One of the more depressing elements – as if we needed any more of them – of the current COVID-19 pandemic has been the rush to conspiracy and misinformation. It’s understandable, in a way – find a way to try and deal with what feels like an impossible situation – but some of those taking advantage, and believing easily debunkable theories – really should know better.
Conspiracy theories, apparently, only go back as far as the latter half of the Victorian-era, although the OED cites the first usage in current terms from 1909. The idea has become ever more prevalent in more recent times, though, and they have been common subjects in song, too – with a variety of specific theories covered.
While I had a few ideas of my own (and some of those were used here), a suggestion thread brought about 66 entries in total, just two of which had been used before. Unusually, there was a really high proportion of unique songs (62), and 39 different people suggested songs. While there were less songs suggested overall than usual, this was perhaps a more difficult subject than some others I’ve asked about. Thanks, as ever, to everyone who did take the time to get involved.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
And One haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory recently, ranting about conspiracy theories and openly supporting Donald Trump (although, according to a post over the weekend it was all a “hack”). But, it was pointed out by one friend-of-a-friend that they even had a song about 9/11 conspiracies on an album ten years ago – one we probably missed because, well, I’d only ever been a casual fan, and I’ve not picked up an And One album since Bodypop.
There is, as with any major event, loads of conspiracy bullshit around 9/11. And as with most conspiracies, no matter how many times they are debunked, they double down further (confirmation bias). I’ve been to the 9/11 memorial, and gazed into the void where the buildings used to be in stunned silence. I remember watching the horror of the second plane hitting, live on TV (as many do, I can recall with pinpoint accuracy the moments of that day).
But what I don’t think is that there was some shady conspiracy. There was undoubtedly some questionable decisions by Governments in the US and elsewhere (not least our own UK Government), indefensible wars and a few other things besides, but a conspiracy? No. There were, sadly, people who wanted to kill for their own twisted beliefs and did so in horrifying fashion.
<Editor’s note: Having had this clarified by the band, both songs mentioned here are fictional constructs and are not the opinions of the band.>
The long-standing, melodic synthpop/industrial of Beborn Beton has given us a number of dancefloor classics (the evergreen Another World from this album, for example, and the much more recent 24/7 Mystery being two). But elsewhere, they ask questions, some of which I’d perhaps not noticed before. Like Anorexic World on A Worthy Compensation, where Stefan appears to question his faith, which certainly had me raising my eyebrows at the time of release (songs about faith in religion, as opposed to mistrust in it, are not common in this realm of music, that’s for sure), but this song I’d never really noticed before. Conspiracy is either from the point of view of the writer of the song, or an unnamed, fictional protagonist – that seems to suggest they know that the Government is a conspiracy against the populace. I only hope it was written from the unnamed protagonist point of view – that said, this song has not aged well musically, either…
David Thrussell has had an extraordinarily prolific career over the years, not just as the frontperson of Snog, but also under the Soma and Black Lung titles too. Within that career, they’ve taken a snide look at politics and consumerism from the point of view of the individual, and not always from a political point of view that I agree with (what is at points a weird mix of libertarianism and ultra-left anti-consumerism, is something that I can’t get with at all). Elsewhere, though, a fair proportion of that career has been dealing with conspiracy theories, and one early song, in particular, takes this on. Hunter appears to suggest that we’re all victims of a Government Conspiracy to be controlled and force us to conform. This is something still peddled (sadly now tied in with the fight against COVID-19, too), nearly thirty years on. The one thing of this track that’s not contemporary now? That blasted breakbeat sample that underpins the song – oh so 1992.
The mighty change in style for the final KM album – gone was the thin sound of the previous albums, good as they were, for a muscular, stadium-sized goth-rock feel that was also brilliant live (as I recall from a few shows around the time). Parts of the album rather felt like the band raising their middle-fingers at their detractors, too, and particularly this song, where there was the feeling of everyone being against them. Sadly they didn’t remain together after this album – maybe it was just the wrong time for such a move.
/What’s He Building?
A conspiracy of smaller proportions, out in rural America somewhere, from Tom Waits’ excellent Mule Variations. Here, a mysterious neighbour is potentially up to no good, with gossip and chinese whispers about actions half-seen or heard seeing people leap to conclusions – and thus a conspiracy is revealed, that this person might be planning this or that. Of course, this wasn’t far off sooth-saying, as Governments post-9/11 encouraged citizens to report anything that “doesn’t look right”, and indeed during the current COVID-19 crisis, as people have started reporting neighbours that are flaunting ill-defined regulations…
Is there a more enduring conspiracy theory than the Roswell UFO Incident of 1947, I wonder? Scores of books, films, music, TV shows – and in more recent times, memes – have proliferated musing on the subject, with the Pentagon releasing recent videos on “unexplained aerial phenomena” that very much doesn’t answer any questions. That hasn’t stopped many continuing to offer their own theories, and Pitchshifter – a band that have often been pretty forthright in their political comment, and encouraging reason and intelligence – seem to have been an unexpected band to be delving into this subject. That said, amid the morass of samples from TV shows about Roswell, this otherwise instrumental track had one other important element – the heavy drum’n’bass influence that signposted where the band were heading next, on the exceptional www.pitchshifter.com.
It’s quite remarkable to have seen the growth of Muse, from a small alt-rock band from Devon in thrall to their influences, to a globe-straddling colossus of a space-rock band, within the space of two decades. I must confess that not everything of their later material has appealed to me, but that’s fine – there’s a whole lot more that do! Project MKUltra was a CIA project that was – to put it mildly – questionable in its legality as they explored drugging those being interrogated, and obtaining confessions through mind control as a result. Needless to say there was a conspiracy by some in the CIA to ensure that information was destroyed, but not all was. This song is as exactly the kind of mind-bending rock that I might have expected, as the band dig into the concepts behind the programme.
The sweeping, intriguing experimental journey of Jairus Khan’s project rather got derailed by the reaction to his striking protest and comment about the bands he was playing alongside at Festival Kinetik back in 2012 – and some might call it a conspiracy. But in musical thoughts, conspiracy theories had already been covered in his music before, in the epic Number Nine, that amid raging torrents of breakbeats, heavily sampled The Prisoner, as Patrick McGoohan’s titular character tries to unwinder the conspiracy that he finds himself part of…
/Vote With A Bullet
Easily one of Corrosion of Conformity’s greatest songs, this cynical, angry song takes on voting in America as the nineties dawned, and in the thirty years since, perhaps things are even worse. A system where Gerrymandering electoral districts is broadly tolerated, and large corporations openly lobby politicans with enormous sums of money to get their voices heard over electorates is hardly – to my eyes, anyway – a system that’s going to bring a fair result to those who vote, and frankly feels very much like a conspiracy against it. I can’t condone CoC’s direct action, but in the circumstances, perhaps I can understand their point. Especially when it appears foreign actors can also manipulate the results (not something unique to the US, mind).
My wife pointed out that I couldn’t possibly cover this subject without including The KLF, whose entire career – both in and out of music – feels like one great big conspiracy. Among the other pseudonyms that Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty took was The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (a fictional cult from The Illuminatus! Trilogy that I’ve never quite had the guts to read), and this song – featuring, astonishingly, a somewhat bemused Tammy Wynette – liberally references their own previous incarnations, their concepts, and their ice cream van. The books are, as I understand it, satirical novels that deal with various conspiracy theories, but if you want to start somewhere to understand what the fuck was going on, the excellent The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds is my recommendation.