Tuesday, July 30, 2013

NEW BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT - Stand Up Tall: Dizzee Rascal and the Birth of Grime

In August 2003, in a makeshift pirate radio studio on the roof of a Stratford towerblock, the stars of London's grime scene gathered to show their skills on the mic. A decade later, Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Tinchy Stryder are among Britain's biggest pop stars, while Dizzee's adversary Crazy Titch is serving a life sentence for murder. The towerblock was demolished to make way for the London Olympic site.

Ten years ago this summer, an extraordinary new sound exploded out of London's council estates that would change music forever. While New Labour were flooding urban Britain with ASBOs and CCTV, teenagers like Dizzee looked up at the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf and contemplated their own poverty; telling stories of devastating bleakness, backed by music that shone with the futurism of a brighter tomorrow.

It's entirely possible that Boy in da Corner, Dizzee's Mercury prize-winning debut, was made on a hand-me-down PC donated to Langdon Park School by Lehman Brothers.

Over 15,000 words, this is the story of that remarkable musical moment, seen through east London's unique history of opulence and inequality, violence and aspiration, and how a teenage genius with nothing to lose made the best British album of the 21st century.

Available on Amazon as a Kindle Single RIGHT NOW - or on US Amazon. If you don't have a Kindle, there are free, easy-to-use Kindle Reader apps for PC/Mac/iPhone/Android/iPad at those links. Here's a Dizzee rarity from the old days to keep you company:

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Tesco Welfare and the Poverty Pay Industrial Complex

I noticed this new sign outside the entrance to my local Tesco on Friday:

Food bank collections inside supermarkets are not a new phenomenon, but they are a growing one, as demand at charitable food bank organisations like the Trussell Trust sky-rockets. I wrote a little bit about the incredible rise in the use of food banks here, in my (somewhat sporadic) openDemocracy column - anecdotally, a lot of the families forced to use food banks for the first time in the last 18 months do have earned income coming in, but it's just not enough, as the scourges of underemployment, welfare cuts and widespread wage suppression take their toll.

Of course, it does Tesco PLC, the second-largest retailer in the world after Walmart, with over 3,000 stores in the UK alone, no harm to be associated with this Victorian-style charity-not-social security regression David Cameron is implementing - with the enthusiastic support of most of the British media and large portions of the Labour party. It's particularly important they're not seen as a heartless profiteering behemoth when their recession-stricken customers are starting to leave them for budget chains like Lidl and Aldi. So why not watch this heart-warming Tesco PR video with some words from Tesco's smiling Dan Jones, who is the Group Future Coach for the Tesco stores in the South West (his actual job title)? In a wonderful management-speak Freudian slip, he says "it's a great way of putting something back", acknowledging, uncontroversially I guess, that the rest of the time they are taking things away.

When you're done basking in the warm "buzz" of the video. why not hit up the #EveryCanHelps Twitter hashtag to find out how Tesco have been positioned as the moral conscience of post-welfare state Britain?

According to their Twitter feed Tesco were collecting in every single store in the country on Friday. Who needs a welfare state, right?

This won't be news to any of the millions of people who've worked in a supermarket in Britain, but Tesco (like Sainsburys and the rest of the big four chains) pay substantially below the living wage. For a powerful elaboration of what that actually means, and how it dovetails perfectly with the rise in the need for food banks, I implore you to watch this excellent 10 minute video on poverty pay in supermarkets from Paul Mason on Newsnight: