For many of us, our comfort zones lie outside the physical world. Face-to-face conversations are bring replaced by IMs, text messages, tweets, and comments on Facebook statuses that drop off your news feed after you’ve scanned over them once. From this social evolution, a profound sense of disconnect is gradually emerging.
Vivien Goldman’s Punky Reggae Party Show explores the meeting of two groups for whom deep connection and active communities were paramount: Reggae musicians and punk bands. As a talk named after a Bob Marley single penned in appreciation of the Clash’s cover of reggae artist Junior Murvin’s tune Police and Thieves and hosted by a respected NYU professor, writer, and music journalist, Goldman’s Punky Reggae Party Show might sound to some like a stuffy, overintellectualised snoozefest entirely out of sync with the attitudes and ethos behind the actual musical movements being discussed – but the reality is very different. Goldman speaks from first-hand experience of the front lines of reggae and punk at the time of their very first meeting, and her enthusiasm for music with deep meaning and intent is both boundless and infectious – making the Punky Reggae Party Show an exciting and engaging experience.
Unlike many academics, Goldman – also known as the “punk professor” – steers effortlessly clear of condescension and instead sticks to plain-spoken passion delivered over a backdrop of grinding dub tracks and razor-edged punk songs. Her vocalised journey considers a wide range of fascinating and turbulent areas – not only history and music but also politics, class, racism, sexism, social norms, and the need to cling tenaciously to a sense of hope for the future – before encouraging interaction and debate during the closing Q&A section. This section (officially entitled Reasoning) proved particularly surprising.
In punk, anyone can take three chords and a guitar and get involved – and Goldman takes a similar attitude to debating. In school, college, and university, debates are normally anxiety-provoking and acrimonious – but in the cozy and intimate confines of the Boileroom, this debate was anything but. Rather, it was a friendly and intriguing discussion of several topics that lay outside the Punky Reggae Party Show‘s remit, more like an engaging chat between friends in a pub than a raging ego war between bitter rivals in a lecture theatre – and a great way to finish off a stimulating and captivating evening.
Goldman points out that modern music needs a similar sense of social connection and consciousness to that of punk and reggae – and as someone who engages daily with contemporary musicians across a massive variety of genres, I wholeheartedly agree. Academia may have a reputation for being archaic and out of touch – but Goldman is different. During the Punky Reggae Party Show, scholarly conventions are tossed out of the window as patronising tones are replaced with passionate words, hushed silences are replaced with classic reggae and punk songs, and prescribed perspectives give way to individual self-expression. But outside of the walls of venues such as the Boileroom, there is still much work to do before we can expect to see serious change.
TMMP is all about dissolving boundaries – and my experience here proved just how surprising life can be when you drop offline for a while and go do something that doesn’t involve clicking a mouse or tapping a screen. If this show had been replaced with a YouTube video and a Google+ Hangout, it just wouldn’t have had the same impact – and if I’d pre-judged this show using the opinions of commenters on other sites who hadn’t taken the time to leave the house and see it for themselves, I’d probably never have gone. This is the big barrier that separates modern life and cultural creativity from the ways of the past – the assumption that the Internet holds all the answers.
If we stick to our digitised comfort zones, holding court on the world’s goings-on from the comfort of our sofas while failing to look up from our phones or shut off the on-demand TV box in favour of trying something random just to see what happens, we may end up forgetting how to really connect socially or experience life as anything other than stories we hear from someone else. From that position, nobody can be expected to create socially connected and conscious art of any kind.
The good news is that it’s easy to avoid that situation – and thanks to people like Vivien Goldman and public meeting spaces like the Boileroom, the resources are there to be put to good use. All that remains is for people like you and me to make the most of them.
Vivien Goldman’s Punky Reggae Party Show takes place at the Cube in Bristol on October 19th.
Links / Video
Follow Vivien Goldman on Twitter.
Read more about the Punky Reggae Party Show here.