Fatherhood, culture wars and the role of race in music and politics are some of the lofty subjects in Primitive Ignorant’s chat with Director/Author John Clay

Sym Gharial of Primitive Ignorant. Photo by Steve Gullick.

By John Clay, Rock At Night-London, UK

INTERVIEW: John Clay speaks with the UK band Primitive Ignorant

Photo by Steve. Gullick.

You’ve recently spoken about South Asian people operating on ‘the periphery of pop culture’. Do you think this is changing and if so, why?

Primitive Ignorant: It’s not changing nearly enough. When the survivors of the British occupation of India came over here, all they could do was try to stay alive, and perhaps integrate the best they could under impossible circumstances. They were segregated from the rest of British society, poor and in an alien land. Britain had beaten and kicked the spirit out of the people during colonial times and destroyed their natural evolution as a race. Indians have never been given access to art and pop culture over here. They have been shut out and as a result shut themselves out. It’s a vicious cycle. Now they don’t feel like they have the right to access the world of British pop and art, because of how excluded they have been. I think it’s really important and powerful to document the Asian struggle to integrate in Britain through art and music as it is rarely told. Hopefully it will educate people and pave the way to a more inclusive society, that doesn’t foolishly and repugnantly thrive on stereotypes.

Can you inform us of fellow artists in the world of underground music that share your South Asian heritage and explore their exclusion via art? What differences in their expression in relation to your own intrigue you?

Primitive Ignorant: I love SilverFinger Singh, Bobby Friction, Riz Ahmed, Paper boat Collective, Shay Khan. I think artistic expression is always going to be different because when making art people draw on their own experience and that’s what makes each individual artist unique and special. I find it impossible to not be driven by my own reflection, perception and raw experience, particularly as I make music that documents racial divide, social injustices and corruptive politics. Primitive Ignorant is not just about making beats it’s a vehicle to dispel stereotypes, fight right wing politics and make a stand for the excluded Asian community, particularly during a time of acute paranoia around what it means to be “British.”

What stereotypes do you consider still prevalent and why have they persisted in their presence?

Primitive Ignorant: It feels to me that because British Society has stereotyped South Asians as being corner shop owners, doctors or scientists, the art world has often excluded them consciously or subconsciously because they don’t fit the mainstream media’s limited scope of what’s cool or what they hope will have mass appeal. The stereotype and their underrepresentation is a consequence of ever persistent colonial hierarchy, modern day racism, fear, capitalism and the warped celebrity trash culture that infects every pore of our society.

So we’re talking about private functions, auditions and tunnel visioned/edited cultural criterion upon the curation of artistic endeavours, yes? Care to add that list or detail your experiences?

Primitive Ignorant: I think I was lucky growing up. I have very liberal parents who understood and supported the path I found myself on. I never chose or decided to be in a band. It just happened and that’s what makes bands so special. They are not the product of a business plan or any education. They encompass the momentary harnessing of a wild, untamed, uncontrollable and unquantifiable energy.  I pushed myself into a predominantly non-Asian scene by essentially pretending that I wasn’t Asian and burying my identity in a sea of drugs. My thought at the time was that I needed to cut my hair to get in with the rock ‘n roll crowd. Society provided this thought, and I really regret succumbing to that invisible pressure.

You spoke about not really talking about your South Asian heritage with an ex band member of mixed race descent. Do you think that’s a conversation you’re keen on having given the context of the conscious erasure experienced in circles of early 2000’s Rock and Roll?

Primitive Ignorant: I think any conversation that can be had around these issues would be of great value. Primitive Ignorant is not necessarily a catharsis, but more a vehicle to stimulate these value creating conversations that might shift an individual’s perception on exclusion, educate fellows on the everyday experiences that marginalised people have and also give those who have experienced exclusion a feeling of hope and understanding that they are not alone. It’s not about perpetuating a sense of being a victim but about widening enfranchisement and emancipation. No corner of society should be out of bounds to anyone. Politics is not helping anyone except the privileged at the moment but music and lyricism has that unique power to bring people together and obliterate misconceived ideas that create exclusion.  It’s brilliant the way alternative music has evolved in the last 20 years. The internet and the development of musical software have provided a platform where genre bending collaborations are possible and the old model of guitar, bass, drums and a sort of cool singer seems less relevant.

Would be great to host an interview with both yourself and Andy, for sure. What do you make of the pushback against arguably extreme examples of online allyship? Is there hope that coalitions can be made despite some of the postures and toxic elements of what some marginalised folk demand of potential white allies?

