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Shostakovich to Plan B: How to defend a great city with violins

‘iLL Manners’, the first single from London-based rapper Plan B’s forthcoming album of the same name was released on 25th March to critical acclaim. Driven by a sample from Shostakovich’s politically charged ‘Symphony No.7’, Dan Hancox explores the spirit of this appropriation and its resonance among the protests of 2012.  

Dan Hancox
1 April 2012

A quick note on the source material for Plan B's controversial new single about the London riots, Ill Manors (quick link catch-up: Dorian Lynskey on why it's the best protest song in years, and Josh Hall and Richard Osley on the problems with making Plan B a political poster-boy).

The instrumental for Ill Manors was lifted from a German pop song, Peter Fox's Alles Neu (produced, amusingly, by 'The Krauts'), but the original source is this violin riff above from Shostakovich's 7th, generally known as the Leningrad Symphony. Why do I bring this up? Because Shostakovich's 7th is a tremendous example, decades before hardcore or jungle or grime reshaped Britain from the dancefloor upwards, of why political music needn't have vocals in it, shouting in your face about exactly why and how it's political. It's a symphony with a direct, descriptive narrative, quite specifically about the defence of Leningrad from the Nazis during WW2; a stirring call to arms in the face of a relentless, brutalising assault on the collective body. Listen to those artillery-fire drums from the 5:20 mark!

It's about a great city under siege, and the ordinary people who suffer in its heart frantically trying to resist. A situation I would argue shares some - albeit thankfully less fatal - similarities with London 2012.

 

The opening shot of the Ill Manors music video sees Plan B standing high up on the edge of a London towerblock roof, playing air violin, and looking out over the smoke rising from the city beneath him - surveying the battlefield much like a Soviet general might have done, as the Nazi troops moved in.

How's that for long-lasting political currents in music?

***

PS has anyone else noticed that Ill Manors (the full length film around which the album is based) was green-lit in 2009? Casting took place in August 2010, a year before the UK riots. Makes me think that this whole project is a bit less opportunistic than it first seemed.

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