For ten years the Love Music Hate Racism organisation has been rocking against the Nazis with its blend of urban, indie and alternative styles. Organiser Lee Billingham explains what makes the campaign so important
It was the summer of 2002 and the fascist British National Party (BNP) had just won an unprecedented three council seats in Burnley, Lancashire.
The BNP had distanced itself from its overtly Nazi politics. Instead it had adopted the “Eurofascist” tactic pioneered by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National in France—dressing up in respectable clothes and chasing after electoral gains.
Already this new tactic was paying off. Three BNP councillors meant the party was more successful its predecessor, the National Front, had ever been.
We wanted to mobilise a new generation of anti-racists against the biggest fascist threat since the 1970s. We aimed to draw strength from a deep-seated popular anti-racism that celebrated the multicultural society we had become—and use it to expose the BNP as Nazi.
The campaign’s name came from a slogan used by Rock Against Racism (RAR) in the 1970s. We took our inspiration from RAR and our understanding that music could be a crucial anti-racist weapon. Mixing up genres and audiences at gigs could unite people into a political current that could help break the Nazis.
Our first carnival took place on 1 September, down the road from Burnley in Manchester. Some 30,000 people came to hear Ms Dynamite, Doves and other stars.
Soon we found that we had tapped into a vein. LMHR events mushroomed across Britain, taking place on average once a week. There were a remarkable 88 LMHR events in 2006—and those were just the ones we heard about.
The diversity was staggering. There were plenty of indie and punk rock gigs, hip-hop and drum ’n’ bass club nights. But we’ve also seen “Love Country & Western, Hate Racism”, “Love Metal, Hate Racism”, “Love Jazz & Blues, Hate Racism” and “Love Poetry, Hate Racism”.
We also found a response from the music industry. In November 2002, Channel 4 broadcast “Young, Nazi and Proud”, an undercover exposé of the vile BNP “youth leader” Mark Collett. Next day LMHR had calls from labels and managers, asking what they could do to get involved.
This led to the first of what became regular LMHR artist committee meetings, with the likes of The Libertines, The Music, Badly Drawn Boy, Estelle and Tim Westwood coming on board.
As we started dealing with the industry we also came up against arguments. Some people wanted to tone down our message. Others just couldn’t see beyond their fees.
But more than enough got on board for our message to start to break into the mainstream. We drew in well-known musicians and reached out to ever more music fans.
Those who already opposed racism were drawn into activity, while those who were being pulled by racist arguments were given plenty to think about by their musical heroes.
Many politically outspoken artists got involved from the off, helping give the gigs credibility and political weight. We released our first compilation CD at the end of 2003, featuring acts like The Sugababes, Basement Jaxx and Daniel Bedingfield.
LMHR’s real impact was on the ground in areas where BNP councillors were being elected. We worked with activists and music fans to put on regular events in these areas that mixed local musicians with well-known acts.
So top DJ Mr Scruff played in Blackburn, US R&B stars Spooks headlined Stoke, and just ahead of the May 2003 local elections we organised Basement Jaxx, Tim Westwood and Panjabi Hit Squad to play Burnley.
Two LMHR workers had spotted Felix from Basement Jaxx on a tube train and persuaded him to support the cause. The band drove themselves to Burnley and didn’t ask for a penny.
DJ Tim Westwood dropped his usual £5,000 fee for a plane ticket. We picked him up in a Fiat Panda. He ran in, jumped up on stage, and led the crowd in chants of “Fuck the BNP!”.
It was also in 2003 that we staged the first of four LMHR shows at Glastonbury. Skitz & Rodney P headlined the heaving tent of thousands in the trade union-organised LeftField.
In fact, we have been supported magnificently by the trade union movement for ten years—and in turn we helped give the unions a platform to reach a new generation of workers.
LMHR went from strength to strength in the years that followed, with mega carnivals in London, Stoke and Barnsley. My personal highlight was the 100,000 crowd at 2008’s amazing RAR 30th anniversary carnival in east London’s Victoria Park.
There was a special LMHR issue of the New Musical Express magazine, and an LMHR message printed on ten million bottles of Beck’s beer sponsored by the band Hard-Fi.
Other artists got directly stuck into anti-Nazi work. Heartless Crew led the march down to the Manchester 2002 carnival. Get Cape Wear Cape Fly braved police truncheons when the English Defence League (EDL) marched in central London in 2010.
