Musical Commune Turned Capitalist: the downfall of Chumbawamba

“I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”

For most, Chumbawamba’s 1997 smash hit, “Tubthumping,” is a contender for the definitive ‘90s one-hit-wonder’. Very little know that it is only the mainstream tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of a plethora of sociopolitical anarchist music.

Mainstream music isn’t a stranger to sociopolitical agendas. Music offers a medium for people express both their personal struggles and political views, so this type of content is ever-present. It is rare, however, for artists to make political agendas their ‘gimmick’, or purpose. Bob Dylan and Rage Against the Machine accurately represent these rare few. It’s almost baffling that a band with a reputation like Chumbawamba’s would address and live out such a powerful agenda.

Although Chumbawamba’s history is nothing short of sporadic, they stuck to their anarchist principles even before they were acknowledged, and ultimately cemented. The band started as a loosely arranged punk act with a ton of members, unified by a shared home in northern England. Everyone had to pay equal rent, and had equal say at home, embodying the band’s future stances of socialist-liberalism.

The coal miner’s strike of 1984 roused the working class of northern England, but more importantly gave our agenda-hungry heroes the spark they needed. Straying from the ‘silly’ punk scene, and abandoning a significant fan base, Chumbawamba began to experiment with drum machines and sampling (mostly political figures they despised like Margaret Thatcher). By 1996, their fans decided to peace out due to their apparent 180 degree turn.

Out of nowhere, their new electronic genre quickly rose in popularity. Chumbawamba soon found EMI, a major record label and utter embodiment of capitalism, at their front doorstep.

Would Chumbawamba sell-out? In short, yes, but they knew what they were doing. Signing would give them countless opportunities to spread their messages, and they surely didn’t pass any up. They infamously declared on live television that they were completely fine with people shoplifting their record. After signing a commercial contract with GM, they put all $100,000 they earned towards important social justice projects.

Despite their pretty extensive work toward their cause, “Tubthumping” became everyone’s favorite feel-good song for a couple of weeks, and its true meaning was pretty much buried. The song is actually about the band’s Irish neighbor, a man representative of the British working class, who would get so drunk on the weekends that he couldn’t put keys in his door to enter his home at night. The happy-ish side is that he would, without fail, be sober and in good spirits before work each Monday. The song champions the resilience of the working class, along with humanity as a whole. When KNOCKED DOWN, people always seem to GET BACK UP AGAIN.

I encourage readers to check out their stuff, and help remove these committed and passionate individuals from their cheesy one-hit-wonder status.

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