capital / class / culturemaking / england / urban

Art and coal

young man standing in a workshop wearing a t-shirt that reads 'cole not dole'


Glastonbury, 1995. Backed by the rest of Pulp, a wryly perky Jarvis Cocker whips to the end of Common People and declares that “if a lanky git like me can do it, and us lot yeah, you can do it too.”

Over a decade later, he swallows “a lump in t’throat” and recalls this 15-years-in-the-making moment to the documentary camera, saying “I still think that, y’know.”

The documentary is The Beat is the Law, made by independent cineastes Sheffield Vision. As well as telling the story of the Sheffield music scene in the eighties, TBITL recounts the role of the abandoned buildings of abandoned industry in the  People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, such as The (eponymous) Leadmill. The viewer is shown how numerous ex-factory and warehouse spaces incubated the experimentation of many Sheffield culture-makers around this time, amidst the social turmoil of mass unemployment and the miner’s strike of 1984. To paraphrase the narration, ‘as artists fought for space to make art, miners were fighting for their livelihoods’. Within this, many musicians and other culture-makers actively supported the miner’s strike, playing fundraisers and speaking publicly (or, as in the case of Pulp’s strings-man Russell Senior, acting as a flying picket). The signs held up on the barricades read COAL NOT DOLE.

Writing in 2011 (as Senior began work on a ‘Miners Strike: The Musical’ production), urbanist critic Owen Hatherley refers to Pulp as “the last art school band”, citing “the decimation of the infrastructure that produced them”, such as publicly funded education and arts development programs as well as broad-based social welfare (the art-supporting dole to the wage-giving coal).

To be sure, alliances such as occurred in eighties South Yorkshire will look very different now, not least as a consequence of the straitening of the contract ‘between bohemia and estate’ (item: the production of The Beat is the Law was sponsored by Urban Splash, the masterminds of Manchester’s ‘creativity-driven urban regeneration’). What are these reconfigured political and social possibilities in the link between manufacturing and handmaking? How do they look against the neoliberalisation of the city, a process which seeks the erasure of both cole and dole?


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