I toyed with the idea of a post celebrating Europe last summer around the referendum vote, but frankly, I was too damned down about the whole thing to even consider it. Debate has raged, of course, in the press, in person, on social media, just about everywhere, and there is certainly no doubt that the country is probably even further away from consensus than it ever was.
But with Article 50 having finally been invoked, I realised that perhaps I should revisit this after all. My initial thinking – and challenge from my wife, actually – was to extend my usual ten to cover one band/song from every country in the EU (with a generalised remit to find bands that I would normally cover, rather than just any old band I could find), which actually turned out to be considerably harder than I thought. Indeed, by the way, if any readers can come up with great alternative bands from Lithuania or Slovakia, I’d love to hear from you.
So. I’ve gone on record on my posts, and elsewhere, a considerable number of times that I’m a committed European, and of course I voted Remain last summer. This, then, is twelve songs about Europe, and are in the main positive about it. Yes, twelve rather than ten – I had so many that I had trouble whittling it down, and also of course the EU flag has twelve stars on it.
Europa Endlos/Trans Europa Express
Trans Europa Express
Kraftwerk, for all their reputation of being futuristic, forward-looking electronic pioneers, actually spent an awful lot of their time in song looking either backward or at the human condition. Die Mensch-Maschine, the album that all-but invented synthpop, is very much a nostalgic look at the sleek new future foretold in the 1920s and 1930s, before war swept it all away – despite it’s still ultra-modern sound. Trans Europa Express (I prefer the original German titles, by the way) was the album where modernity and hope for the future was very much key.
Two songs in particular make this so clear. Europa Endlos (and it’s corresponding closing reprise, Endlos Endlos) is an elegant movement that seems to immortalise the bright future that post-war Europe had brought to the West (perhaps not so much the case in Eastern Europe at the time, of course), noting the beauty and grace of the continent in it’s few lyrics. The title track, though (and the tracks that follow it, as part of a greater whole), is a take on the modernity of the time, celebrating the sleek, crimson and cream trains that provided the TEE network of the time (nowadays replaced by EuroCity trains and various cross-border High Speed Trains), that were all-first class, and the last word in luxurious, fast train travel at the time. A newly connected Europe, one where business, society and culture could all-but effortlessly cross borders and reach far-flung cities so much faster, one that was later enabled fully by the Schengen agreement that was initially signed in 1985 and took effect in the following couple of decades – something the UK, of course, never actually signed up to, meaning that border checks into and out of the UK remained, and rather made a mockery of the Leave campaign screaming that “we” could “take back control of our borders”. Er, we never gave up control…
See also the gorgeous Thalys by Metroland for what is basically an updated take on the same idea.
Europa Geht Durch Mich
Intriguingly, breaking somewhat with their past recently gave the Manics their best, most fascinating album in an age. Futurology (a companion to the mainly acoustic, reflective Rewind The Film from the previous year) was an album steeped in the hopes and dreams of a generation looking to the future, and on a number of songs, reflecting strongly on ties to Europe and art. Europa Geht Durch Mich – translating as “Europe runs through me”, broadly – is the most thrilling song here, a stomping, roof-raising electro-rock track that boils down the European dream to a few key points, but basically that Europe – and thus the UK – has benefitted massively in the post-war period thanks to peace, co-operation, and a desire to move forward rather than being constantly encumbered by the past (see also this interview from the time in the NME. That the European “dream” is now foundering is down, at least in part, to these ideals being challenged – more of this in a bit.
Songs For Swinging Lovers
I am, I must confess, not as into The Indelicates as much as my wife is, but there are certain songs of theirs I adore, and this is very much one of those. This is the band heading into the territory of Brechtian Cabaret, of sorts, in a scathing commentary of class and excess that invokes the fabled excesses of the early twentieth century in Europe – and like a few of their other songs, critiques the moneyed classes of now – and does so in a thrilling three minute charge.
