State of The Nation Playlist: AV Dummy on populism, The DWP and the long-terms effects of austerity

AV Dummy, the Birmingham/London band fronted by rapper/vocalist BUCHANAN and producer/composer Christy Carey recently released their track ‘DWP’ – an excoriating attack on the present government told through BUCHANAN’s experiences of life on benefits, homelessness and addiction, his vocal flitting between numbness and rage, and Carey’s musical backdrop crafted from elements of drill, punk and trip hop in collaboration with Jerome Johnson and Sat Chatterji.

We caught up with BUCHANAN and Carey to talk about the story and the politics behind the track and asked them to share their State of The Nation Playlist.

Your new single relates to your experiences of homelessness and addiction and your interactions with the Department for Work & Pensions – can you tell us a little about that time in your life and what it was about the state’s response to your situation that fuelled this track?

BUCHANAN: I think an element of ‘DWP’ that’s often misconstrued is its tone. People perceive it in an autobiographical way that doesn’t feel relevant to the song’s purpose: Social commentary. From when I was about 17, for just about 3 years, I was homeless. How homeless was varied; sometimes I slept on buses, sometimes friends’ houses. Eventually, I moved into a hostel. I had no ID or paperwork, nothing. I could have gotten some with benefit money, but it didn’t matter to me. Getting drunk did. I still am a generally impulsive person; it’s not like the song is painting this long gone, profound dark moment; it’s just me, and there’s a lot of tongue in cheek to that. It’s a Conservative’s nightmare; Tax money going into the pockets of another jobless, lazy, alky. I lost every job I ever got within a month, yet I didn’t need it. I was okay living off £200 a month, as long as I could drink, smoke, and not tune in. I don’t view ‘DWP’ as a ‘serious’ song because what it says feels like just another day for me and plenty of people I’ve known: Care leavers, people with disabilities, young ex-offenders, shotters: There’s nothing good out there for some of us. Personally, all I really want to do is drink and sit back. Actively engaging with society isn’t all that interesting. The DWP don’t care about anyone; they’re just paper-pushers, and I’m deeply suspicious of any bureaucracy that governs whether people should have the right to eat.

The DWP was back at the forefront of the national debate recently with the £20 per week cut to Universal Credit, which was widely condemned but passed nonetheless. What impact do you think this cut will have and what does it say to you about the Conservative government’s attitude towards the more than 5 million people currently claiming the benefit?

BUCHANAN: We’re living in a wildly dangerous time for social responsibility. The current Conservative Party is an outwardly populist group, essentially more Donald Trump than David Cameron. The danger with populist parties is they’re virtually impossible to reel in; What government would dare ban the right to protest in a major global power in the 21st century? Attempt to privatise free healthcare that’s existed since 1948? Start an oilfield exploration during a climate crisis? It’s always been the way of the Conservative Party to protect their own interests, usually taxes, at the expense of the people they claim to serve. But what we’re seeing under the current government is less political, more brazen, and disorganised. The £20 cut in benefits affected 5 million people: Families, underpaid workers, people with disabilities. The average MP earns around £80,000 a year. The Tory cabinet just lost its collective mind over corruption allegations. For those MP’s, it’s clear £80,000 a year isn’t enough. They should try living on £15,000 instead. Whether it’ll affect them long-term is a whole other thing, though. The Conservative Party is the most successful political party in the world, and politicians being sleazy is hardly anything new.

The Conservatives came into power in 2010 with austerity at the heart of their policy agenda. What impact do you think that has had on us as a society?

BUCHANAN: Primary services provided for communities; Homeless shelters, childcare, youth, and mental health support: have been completely wiped out. We live in an increasingly harsh world.

Christy Carey: We’re really expected to celebrate the existence of food banks as if we’re all blind jingoists. It’s gone on for so long that we’ve probably grown numb to it all, though – the’ British stiff upper lip’ comes to mind. Everything has been cut to the bone; it’s impossible not to feel hopeless.

The government, and Boris Johnson, in particular, seem to have been practically bullet-proof throughout his term, with the UK’s disproportionately high Covid death rate, the Jennifer Arcuri, Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock scandals and countless u-turns barely denting their lead in the polls, but the recent accusations of sleaze over the handling of Owen Paterson’s suspension and MP’s second jobs has finally seen them fall behind Labour in the polls. What do you think it is about this latest allegation that has resonated with people, and do you think the shift in opinion will last?

