In 2016 we found ourselves in strange and scary times, music and politics have always gone hand in hand so someone needs to be soundtracking this nightmare. From Pussy Riot to the Fat White Family, there are acts making noise. However it can feel at times as though artists are shunning their duty to be vocal. It hasn’t always been this way though and past events such as Rock Against Racism that began in the 70’s show there is an alternative to silence and apathy. Rock Against Racism brought together black and white bands as a united voice against fascism. One band singing and standing proud are London four-piece Sisteray. Whether it’s supporting Jeremy Corbyn at charity gigs or singing about the rapid rate at which London is being gentrified, they are a band for the times – and they are making all the right noises.
Music should reflect the landscape it is born in and from and this has been the case for years ,however recently things have changed. From the likes of Faris Badwan claiming he didn’t vote to a range of other bands being completely silent it seems these artists that have a responsibility to be vocal. The statistics of the last general election and Brexit didn’t lie with it being estimated that only 36 % of people in the 18-24 year old category voted in the EU referendum. and young people missed the opportunity to use their vote. Surely then is it not time the artists whom these young people adore and give so much for returned the favour? On the other hand however it could also be argued that for artists to be more vocal us as listeners need to be more accepting of their views even if we disagree. Take for example when Kanye West recently revealed on stage that he didn’t vote but would have voted for Trump. Should we not be encouraging a platform in which all people can feel safe and not be chastised for expressing their views? I wanted to gain a better knowledge of what motivates a band like Sisteray to use their voices in a time when so few fellow musicians are.
I meet guitarist of Sisteray Dan Connolly in the cafe adjacent to Rough Trade and we both joke that Pete Doherty had of course not turned up to perform at his album launch. We sit and discuss the early beginnings of the band. “I started the band with my little brother who used to be the drummer. Basically I’d been writing songs for a few years and couldn’t really play guitar and he was a brilliant musician. I just really wanted to start a band and then I met Niall at the front row of a thrash metal gig at 12 bar club, it’s not there anymore but yeah it was just random. We came together through a love of live music. I like to throw myself in at the deep end so before we’d even had a rehearsal I booked us a gig for like three weeks time. We were camping for Mike’s birthday and and he only barely played guitar and we was lie “have you find a bass player yet?” and i was like “nah, do you wanna do it?” and he said “I’ll give it a go”. So he turns up to rehearsal with an electric guitar and played his bass lines on the guitar and the first ever time he hit a bass guitar was at our first ever gig cuts a friend leant him one. A pretty random coming together, funny old story.”. Dan goes on to describe his four piece as “Four Charlatans who can’t really play guitar that well but we’ve decided to get our stufft together and start a band and make our feelings known”.
Sisteray feel like a band on the edge of brilliance and new track ‘The Queen’s English’ could be the one to help the hit big. “This song was born out of those feeling and having discussions with the band over those sorta things. We’d come up with a line from what a politician would say or something. It all came from the Queen’s line in her speech when she sat on her golden throne and told us all we had to “live within our means”. That’s a line we’ve actually put in the song so the song kinda grew from that.”.
Whilst researching Sisteray I came across an incredible invention of theirs, The Sisteray Street Army. It’s essentially a group of willing devotees that share Facebook posts and help share flyers and posters, Dan describes it as “enhancing the power of people”. In a time where finances aren’t readily available to upstarting bands for big promotions the value of people can’t be valued enough. Dan sums it up best in his own words “They do a lot for us and we do a lot for them. It’s definitely a mutual affection there.”. Along with Guerilla gigs the Street Army shows Sisteray doing it for themselves and showing a true punk attitude to promoting themselves. I spoke to Liam Brown of the Sisteray Street Army who said he was a member because “The knowledge needs to be spread across the fens of the shires”.
One of the key issues affecting where myself and Sisteray call home is Gentrification, bit by bit the city of London is becoming unrecognisable. This has hit home for the guys and they took to writing a song after the venue they first started out in was knocked down to make way for a Primark. Dan makes the interesting point that venues being closed on a seemingly weekly basis will take it’s toll on the industry. “You’ll see the charts being more and more diluted the more and more venues shut down cus there’s clearly a connection. There’s nowhere for bands to learn their craft, there’s nowhere for bands to rehearse, there’s nowhere for bands to record.”. Another issue we discuss is the class divide within music and the fact that when Sisteray played their first major festival at Isle Of Wight they travelled via megabus and car whilst many of the bands they were dropped off in parents Range Rovers. It would appear the working classes voice is being silenced within the world of music be it through increasing rents or lack of opportunity.
Sisteray themselves draw inspiration from life experience and people rather than other bands. Dan tells me “ It’s in everything we do. Especially when we get asked in interviews “Who are your inspirations? Do you like the Arctic Monkeys?” and all that generic who do you like questions but I always say life growing up on a council estates in East London and the stuff we all go through and the people you meet and the experiences. The level we write a song, that’s the centre point”.
I go on to ask Dan if he thinks enough bands are being vocal about political issues “No, there are a lot but they’re not in the mainstream. I mean as popular as Fat White Family are they’re not a mainstream band. They’re the ones that are shouting. You hear the odd person speak about the odd topic but it’s never enough. I mean what Lily Allen did with the Refugees in Calais was great, going there seeing first hand experiences and standing up for herself when she got rubbished by The Daily Mail. Play the gig with us, help us sell fifty-thousand tickets at a stadium somewhere for small music venues and then plough that money back into the scene, if you care that much. “
There is some hope though it would seem, I recently attended the Bands For Refugees gig. The gig curated by lead singer of Wolf Alice Ellie Rowsell and I was blown away by the love and positivity in the room. Members from bands including The Vaccines and Spector came together for three shows to perform covers and raise money for charity.
Bands like Sisteray, organisations like the Music Venue Trust and of course us as young people are all leading the fightback. Throughout my investigation I concluded that we need more voices singing as loud as they can. Find your own community be it with friends in a music scene or people who enjoy going to the came cinema as you. Come together and stand strong as a united force. Pick up a guitar or sing a song and keep hope alive and vote, please use your vote at the next opportunity.
Words by Jack Winstanley