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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'