London: Mute Books, 2011, 184pp.; ISBN-13: 978-1906496517
The Agit Disco project is a collection of music compilations by 23 people 'closely associated with anti-authoritarian politics and DIY culture' (Anthony Isles, p.6), coordinated by Stefan Szczelkun. This book provides the explanatory annotations to those selections, which have been brought together as playlists on YouTube by Caroline Heron, adding a visual dimension to the literature and the audio. The book is engaging enough to stand alone for the most-part, but is more usefully (and enjoyably) taken in conjunction with the songs provided online - no mere textual description of Dick Gaughan's snarl could really do it justice.
Rather than just compile politically overt songs, Agit Disco seeks to develop a 'dancefloor discourse' (Stefan Szczelkun, p.14). Classic protest songs from Guthrie, Seeger et al. still appear, but so too do instrumentals, dance anthems, punk, hip-hop and as many other genres as you could ask for. Unexpected tracks are littered throughout the playlists - Madonna's pop-hit 'Music' or the Orange Order marching tune, 'The Sash', for instance. These are by no-means politically 'right-on' ('The Sash' is an inflammatory sectarian favourite) but they are political, agitational, and have left an imprint in someone's life. That's essentially what Agit Disco is all about: thinking and talking about music from our lives, reflecting on its impact, and ultimately sharing that impact with others.
Refreshingly, the book allows the twenty-three individual contributors to arrange the annotations in their own way. Some choose to provide notes for each selected track; some with a general overview of their experience of music and politics; some with photographs of their battered old LPs; others using the songs to reflect a narrative that is personal, historical, or invented. Some contributors explore specific genres or national cultures; others intermingle genres in demonstration of the shared themes and experiences of musicians from diverse backgrounds. This diffuse range of approaches leaves the book feeling somewhat fragmentary, but then, musical and political experience is itself fragmented. Stricter criteria for selections and formats would only have circumscribed the individual contributors' freedom of expression, and limited the wide span that the project has achieved.
Agit Disco encourages an exploration of genres we might otherwise be unfamiliar with, and helps to draw out...