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Interview - can music change the world? (UK Music & Sociology)

January 10, 2018

At the end of 2017 I had the honour of being interviewed by the University of Durango (Mexico) as part of a music & sociology study of musicians & societies across the globe. 

Interviewed by Jaime Antonio De La Torre:

 

Where are you from?

Beth: UK, London

How long have you been a musician?

Beth: I've been playing guitar and writing songs for 10 years now. I’ve sung all my life but I started taking singing seriously about 5 years ago

How did music influence you growing up?

Beth: It gave me hope, I think, I've always been a little bit weird and different, and hyper-sensitive to the world around me. I've never fitted in with what was expected of me. But music was always there for me, a reassurance that I could be part of something bigger than myself, and that everything would be ok.

Growing up in a rough council estate things could be bleak, but music was my escape. I found something to fight for, and dedicate my life to, it's given me a purpose to my life that has meaning to me.

How do you think music influences society in the UK?

Beth: Escapism mostly, it's the steam vent for a lot of frustration that's boiling up in the younger generations that can't afford to live anymore. Punk music is becoming popular again, and people are using it to come together and bond over their anger about poverty and austerity. On the flip side you have sugary happy funk/pop in the mainstream, that's giving people a happy escape.

Would you take music as a psychological escape into the emotional charge that is living day by day in a capitalist system?

Why do you think this is?

Beth: Yes, that's a good way to put it. After an economic collapse, you always get this divide with music that reflects the unrest: the mainstream pop culture becomes really happy and bouncy and shallow and dancy in an effort to cheer everyone up and curb their frustration. But the underground music coming from real people as opposed to corporations becomes much edgier and angry and punk, because that reflects how a lot of people are actually feeling.

In the UK, do they protest against bad education and the system through music? or are they in accordance with what is established?

Beth: Half and half, there's a split really. You get the ones that fall into line and aren’t really paying attention, and will just listen to whatever music is given to them. Between maybe 15-30 years old are the ones most into rebellion/politically charged music, maybe because they’re the ones most affected by the austerity, or maybe because they’re more likely to be tuned in to the underground scene.

How do you think rock (and its derivatives) have influenced in education in the UK? Has rock influenced students to be more aware of the problems in their society?

Beth: In the UK education system, the number 1 thing we are taught is how to conform. We dress in identical smart uniforms, we're not allowed to dye our hair or wear jewellery or say anything out of turn, or do anything that sets us apart as individuals, to do so is seen as disrespectful to authority.

Listening to your elders and accepting anything they say as absolute truth is hammered into us as the most important thing. Offering balanced perspective or finding out what is actually the truth is irrelevant, all that matters is that we are trained to take orders. Even learning music at school, I was not taught to be expressive, nor did I study anything modern or relevant, instead I was taught to learn and obey the rules of music.

Rock music is important for young people in education because of this reason, it is expressive, it deliberately breaks the rules, and it showcases success by being purely emotional, and authentically individual, and not under the thumb of the authority. Some of the most famous and influential singers in rock culture couldn't technically sing very well, they weren't taught technique, and they had no idea about theory, what was important was that they were saying something of substance, something that resonates with others as human beings.

In this example it can help to ignite a small piece of free thought and rebellious independence in the listener. Something else to identify with, that comes from a place of real human emotion, without agenda or control.

What does music really have to teach society?

Beth: Unity, firstly, I guess. Under the hardest times sociologically/economically is when some of the best new music genres appear, because it forces people of different cultures to mingle and create something new, this is why the best new genres generally come from the lower classes, (for example Blues, Rap, Hip-Hop, RnB, Reggae, Dubstep etc all came from the lower class) because this is the class where people of different backgrounds are forced to live together and therefore learn from one another.

It reminds us that the cock-rock and metal of the 80's dominated by cis white men wouldn't exist without African rhythms, blended with guitar music during American slavery to create Blues. You can find traces of Latin, Indian, African and Asian influences in the UK charts at any time, all of the greatest songs exist because of a coming together of humanity, despite hardship or wrongdoing.

I'd say also our society right now is very conservative, secular, ordered, serious. Things are spiralling badly, and everyone’s trying to get a tighter grip of control. Everything is all about "I'll be happy when X happens" you go to school and are told you'll be happy when you find a nice job, you have a job and will be happy when you get a better job, you'll be happy when you get married, when you procreate etc and life gets wasted in this very serious tightly controlled life that puts peoples productivity as a worker above their wellbeing as a human; work first, enjoy later, except later never comes.

Music especially, but by extension all art, is the tether back into humanity that reminds us that life is, by nature, playful. There is no logical point to music, there is no conclusion or point to reaching the end of a song, we aren’t sitting waiting for the end of the song to be happy, we enjoy each moment throughout. Music is one moment where we allow ourselves to simply be, to connect emotionally to something, and empathise outside of ourselves. Emotion and expressive beauty is the point, and that goes against everything we are taught, but aligns perfectly with who we are as emotional human beings.

Is music in the Kingdom united as a means of revelation against the government?

