Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More Plan Bs, please

Taking stock of Plan’s Ill Manors more than six weeks since its release, it’s a nasty little gem of a song. Angry, aggressively produced, taut with explosive potential. Heir to rocky-breakbeat-rap workouts like Dizzee’s Sirens or even Gunshot’s Crime Story (with added weight from Shostakovich’s 7th, via Peter Fox), Plan B’s flow captures the barely concealed disdain in British society from both top to bottom (Osborne’s mantra: ‘there is no Plan B’) and bottom to top, the insurmountable frustrations and, despite police locking down virtually every potential site of rupture, the possibility of a mass uprising. “Schools out, rules out, get your bloody tools out,” indeed.

2.27m views and rising on YouTube, many musical commentators seemed to endorse it. Among bloggers, Rhian Jones despite citing other contenders said it caught the mood, an ‘inescapable sense of right now being either turning-point or, more likely, snapping-point’. Dan Hancox worked the Leningrad comparison ‘about a great city under siege, and the ordinary people who suffer in its heart frantically trying to resist’. Simon Reynolds was less effusive: ‘Sonically and in terms of delivery, as a record it imparts a fraction of the “Pow”-er of 2002-2005 era grime - ... wish it was Lethal B not Plan B doing it.’

This seems to be the problem. Ill Manors is caught between two positions of preference. It is neither the righteous, Clash-in-Victoria Park rock that the old school of Billy Bragg so desperately want to soundtrack social developments, nor the meta-terror of chainsaw dubstep or grime gems like Pow, Rascal’s I Love You, early Wiley, Tempz’s Next Hype, tunes that fed the education-based protests of 2010. Of course there is no reason why these won’t continue to inspire and feed a positive anger from the socially excluded, but for a banger to have big influence it needs direct reference, lines with keywords. But then even here there is a problem, maybe it’s too in your face, hits the nail on the head too well for oedipod consumers. Does it make you feel uneasy? It should!

This isn’t the only issue. Ill Manors seems to be standing on the frontline on its own, isolated. Where are more shitkicking anthems like it? But this is a hip-hop grime hybrid, the unique product of an artist that’s drawn his inspiration from the underground and the social margins but looked to the mainstream for validation. Where’s more from Drew himself, it’s all gone a bit quiet after the TEDx talk and the NME cover. Plan B, who I’m not in any doubt feels the anger and understands the effect of austerity, needs to keep on about that, otherwise it really does look like a cynical record company ploy to get ‘da kids’ on side. Then you realise this is only the centrepiece to his film of the same name (thought the video looked a bit well produced). If not enjoying the full weight even of its own author (and here the Bulmers add swims inexorably into view), Ill Manors is undermined in any bid to be a tipping point for a protest movement.

As things stand we need more modern rage and abrasive fuck yous like Ill Manors the song, and we need more cultural producers pushing the message, more of the time, so that big numbers of people stand up and notice. The film is out in a few weeks, and remembering that PE’s Fight the Power was the fulcrum of Do the Right Thing, with any luck this will inspire more of the same.

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