20 years of Love Music Hate Racism: ‘This campaign is more important than ever’

·7-min read
Sound of the resistance: Love Music Hate Racism campaigners at Notting Hill Carnival in 2019  (Guy Smallman)
Sound of the resistance: Love Music Hate Racism campaigners at Notting Hill Carnival in 2019 (Guy Smallman)

“We think this campaign is more important than ever.”

Zak Cochrane is talking about Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR), the initiative he helps coordinate, and the reasons why, as it prepares to mark its 20th anniversary with a festival in east London, things are as urgent now as they were at its formation two decades ago.

“After the EU referendum and Trump being elected in America, mainstream racism, and a sort of racist populism, was on the march and I think that’s still very much the case,” says Cochrane, who has spent the past five years as one of LMHR’s key organisers, after putting on his first gig under the banner in 2013. “Now, I look at the [UK Government’s] hostile environment policy, and look at the Rwanda [asylum] policy — these are the kind of policies you would expect, previously, the far right to be parroting.”

There are certainly parallels to be drawn between this current moment and two formative junctures in LMHR’s past. The campaign’s spiritual predecessor, Rock Against Racism (RAR) — a cultural movement that brought together black and white music fans through live concerts — was sparked, largely, by the rise of the fascist National Front party at the ballot box in the mid-to-late 1970s.

In 2002, it was the electoral gains of another far-right force, the British National Party, that sparked a fight-back in the form of Love Music Hate Racism, which took its name from one of Rock Against Racism’s slogans. LMHR picked up where RAR left off, often collaborating with other organisations such as at the Anti Nazi League (ANL) and aided by trade unions, to host large-scale carnival processions and concerts fuelled by an anti-racist fire.

The poster for the Carnival Against The Nazis in May 2002 (Handout)
The poster for the Carnival Against The Nazis in May 2002 (Handout)

“Loudest demo ever!”, reads the poster for one of LMHR’s earliest protest events with the ANL, the unequivocally named Carnival Against The Nazis, which marched from Kennington Park to Brockwell Park in south London on May 28, 2002. “Bring your drums, whistles and hooters!”

“It was a joyous day, brother,” says Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, bandleader of the Britfunk pioneers Incognito, who played in Brockwell Park that day alongside The Levellers, Achanak, Manic Street Preachers and others. Incognito are also set to headline this Saturday’s LMHR concert, the free-to-attend One Borough Festival in Dagenham’s Parsloes Park, giving Bluey the chance to once again promote a campaign that, he says, is “dear to my heart”.

“I remember being there,” says Bluey, recalling that LMHR show in 2002, “and thinking, ‘If I’ve even been built to play at a festival, this was it’.” He describes the multi-racial Incognito as “a living example that, beyond colour and creed, we are one nation under a groove”, mirroring the presiding values of LMHR. And his connection to those guiding principles runs deep.

Born in Mauritius, Bluey moved to the UK in 1967 as a 10-year-old, where he was subjected to “high-level racism”, he says. “I ended up in hospital being beaten up by people on the street. Then along came the skinheads. I hid in Finsbury for six months instead of going to school, because I’d been beaten up so many times, and made to walk home naked after a humiliating beating at 11 years old.”

It was music that “saved” Bluey. After his childhood years, he would go to soul clubs where black and white people danced “together and united, celebrating the fact that we were making a difference, and that we wanted to change things”. Bluey even attended some of those early Rock Against Racism shows, while the Britfunk movement, of which he was a main player from the late 1970s onwards, was an intrinsically anti-racist one. It all means he was a natural fit for LMHR.

Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick performs with Incognito at Camden’s Jazz Cafe in 2006 (Miles Willis/Getty Images)
Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick performs with Incognito at Camden’s Jazz Cafe in 2006 (Miles Willis/Getty Images)

Bluey is just one of many artists who have rallied around the LMHR cause over the past 20 years, which has given rise to scores of concerts. One of the campaign’s most memorable festivals was at Victoria Park in 2008, the very same spot where RAR hosted its most famous gig, with The Clash, X-Ray Spex and more, three decades earlier. At this Noughties gig, with the BNP still looming — it held 12 seats on the nearby Dagenham and Barking council — sets from the likes of Dennis Bovell, Poly Styrene and Hard-Fi were watched by more than 100,000 people.

