Grian Chatten of Dublin band Fontaines D.C. was interviewed at the Six Music Festival held in Liverpool over the weekend. Regular listeners to BBC Radio 6 will have had frequent encounters with the work of the band; the station that was founded to champion alternative being a natural place for the work of an alternative band. Described as “post-punk”, Fontaines D.C. have all the energy of their punk forebears from forty years ago. Grian Chatten, however, is a singer very different from Johnny Rotten and those who made their name throwing insults and attempting to provoke outrage. Chatten’s objections to mainstream politics and conventional society are carefully articulated and incisive.
Talking about music, Chatten complained about the culture of “cool” that destroys the “inherent creativity” of music. His protest is against the emphasis on appearance over substance that dominates the music industry, an emphasis that has probably been dominant since the days of rock and roll when clean-cut, short-haired young men in suits made appearances in television shows, clips of which sometimes still find airtime. The current crop of carefully-packaged “cool” performers who attract millions of followers online are a world apart from the rawness of Chatten’s band, their very coolness regarded as a mark of their being inauthentic.
Fontaines D.C.’s song Chequeless Reckless is a protest against commercialism – and a protest against those who seek respect through the affectation of principles. Dublin’s most famous rock group, whose lead singer demanded countries more to help the poor whilst his own band’s tax affairs were moved offshore to reduce their liability for taxes, would fall within the definitions of the lyrics of Chequeless Reckless:
A sell-out is someone who becomes a hypocrite in the name of money
An idiot is someone who lets their education do all of the thinking
A phoney is someone who demands respect for the principles they affect
A dilettante is someone who can’t tell the difference between fashion and style
Charisma is exquisite manipulation
And money is a sandpit of the soul
Chatten’s band are explicitly political, but every band is political. To say nothing in the context of injustice is as much a political act as to sing sharp-edged words. To say nothing is to give tacit consent to the order of things, it is to create an opiate-like music that numbs people to the realities of the society and the world they inhabit – and, like Chatten says, it is t destroy the inherent creativity of music.