Exhibition Review: Rebel Sounds @ Imperial War Museum

on Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Rebel Sounds (5 July 2019-5 January 2020) at Imperial War Museum, London // Words: Saam Das

"Is it okay to attack culture in order to win a war?" A fascinating question posed by London's Imperial War Museum to lead their Culture Under Attack season, comprising three central exhibitions alongside performances and talks, discussing attempts to erase and protect culture in modern war-time. One of three exhibitions, Rebel Sounds, uses case studies to highlight how music can be key in resisting oppression and sounding off (pun intended) against war.

Rebel Sounds reflects on four examples of the power of music in conflict, chronologically spanning Nazi Germany to modern day. An introductory room provides archive footage of each: the German underground jazz movement in opposition of Adolf Hitler; Good Vibrations, the record label set up by "the godfather of Belfast punk", Terry Hooley, during The Troubles; Belgrade's Radio B92 which defied Slobodan Milosevic; and Mali's Songhoy Blues, who came together in direct opposition of their country's ban on music.

The next area of the exhibition displays a small collection of items related to the four stories of resistance, alongside a striking four-sided centre-piece showcasing quotes from relevant figures involved in each of the stories. One of the simplest but most interesting images on offer is of Radio B92 music editor Gordon Paunovic holding a photo of Public Enemy's Flavor Flav - a connection based on the outfit's 1989 'Fight The Power', the official anthem for the station, and one that was played on repeat for a full hour on multiple occasions.

Understandably, Rebel Sounds also features the music reflective of its case studies, inviting visitors to take a seat and listen to the aforementioned Public Enemy track, as well as music from Frankfurt Hot Club, Songhoy Blues, and The Undertones' seminal 'Teenage Kicks'. This is also accompanied by the opportunity to hear from some of the architects of these movements, including Hans Otto Jung of Frankfurt Hot Club and Terri Hooley.

Tying into the rest of the Culture Under Attack series, the final section offers an interactive display around statements such as "music has no purpose or value during a conflict". Similar displays exist in the What Remains (highlighting how and why culture is attacked during war) and Art In Exile (how British museums were evacuated during WWII), providing a thought-provoking end to this fantastic collection of stories, which demonstrate the importance and power of music.


Songhoy Blues - 'Bamako'

Rebel Sounds continues at Imperial War Museum, London until 5th January 2020. Find more info at iwm.org.uk.

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