There were other big shows — in 2009, Pete Doherty, Kelly Rowland, Beverley Knight and The Beat were among those playing to some 20,000 attendees at Stoke City’s football stadium — but as Cochrane explains, “by the second decade of the 21st century, the BNP were in decline, so a lot of momentum, and I think support from the music industry that [LMHR] was relying on, went down because the threat of the BNP wasn’t so serious anymore”.

The campaign remained, albeit in a less visible form, but in the latter half of the 2010s when far-right rhetoric started re-infect mainstream politics, the need for movements such as LMHR became apparent once again. In 2017, it was relaunched with support from a cast of high-profile musicians; pictures of Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and Stormzy and others wearing their Love Music Hate Racism t-shirts flooded social media at the time.

“I think there’s an increasing confidence among musicians to use their platform to do what they can to tackle racism, which is very positive and needed,” says Cochrane. “And I hope that continues.”

Zak Cochrane of Love Music Hate Racism (Guy Smallman)
Zak Cochrane of Love Music Hate Racism (Guy Smallman)

In 2019, LMHR announced its Beautiful Resistance initiative, which fostered an unprecedented union of the UK’s major record labels, as well as musicians, promoters and venues, to promote anti-racist, pro-diversity messaging throughout the industry. Cochrane says he was “impressed” by the response, and adds that it’s “crucial” to have that support.

He continues: “I think a key moment has been the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. I think the pressure that it’s put into the music industry — not only to be [outwardly] anti-racist but to look internally at their own organisations and what they’re doing in terms of anti-racist policies — has been a massive game-changer.”

While live events remains “the lifeblood” of LMHR, Cochrane says the organisation — which is led by one key coordinator who works part-time, aided by a team of around 10 volunteers — has had to adapt its approach in recent years, expanding its remit beyond those, huge “labour-intensive” gigs of the early years.

LMHR still has a very physical presence — whether that was at the rally it helped to organise outside Downing Street for UN Anti-Racism Day in 2019, or its place in the procession at Notting Hill Carnival — but it has also expanded its social media initiatives, allowing it to “reach people across the world”. During the pandemic, it launched a fortnightly broadcast on Soho Radio, while a recent crowdfunder has enabled LMHR to get to work on creating online resources for schools, set to feature “artists telling their stories of experiences of racism and how they overcame that through music”, Cochrane says. He hopes these resources will be available by the autumn, allowing teachers around the country to use it as a basis for student workshops.

LMHR protestors march on UN Anti Racism Day in 2019 (Love Music Hate Racism)
LMHR protestors march on UN Anti Racism Day in 2019 (Love Music Hate Racism)

The ultimate aim of it all is to “kickstart grassroot activity”, says Cochrane. “That’s always the punchline of something like LMHR.” He adds: “We hope that around the country we can build our local groups of activists to be setting up Love Music Hate Racism hubs in towns and cities, and start to have an effective cultural resistance against mainstream racism in society — and, crucially, work with artists who have grown up in a multicultural, anti-racist environment, and let them celebrate that on stage.”

That will be the case this weekend at the One Borough Festival. There will be serious moments — such as the talks in the Blair Peach Tent, named after the anti-racist demonstrator killed at a National Front rally in 1979 — but there will be plenty of joy too. That might be found at the street food stalls and family-friendly activity zones, or on the Love Music Hate Racism stage, with sets from both veteran artists, such as The Beat and Incognito, and newer acts, including Jords and Daughters of Frank.

“It’s from a celebratory standpoint that we make progress,” says Bluey. “As the saying goes, music washes the soul of the dust of everyday life. And Lord knows, there’s been a lot of dust about at the moment. The 23rd of July will be a really cleansing day for me.”

The free-to-attend One Borough Festival comes to Parsloes Park, Dagenham, RM9, on July 23 from 11am to 9.30pm; lbbd.gov.uk/one-borough-festival

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