The headline for me here is this – I listen to dls vs sp, and it inspires me to write. It’s a trigger for me. They don’t inspire me in a “well, they look pretty ordinary, so if they can, I can” kind of way; it’s more that their words are the first domino that rattles over in some corner of my brain and sometime later, a piece of poetry falls off the edge somewhere else.
There is an element of “wow, so that’s what words can do” in this. That’s partly down to the performance itself, the phrasing, the tempo and the beat that goes underneath it. You can argue that the best poetry absolutely must exist beyond the performance but I don’t agree. Holborn is a good example; once you hear him on YouTube then it can be quite hard to separate his voice from the words. Stunner by dls vs sp, for example. Part way through you have “You’re just a sheep in a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing’s clothing / And the holes ain’t closing, just exposing goatskin” with one of dan’s darkest, dirtiest beats under Pip’s words. In the context of the song, a reflection on pain and love with references backwards to several previous songs, it resonates and the presentation gives layers of meaning that you might struggle with if you put this out there, cold, before the poetry reading group on a damp winter evening.
Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of artists out there that take awful words and dress them up with a synth line and a beat, and then insist that this can polish their artistic turd into poetry. But take Kate Tempest for example. America is Lost works better, for me, with the voice and the sounds, the creation taken as a whole rather than as one of its pieces. I will never be musically clever enough to do that bit, but this piece is a reminder for me that words and language can have a powerful life beyond the printed page. This kicks me, and reminds me that I’m not putting my words out there enough. It doesn’t really matter whether I think they are good or not, the journey to being better involves practice and sharing.
There is an element of “I don’t see that the same way, if I was writing about that, I’d say this”. Great Britain is a case in point. You can debate the politics and the points that he’s making about violent crime in Britain, “See sometimes Great Britain ain’t that great / Kids getting stabbed at an alarming rate / Press with a passion to exaggerate / Increasingly clueless heads of state” but it does bring you back round to something. There is no shortage of opinions in our post truth, fake news society and you can take that as reason to be quiet, to hope that things will get better if we don’t add to the bedlam. Or you can take the view that the world needs a thoughtful, liberal narrative that engages from a real life perspective. dls vs sp offer you a thoughtful perspective on suicide, on sex and love, on city life. There are things that need to be said, and the world needs voices. Not loud, particularly, but informed, certainly, and passionate. “Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls’ pants / Use it to get into their heads.”
Ah, I was trying to get through this without a reference to that particular song.
There’s a third thing as well. Charles Wesley put Christian teachings to tunes that were familiar to society at the time, and which would be absorbed and remembered, and repeated. A hundred worship song writers do the same now. It’s a short circuit to an emotional response, and a sustained connection in the minds of the listeners. I’ve used Letter from God as inspiration for worship, but as a piece of poetry it roots around in my mind in a way that an Armitage or a Mort doesn’t. Speaking personally, this has a lot to do with the performance. I like a lot that both of those poets have done. It’s my bad, totally – I just can’t hum a Hughes and I don’t have any Bukowski on my MP3 player. The accessibility of the music, however, engages me, and when I’m engaged I feel my motivation to get off my pampered backside and actually try to create something, increase. That feels like a good thing.
Dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip are not recording together or performing any more, but they were very good live, a lot of fun and very down to earth with the crowd. If you missed them, you missed out. These are the reasons why they inspire me. Go buy their music, or stream it and see whether there is something there for you 🙂
PS They are both still very busy people, Pip does the remarkable Distraction Pieces podcast and book, as well as acting in top drawer BBC period drama Taboo. Dan seems to sit in his pants, playing games and publishing videos on Twitch 😉