Having notified Cyrus Shahrad – who I interviewed earlier this year – that he was no.1 in my Festive Fifty, I asked him if he would like to add anything.
I might have been expecting a brief ‘thanks-really appreciate this…’ Instead, I got a very thoughtful, eloquent reflection on the track and how it ended up being not just a historical reference, but also a lesson to the present and future.
” ‘Insurrection’ was always more than just another Hiatus track, but there was a point this summer when it turned into something else altogether. I was having dinner at the Highbury home of my friend Spencer – whose photographs grace the covers of all my releases – and we ended up glued to the television as the riots swept across London, the images of blazing buildings and looted shops almost indistinguishable from the footage edited together for the Insurrection video a few months earlier.
The next morning I woke in Brixton and went for a stroll around those parts of town that weren’t blocked off by police tape, marvelling at the boarded up windows, the shattered bus stops, the still smoking shell of Foot Locker. I recalled what several black residents of Brixton had told me in March, when I was researching a story on the anniversary of the riots for the New Statesman. With rents doubling in the refurbished market, black-owned stores closing to make way for upmarket coffee shops and one-bedroom flats costing on average £300 more per month than their equivalent in neighbouring Streatham Hill, there was a sense that Brixton’s much lauded regeneration was turning into a whitewash.
“The only people that can afford to stay are the affluent whites that Lambeth Council desperately wants to attract,” said Senior P, who works at the Blacker Dread record shop on Coldharbour Lane. “Some say Brixton is being regenerated, but for the people who live here and fought for these streets, the feeling is that the town is being taken away from us.”
Blacker Dread was one of three local record stores that I inundated with hundreds of free Insurrection promo CDs. I’d originally put the track together with a sample of Linton reading his seminal poem on the 1981 riots, Di Great Insohreckshan, afterwards getting in touch with the man himself and asking if he’d mind me releasing it as an official collaboration, which he was happy to do. The track went down well: a panel on Steve Lamacq’s roundtable (including James Lavelle) voted it their single of the week on BBC 6 Music; it featured on Kibwe Tavares’ animated sci fi reimagining of the 1981 riots, Robots Of Brixton, which recently screened on Channel 4; and it attracted a number of notable remixes, including a monstrous dubstep makeover by Rebel Sonix.
But the real legacy of that track for me is here in Brixton. For all the progress made since the travesty of the police reaction in 1981, there remains a simmering sense of unease, of a problem being wilfully ignored or swept under the carpet. Working with so powerful a voice and so profound a subject was a huge blessing, but it also created a sense of responsibility, especially after the events of this summer. I only hope the track serves as a reminder to all those quick to condemn rioters that for every bewildered teenager grabbing trainers there are those driven to destroy their own neighbourhoods through a genuine frustration at the impossibility of making life work in the modern world.”
When I first wrote about this song, I said that the video had reduced me to tears when I saw it back in February. I’ve pretty much known since then that it would be my ‘track of the year’ and so it has proved.