Darren McGarvey AKA Loki: Scotland Today

In association with Vivienne Clore / The Stand Comedy Club
New Town Theatre – until August 25th
4 Stars (4 / 5)


Anyone who says money isn’t going to make you happy is not going to be made happy by anything.

It’s funny how the lower your social class the more likely you are to be held personally accountable for your actions. While rich people hide behind corporations and government departments, the poor are told by them to clean up and get a job.

Wordsmith Darren McGarvey (AKA. Loki The Scottish Rapper) – winner of the 2018 The Orwell Prize – is back after last year’s hit show Poverty Safari to unpack the emerging contradictions of rising into a position of relative privilege as a social critic who made his name – both of his names, we might say – speaking for (and from) the working class.

The trouble with becoming middle class is that you begin to get annoyed about things you thought only a wanker would get annoyed about when you had nothing. There are certain things you can’t say. I mean, after all privileges can be removed. You might not get invited back on BBC Question Time. And perhaps someone will publicly accuse you of biting the hand that pulled you out of the gutter. Plus, it’s hard to be a radical advocate of “ripping it up and starting again” when you’re doing pretty well by “it”. The indifference of those higher up the food chain suddenly begins to make sense. I mean, if it’s easy for Darren’s memory to fade in the comfortable lap of a first class train carriage, how much easier must it be for those who have never experienced real poverty to turn a blind eye? Is everyone of any influence simply pampered into submission? Do the real powers that be keep them just secure enough in their comforts to be mistrustful of social change – but certainly not secure enough to say, “F&%k it – I’m rich! I’ll say what I think – and I think Society Stinks!”.

Perhaps McGarvey has simply stepped out of an overt cage into comfier, more covert one. If he does not tow the line… if he gives voice to the full force of the political radicalism that used to fuel his savage raps, he might find himself without a major platform to preach from. But what use is a platform when all you’re allowed to do from it is sing from the same old song-sheet?

On the subject of songs, there is only one musical performance this year (perhaps regrettably) and not of one of his best. Darren’s gives the majority of his performance in a professional, friendly and nuanced articulate style worthy of an audience who are highly educated with better-paid jobs. Those that marketing companies label “ABC1s”. But he doesn’t stop there. He emerges soon before the end to “tell us what he really thinks”. The contradiction is that McGarvery’s “vulgar” alter-ego Loki makes for far more emotionally satisfying stage time then his Ted-talk-trim alter ego. The seeming disproof of his own theory that he can’t talk politics unless he makes it presentable to middle class sensibilities. Then again, could he get away with it if he hadn’t already cushioned the blow?

Both McGarveys make a searing critique of a society that caters to the haves, talking a good game on inequality, poverty, and privilege while doing nothing serious to address them. He denies any social mobility exists, marking himself out as the exception that proves the rule, citing Boris and May as flagrant examples of those who have, in a chaotic and random universe, been born into positions that allowed them to take advantage of luck. Thing is, I rarely come into contact with anyone who thinks politicians have earned their positions. Indeed, whatever being “deserving” of political power may entail, success in politics probably precludes it. Not just with reference to the old cliché that, “The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever becoming one,” but because no one of any real merit would want to deal with the slow-moving cesspool that is parliament for hundreds of thousands when their competence will buy them millions in the private sector. Incompetent people with good language skills go into politics because it’s easier for them to manipulate the electorate into voting for them than to produce anything of tangible value. On the other hand; it seems that McGarvey himself, a master of language, has worked for over a decade and a half to hone his talents as a lyricist, writer and rapper before reaching mainstream success. He gives voice to the voiceless. Hasn’t he “earned” it? Doesn’t he “deserve” it?

There are only two Darren McGarveys, that is for sure. But each of them speaks for thousands – if not millions – in the underclass who are not – and will never be – as skilful or erudite in their self-expression as he is. Perhaps this is sad reality of inequality. The knowledge that, yes, McGarvey has sharpened his points, and his swordsmanship rarely errs, but without his wits and god-given talent he might still be in Pollock getting jumped by bams on his way to pick up some jellies for using the word ‘beautiful’ because they think it sounds “gay”.