State of the Nation Playlist: Scrounge’s soundtrack to Britain in 2021

South London duo Scrounge have been favourites round these parts since we first laid ears on their 2019 single ‘Purpose’, and with ferocious new track ‘Leaking Drains’, their first new release since the country locked down, they’ve burrowed themselves even further into our affections.

The track takes on the difficult subjects of debt, the unacceptable living standards in which many people in the UK are forced to reside, and the seeming lack of care or action from those with the power and resources to make a difference. Asked about the themes behind the track they explain: “The demonization and punching-down that constitutes most of the mainstream discourse around debt, housing, poverty and precarity in this country only compounds the issue. The anger and absurdity of a track like ‘Leaking Drains’ is driven by this stuff.”

We caught up with Lucy and Luke to speak about the effects of Covid and lockdown, Brexit and poverty and asked for the tracks that sum up Britain in 2021 for them.

With the vaccination programme seemingly going well and a new ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, is it finally time to start being optimistic about an end to all of this?
Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Or something. 

Despite the successful vaccine roll-out, the UK has one of the worst death rates in the world and has also taken a bigger economic hit than most comparable nations.  What are your thoughts on how the government have handled the crisis?
It’s been a disgrace at every turn, and they’ve got over a hundred thousand deaths on their hands. But it’s not just this government – decades of work has gone into creating the kinds of economic and social conditions for this not only to completely devastate a state like the UK, but for the poorest people to be hit the hardest. Everyone who has worked to create those conditions should feel abject shame. But they won’t. 

With all that’s gone on you’d expect the Tories to be taking a pasting in the polls, but there hasn’t been anything like that sort of shift – if they’ve not been able to open up a lead at a time like this, is there any hope of the opposition parties toppling them at the next election?
Again, this comes down to longer-term structural issues really, but the Labour Party are really not helping. Great to see capital’s B-team well and truly back in the saddle. It’s weird how trying to outdo the Tories at flag shagging doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. 

The government’s plans seem to pave the way for a gradual return to live music as the summers draws closer, and we’ve recently had the announcement that Reading and Leeds Festivals will go ahead at the end of August.  How hopeful are you about the comeback of live music, and what do you think it might be like?
It’s probably not wise to get too excited, but obviously the idea of returning to live music is pretty incredible. When you’ve basically built your life around live music and it suddenly disappears, it’s pretty shit, so yeah of course we’re hopeful. At first it’s probably not going to quite feel normal – but fingers crossed that won’t take long. Fingers crossed the collective relief and feeling of liberation will unleash an enormous backlog of creative energy too, and we’ll get some very interesting work being made. So yeah – guardedly hopeful.  

Venues and bands have been hard hit by the pandemic, and with live music looking likely to be one of the last things to reopen, what can be done to make sure there’s a viable live music circuit to return to? 
Well, the government probably aren’t going to help. Obviously the money that has been spent is welcome, but it’s not enough and it’s not been used properly. As usual, the best bet is probably to do stuff at a grassroots level – if you can, find a way to safely put stuff on, once the virus is better under control, and pressure the big hitters in the music industry (who had all the money to begin with, and were the chief recipients of the government grants) to redistribute, for their own long-term good as much as everyone else’s immediate benefit. 

Alongside the massive hit taken at all levels of the music industry from Covid, the Conservative’s Brexit deal has also placed massive obstacles for UK bands wanting to tour in the EU.  How big an issue do you think this will be and what should be done about it?
Yeah, it’s a shitter. Without wanting to get drawn into the complete intellectual and political void that Brexit has become, this is just a massive material problem. In the worst case, it could lead to a further polarisation of the music industry – the rich artists will be able to afford to pay Visa fees and get around the obstacles, and everyone else will be stuck (and this goes both ways). Obviously we’ve not got an easy answer, but it does feel important that any campaign to sort this out should bear in mind a wider perspective on the issues of borders and the music industry – this Quietus piece is very good as spelling out that broader context. EU and UK border policies are already prohibitive for many artists from around the world – it’d be a bit rich if UK bands just glossed over that now they’re finally starting to feel the pinch. 

Do you think it’s important for bands to make overt political statements, either in their music or interviews?  Does it achieve anything?
Nobody should feel compelled to be overt about it, no, but it’s worth acknowledging that everything plays out in a political context, right? That’s not to say we should all be Doing Politics the whole time – just that it’s worth remembering that even being ‘apolitical’ is a position in itself, denoting a certain relationship to the status quo. So make of that what you will. 
Whether it achieves anything – most of the time no, but it can at least help people conceptualise political ideas and work things out. So it’s worth doing, if only for your own self-expression as much as anything else. 

Finally, it’s fantasy parliament time – if you were appointed PM for the day and given the power to introduce one new policy, what would it be and why?
Not wanting to be too controversial for now, some kind of nationwide food service. The idea that we’re spending money on literally anything while poor kids are starving, millions of families have to use food banks and parents are working multiple jobs just to be able to put something on the table is utterly obscene.

Scrounge’s State of the Nation Playlist:

Luke

SOPHIE – Is It Cold In The Water? RIP to a genius: artistically, politically, personally.
Special Interest – Street Pulse Beat Special Interest are one of the best bands around at the moment – and their commitment to racial, queer and trans liberation is so inspiring.
Nazar – Bunker Nazar’s electronic music-based account of postcolonial civil war in Angola isn’t directly relevant to the current situation – but as an expression of conflict and the aftermath of empire, it’s so powerful, and has much to teach us.
Italia 90 – New Factory They’ve got more recent music (new tune ‘Borderline’ bangs) but ‘New Factory’ is a really special song by our mates Italia 90 – really sums up the claustrophobia of precarious working life as a young adult.
Ghetts (ft Pa Salieu and BackRoad Gee) – No Mercy The new Ghetts album is amazing – such an ambitious and moving expression of contemporary London. Pa Salieu and BackRoad Gee are onto something really cool as well.

Lucy
Black Country, New Road – Track X A less abrasive love song from one of the most exciting live bands around
Kae Tempest – People’s Faces I’ve always been in awe of Kae Tempest. This song references lots of recognisable south London legends and is a reminder of all the amazing things that our community can do.
Otha – I’m On Top This track brilliantly balances boredom and beats and is a staple of my kitchen discos. Even though some key queer spaces like The Chateau won’t be there when we’re let out, I can’t wait to be back in the club. The roadmap might be a bit ridiculous but the end is in sight.
Special Interest – Street Pulse Beat Something we’ve been listening to in the studio while we make more music.
Kelis – Bless The Telephone I’ve said many final goodbyes over the phone this year and it’s devastating. However, I’ll forever be grateful for the giggles and good times I got to have with my loved ones over the phone.

‘Leaking Drains’ is out now on Fierce Panda Records as a digital download and on all the usual streaming platforms.

Interview by Paul Maps
facebook.com/helloscrounge

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