Your Musicology is My Mythology. Featuring: Chumbawamba.

15 Jul

Like most seven-year-olds in ’97, I first heard of anarcho-punk band Chumbawamba through their chart-topping single ‘Tumthumping‘. Last week, in a break from the recent trend of nineties bands reforming, Chumbawamba announced on their website their intention to call it a day (or, as The Quietus/every site ever so drolly reports: “They get knocked down, they don’t get back up again”).

However, what I’m quickly learning is that these guys are decidedly not a nineties band. Chumbawamba’s legacy spans three decades, after all. First forming in 1982, influenced by fellow anarcho-punk peers Crass, the band journeyed through genres experimenting with post-punk, mainstream pop, electro-pop, acoustic and a capella sounds, to their ultimate reinvention as a “soft, heavily melodic folk sound“. Chumbawamba have constantly evolved, experimented and entertained.

If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the BRIT Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy, then he deserves all we can throw at him - Danbert Nobacon

Chumbawamba dumped a bucket of water over Labour politician John Prescott at the ’98 Brit Awards.

(Speaking of the nineties though, man do they hate boy bands.

In fact, their fifteenth studio album, which gives Fiona Apple a run for her money in terms of absolute lack of brevity, is called The Boy Bands Have Won, and All the Copyists and the Tribute Bands and the TV Talent Show Producers Have Won, If We Allow Our Culture to Be Shaped by Mimicry, Whether from Lack of Ideas or From Exaggerated Respect. You Should Never Try to Freeze Culture. What You Can Do Is Recycle That Culture. Take Your Older Brother’s Hand-Me-Down Jacket and Re-Style It, Re-Fashion It to the Point Where It Becomes Your Own. But Don’t Just Regurgitate Creative History, or Hold Art and Music and Literature as Fixed, Untouchable and Kept Under Glass. The People Who Try to ‘Guard’ Any Particular Form of Music Are, Like the Copyists and Manufactured Bands, Doing It the Worst Disservice, Because the Only Thing That You Can Do to Music That Will Damage It Is Not Change It, Not Make It Your Own. Because Then It Dies, Then It’s Over, Then It’s Done, and the Boy Bands Have Won. It definitely deserved a listen.)

I like to think that ‘Tubthumping’, that little gem of an earworm, was their way of infiltrating the music industry and sharing their politics with a wider audience. It’s like how people discovered The Dresden Dolls through ‘Coin-Operated Boy‘, or think ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart‘ encapsulates the Joy Division experience. ‘Tubthumping’ was an anomaly that didn’t really capture the band’s sound, but allowed them to find a broader and more willingly receptive audience.

It wasn’t until I befriended the ever-effervescent Tommy Monroe and he played me ‘Homophobia‘ that I understood how mind-blowing Chumbawamba really were. The band have always been candid about their politics, and their stances towards class struggle, feminism and anti-fascism. They’ve covered the Bee Gees, funded numerous anarchist projects, and chucked water over John Prescott. Amazing.

If you always thought Chumbawamba were one-hit wonders, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate. Here is ‘Bad Dog’ from their 1994 album Anarchy (fanny warning re: the album art):

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