Stomping. Hollering. A beat. If you’ve been lucky enough to see Derek Meins’ latest project live then you’ll have seen the most unique and arresting performance to come from the city for years. When the mild-mannered Scot takes to the stage he seemingly gets possessed by a 50s blues mama, all passion and fired up indignation. So breathtaking is the no-holds-barred vocal assault that you’ll forget that there are no melodic instruments to back him up, only the intense drumming of former Maccabees sticksman Robert Dylan Thomas. Derek’s third project, following teenage years in the Rough Trade-signed Eastern Lane and a stint as a Famous Poet, couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. With a debut single ready to drop as the country goes to the polls for what seems like the most important election since Blair stuck the Tories into opposition, The Agitator is a rabble-rouser that wants people to sit up and take action.
“I wanted to write songs that were more relevant to the time we’re living,” Derek says quietly. “I felt that there was no music summing up the time that young people were living in – to do with the banks and the government and people being very oppressed but nobody standing up and saying what they felt was wrong. I thought there was a place for somebody to stand up and say something about it.”
For someone who’s now so clearly fired up it’s surprising that Derek hasn’t been involved in politics before. But like many of us he buried his head in the sand to concentrate on more arty endeavours. But now he’s had “a bit of a change of tactics” he’s eager to reach out and convert everyone to action. The unusual format of the musical instrument-free performances has come from that. Originally as Derek hollered out the lyrics Rob would be hitting a wooden box. The idea that the songs could be delivered without a transit van full of guitarists and sound engineers was key. “The point behind it is that we can do it anywhere,” explain Derek. “It’s universal.”
Nowadays Rob knocks out his intricate rhythms on a drum kit (in fact there’s talk of a second drummer being added), something that has let his incredible skills really shine through. “If we didn’t have someone who could drum and write as well as Rob then it wouldn’t really work,” says Derek. “There’s no other instruments going on so there’s nothing to hide behind.” Rob is hugely influenced by hip hop, something that fits with The Agitator’s core values. Like the glory days of Public Enemy, The Agitator is an angry bloke shouting over a beat about how you shouldn’t get ground down by the injustices of society. Only this new project takes things back to the blues that originally informed Chuck D and co. As the pair continue to record the album though the project is taking a step back towards hip hop.
Still stripped back to a beat and a voice, there’s layers of programming from Roots Manuva and Wiley producer Amir Amor. The songs finished so far feel very different to the demos and the live performances we’re used to and could be a shock to long time fans, sounding not a million miles away from a stripped back Prodigy. “I wanted it to sound like a record that could be on the radio – a pop record – but that still only has drums and vocals on it,” Derek explains. “I want to get the point of the lyrics across but to make it open for anyone to listen to.”
Debut single ‘Get Ready’ shouldn’t have any problem getting the message across. It’s pretty direct. Derek describes it as The Agitator’s manifesto. “It’s what the Agitator is about,” he says. “Capitalism has failed, the way that our lives are being led now has failed – ‘Get Ready’ is our anthem for a little bit of change. We chose to use that song as our first single because it sums up the point of what the Agitator is about – people now wanting to change things and getting ready for a change.”
So is that change going to come from the party politics or Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats? Derek doesn’t seem convinced but he would encourage everyone to vote. “This is a massive election because it’s got so much media coverage that young people wouldn’t have even bothered before,” he ponders. “It’s important that people are talking about it and that they’re getting together to cause some sort of action – that they believe in something, which is a good thing. but I do think that it’s a bit of a three-headed monster and that spoiling ballot papers might be a better thing, to take a stance. “It’s so American now,” he continues, on a roll but not a rant. “People no longer vote for their local party, they’re voting for one celebrity figurehead over another. I’d encourage people to take an interest and to go down and make a vote because too many young people complain about things and bury their head in the sand. So it’s good for people to be causing some kind of action, even if it is sitting around with their friends and talking about ideas.” As he says on ‘Get Ready’ it’s “a prime time for a change of mind” – are you ready to agitate?
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