Rock the Vote is more likely to boost the profits of record companies
than it is to reinvigorate youth interest in parliamentary democracy,
believes Nicholas de Luca, director of APCO UK
From the Concert for Bangladesh to Rock against Racism, Live Aid to Sun
City, the Conspiracy of Hope to Red Wedge varied causes have attempted
to attach themselves to rock ’n’ roll’s rebellious energy and youthful
While a number of these efforts have managed to raise money it seems
less clear how many consciences have been lifted or political activists
created. Rock the Vote is a US export dating not as many presume to the
1992 Presidential election campaign when Pearl Jam, REM and Madonna led
an effort to get the MTV nation into voting booths - but to 1990 when US
record biz execs wanted to halt Republican-led efforts to censor lyrics.
This campaign turned into a nationwide voter registration push,
resulting in 350,000 additions to the electoral roll and a 6 per cent
upswing in the youth vote. Will this work in the UK? Is the Rock the
Vote idea transferable to this country? Can rock and roll mobilise young
people to vote?
The British version is being driven by John Preston, chairman of the
huge BMG music group (and also chairman of the BPI - the record business
trade body). The organisers of Rock the Vote insist that the concept can
work here. To convince us it is so, they have put up a pounds 1 million
budget, are planning a mass advertising campaign, a Live-Aid like
concert broadcast on television, record store promotions, an album, a
single, a video, bumper stickers, badges and t-shirts.
But so far, Rock the Vote has failed to pass some fundamental hurdles.
If it is going to inspire the disc buying public, they are going to need
to sign up some first division bands. Radiohead, the Boo Radleys and
Gene - it must be said - are not Blur, Oasis and Pulp. While there are
desperate efforts to get other name acts like Elastica and Supergrass
into the fray, without the big boys of the current Britpop scene no one
will pay attention. Whether or not kids can be persuaded to buy more
good cause albums remains to be seen.
In the US, the widespread penetration of cable TV - bringing MTV and VH1
into most households - meant that the Rock the Vote message was being
heard constantly in homes throughout the country. With music channels
available to a fraction of the UK populace the ability to get the word
out is going to be more difficult.
But, if the recent Brit Awards were anything to go by, there is no
shortage of interest in rock ‘n’ roll among politicians.
But people, including the young, want their politicians to be effective
If politicians want teenagers to vote they need to deal with their
concerns not rub elbows with Damon and Noel.