The Manic Street Preachers have always been a political band. After some rather personal albums, the Welshmen are now launching Futurology – a record inspired by touring Europe, travelling on its highways, German Krautrock and Russian futurists. Singer James Dean Bradfield is comfortable talking about politics in the interview. He speaks fast and with in-depth knowledge, proves to be a critical pro-European, and warns us not to underestimate Welsh football – it won’t be long until the next European Championship!
James, what were your first thoughts on the evening of May 25 when you learned about the results of the European elections?
JDB: I was in two minds about it. First of all, I am an advocate of European federalism. I believe in the idea of bringing together the nations of this continent under one roof. The problem is that behind this idea there’s a hubris; the European government overestimates itself and is prone to arrogance.
Why is that?
JDB: An intelligent person once said that democracy had to be administered in homeopathic doses, not as a pill which has an immediate effect.
So Europe is happening too fast?
JDB: Yes, the progress should be slowed down. What we’re seeing right now in the Eastern European countries are the negative effects of this excessive speed. The way I see it, the EU has attempted to make its influence felt in the Ukraine too early. Let me put it this way, maybe the EU was the reason why the conflict between the Ukraine and Russia arose in the first place.
Do those responsible lack the necessary foresight?
JDB: Of course! The politicians in Brussels and Strasbourg should have sleepless nights because of the low voter turnout. On top of that, most countries basically cheated by combining the European with local elections, which is the only reason why many people decided to vote at all. The real catastrophe about this election was the people’s indifference towards it.
What’s missing in this “project Europe” that might convince people?
JDB: Something like common sense. It’s crazy that a big part of the European bureaucracy is managed by people from France, with French bureaucracy being one of the worst in the world!
And in order to improve that, they send someone like former Bavarian governor Edmund Stoiber – someone who thinks and speaks in an incredibly complicated and verbose way – to help out the French.
JDB (laughing): Ha! It’s time for a change in thinking. Europe is arrogant and narcissistic – and that’s dangerous. When people are dissatisfied with an arrogant institution, they rebel against it! Which is what the British did by voting for the UKIP, and the French by voting for the Front National. In other words: If politicians don’t do their jobs, it’s the far right that profits from it. The worst thing you can do in a situation like that is to insult the voters and to lament one’s fate. The solution is obvious: do a better job, for fuck’s sake!
I suppose you’re still voting left?
JDB: It’s getting more and more difficult for me each time. Labour is lacking any sense of empathy at all, and lacking political intelligence, too. It’s the same throughout Europe: The politicians and governments in power are neither smart, nor do they have any talent for picking up on what the people want.
You’re not sounding too pro-European now…
JDB: I know what you mean. A statement like that could have been made by an anti-European politician, as well. But I’m still pro-European, which is why I’m feeling so strongly about the need for a change.
In concrete terms, what exactly would you change if it was in your power?
JDB: Slow everything down a bit. Simplify things. Not because I think the people are stupid, but because it’s very hard to understand for normal people working hard every day that all of a sudden there’s a type of government which stands above the city councils and the state and national parliaments. A type of government which came out of nowhere, which is given more and more decision-making power, but which has never explained itself. It’s not enough to threaten people by saying: “Without Europe there’d be war, without the Euro you’d all be bankrupt.” There has never been a positive electoral campaign to support the European idea. That’s what’s missing, that’s what I’d catch up on.
And the Manic Street Preachers would write the campaign songs…
JDB (laughing):I bet they’d rather have a song by Shakira again.
But your song Europa geht durch mich would be the perfect choice, wouldn’t it?
JDB: Well, it’s not a very political song actually. It was inspired by our trips through Europe. We were wondering: What’s keeping this construct together? Is it the culture? Probably not, as every border is also a cultural divide. Germany and Austria? Not too many similarities. The same goes for France and Belgium. Wales and England? Nothing in common at all! (laughs) The only thing which is common to all Europeans is the knowledge that two terrible wars have been fought here, and that this must never happen again. Europe as an idea is based solely on this foundation, and I doubt whether this will be enough for the future.
Why the German title?
JDB: The song is also trying to describe our Welsh view on your strange country. I believe you Germans are unable to realize how lucky you are. Lucky to be able to celebrate a festival as old as the Oktoberfest, and, only a couple of miles away, to be able to visit the modern stadium of one of the best football teams worldwide right now. Or to be able to walk from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to the Potsdamer Platz to Prenzlauer Berg – a route which leads you through very diverse worlds and eras. There’s no other country in the world where past, present and future are so close together. Of course, parts of that past are really dark, but the present is cool, and the future promising. That’s why the rest of Europe envies you.
Maybe we’re just not used to this, being envied.
JDB: Oh, you Germans have always been envied, you just didn’t notice it. What you overlooked in the process of trying to come to terms with your Nazi past – a process which, of course, was absolutely necessary – is the huge influence Germany had in the second half of the twentieth century. Look at the music, for example: when I started to buy British music magazines such as the NME or the Melody Maker at the beginning of the eighties, the writers loved German bands. They were singing the praises of bands like Faust and Neu!, Popol Vuh and Kraftwerk, Can and Einstürzende Neubauten. British musicians were really fascinated by German music – I think you haven’t even started to realize the massive influence of German music on post-punk. And, in particular, on the Welsh music scene.
Why on the Welsh in particular?
JDB: In Wales, we are pretty isolated. That’s why we loved the fact that the best Krautrock records hadn’t been recorded in Berlin, Munich or Hamburg, but in Düsseldorf, or some farm outside of Cologne.
Welsh people, in contrast to Germans, seem to be quite proud of their achievements. Why is that so easy for you?
JDB: Well, there’s only about 3.7 million of us, that’s not a threatening number. Welsh nationalism could never do a lot of damage. That’s why it’s easier for us to show our flag. No one is scared of us.
Particularly not in football.
JDB:Careful, my German friend! We may not have qualified for Brazil, but if you take a look at the qualifying groups for the EURO 2016, I’m confident that we’ll make it. And then you Germans better watch out! We not only have Gareth Gale of Real Madrid, but also Liverpool FC’s Joe Allen and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey – good guys! Wales will beat Germany in the Euro 2016, and when that happens I want you to look back in your sadness to what I’m telling you today: Anyone who ever underestimated Wales has had to pay the price in the end!
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