Overview:

In an era of empty gestures, the Welsh band Los Campesinos! raise money and awareness for organizations they believe in and advocate for the marginalized

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It begins with a strum. A simple strum that could be a guitarist, early to rehearsal, waiting for bandmates to arrive. A nonchalant, off-the-cuff melody of moving octaves around a sustained tone, 30 seconds with no perceivable tempo or direction. Then, a tempo is decided upon, and one by one the other six bandmates join in, each second louder, faster, and more cacophonous, culminating in a floor-stomping guitar riff that propels the song in a new direction.

It takes one minute and 15 seconds for your speakers to finally explode with the beats.

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The song is “You! Me! Dancing!” by the Welsh band Los Campesinos!, and hearing it began my 16-year love affair with the group. I have seen them four times: Cleveland in 2009 (where Gareth chugged a Red Stripe during one of the instrumental breakdowns and Neil ended the show playing guitar on the bar), New York in 2011 (where I stood next to a young teenage girl and her father, both of Latin origin, who I am 99% sure discovered the band by clicking on them thinking it was a Spanish language band. Presumably, she was not too disappointed that they were not), Boston in 2018 (SO much dancing), and Brooklyn in 2019 (where I fell in love with their opening band, Nervous Dater. Their opening bands are always fire: Parenthetical Girls. Adult Mom. Girls. Titus Andronicus. Illuminati Hotties. Martha. A bevy of great bands).

After 16 years and six albums, the band has acquired an international fanbase, an advertising spot for Budweiser, and songs on the soundtrack to the 2021 animated movie The Mitchells vs. The Machines amongst other accolades.

Much has been written of their music (twee or not), their history as a band, mental health struggles, and deep dives into their songs, but little has been written on the band’s self-designation as socialists and the ethical tenets by which they treat their fans. During a Reddit AMA in January 2020, Gareth wrote, “The 7 of us are socialists, and share the same core values.” But in an era full of empty gestures, of posting to social media without doing anything in the physical world, Los Campesinos! (“The Peasants”) uses their platform to inform others of causes they believe in, raise money for organizations that help those causes, and make sure their fans are not marginalized by their part in the music industry.  

In promoting their eight-city tour to the United States in August 2022, Los Campesinos! Included the following information in their advertisements:

  • 10% of all tickets available at $10 for low income fans
  • all venues ADA accessible
  • gender-neutral facilities at all gigs
  • ALL AGES shows unless stated otherwise. Under 16s can attend in Brooklyn if accompanied by a guardian.

This assures that all fans, regardless of income level, ability, gender identity, or age, can attend and hear music by the band. Frontperson Gareth was asked about it in the Reddit AMA: “Holding back free tickets for low-income and unemployed fans is the least we can do. We are grateful to all our fans, and we want everyone to be able to enjoy our gigs, regardless of their circumstances. I think it’s the sort of things that many more bands would do if they just thought about it.” Another British rock band who has toured with Los Campesinos!, Martha, are also offering low-income tickets to their fans

In an era full of empty gestures, of posting to social media without doing anything in the physical world, Los Campesinos! uses their platform to inform others of causes they believe in, raise money for organizations that help those causes, and make sure their fans are not marginalized by their part in the music industry. 

Los Campesinos! are not shy about calling out larger, more mainstream bands over their lack of commitment to socially liberal causes. “There was never a point when we discussed increasing our activism and advocacy,” says Gareth, “but at this point, to me at least, it is cowardly for bands or artists to maintain a neutral stance. There is a trend of bands marketing themselves as socially liberal but refusing to put their mouth where their money is when it comes to the crunch. There is something that fans and journalists need to hold musicians to account for in my opinion.”

Their commitment to aid their low-income fans includes the merchandise table. This includes a “Sale Rail,” which is a pay-what-you-can section of their merch, largely apparel. One fan commented how she loved that they had merch in 3XL, covering more body types in their selection than many bands do.

Gender- and sexuality-inclusive, the band vocally support trans individuals. Beyond mandating gender-neutral bathrooms at their gigs, they also donate money to organizations that directly assist trans-identifying individuals. During one tour of the US, a tip/donation jar was placed at the merch table with all donations going to Trans Lifeline, a grassroots community that provides emotional support and microgrants to trans people in crisis. When their Whole Damn Body EP was released, it sold so well that the band donated £1,000 each to Cardiff-based charities Trans Aid Cymru, an organization that helps Transgender, Non-Binary and Intersex (TIN) people, and Oasis Cardiff, an organization that aids refugees and asylum seekers integrate within the local community.

The Trump presidency was not kind to women’s health centers, especially Planned Parenthood. During the 2017 US tour, the band would sell a drumhead at every gig, signed by the band and featuring an illustration by band member Rob Taylor, with the proceeds going to Planned Parenthood. During the 2019 US tour, the merch table donation jar raised $1,074 for the National Network of Abortion Funds, which they matched with a donation to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services of Texas (Raices).

While the band uses their platform to educate and raise money, they also are active politically. The members regularly canvass and vote for the Labour Party which (with many huge caveats) is similar to progressive liberals in the US. The band released a “Vote Labour” shirt during 2019 with all proceeds going to Refugee Council, Child Poverty Action Group, and Hope not Hate, three organizations that are important causes to the band. During the 2016 Democratic primary, they encouraged USA voters to support democratic socialist candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

At a more grassroots level, the band supports workers’ unions. They recently expressed their solidarity with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) who were striking over job losses and pay disputes. Since 2020, the band has offered to pay any UK worker’s first month’s union fees.

At their core, the band tries to enfranchise those who are frequently marginalized in the larger society and the larger music industry by making sure that everyone can equitably participate. Gareth writes, “It has never been a concern that being outspoken with our political beliefs would cause fans or venues or music industry people to fall out with us, because it is sincerely more important to us that we are true to our ideals and beliefs than that we keep people happy for financial gain. We would sooner lose fans, ticket sales, and music industry support than we would compromise what we believe in. One of my very few regrets with the band is that we’ve only truly mobilized this stance in the past 5 years, rather than 14 years ago.”

So go see Los Campesinos! on their August 16-27 tour in the US. It feels good to support a band who support their fans through more than just their music (and they have surely touched individuals’ lives who have never heard of their music through their donations and activism). I would recommend learning the songs first, as there is nothing like singing along with everyone the lyrics “But you could never kiss a Tory boy / without wanting to cut off your tongue again.”

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Christopher Clark

Dr. Christopher Clark is director of choirs and lecturer in music education at Case Western Reserve University.