King Krule: Rock & Roll in Neoliberal Britain

This song, by King Krule, caught my attention recently.

One of the interesting things here for me is the way in which the song and the video use the figure of the ‘juvenile delinquent’ in (slightly different) ways, which resist and contest this stereotype and the associations that go with it.

The song creates a different kind of space in which to consider urban, working-class youth — different vectors for identity and ‘culture’. Rather than being the product of an ‘underclass’ characterised by ‘dysfunctional families’ and a ‘culture of hopelessness and failure’ (as commonly represented by mainstream political discourse), here King Krule (significantly, a play on King Creole) is able to question these politicised assumptions.

In part, this is through a deliberately stylised performance that connects itself with a long, rich, hybrid working-class tradition of blues, rock & roll, punk (and other more contemporary music – dub step, &c – in other songs, as well as jazz, ). In fact, rock & roll is not only a ‘working-class’ tradition, but a tradition that is founded on the transgression of racial and class based social and cultural demarcations, in the postwar US. That is to say, it is a tradition that itself resists certain forms of ‘classification’.*

This is not a ‘culture’ that can be pigeonholed, readily, then. It is one which (re)produces different sites and codes of belonging, of ‘attitude’, of authenticity (e.g. think about his voice). It is a tradition with particular, situated aesthetics and ideologies. It is one that is able to articulate certain truths on the basis of certain experiences: ‘same old bobbies same old beat’; likewise, ‘your dead end job, sucking away your life.’ There’s also a great line about Tesco’s sandwiches: the sheer bathos sums up so much about contemporary Britain.

More than simply ‘borrowing’ from this musical tradition, then, King Krule deliberately reactivates rock & roll’s political content — as a transgressive tradition. In doing so, he recalls it to its ‘first principles’, recuperating it from middle-class appropriation as a ‘specialised’ and restricted (i.e. pretentious) discourse, whilst also finding new ways to use it by combining different musical elements — e.g. electronic beats, &c. In doing so, he crosses certain classed, gendered and racialized musical distinctions or classifications; for popular music is a mapped and segregated (if also complex, hybrid, informally organised, unevenly policed and constantly shifting) terrain. It is also a terrain particularly susceptible to forms of deliberate ‘rewriting’ and ‘mis/use’.

One final note: the real power of the song probably comes from this. Unlike the music video of ‘Happy Muslims’ doing the rounds at the moment (see Richard Seymour’s discussion of this), this song does not attempt to contest oppressive forms of classification by simply inverting them, in an attempt to show them up as fabrications. Neither is it a sloppy mess of affirmative sentimentality. Rather, I would suggest that it works by seizing hold of our imaginary relation to the real conditions and lived experience of the contemporary working-class youth (through discourses of authenticity, &c), wresting the power of representation from its class enemies.

In short, worth a listen.

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* Cf. Imogen Tyler’s Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain (Zed books, 2013).