Rock Against Howard

It’s been said politics and music shouldn’t mix. Apolitical geeks claim that when you mix a message with melodies you’ll just end up with wankery. Here’s a tip: anyone who claims the music world and the political world shouldn’t mix is an ignorant turd.

From baroque to hip-hop, music will always be informed by politics, and politics will always be informed by music. Some of the most interesting, exciting songs that have ever been written have been explicitly political. Think of Marvin Gaye’s beautifully damning piece What’s Going On? Think of Bruce Springsteen’s incendiary social commentary in The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Think of Buffalo Springfield’s yearning for a better world on the classic For What It’s Worth. Christ, even think of Nelly’s exploration of ghetto life on Say Now.

Music is one of the most powerful cultural tools that working people have. It can be the voice of the voiceless; it can testify to the hopes and fears of a generation; it can throw a grenade in to the political world; and most importantly it can get people to think about – thanks Marvin – what’s going on.

Now, finally, we’re seeing politics entire the musical fray again here in Australia. Since John Howard and his Liberal government came to power on March 11th 1996 we’ve seen the values that Australia – as a nation – claims to possess disintegrate publicly. We supposedly pride ourselves on giving people a ‘fair go.’ We claim to be honest people. We claim to care about our fellow man. And yet, twice we have elected a man to represent us who has been empirically proven a liar many times.

Howard claimed we’d never see a Goods and Services Tax, and yet in 2000 it appeared. Howard has done nothing to help the ludicrously shocking state of affairs amongst Aboriginal Australians, who die – on average – more than 20 years earlier than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. He has sent us to a war that has been shown to be based on terrible fallacies. Any country worth its ideological salt would have buried this lying swine years ago, and yet we have allowed Howard to represent us as a people for eight years, and if we’re not careful he’ll represent us for another four. The time for caricaturing John Howard as ‘lil’ Johnny’ is over. He is a genuine, serious insult to everything good and right about Australia. And he needs to be kicked out of office.

Hopefully you know all this. But some people don’t, and unfortunately some people don’t care. Thankfully then, Lindsay McDougall from Frenzal Rhomb has put together a compilation entitled Rock Against Howard. It’s a 2-CD, 34-track collection of Australian bands who desperately want to see John Howard run out of office. Bands like Bodyjar, Something For Kate, David Bridie, Peabody, The Resin Dogs, Frenzal Rhomb, The Drugs, The Fauves and many more all make an appearance. Every one of those bands wants to see Howard belittled at the polls and shown to be the sickening fraudster he is.

FasterLouder: What was the catalyst for getting this thing going?

Lindsay McDougall: Basically I realised [that] everyone that I know hates John Howard and everyone they know hates John Howard. And I realised everyone I know is in a band. We could go to demonstrations, we could sign petitions, we could do all that sort of stuff, but we could also put out a bloody CD. That’s one thing we could all do.

FL: Devil’s advocate here: Do you think maybe you’re just preaching to the converted?

LD: I think if we did a punk rock album that was against John Howard and the Liberal party there’d be a chance of that.  Luckily a lot of my friends are in bands which have a much broader appeal than punk rock or Frenzal Rhomb. People like David Bridie and The Anyones and Something For Kate.

It’s good that [people] will now have the opportunity to look at these bands that they love – Something For Kate, The Anyones, god knows – and think ‘wow, this band has a very strong political opinion, maybe we should think about it too.’

FL: Do you think that – in having a conscious movement against Howard – there is a valid alternative? The Labor party doesn’t really present [one].

LD: Well, at the moment the two party system that we have in place in Australia definitely means that there is only one alternative. But even if it means choosing between the lesser of two evils, it’s important and it has to be done. Because that way you can get a government in place in which other voices can be heard. Because, at the moment, the Coalition government is not a place where any other voices are given a run. The Labor party – with all its failings, and there are many – certainly has a far more open ear to any form of alternative thinking.

The decision has to be made, at the moment, that [voting for the Labor party is] the only choice we’ve got, unless we can overturn the whole Westminster system and install a direct democracy or something. We’ve got to choose.

And that’s why, with the album, it’s not Rock For Latham or Rock For Labor, it’s Rock Against Howard. We’re not telling people how to vote, we’re telling them how not to vote.

