As we bring to an end the tumultuous...thing that was 2016 our thoughts collectively turn to asking ourselves - 'what the drokk that was all about?'. This year will almost certainly be considered the year when several of the key elements of the political and cultural settlement suffered a kind of rupture – how severe a rupture remains to be seen, but the indications are that this could be the beginning of some deeper cultural shifts over the coming year.
The sheer number of artists, musicians and film stars that have passed away this year has been possibly the most visible, and emotive indicator of the changing times. Rather than a sign of a dark, nefarious force at work it is more simply a sign that the generation of the baby boomers, of rock & roll and Hollywood and the whole gamut of post-war culture, is beginning to get older. This will of course become an increasing factor in the future, much as we would like it to be otherwise – although that does make the need to celebrate that cultural legacy even more important in the here and now.
But probably the strangest aspect of the year has been way it has darkly reflected one of rock culture's most enduring tropes. Alternative music has always tried to channel that anarchic vibe of rebellion, of insurrection, and of youthful insurgency; from biker gangs to skinheads to the counterculture to protests to illegal raves to punk rock. But for most of the time this has been simply an impression – an echo – rather than any inclination to put it into practice. And even when it was applied it was as the angry cry of the oppressed, such as the Poll Tax or Brixton riots.
However, 2016 has shown that expression being channelled in much darker ways; with street violence, racial harassment, hate crimes, terrorism, and the rise of authoritarian nationalism throughout the European continent and the US. The political upheavals of the year, from Trump to Austria to Brexit, are all linked to this same sense of aggrieved nihilism.
But where does that lead? Where does being 'wild in the streets' take us? It must come as little surprise if the peons to unrest and destruction that rock culture has written ultimately has a darker side; riots and political revolution aren't always fun, or at least not for long. If the 'man in the street' is angry, is that always such a good thing? People are often angry, but not always for the right reasons.
Maybe it is the discipline of resistance, of defence, of not yielding that are the real spirit of alternative culture; one that recognises oppression and commits itself to fight it, and that respects diversity and rights. Because sometime the alternatives to vanilla culture as just as unpalatable as conformity – after all, as a great man once said, 'when you listen to fools, the mob rules.'
Happy new year, everyone.