The carnivals in Stoke and east London were a decisive turning point in beating the BNP in those areas. They weren’t simply celebrations of anti-racism.
They sent out a message to young people that they were not alone in opposing the BNP and could speak out against them in confidence. They were crucial elements in breaking through the climate of fear.
Looking back over the past ten years it’s clear that the BNP is now in serious decline and the EDL is struggling. Everyone involved in LMHR has played a role in that, and we can congratulate ourselves for what we’ve helped achieve.
But the one thing we cannot afford to be is complacent. History tells us that recession and austerity can fuel the Nazis. It also tells us that we can fight back—and thanks in no small part to LMHR, we have an enormous base to build on in the fights ahead.
Ms Dynamite was an early supporter of LMHR. “I played at the first LMHR carnival in Manchester in 2002,” she said.
“But even more important for me were the shows we put on in schools in Barking in east London, where the BNP were organising, and the LMHR film we made for young people highlighting the dangers of fascism. I believe they played a major part in undermining the BNP in areas like Barking and Stoke.”
The 2009 LMHR Stoke carnival took place in city’s football ground, where there was a history of racism among some fans.
That the club agreed to hold it was a big thing. On the day, thousands turned up and there were moments during the day when shivers went down my spine. I remember hearing 20,000 people chanting, “Smash the BNP!” and thinking things are really changing in Stoke.
Before the carnival, many young people in Stoke didn’t know much about the BNP, but afterwards they knew they were Nazis. The carnival changed the atmosphere in the city. The BNP now has no councillors in Stoke.
When we heard that the BNP was again organising a Red, White and Blue “festival” in Derbyshire in 2009 we decided to hold our own festival.
Those of us involved in Love Music Hate Racism decided to show what the people of Derbyshire really stand for. At first we didn’t have any budget, so we had to think creatively.
We approached the numerous music venues in the city who agreed to book live acts or DJs to be part of the festival. This way we were able to put together Fuse Fest, an LMHR “satellite” festival that ran over 13 different venues.
Each put on live music including Asian Dub Foundation, Wretch 32 and Bashy. The festival had free entry at all venues and was a huge success with over 3,000 people attending throughout the day.
A few weeks after we announced that we were going to run the festival again the next year, the BNP cancelled Red, White and Blue. There were other factors in getting it cancelled—not least the thousands of protesters blockading the BNP’s event.
But we felt good knowing that our festival, which represented the true diverse, multicultural nature of Derby, had played its part in stopping the BNP.
Love Music Hate Racism will be celebrating in style its tenth anniversary in September at an all day event at the Rich Mix in East London. It will be a riot of politics and culture.
Of course, we will look back at our past achievements—our contribution to breaking the back of the Nazi BNP. We will celebrate our role in giving confidence to young people to organise against the Nazis. We will remember the magnificent carnivals and festivals we put on.
The BNP may well be a broken force, but other far right forces are beginning to organise across Europe. The LMHR celebration will also provide our campaign with the chance to look at and debate the current problems faced by the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement.
So during the day there will be a number of debates and talks. Some of the key figures in the anti-racist movement will be speaking. Some of the highlights include:
“Defending Multiculturalism” with Salma Yaqoob, Ken Livingstone, Christine Blower (NUT general secretary), Hugh Lanning (PCS deputy general secretary) and Weyman Bennett (UAF)
“Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack – revisited” with Paul Gilroy
“The rise of the far right across Europe” with Liz Fekete (Institute of Race Relations), Edie Friedman (Jewish Council for Race Equality) and Martin Smith (LMHR)
“Dear Mr Gove… the Tories’ vision of education and ours” – Michael Rosen
In the early part of the evening there will be poetry and comedy event, with Michael Rosen, Zita Holbourne and Mark Steel. And the evening will end with a gig featuring Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, Drew McConnell (Babyshambles), Pandit G and a very special guest.
If that is not enough there will be a unique exhibition of original Rock Against Racism/LMHR posters and memorabilia spanning 40 years.
The LMHR tenth anniversary event is on Saturday 15 September, 1pm until 1am, at The Rich Mix, Bethnal Green Road, London. Tickets cost £6 (unwaged) and £12 (waged). You can get them from the Rich Mix box office 020 7613 7498 or online at www.richmix.org.uk