In this country we have the preferential system, where people do actually get the opportunity to vote more than once. You can vote for the Greens. As long as you send your vote, ultimately, to the Labor party then your voice has been heard more than once. And I think that’s fuckin’ great.

FL: Do you think the Democrats or the Greens are valid people to vote for?

LD: Absolutely. And I think they’re going to gain a lot of ground in this election. I think, with this election, ultimately Latham’s going to get in power and it’ll be awesome… because it won’t be a Liberal. I also think this election is going to be a big shake-up to the two major parties, because they’re going to realise that people are actually looking for valid alternatives. Hopefully this election will show them that they can’t just be the two untouchable parties. These other parties – and independents as well – may end up holding even more power in the Senate.

Talk turns to why Howard hasn’t been voted out of office earlier. What is the state of play with the average Australian voter?

FL: It seems some people haven’t noticed that if you’re working class, maybe you should stop voting for the party that oppresses you.

LD: Absolutely. I guess, in the last election, everyone knew John Howard was a liar and he’d been proven a liar many times before. And people were going ‘oh yeah, he’s a liar, he’s an idiot, he’s a scoundrel, whatever. But he’s keeping our country more secure or economically safe or whatever.’ In this [upcoming] election, hopefully people will be going ‘yeah, he’s a liar, he’s a scoundrel and his decisions are affecting me. I’m the majority, I’m the working-class of Australia. And his Liberal party’s decisions are affecting me detrimentally so I’m not going to vote for them.’

It’s amazing that people can still think the Liberal party is this conservative, traditionalist party when it’s not. It’s a radical, right-wing, fundamentalist party.

FL: It is terrible that people actually don’t think about politics. Which is something I can’t conceive of…

LD: I think [politics] the one thing that connects everyone in Australia. Everyone in Australia loves sport – that’s what I imagine – or has an interest in a sporting team. It’s something John Howard tries to win votes on. But sport doesn’t affect ya’. Politics is something that affects every single person. The political decisions made by the top, tiny percentage of Australians affect every single person down to the smallest person. Politics is so embedded in everyone, I can’t imagine not being interested in it and not wanting to make a difference in it and have an effect.

FL: Do you think Labor will be able to [change things]? After all, the Keating government introduced mandatory detention.

LD: They certainly did. [But] because they’re the opposition, thankfully Mark Latham has actually made a stand when it comes to children out of detention and troops out of Iraq. For whatever reason – it may be [for] purely political reasons – they are actually opposing the government. It’s still a good thing that they’re doing it.

I think, out of the two governments, I’d rather be lobbying the Labor government to free the asylum seekers.

In the Liberal party there’s been a decrease to zero of conscience voting. There’s no one willing to go against John Howard. The people in the Liberal government must be going ‘man, what’s this guy doing?’ But because they’re scared of their jobs or whatever, they don’t wanna’ step out of the party line. Whereas in the Labor government there are a lot of very vocal opponents of mandatory detention and all that sort of stuff; people like Carmen Lawrence, who’s awesome; Lindsay Tanner; Tanya Plibersek; Anthony Albanese. These people, they’re great. I can’t imagine voting for a political party where there wasn’t dissent in the ranks. How can anything get done if you’re not dissenting?

Indeed, McDougall is right. The Labor party may have some questionable policies and they may simply be the lesser of two evils. And yet regardless, when you go to the polls this year, if you vote for the Liberals, the Nationals or any party that directs preferences to the Coalition, you will be sending Australia to another four years of brutal policy that will disadvantage you. You will be supporting a government that has no qualms about lying to the Australian people about ludicrously important things, such as who we go to war with.

One of the most basic – and yet important – ways you can change the course that Australia takes is to vote. Join the 34 bands on Rock Against Howard, and make your vote count.

The Rock Against Howard compilation is out August 30th and will be an outrageously reasonable price. The Rock Against Howard tour, with Frenzal Rhomb and The Herd, will be playing around Australia from the 10th – 19th of September. Check out Rock Against Howard website and the FasterLouder Gig Guide for specific dates. Most importantly, make sure that you’re enrolled to vote if you’re eligible and make sure you don’t vote for the Coalition.