On Saturday 19th of October, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in London to join in the People’s Vote march. With a final congregation in Parliament Square, the unity of so many people, some of whom had travelled overnight to be there, perhaps was a greater statement than the march itself.
Before I was aware of the protest, I’d been sent a Facebook event page for ‘R3 Soundsystem: Second Referendum Now!’. This was phrased as an invite to a free rave. R3 Soundsystem’s three R’s are Resist, Reject, Revolt. It describes itself as “a consortium of DJs, musicians, producers, artists, crews, festivals, clubs, sound systems, activists, movements, cultural organisations and, above all, music lovers” and was also present at the previous two People’s Vote Demos and an anti-Trump rally earlier in the year.
In Trafalgar Square, played from a rather modest stack of speakers beneath a banner promoting the values of R3 as well as the statement that ‘music is resistance’, was ABBA’s ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’. The obvious sentiment was a celebration of euro-trash – ultimately why many young people want to stay in the EU. The atmosphere felt like the beginning of most raves, before anyone has quite lost their self-aware embarrassment. However, although anti-Brexit shout-outs did rouse the crowd slightly, it was easy to forget the cause of it all.
This poses the question: what is the efficacy of music’s involvement in protest? Of course, this is not to put under scrutiny music itself as a form of protest, but rather the validity of its use as a soundtrack or as an incentive for involvement during protests. Though it would be easy to argue that any way of involving young people in politics is valuable, is it not cheap to assume that we can be bought by the promise of some decent dance music? Those present on Saturday were unlikely to have been drawn by Bicep to join the rally. The feeling at a protest is generally one of unity, shared cause, a sense of injustice to be undone; this was evident along the march, but crucially not present as a crowd of young adults half-heartedly bobbed their heads to barely perceptible music.
You shouldn’t be reading this as a critique of R3 Soundsystem itself: its motivations and participants are all to be applauded, however in reality its impact is little more than symbolic. In a period that is fraught with politic stress, when the unknown looms, music events can be a method of escapism and celebration. Rave in the name of remaining but don’t use it as your only form of protest.