In the year before I left the capital for self-imposed exile in the West Country, I was working for a housing charity in South London. The organisation provided support to tenants threatened with homelessness, as well as a drop-in service and workshops run from our office.
It was the year of the introduction of the Bedroom Tax by the Conservatives – a policy that seemed designed to remind the population just how callous their rulers were. Council tenants faced cuts to their Housing Benefit payments if they were deemed to have ‘spare’ rooms in their homes, even if these were used to accommodate carers for sick relatives. As a result, more of the people I worked with were facing eviction due to being unable to meet rent payments. For many, their economic problems were compounded by longstanding mental or physical health difficulties.
Part of my role was to help run some of the workshops and classes in the afternoons. I organised a number of music production workshops that aimed to teach clients basic techniques such as working with audio loops, recording and basic sequencing. The courses were always popular, and frequently over-subscribed.
People would often make their way from the opposite ends of the borough to attend. Some could barely afford the transport costs involved and would be reimbursed the bus fare.
I think part of the reason the courses remained popular was that they provided a brief window of clarity and space in the lives of those who took part. For two hours a week, they didn’t have to think about their daily struggles and the labyrinthine bureaucracies they were constantly caught up in: delayed benefit payments, no money, rent arrears, court summons, gas cut off, eviction notices.
It made it clearer to me that some form of creative outlet, whether it be making a piece of music, drawing or sewing stuffed animals is essential to keeping sane, especially when the world around you seems intent on humiliating you at every move.
Reflecting on the recent re-election of the Tories, it got me thinking how it will be precisely these services – housing, social care and the arts, not to mention benefits – that will be further slashed over the next five years. Not only will this have an immediate detrimental effect on the material conditions of many people who are already struggling, but it will also further restrict possibilities for expression, and imagining alternative ways of looking at the world. If art and music are anything, they are that: doorways to different ways of perceiving and experiencing reality, and different ways of relating to other people and the world around us in general.
It got also got me thinking about how so many forms of music, from rave culture to punk, reggae and hip hop all emerged as forms of disruption and resistance to the prevailing mentality. Maybe the same will be true of the coming decade: just as on an individual level creativity can provide temporary respite from the harshness of the outside world, so on a collective level, maybe the widening social chasm that is emerging in the UK and the brutal politics underpinning it will lead to new forms of music, art and expression; new spaces to breathe and imagine other ways of doing things.