Get folked

Save yourself from pap pop with accordions and violins.

January can be a bit quiet when it comes to music. A lot of it is taken up by people in the industry predicting what will be popular in the year ahead. I'm not all that fussed about knowing what you or I are going to listen to this year. I'd like to think my favourite records of 2011 will
be by people I have yet to hear, or that perhaps some new form of alien sound is going to descend on the planet and change music for ever.

I do know, however, what I will be listening to for the next couple of months because I am already listening to it and have been for quite some time. I listen to music quite erratically and in quite an unprofessional and childish way - perhaps not listening to anything for a day or two, then a sack of albums in just a few hours. When I find something I like, I tend to listen to it over and over again until I get it so thoroughly stuck in my head that I don't want to listen to anything else. Over the years I have managed to train my brain to be able to pick out very quickly the things it might like to get stuck in it. I thought perhaps I could suggest some new things you might like to get stuck in yours.

My most recent obsession is an American folk band called Dark Dark Dark, a rather lost- looking bunch whose numbers fluctuate and who briefly claimed they met as a result of choosing to sleep under the same bridge. I met them recently at a gig in London and they are a slightly odd and, by their own admission, pretentious lot. Their songs contain a great deal of accordion and piano, sitting often quite dramatically at the front of most of their songs. Those instruments alone could make even the most bitter heart swoon before anyone has sung a word.

I gush a little when I talk about Dark Dark Dark and this is because the noise they make is stupendously beautiful. It is also tragic and has a tendency to make me cry a bit, which makes them quite hard to introduce on the radio. Despite their ability to bring out my more pathetic side, I have managed to play their records so often that I've been accused of having a vested interest in their sales figures, which would be absurd, as they currently don't have any records you can buy. Their album, Wild Go, is out in the spring but until then you will have to put up with streaming their records on the internet. Do it as often as I have and soon your brain will be able to play it back to you perfectly without the need of a stereo.

Shit Horse, from Brooklyn, have a silly name but are really rather good, moving wildly from screeching blues to psychedelic rock with the odd moment of tranquillity in between. I haven't heard anything like them before and am therefore rather excited by them. I get the impression they don't take themselves all that seriously so perhaps it is our duty to do that for them. Their album is called They Shit Horses, Don't They?, which isn't going to make our task any easier.

There's one more band that I can guarantee won't get the attention they deserve. A Hawk and a Hacksaw are a couple from New Mexico. With just the use of an accordion and a violin - we'll call it "Balkan folk" - they can fill the largest of rooms with joy. Their album Cervantine is out in March; it will make you want to run away with a family of gypsies.

I am trying to assist you in letting good music get stuck in your head because if you leave a void, something awful might find its way in. My little sister has a nasty but effective trick she plays, which involves saying, "Simply Red - 'Fairground'" when she greets you in the morning. It stays with you all day, torturing your mind. Oh no, you haven't got that stuck in your head, have you? Quick, go and listen to the bands I mentioned - they'll wash it out. l

Tom Ravenscroft's radio show is on BBC 6 Music every Friday at 9pm

Fresh sounds from the BBC 6 Music DJ
Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump