Since 2009, Kurt Nikolaisen and a close-knit group of his friends have been storming Dublin with that most traditional of cultural pastimes: musical activism. Love Music Hate Racism has grown from inconspicuous roots, establishing itself as a regular Dublin gig night, getting involved in Electric Picnic and putting on plenty of top local – and suitably racially diverse – acts to promote their message. There’s plenty in the pipeline, too. Having long had our own fingers in the LMHR pie, State caught up with Kurt to get the history, and the latest…
Can you tell us a bit about the background of LMHR?
Well it’s important that people know how Rock Against Racism was born in order to understand how LMHR came about. The ’70s in the UK saw a huge rise in white nationalism. The National Front (equivalent to the modern day BNP, or what’s left of it) were gaining a lot of support around then. It didn’t help that musicians like Bowie and Clapton were coming out and saying ”Keep Britain white…”, and ”England is ready for a fascist leader…” at their gigs or during interviews. Bowie later came out to apologize for his outbursts but as far as I’m aware Clapton hasn’t done so.
Anyway, two lads wrote into NME basically criticizing Clapton who had a hit with ‘I Shot The Sheriff’, and called on people to unite against racism and form Rock Against Racism, which was to be the first musically orientated anti racism campaign. In ‘78 racially motivated violence was a massive problem and the RAR crew organized a huge gig in East London. Over 100,000 showed up from all over the country. The Clash & The Buzzcocks were on the bill, amongst others, and it was the birth of something incredible. Something so powerful that it’s continued to be one of the cornerstones of the fight against racism. Take one of our greatest gifts, a universal language, and use it to fight hate. I wish I was there in the audience that night. I know people who were and their eyes light up when they talk about it. In 2002, LMHR was born out of RAR to fight the increase in popularity of the new NF type group, The British Nationalist Party. Another bunch of extreme right wing morons. Why did we start it here? Prevention is better than cure.
How long has LMHR been going in Dublin?
We had our first big gig in 2009, and for nearly two years we’ve been putting gigs on here on a regular basis. All the while we’ve been trying to keep gigs regular without turning it into something commercial. One of our colleagues and friends suggested that we get some sponsorship from Swatch and use the tag line ”It’s time to stop racism” but we all felt that’s not the road we want to go down, while laughing quite histrionically. We were invited down to Electric Picnic in our first year, which I can safely say did great things for us. We spoke to a lot of people and made a lot of friends. Still people come up to us and the first question they ask are ”were you at Electric Picnic in 2009”. They must have had a great time that year if they can’t remember for sure, but it’s still nice to be remembered.
What inspired you to start the Dublin branch of the organization?
LMHR gigs had already happened here and there around the country and a bunch of us decided that best thing to do was to keep them regular. Keep a pulse so to speak. I mean, fair enough there are no organized racist parties or groups out there, but there still is an under current of racism in Ireland. In 2009 there was a lot of talk about immigrants this, immigrants that and there was not one person I knew that was willing to sit back and take a chance that some muppet was going to get on a soap box and start leading and organizing ignorance and turn that ignorance into some kind of racist group or political party. We admired and respected LMHR for what they were doing up north and in the UK and knew that it was time the same type of campaign was introduced here. Many of the people that were involved in getting LMHR up and running here have experienced – and still continue to experience – racism in this country. My own experience started before I was born, when some neighbors sent a petition round the neighborhood to have us removed. I could tell you loads of stories involving schoolteachers, employers and the like in my own life. But I won’t, instead I would love to hear the readers stories. Not enough people speak out because they’re afraid to. I know of families who’ve had their houses and businesses torched but still keep their mouths shut because they’re afraid that there is no support for them. Imagine that. People don’t report racism to the police here. And if it’s not reported it’s not a problem. That’s probably why you might hear ”ah racism isn’t a problem in Ireland”.
What are the main short-term aims of LMHR in Dublin?
Well, we would like to see the start of music workshops that link in with diversity in schools here in Dublin for one. The events we’ve had over the last two years have helped us make friends with many musicians from different ethnic backgrounds, and musical genres too. We’ve talked about the idea with a lot of them, but we want to do it right so that it has the best possible outcome.
We would also like to get involved with more venues and see more people get involved and willing to put on their own events. People forget that LMHR is also a tool to be used alongside any anti racism campaign. We want to offer our experience to anyone who wants to put on a musically orientated event that celebrates diversity and supports the anti racism message. In short, we want the campaign to grow to not just being about going to a gig and enjoying an eclectic mix of music. We also want more people to get involved and make it their own, sharing their own experiences and making it local to their community.
Racism issues in Ireland seem to bring about a mixed reaction: some people believe that racism’s not really a problem here, yet there are numerous rallies and immigration issues that suggest otherwise. How can you convince people that an organization like LMHR is necessary?