Those moneyed classes in the UK, of course – and especially many of the very wealthy MPs – seemed to be falling over themselves to get themselves out of the EU, as they have enough money not to care, and those who led the campaigns to leave are now, mainly, invisible as they slipped away to let others carry the can and deal with the mess they left.
Europe is Our Playground
It has been long accepted that to fully appreciate just how brilliant and prolific Suede were in the nineties, you need to dig into their B-sides too, and this song is a perfect example of it. The B-side to Coming Up lead single Trash, it is frankly the better song, and also a curious antidote to the “Cool Britannia” of the age, of which Suede had been co-opted into whether they liked it or not.
Yeah, so London is home (for them as well as me at the time, as it is now), but that has never stopped me heading out to enjoy the culture of nearby Europe, which still feels so different even though it’s only a metaphorical stone’s throw away. Eurostar, and low-cost airlines, have of course changed everything – now I’m in reach of most of Europe, and cheaply, within a couple of hours travel time. Indeed, on Eurostar, I can be in Brussels within three hours from my doorstep if I time it right. How will that convenience fare once we leave, I wonder – and how long before the likes of the Daily Mail start whining about the additional time to cross borders?
The Things We Make
Six by Seven were never a happy, jolly band, brushing most of their music in a bitter distaste for the world around them (and there’ll be more about that when I finally get a post about their recent reunion and re-issues completed, that’s for sure), and perhaps we should have seen what was coming in the shape of their very first single.
At the point of release – late 1997 – there was a curious optimism abounding in the UK. The Tories had finally been swept from power after eighteen years, putting Tony Blair and his “New” Labour party into power, and things seemed rather more positive than they had been for a while (and it’s worth remembering that despite the Iraq War, there were many good things – and a few other bad things too – that they did), and one of those seemed to be a more concilliatory attitude to Europe that might have resulted in closer integration after all.
Six By Seven appeared not to see it that way, though, as this song – taut to breaking point, stretching out over seven harrowing, thrilling minutes, with guitars that howl like air-raid sirens – snarled at the popular view.
“European….Me. It’s good to be someone”
What a ringing endorsement, eh? It has long struck me that this song was almost a “great, we can be European rather than British, but what about everything else that’s wrong?” howl from the provincial towns, one that as we now know, was a warning that was never heeded until it was far, far too late.
Just how much sentiment towards Europe from the British has changed can be tracked – in some ways, anyway – by the way it was treated in song. Although saying that, I’m not aware of any pro-Brexit songs to have made the mainstream recently, but a number of cultural figures have come out as pro-leave (Morrissey, Michael Caine, to name but two). This song, which comes from the band’s 1980 breakthrough album, is part of an album captivated by life outside the UK (there’s this, the title track, and Western Promise, too, which seems to long for a life in the East). And it’s about the older generation perhaps not understanding why their children might want to move away, and see the world (in this case Europe), and broaden their horizons. Perhaps some things really haven’t changed.
From the same period, by the way, Japan‘s European Son also fits the bill.
I Love EU
Gruff Rhys – better known, perhaps, as the lead singer of the Super Furry Animals – released this song in the run-up to the Referendum last year, becoming a second prominent Welsh musician to nail his colours to the EU mast. The Welsh voted in the majority to reject the EU in the end, despite many parts of the country getting vast amounts of EU funding for regeneration (the reasons behind which were investigated recently by press coverage in the town of Ebbw Vale).
His reasoning was provided in the Guardian at the time, with a wonderful analogy comparing the different parts of the EU to different rooms in a massive nightclub. The song itself is a strange, whimsical thing, a love song to the EU as if the EU was female. Best lines, though: “you liberated me from pie and mash / you cultured me with sophistication and panache“.
Another that came up in the various suggestions last week was this song, which I must confess that I’d never paid full attention to the significance of the lyrics (my German isn’t good enough to fully translate songs when I hear them, that’s for sure!). But, the opening verse makes things perfectly clear:
“I am the dozen shining stars
On a blue background ordered in a circle
I am the light of human warmth
Points to you the way through joy and pain”
This is the titular signpost, the idea (once again) that the EU is seen as a beacon of hope, of peace and of unity. This is especially important in a region of over 500 million people, representing vast numbers of different races, groups, religions, languages. It still beggars belief that we want to leave this bloc and some in this country believe we will be stronger without. Yes, the EU has governance issues, but how do you change those by having no say?