Christy Carey: After the past decade, that’s what makes Tories switch allegiance? I don’t buy it – it’s old news repackaged as something new. The power brokers only ever attack the Tories when they have a centrist stooge under their thumb who’s next in line. Two sides of the same coin.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in high profile large-scale protests, particularly related to Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion and the recent COP26 summit. Do you think that people are becoming more politically engaged, and if so, why? 

Christy Carey: It helps that we all have a camera in our pocket. The internet allows for the proliferation of political discussion on a level we’ve never really seen before. The more that people talk, the more that people can become aware of the world around them.

Throughout the video for the track the message “Austerity Kills” flashes up at regular intervals, alongside images of wealth and excess, can you tell us a little about the process of creating the images to compliment the track?

BUCHANAN: All the videos we’ve done feature subliminal messaging. I like it to essentially take you out of the video to see what’s really happening. The concept for the ‘DWP’ video was to just make a typical rap video on a Universal Credit budget – Let it show. The joke with the excess was all those clips I just ripped from other music videos. It’s flashy, and the jarring quality contrast between what we shot and the excess of the clips we stole was mostly just a joke about rap culture. The “Austerity Kills” was the bitter truth at the heart of the song.

Do you think that enough bands and artists are speaking out about the current state of society and our politics? Can music really make a difference?

Christy Carey: There’s an abundance of people doing it. More often than not, I doubt their sincerity, though; you can sense when someone has an ulterior motive to boost their numbers. Nothing is more marketable than identity politics in the social media age. When that becomes more important than the music, it irks me. Being politically active doesn’t always equal better music. On the other hand, if insincerity has a positive influence in the long run, I’m all for it. 

BUCHANAN: I massively agree. There’s a lot of social incentive to be an ‘activist’ right now without really doing anything. We’re not making music with the intention of it resonating politically with people. I’m not an activist. I always viewed what I write about as more picturing a collapsing world than something with explicit political motivation. Music does make a difference. Not as much of a difference as the people who listen to it.

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?

Christy Carey: Boring answer, but I’d introduce a basic universal income in line with the actual cost of living and not the swindling tory definition. People deserve a roof over their heads and food on the table. Working a job you don’t care about should never take precedence over enjoying life – we have enough to be miserable about right now.

Check out AV Dummy’s State of The Nation Playlist:

Christy’s Picks

Out the Way – Nadine Shah
A post-Brexit anthem for so-called ‘second generation immigrants’. Saxophones are a bit nuts on this.

The Charade – D’Angelo
This largely discusses racism, police brutality, and the illusion of societal change. Our government pushed through an anti-protest bill a couple of weeks ago, so the refrain of this resonates a bit differently now.

I’m Bugged – XTC 
This reminds me that Google gathers our data to sell us stupid trendy shit we don’t need via never-ending ads. Someone took them to court recently over data privacy breaches, apparently owing £750 to UK iPhone users, but obviously, it was thrown out.

I’m Afraid of Americans – David Bowie
Little by little, the NHS is being sold to America. So I think we have every reason to be scared of Americans.

Immigrant Boogie – Ghostpoet
The most telling thing about the migrant crisis is how governments and the MSM will paint the world’s most destitute human beings as societal leeches, and voters will inhumanely lap it up.


It Was Us – (CGM) Horrid1, Rack5, TY
If you want to see the real effects of austerity on Britain – Look no further than UK Drill. 

What We All Want – Gang Of Four 
The West is truly dead – and something about the first two Gang Of Four albums perfectly captures the feeling of numbness and decay that comes with a collapsing society. 

On The Beat – George Formby
Ironic, sure – But this song makes me giggle. Post-George Floyd, it’s funny to see loads of white kids running around screaming ‘ACAB’ – The police have always been terrible.

We Almost Lost Detroit – Gil Scott Heron
‘We Almost Lost Detroit’ is about a nuclear meltdown, but in the broader sense, we’re closer to nuclear war right now than since the Cold War. Nuclear warfare is the greatest existential threat to humanity, greater even than climate change.

Light Flight – Pentangle
I’ll lighten up a bit – We live in an incredibly interconnected world. Not long ago, commercial air travel was a miracle. Globalisation is our new reality: You can share a picture of your dinner with the whole world forever – Or start an Arab Spring.

‘DWP’ is out now on all of the usual streaming services, and will be followed by an album in 2022.

Catch AV Dummy live supporting The Psychotic Monks at Oslo, Hackney on 9th December – tickets here

Follow AV Dummy on Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

Interview by Paul Maps

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