I don’t think anyone needs convincing. How can anyone say that celebrating diversity through music – while getting people talking about a subject which still seems to be taboo here – is not necessary. People seem to think that it’s just about going to a gig and earning some kind of points for attending. That’s not what it’s about at all. It’s about the friendships that are formed and the opportunities that are made by putting a diverse and eclectic bunch of people into one room, with the theme of the night being anti-racism and the common ground being music.
You said it yourself about the protests and rallies. The only way LMHR wouldn’t be necessary is when we’re all finally equal and there isn’t a need for protests or rallies. A lot of people say that LMHR is very mainstream. Well maybe it is. But isn’t that the point? To find a way to reach as many people as you can?
The fact that we’ve got people talking about it is a good thing. The fact that someone would even ask the question ”Is racism a problem in Ireland?” to a friend, colleague or co worker is a step in the right direction. Define a ‘problem’ though. Is a ‘problem’ the fact that there are countless rumors being spread about taxis driver of certain ethnic backgrounds, asylum seekers and immigrants? Is a ‘problem’ the fact that the serious majority of racially motivated attacks are not even reported to the Gardai because the victims feel nothing will be done? Is an arson attack on a person’s home or business a ‘problem’?
What would you like to see dealt with in Dublin race relations right now?
The myths that are spread through this city are ridiculous. “You can arrive from Africa or Eastern Europe and claim political asylum and get a free house, car, the lot. But if you are Irish, born, bred and reared and are down on your luck you get nothing.” Asylum seekers live in poverty in Ireland on €19 a week per adult and half that for a child. Many of them are skilled and trained, yet they are not allowed to work. I would suggest that everyone visits an asylum seekers’ accommodation center at least once in their lives. And that’s if you can get in. There’s no doubt that the powers that be don’t want the general public to know how horrible the conditions are that they live in. Majority immigrant families come from poor, war torn countries where they have no opportunity to work or for education so they jump at the opportunity for accommodation or a job on minimum wage or less.
A recent YouTube video showed some Dublin kids unveiling a Nazi flag in front of The Temple Bar – is it possible to overcome this kind level of bigotry?
It was more than just ‘unveiling’. It was deliberate attempt to cause some kind of trouble. Those two are lucky that they were not attacked and beaten. I’m not condoning any kind of violent action and I don’t believe that would help. But I do believe that they should be found and talked to about their motivation behind doing what they did, and of course where they got that flag. And not in an aggressive way. There is no doubt that for every 10 of those fools there is an older, more cold-and-calculated racist that encourages this kind of behavior. The fact that two youths deemed it OK to proudly raise the symbol of a dark time in history that saw the extermination of over 6 million is sickening. It’s society’s responsibility to find out why they would do such a thing. There would probably be no harm in them meeting with a survivor of the holocaust so that they can hear in detail what that symbol represents.
If a reader would like to get involved in LMHR, how do they go about it?
Come to a gig, talk to us. And if you can’t get to an event then drop us an email email@example.com. We always want to get more people involved and listen to their ideas and experiences. The more people get involved the more work we can do, and the more the campaign can grow. This year we want to see it grow outside Dublin on a regular basis for gigs, and start workshops here in Dublin for young people.
How supportive have you found the musicians to be?
All the musicians that have gotten involved have always expressed their desire to continue supporting the campaign and to help it grow in whatever way they can. It’s amazing to have such a diverse and extensive list of DJ’s and bands that are willing to muck in as soon as we get in touch. One thing that we’re really excited about is bringing down more bands like Axis Of. It’s really important for us to bridge a gap between the two campaigns and learn how we can work together to better the message. There’s an amazing music scene alive and kicking up north and such a strong anti racism message present through so many different events. And of course, it help when bands like ASIWYFA are sporting Love Music Hate Racism t-shirts in photo shoots, and Mick Pyro gives us quotes like ”Racism, suck my balls!”
Is there a concern that LMHR gigs are preaching to the converted? If so, how can you overcome that?
Preaching to the converted? Great! Can’t wait to see 600 anti racists in Sweeney’s on Friday! Like I said before it’s not about getting anti racism club card points when you attend a gig. It’s about the relationships and ideas that happen at an event, that help the campaign move forward. There was a gig in Clondalkin last year that happened because people came to a gig in town, liked what they saw and wanted to see it in their community and that was just after a racially motivated attack out there. These regular gigs are LMHR’s pulse to let people know we are here and ready to work with anyone who wants to promote an anti racism message and encourage diversity through music. We want people to take LMHR and make it theirs, but in order to do that we’ve got to have them at a gig so they can see how powerful it can really be. The only way to overcome ”preaching to the converted” is by growing the campaign and getting more and more people involved who in turn make LMHR their own and bring it ”home” so to speak.
As published on State.ie, May 2011.