#4 Rough Music With Jessica Akerman

June 24th, 2020

In this episode Bristol-based artist Jessica Akerman explores the folk custom Rough Music, and looks at how similar forms of cultural expression are used for the purposes of humiliation and protest, as well as celebration and community cohesion.

Image: Rough Music, Oliver McConnie, 2020 

This podcast episode explores the folk custom Rough Music with Jessica Akerman, a visual artist based in Bristol.  Rough Music (other names are “charivari”, “skimmington”, “lewbelling”, “tin-panning” & “ran tanning”) was a form of social control that dates to early medieval England, when a crowd would surround a person’s home at night and make a cacophonous noise with bones, meat cleavers, pans and bells. The rough band were usually protesting moral wrongdoing including if a man had beaten his wife or someone had an affair. Their motive was to publicly shame the person in the village, and it often worked…

Image: Dazzle Banner, Jessica Akerman, 2018

In this episode we concentrate mainly on the UK, but look further afield to examine how similar forms of cultural expression are used for the purposes of humiliation and protest, but also celebration and community cohesion.  The “cacerolada” otherwise known as the “casserole” is another version of rough music that continues today.  In Chile, the cacerolada has been a popular form of expressing disapproval since the Pinochet era and more recently during the 2019 Chilean protests, against privatisation and inequality. This year the “panelaços” (from the Portuguese word for pot, panela) resurfaced in Brazil showing outrage at President Jair Bolsonaro for downplaying the pandemic crisis.

To get a snapshot of Rough Music and public shame in this moment in time, we spoke to a composer and sound artist about his work reviving rough music, a folk music researcher on the history of rough music, an art historian and a musicologist on the role that music and noise making plays in protest, shame and social justice. We also spoke to one of the biggest MCs on the battle rap scene in the USA about public shaming as performance and the feeling of being on the wrong side of the crowd, as well as her thoughts on the role of chanting and noise making at the recent Black Lives Matter marches she attended in New York.

We made this podcast over the course of about 5 weeks in May and June 2020, during the Covid-19 lockdown. Our conversations with contributors were all done over the internet and during this period, turbulent events seemed to unfold rapidly.

Image: The Enraged Musician, Engraving by J. June after W. Hogarth

Image: Colston Empty Plinth, 2020

  • On 22nd May, revelations about the lockdown travels of the Prime Minister’s Chief Advisor Dominic Cummings brought derision and outrage from across the media and wider society – yet he remained in post.
  • On 25th May George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, USA, leading to a mass mobilisation of support for the Black Lives Matter campaign, and protests against racism and white supremacy across the world.
  • On 7th June protesters at the Bristol Black Lives Matter demo pulled down the statue of the slave trader, Edward Colston. After years of dithering with the local democratic process and failure to remove the controversial statue, its toppling led councils across the UK to review their civic monuments, with Tower Hamlets taking down its statue of slave trader Robert Milligan on 9th June, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan launching a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm.
  • Since then, counter protests by far right groups have seen a smattering of support across the country, and one protester publicly humiliated and imprisoned after he was caught urinating by a memorial to PC Keith Palmer who was killed in the Westminster terrorist attack in 2017.
  • Oriel College Oxford agreed to remove the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes on 17th June, following years of pressure by the campaign group Rhodes Must Fall.

The retrospective shaming of these individuals and their ideologies physically recognises the systemic damage their actions have had on generations of Black and brown people. These objects fit within an ecology of cultural artefacts, alongside the pots and pans of rough music, the homemade banners of protests, and aural chants, put-downs and rhythms.

Contributors & Credits

Thanks so much to our incredible contributors: 

Edwin Coomasaru – twitter.com/ecoomasaru

Jaz the Rapper – www.youtube.com/channel/UCwqeTV9i_lUfMK_omlKYApQ

Kate Guthrie –  www.bristol.ac.uk/school-of-arts/people/kate-m-guthrie/overview.html

Nathaniel Mann  – nathanielmann.co.uk/

Steve Roud – www.penguin.co.uk/authors/1050516/steve-roud.html


Jessica Akerman – jessicaakerman.com

Jack Friswell – www.jackfriswell.co.uk

Music, Edit and Mix

Rowan Bishop  – www.rowanbishop.co.uk/

Audio References

Essex Girls Liberation Front (EGLF)  International Women’s Day march by Sean Groth, 8 March 2020, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Twitter account of EGLF – https://twitter.com/essexgirllibfnt?lang=en

Crowd Noise – User ‘blimp66’ @ FreeSound.org

Clip from Jon Ronson’s TED Talk ‘How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAIP6fI0NAI&t=4s

Recording of ‘Casarolazos’, Todo Noticias – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oe1JSeM58SQ

Audio of BLM marches, New York from Jaz The Rapper’s Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/jaztherapper/

City noise audio – User ‘chripei’ @ FreeSound.org

Factory noise audio – User ‘kyles’ @ FreeSound.org

 Bin lids crashing noise taken from ‘Reaction to the death of Bobby Sands MP’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m77oAHG9beM&t=15s

Audio of Dead Rat Orchestra performance courtesy of Nathaniel Mann –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4EAaSdb1ds

About Jessica Akerman

Jessica Akerman, is a visual artist based in Bristol. She makes artworks that bring together social narratives, pattern and colour. A theme that runs through her work is how different systems of communication are used to define identity, be it at an individual, community or state level. She looks at non-verbal language, dress and national branding as cultural artefacts. One of her interests is how folk song and folk customs act as social records, and how they relate to present-day experiences, society and landscapes.