We need to talk about Band Aid 30

For those that don’t know, my background lies in composing music; not writing about it. All in all I’ve dedicated a fairly substantial chunk of my life to the theory and practice of assembling sound. It goes some way to explain my occasionally lofty perspective. Though in all that time there is really only one bit of knowledge that I regularly apply to my work and beyond; ‘use percussion sparingly’. Bit random, I know. You see, orchestral percussion instruments work best when they appear briefly at key moments; a cymbal crash to start a fast movement or a quiet triangle trill to show unease. Sparse percussion sounds cut straight through the orchestral mass, focusing our minds and helping us re-engage with the piece. Done simply; you remember it as a neato flourish. Done well; you become one with the ecstasy of it all. That said; if you overuse percussion then it loses all sense of excitement and purpose; fading miserably into the back of your consciousness. No power, no effect. We like things fresh and new, you see; we like a bit of rarity.

Now, is it wrong to take this half-assed concept and rigidly apply it to random behaviours found in our modern, fame-driven society? I think not. Introducing Band Aid 30.

                                     The horror.

Nope. Sorry. This is wrong. This is wrong on so many levels that I actually had to check it wasn’t some perverse April Fool. As ever, I will try and be even-handed but, to me, this version tramples arbitrarily on all that made the original so exciting and powerful. I should probably start by clearing up my analogy, shouldn’t I?

‘Use percussion sparingly’, consider it similar to the law of diminishing returns; a decrease in incremental output by increasing a solitary factor of production. The Band Aid concept has not one single jot of power anymore; there is no return on our investment. We’ve simply experienced it too many times and know exactly what to expect. The regularity of production diminishes our appreciation. Once again we are treated to a parade of celebrities in their finest clothes and immaculate hair gurning into the microphone for ‘charidee’. Once again we shuffle our feet in awkward silence, wishing they’d do something a bit more proactive. It wasn’t always like this; the first single (back in ’84) was fresh and focused and sharp and vital. Geldof had seen something that horrified him that he felt people should be up in arms about. He persuaded his celebrity friends to give up their time for an untrusted concept and got a record recorded and released in 4 days (that is remarkable even for today). This record was important (whatever Chumbawumba says).

Fast forward 20 years (glossing over 89’s ‘Band Aid 2’ because the less said the better) and we’re at it again; though with slightly higher budget and the benefits of perspective. Geldof (or Bono depending on your source) sees the horror of World Poverty and decides action must be taken. Concurrently there is a UK based G8 summit occurring during the 20th anniversary year of the original concert. Time to raise our morals again! Though honestly; this time round I doubt many people cared much about those stuck in abject poverty. They knew the cultural significance of this record and the myriad ways the media gets us to give to charity. They just wanted to see Busted and Ms Dynamite share a microphone. The artists themselves realised this would be good for their careers (forgetting about Paul Young and Shalamar) so enjoyed a day long jolly knowing full well the record would be a success. For the most part, it was. Not the heights of the original but solid nonetheless. Now here we are; back again. Geldof constantly bashing that cymbal like there’s no tomorrow. All credibility draining with each earnest tear. I’ve heard this story too many times. An assembly of bright young things oblivious to the history of those that came before. Oblivious to the cause. Do you know the cause? Ebola. That and the UN allegedly taking the time out from mitigating this crisis to call Geldof personally. Which brings us neatly on to another awful, awful point.

                     I don't understand what this is supposed to mean

Band Aid 30 trivialises the crisis. The spread of the Ebola virus is obviously of great concern but it is noted as such by everyone. It is not an ignored, under-represented issue. We know the danger it poses but also the sheer amount of energy the global community is putting into containing it. The UK alone is committing a ‘£230 million package of direct support’ which, to give a little context, is considerably more than the $24 million the original Band Aid raised. Put simply, this is a cause that needs neither awareness nor fiscal input. The single is merely reaffirming the idea of a poor, helpless Africa waiting for us Westerners to swoop down in benevolence to lift them out of the mire. This inevitably leads to the question; why now?

Maybe for relevance, or purpose. Geldof will always be viewed through the prism of Band Aid so without Band Aid there is arguably no Geldof. Though if that were the case then surely we’d have a new Band Aid every other year? Thankfully we’ve been spared that particular nightmare. You also can’t argue that the anniversary means anything to him; he certainly dragged his feet over Live 8 before Bono got him moving; but even then it was more the live event than the reworked song that celebrated what they had previously achieved. Of course, Geldof was never the only person involved (this is Midge Ure) but he did have the loudest voice; using it to drive the project with relentless energy. Our hands are forced; we have to lay criticism squarely at his door. There is simply no logic for the song to exist. That said; grief often defies logic.

The problem is; you can’t give people a free pass just because they’ve suffered a loss, especially if they then hurl abuse at anyone who dare criticise them. It’s self defeating. The bizarre slanging match between Geldof and Adele has done very little for him and everything for her. It has raised a good point about knuckling down and giving to charity in a personal, private way instead of rocking up to a studio purely so you can be seen to ‘care’. This aspect of the debate has been pored over by many, many commentators so I won’t drag it out again. Needless to say, vacuous charity singles like this are part of the past. There is little space for them in an age where mega artists squabble over petty earnings like bankers. We need to stop looking up at these demi-gods and focus instead on each other; what can we do? If each of us is just a little altruistic to one another then we could move mountains. Geldof needs to realise this. For the sake of his legacy.

                          Like it or not, he made this happen.
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