Can Darkstar help solve music’s class problem?


Darkstar - Credit: Archant

A special Barbican-led night at Oval Space sees acts including the electronic duo discussing social mobility in the arts, finds Alex Bellotti.

On Darkstar’s latest record, a pertinent moment comes at the end of the song Through The Motions, when the music cuts to the voice of a young Yorkshire woman. “You know when you go, ‘I’m going to uni and I’m going to have this job, then I’m going to have a house, meet a boy and settle down,” she says. “I wish I could have followed that, but I haven’t.” It’s a frank enough admission at any age, but particularly worrying coming from someone who’s only 16-years-old.

Across society, the lack of opportunities for people from lower privilege backgrounds is a constant thorn, but in music, it is increasingly unavoidable. Earlier this year, Noel Gallagher lambasted the fact that “the working classes have not got a voice anymore”, while the 2015 Brit Awards also came under fire for its predominantly middle class roster.

On December 4, musicians including Darkstar, Sleaford Mods, Sivu and Richard Dawson will be tackling such issues for a special night at Oval Space entitled Panic! What Happened to Social Mobility in the Arts? For Darkstar’s James Young, the event is a natural extension of the themes brought up on their new album, Foam Island. Recorded in Crouch End’s Konk Studios, it saw the electronic duo spend three months in Huddersfield interviewing local young people about politics, opportunity and the lack of it.

“I think we’ve written quite a poignant and important album, but I’m disappointed with the media outlets because they’ve ignored our work,” says Young. “Leading up to the general election that wasn’t the case, these people were reporting heavily on why people aren’t voting, and now we present something that is hugely relevant to what was going on and certain people have just left it. This is the industry we’re in, where things are cyclic; it’s all buzzwords and hype.”

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During those three months in Huddersfield, Young noticed that political apathy generally stemmed from the feeling that the Conservative and Labour parties were just “different shades of grey”.

If young people have given up on politicians, the musician believes it’s because politicians have given up on young people, shutting down grants which helped people like him to enrol in university despite having no formal education qualifications.

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While this contributes to the lack of people from lower income backgrounds entering the music industry, Young says the problem has also been intensified by the rise of internet culture.

“I think what’s interesting right now is that back when we came up, there was a strong sense of sub culture. We got involved with what went on to become dubstep, so we were part of a community of producers and small labels that really went on to exceed expectations and have a big impact on electronic music.

“Now I think there’s a general tone because of technology that has taken over. There are limited subcultures in the UK now because listening habits have changed; it’s a streaming world now. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but everything’s become localised and that’s played a huge part in there being another barrier now for kids who may not come from a great background or have those resources, and are struggling to create to a point where they can be heard.”

So what is the solution? Young points to a project like Chicken Town in Tottenham, which helps provide a route into the food industry for young unemployed locals, as an example of how communities can take action together. Alongside promoting training providers like Access to Music and renewing focus on grant schemes, he believes this would go a long way to providing more avenues into the entertainment industry.

“There’s got to be a grassroots engagement, a plan of some sort. It could be a case of providing more youth centres for instance, but there just needs to be more emphasis on helping kids who haven’t go the resources or the access, whose parents can’t afford to push them towards that inclination of being creative.

“I think that’s one thing about doing this record as well. I took community projects for granted growing up and now when I’m in London, there’s so little emphasis on community and trying to bring people together through projects. It’s stifling. There’s so much activity in that field and so much positivity, but it doesn’t seem to be on the agenda and that’s a shame.”

Panic! What Happened to Social Mobility in the Arts? is presented by the Barbican at Oval Space on December 4. Visit

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