completely out of the ordinary but deeply inspiring. It’s a complex creature, with no leaders but the voice of the assembly, where participatory democracy is used to find consensus. Politics has become something we do every day, rather than something you get to do once every five years. There are many arms to the sprawling and growing movement, these are all separate working groups which are all connected with the assembly at the centre. I am in several groups: Corporations, Occupy Citizenship, Press, Outreach. Groups meet on average once a week to focus on Occupy-related projects and they report back to the assembly once a week. I don’t think people have actually realised yet how much work is going on. The level of dedication is intoxicating, we are talking about people who have pretty much suspended ordinary reality since October last year. Many have spent the winter in a tent outside a big church. This means that the people working here are a very rare breed indeed. It also means, of course, that many don’t have children or full time jobs as the time needed to keep all the Occupy projects flourishing is overwhelming.”
Why the musical project – what do you think focusing on musical creativity can specifically bring to the movement?
“Rockupy is connected to the Occupy Citizenship working group and Occupation Records. These groups feel very strongly that young people are going to inherit a world that is in tatters after being wrecked by wars for resources, ignoring climate change, consumerism gone crazy and endless cuts while bankers and corporate leaders continue to cream more money than anyone could possibly need. The younger generation need to be heard and taken seriously and Rockupy allows this to happen. An economic system based on infinite growth but which relies on finite resources is not only embarrassing, but it signals a disastrous future for our children.”
Do you personally have a musical background?
“I’ve fronted over a dozen bands. The biggest was The Peoples’ Friend. I still do guest vocals occasionally but literally have no time at the moment due to my ‘occupation’. Incidentally, the best band I have ever heard is Cardiacs. The now legendary Cardiacs live experience were the most exciting and visceral musical experiences I have ever had. Tim Smith is a genius.”
Can you describe how the Rockupy day came about?
“I was a teacher for 23 years so I was able to ring up various schools and get the word out into local communities. As a result, we had a very wide mix of young people. All they knew was that it was organised by Occupy London and that it was going to be a special one-day event where they could learn skills connected to the music industry. They were gobsmacked by what happened, as were we. It was an incredible learning experience for all of us. The small team of Occupiers, along with Kate [Nash] and Sam [Duckworth], were knocked out by how eager the young people were once they were given the opportunity to create a song about what mattered the most to them, collectively, as a group of young people. They were amazing. The subject they chose was ephebiphobia, the fear and loathing of teenagers! All the young people were articulate about what it felt like to be stereotyped, to be maligned, ignored and condescended to (particularly by politicians).”
Did the musicians involved (Kate Nash, Sam Duckworth) approach you, or did you ask them to become involved? Do you have a “wish list” of musicians that you would like to get involved in future?
Sam Duckworth has worked with Occupy for months. He’s an incredible young man. He had discovered that there are a great many artists who support Occupy but they don’t know what to do to help. Kate Nash was one of these people. So Sam suggested she give up a day to work with young people through an Occupy project. We don’t have a wish list but we do have a long list already of artists who want to support Occupy and Rockupy in particular. Rather than simply doing a gig, skill sharing like this, encouraging young people to be heard genuinely is a far more interesting role for a “celebrity” to play within Occupy. Kate Nash was totally open to everything the young people had to say and worked constantly to help them, she was having fun but was completely caring.
What next? How can music enthusiasts get involved?
People need to start following www.occupylsx.org if they are interested in getting involved. The new site makes it easy for people to know what working groups are doing, when they meet, how to get involved. This will be the same for most of the 20 or so camps around the UK and Ireland. Occupy is not just a camp, nor just a bunch of working groups, or simply an activist group… it truly is an idea, and it is for everyone to add to it. That’s the best way for it to grow, for people to come and add their voice at the assemblies.