Primitive Ignorant: There is always hope and human beings are extraordinarily multifaceted. People are entitled to their opinions of course, but I understand an opinion to be a view that is rooted in research and fact. I can’t expect anything from people who toss their opinions around the internet when they don’t really know what they are talking about. I think it’s totally fair for people to be educated from a young age about the struggles that marginalised folk encounter on a day to day basis. That has to happen so that these communities can be understood and a broader sense of racial and social equality can be established. Perhaps extreme musical coalitions might be a way for different communities to understand each other more and diffuse social and political tension. That’s what’s so incredibly special about music. It can give people an unanticipated, fortuitous perception, manifest a new path and connect the psyche to uncharted, unreachable realms. Politics is just killing everybody at the moment.

Primitive Ignorant

You traced a link between lad culture and the toxic elements of football culture to indie music. Care to go into the minutiae of this point of view and how you came to this conclusion?

Primitive Ignorant: I think there was a period when Indie music was annoyingly affiliated with Union Jack waving and pissed geezers floundering around pimping out some exaggerated yet frail take on British culture. When bands get bigger they naturally attract a wider cross section of people, so often you see and hear that football style chanting at large shows and that always makes me feel quite nauseous, in that setting. Don’t get me wrong I love football, have followed it all my life and often feel like football and music are quite similar. It’s the tribalism, veritable devotion, obsession, cult values and the way they both piece and hold people together that compels me to draw that comparison. Indie or alternative music, or whatever we care to call it, has evolved considerably now, demanding a complexity and diversity to the sound that might deter some of the toxic elements of the masses. This is one of the greatest periods for music ever.

Some would argue that tribalism has evolved into a more divisive state, that leftism and far right factions still abound, if not more obviously and at separate events. What would you say to that analysis?

Primitive Ignorant: I think fanaticism and sycophantic allegiance are integral to music and youth culture because that’s what makes life just about tolerable and mean at least something to the people, the lost citizens, the exclusive weirdos, the marginalised folk, the impoverished, the chancers and the those on a quest for something better. Although I can, at times, understand and appreciate the concerns over extreme leftism I think politics and culture that meticulously strives for equality and justice and fights the racism, sexism, poverty and perverse hierarchy that meanders through every pore of our society should be celebrated. Admittedly the social media platforms provoke misplaced slanging matches, where the ill informed public are encouraged to fight the wrong battles. I mean Corbyn was the saviour and this country missed an unbelievable opportunity in my opinion. It’s a right wing country though isn’t it? Getting more extreme as the bleak days evaporate. Of huge concern is the cult of Boris Johnson, possibly the darkest politician this country has ever seen yet unrelentingly popular and seemingly untouchable.

Tempted to write a protest song about him, or is aiming at a figurehead ultimately a futile gesture?

Primitive Ignorant: I think it would be ultimately futile and potentially enervated and exhausting. It’s more important, and I believe effective, to share one’s own experience and encourage positive, robust exchange. A novelty song about Johnson would only feed his fragile ego I fear.

Good point about his ego, considering the multiple indications in his public life where self exhibition for the sake of such is the ultimate goal. Enough of him. Tell us about the arrival of your baby daughter. Apart from a lack of sleep, what have you discovered about fatherhood?

Primitive Ignorant: It’s been truly wonderful, the most special experience ever. At last I feel like I’ve done something good. I think for someone with the propensity to be as selfish as me it’s really valuable and incredibly beautiful to realise that you are now living for someone else.  She’s in my arms now as I’m answering this question and will be making a few more appearances in my music.

Wow, so happy for you. Appearances in your music? Can you clarify, or is it all under wraps?

Thanks so much, John! I’m deep into recording the next record and keeping everything back as a surprise, sorry man. What I love so much about making a Primitive Ignorant album is the way the songs draw in so many different characters and aesthetics, it almost feels like I’m making a film rather than making a record. I had a week and a half off when the baby was born to settle her into this weird world but am back at it full time and really excited for the way it’s going. It’s interesting that one of the most natural things in the world, having a child, should feel so scary and disorientating as well as special and beautiful, yet all the artificial shit we are consumed with everyday seems so natural and comfortable. It’s horrible to think how obsessed the west is with superficial rot that doesn’t do anyone any good at all and further damages the innocence and purity we once all had. The earth must be an emphatically dark and deranged place because none of us are born bad.

Love your film analogy and the time you’ve given considering how busy you must be. Thanks again for such a compelling set of answers and goodwill. Look forward to hearing more about your cinematic approach to future music as well as dissecting intriguing elements of tracks of old. Peace x

Thanks so much John! It’s always enlightening to chat with ya xx

EP “Infant Joy On Midnight Streets” is available on Bandcamp





John Clay
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