Beth: Only on a small, underground scale. There's a lot of unrest but no mass-scale revolution going on. It's like a steam vent for society, throughout history the ones in control know that they need to allow for a certain amount of rebelliousness because it serves as an outlet for peoples anger. If they tried to suppress it the anger would build up and boil over into large scale revolution. So they let the anger be vented into creative underground projects, that never see any support, nor do they allow anarchic music into the mainstream to gain too much traction, so it's kept at a constant low level outlet, a steam vent.

What do you think is the main problem of free expression with art (taking music as art) in England?

B: Freedom and morality will always be at odds with each other. The more freedom you give people the more freedom you give them to be immoral and hateful. People can sing sexist, rapey, racist, hateful, ignorant stuff and nobody can stop them, but it's a compromise that has to happen if we give artists freedom to put across anything they think is important without restrictions. If we were to put someone in control of what’s acceptable and what’s not musically, they could twist the rules and censor to their own agenda, which would be worse.

Do you need to express love and tolerance in the UK?

Is racism a tangent problem in the UK?

Beth: By its nature music brings people together by bonding over similar emotions, even if the emotions are negative, like anger or sadness, or loss of hope. Music has to power to bring all kinds of people under the same umbrella in their love for the same genre, no matter what that music expresses. But yes, there should always be a constant stream of music available to people that encourages love and tolerance, in any country.

There's a real generational divide, the older generations are generally more racist, and there are small movements and organisations that are really hateful, but the rest of the country mostly laughs at them and thinks they're pathetic. There's been an economic crash and people can't afford to live the way they used to, and throughout history every single time the economy is in trouble racism rises; people blame outsiders first, instead of the banks and the government.

But the younger generation isn't so bad, we grew up already broke, immersed with people from every culture both online and in our schools and jobs, it's more the much older ones that are stuck in their ways and are bitter that they've lost everything financially, they don’t understand what’s going on and think that if immigrants left then things might go back to how they were.

I wouldn't say that new music is deliberately racist or hateful, it's probably the most inclusive it's been in a long time. At the moment we’re seeing even more diversity in music with Latin, Asian and European elements appearing really strongly in a lot of music right now. I think this is a deliberate kickback to the racism and the nationalistic attitudes that are affecting people.

Do you think that artists and intellectuals should have sensitivity to what is happening in society?

Beth: An artist will not likely succeed unless they do. The ones who will become popular and successful spreading their art are the ones who will be paying attention to the society around them. Having sensitivity to the world around you will make your art more relatable.

It's called "Zeitgeist" it means the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time. Or to put simply "The mood of the moment" sociologically. It's the thing that musicians and artists are always trying to find, because if you find the zeitgeist, you find a mood or a style that relates perfectly to what is going on in society at the time, and how everyone is feeling, and this is what causes certain songs to explode in popularity.

In conclusion; Do you think music will help change the world (in a positive way)?

Beth: Music is bound to society, music and society are deeply woven in with each other in a constant flux. Music always tries to put the best foot forward but society will never adopt rapid change, it evolves from generation to generation. Music is part of that evolution, and has to capacity to create slightly more intelligent, inclusive, or loving people that then may have a slightly more positive influence on their child.

I do not think that music can help create a significant revolution that would overthrow governments or create rapid positive change, because music relies on the government, the media, and money in order to even reach people and gain traction. So music encouraging people to rise up is always just deliberately kept in the underground scene. But in a slower, more subtle way positive messages can make their way into people's subconscious.

In music the artist themselves are arguably more important as the art in terms of influencing their fans, because people follow people more readily than they follow philosophies. Miley Cyrus' fans are going vegan not because of her songs but because Miley Cyrus is constantly praising veganism on her social media. Kurt Cobain helped people stop being homophobic through his own example of befriending and standing shoulder to shoulder with LGBTQ+ people. Music doesn't have authority to tell people what to do, but it can unite people under a common idol (the artist) and lead by the artists’ example.

Neither music nor society can improve without the other, because artists are a reflection of the society they grew up in, and they in turn influence the next generation of society. Music tries it's best to pull humanity along into a better place but it can only do so very slowly.

It’s easy to get impatient now, but if we look back over the last 100 years we have the perspective to see that music did shape the world positively, the breakdown of extreme segregation and racism in America began when white people started listening to Blues music, and therefore empathising with black artists. At the time change was so slow that you wouldn't notice it if you lived at the time, but now 80 years later we can see the snowball effect of both music and society becoming more and more inclusive of black people at the same time, like parallels of one another.

I think the same goes for today, we get impatient because day to day nothing is happening, but generation to generation positive messages are building and becoming more in the foreground of people’s minds. A question of will music change humanity is a question of do you believe humanity has the strength to change before it is too late. I don't really know, all we can do is do our best to create positive change as musicians and as individuals and trust that change is always happening even if we're too immersed in our society to see it.

 

Thank you. It is a pleasure to read what you write; I have heard your songs, it’s clear that you put your soul in them fully, and I feel the same with the way you write. It's good to know that there are people like you all over the world.

 

Beth: Thankyou, it really means a lot that you've taken the time to listen to my music. And thank you for listening to me today.

 

Facebook.com/BethMunroeMusic
Soundcloud.com/BethMunroeMusic

Instagram.com/BethMunroeMusic

Youtube.com/BethMunroeMusic

Twitter.com/BethMunroeMusic

 

 

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