The Agitator, Barfly, London
Manic Street Preachers, Hard Rock Café, London
Gang of Four, NME Awards Show, London

I've heard the sound of student protest, 21st-century style, and it's doo-wop

I got there just too late. By the time I arrived at university, the second wave of student radicalism was dead, and even to an angry, politicised outsider from South Wales the culture of complacency was contagious.

In the spring of 1990, there had been several anti-poll tax protests already, and when the latest, on the now-historic date of 31 March, clashed with a house party thrown by a couple of goth mates in their Tottenham Court Road flat, I happily ducked out of the demo, thinking I'd wait for the Big One. Little did I know that this was the Big One: all afternoon, I drank wine and grazed from a finger buffet on a balcony, and looked quizzically to the south as sirens squealed and Trafalgar Square burned.

Two decades on, there's no excuse for being so out of the loop. By following @UKuncut and its localised equivalents on Twitter, and assorted Facebook groups, every student knows where and when to make their voice heard. However, unlike in the Sixties and the Eighties, musicians have been slow to respond to the new climate of kettling. With one exception. The Agitator is an alias for 24-year-old Derek Meins, who in December turned up to perform at the UCL occupation, and has since taken his message to the streets. I catch up with him in a relatively conventional setting: a stage at an indie venue. But it is nevertheless a red-letter day: the 7ft-high characters "NO!", carved in polystyrene and painted red, stand behind Meins. The Agitator's crude philosophy, as outlined on nowisthetimetoagitate.com is, you see, called NO!-ism.

The red capitals are The Agitator's biggest bits of kit. Backed by two drummers and no other musicians, Meins – all 1930s hair and dustbowl braces – yells call-and-response chants about the link between "oh-pression" and "dee-pression" and the nexus of "money, jobs, religion and sex", with no accompaniment but a tub-thumping tribal rhythm, maracas, an occasional megaphone and that old trusty political pop standby, an air-raid siren.

If he weren't the last person alive to learn that Gary Barlow is a Tory (which he announces as if it's breaking news), I'd call Meins the most switched-on man in Britain. It may seem odd that the soundtrack to 2011's wave of unrest is a lone nutter playing primal screaming, foot-stomping blues and barbershop harmonies. Then again, it makes a strange sort of existential sense: to be is to doo-wop.

The same week, I catch representatives of two earlier generations of political rockers. Manic Street Preachers began, like Meins, by harassing shoppers on the streets, but have long since adopted a more pragmatic approach which sees them working for the Yankee dollar at the Hard Rock Café. It may not be the Blackwood Miners' Institute, where they played the previous week, but the Manics know that every bullet counts.

If the Manics are almost old enough to be The Agitator's dads, then that would make Gang of Four the granddads. Now reduced to a core of Jon King, Andy Gill and two ringers, the legendary Leeds agit-funk band make their return at an NME Awards show in a venue where you get your change on a little black tray – not the only thing that feels wrong. With their frock coats and heroic guitar-hoisting, they're far more rock'n'roll than The Roundheads of 1979 (although the stunt where the singer clubs a microwave oven to death dovetails with their anti-consumerist message).

Whether it's "I Party All the Time" from their reunion album Content or the classic "I Love a Man in Uniform", Gang of Four are still one of the most thought-provoking bands alive. But the time for provoking thoughts is over, and the time for provoking deeds is here. That's why The Agitator is potentially so vital.

Next Week:

Simon Price follows a trail of rain-soaked cakes to a Jimmy Webb gig

Rock & Pop Choice

David McAlmont, unsung national treasure, showcases his exquisite voice at London's Leicester Square Theatre (Tue) before taking it around the country starting at the Brew House in Taunton (Sat). Meanwhile, there's stadium emo with a heart and a brain from Gerard Way's My Chemical Romance at Wembley Arena (Fri, Sat) ahead of a UK tour.

Arts and Entertainment

photography
Arts and Entertainment
Adolf Hitler's 1914 watercolour 'Altes Rathaus' and the original invoice from 1916

art
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible