Formerly the frontman of incendiary London-based punk/rock/hip-hop collective The King Blues, Johnny 'Itch' Fox is now kicking against the pricks as a smart, sussed solo artist. His debut album The Deep End is an explosive cocktail of hip-hop rhymes, snarling guitars, block-rocking beats and razor-sharp, street-smart, politically-charged lyrics, an invigorating call to arms for the disenfranchised, disillusioned and down-trodden. We asked him to nominate five artists who've soundtracked his life and proved that music can change the world, one riff at a time.
“I believe that The Clash are the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band that ever walked the face of the earth. For me a great song makes you dance, makes you think and hopefully makes you take action, and every time I listen to The Clash I feel like I want to go out and make the world a better place. Strummer really meant it, more than anyone in punk rock. Strummer gets flak from some people because of his background, but he lived a real life and he really identified and empathised with working people, and went out of his way to get involved in various struggles. He had a real thirst and passion for life, and he wandered the earth trying to make a difference. Where you come from isn’t as important as where you’re going, and that was definitely the case with him.”
“The thing I like most about John Lennon’s politics is that they changed: he never thought that he had all the answers and he had the humility to acknowledge that sometimes he got things wrong. I really respect that: I’m really cynical of anyone who thinks that they know everything: I can’t trust that kind of arrogance. Lennon always struggled as to whether violent tactics or non-violent tactics had more impact and resonance, and he got in so much trouble for being so outspoken: the US government really hated him and saw him as a real threat…and he was a real threat. The Beatles’ life was so short-lived, but their impact was huge, and as an artist Lennon was a genuine revolutionary, absolutely unafraid of getting his hands dirty. I have mad respect for that.”
“I always felt that he was the brains behind Rage Against The Machine: he was so much more than a ridiculously innovative guitar player. He wanted to do something of worth, something that would make people angry again, and he kinda channelled the anger of metal and the energy of frustrated kids into something hugely positive and inspirational. Metal makes kids feel like it’s okay to be angry, that it’s a perfectly valid emotion and that it’s really natural for you to be feeling it, especially at that stage in your life, and Rage were brilliant at directing that anger to make the world a better place. He really has his head screwed on, he knows his history and he really means what he says. His first solo album One Man Revolution was dope: he might not be the best singer in the world, and the music might not be mind-blowing, but the songs and lyrics were really good. As a political songwriter I think he has a lot to say and he’s carrying on the traditions of Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs.”
“Like Lennon, his politics have changed over the years: initially he was all about voting Labour, but I think he’s redefined his own position and beliefs. I really respect the fact that he’s super knowledgeable and knows his history and knows his politics, but beyond all that he’s a brilliant storyteller and a fantastic songwriter. He doesn’t really care about people think of him, or listen to any negative comments, he just follows his heart. There are so many songs where people are just putting political speeches to music, and that’s boring, no-one wants to hear that, but Billy Bragg has a way of stealing your heart before feeding your head with his brilliantly crafted songs.”
“I’m struggling here about choosing KRS-One or Chuck D, but I think I’m going to go with KRS-One because he’s stayed relevant by being totally true to what he does and what he knows. There are so many times he could have had hits by reworking his best songs, or he could have gone on a gangsta tip and made a lot of money and probably been more successful than he is, but he’s always been about the knowledge and trying to expand people’s minds. People call him The Teacher and I like that: it’s cool that he’s maintained a long career by doing something of substance rather just posturing and bragging and doing all the things that can make you big quickly but just don’t last. To this day he’s such a great live performer, he can put on an incredible show with just one microphone, and you come away from his shows with your mind just buzzing with ideas, and to me that’s what great music should do.”
**Itch’s new album The Deep End is out now on Red Bull Records. He kicks off a short UK tour on April 22. **