European Super State
Funnily enough, Killing Joke – a band who’ve released a number of songs over the years about Europe – tackle the idea of European democracy in their latest song on the subject.
“It’s a civilising force that demands respect – from the Baltic to the Straits Of Gibraltar
A blue flag gold star sparks a brand new empire
Ours to build, ours the choice”
It’s a pounding, industrial-tinged track that broadly seems supportive of the idea of Europe and the EU, but seems to have a few lines that very much appreciates that not all is well within the realms of European integration.
I never thought I’d be able to feature a song from one of my favourite films of all (the incomparable, otherworldly beauty of Wings of Desire), but a friend (thanks Fiona!) reminded me of this being featured. A film that is about loneliness, ostensibly, set in a city that was about to enter (another) period of profound change, as the film was filmed and set just two years before the Wall came down. And this song – by an American post-punk band that relocated to Europe before this album was released – reminds us that some emotions, like love, are a universal thing, the same problems with matters of the heart are shared by all across Europe. And by inference, we perhaps have more in common than we have differences.
“London to Paris
Amsterdam to Berlin
Walking the same streets
Thinking the same Thoughts”
Now You Will Pay
Maybe many of us didn’t notice it at the time, but Laibach have been providing political commentary on the EU since the turn of the millenium – in other words, long before Spectre made it really explicit. Yeah, so Eurovision on that album, where the band look at where we’ve got to in Europe (“In the absence of war / We are questioning peace“, which seems uncomfortably prescient after recent comments by Michael Howard in particular), was my first call for the shortlist this week.
But then I remembered the details of their extraordinary London show last year, where in song they made some pretty clear comments on the United Kingdom’s position in Europe. Best of all there was the pounding, hammering choral-industrial of Now You Will Pay, where (from an Eastern European perspective) the band sneer at the fears of Western Europe being “overrun” by immigrants from the East when countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and of course Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 (ten countries in total joined at that point, with two more in 2007 and then Croatia in 2013). Indeed they make it sound like a military invasion, which I’m sure was the whole point.
“Barbarians are coming / Crawling from the east”
Most of the lyrics could be drawn from articles in The Sun early in the 2000s, I’m sure, as they threaten to end our way of life and assimilate “us” into their ways. The reality, of course, was rather different, with large numbers moving to countries such as the UK, but also elsewhere, and many becoming pillars of their communities – but no matter what they did, always being the focal point of any dissatisfaction with immigrants, particularly after the financial crash a few years later.
And that’s the problem – blaming immigrants is always so easy, when the problems are often so much more complex. These migrants are not those cutting public services, cutting the NHS, and driving up house prices. Our Government’s policies over many years have laid the ground for this, blaming someone else – “others” – simply deflects attention and allows them a free hand.
Full Fact give us some useful numbers, too, with around 3.2 million EU citizens living in the UK at present, however it should also be remembered that well over a million UK citizens live in the EU, too – the flow is not all one-way.
Un-United Kingdom EP
Every action, of course, has consequences, and Pitchshifter inadvertently foresaw this in 1999. A punk-industrial thrash that was, more than anything, a call to arms at a dissatisfaction with what the United Kingdom had become at the time. There was still a groundswell of support for Blair and his (Nu-)Labour Government – the invasion of Iraq hadn’t happened yet in those pre-9/11 days – but Pitchshifter saw things as not half as great as many were making out. And now, eighteen years later, we really are looking at a divided United Kingdom, with the referendum already having caused a second Scottish Independence Referendum to be formally requested, and ever-louder murmurings from Northern Ireland over a plan for dealing with the border with the Republic. I wonder what our country will look like in ten years time?