Arguing With Thermometers: Why Enter Shikari are among the vital voices at COP26

Kerrang! join St Albans superstars Enter Shikari as they arrive in Glasgow for the UN’s world climate change conference to discuss political posturing, personal responsibility and music’s enduring role as fuel for activism…

Arguing With Thermometers: Why Enter Shikari are among the vital voices at COP26
Sam Law
Tom Pullen

People are making noise all over Glasgow this week, but none with quite such colourful bombast or roof-rattling volume as Enter Shikari.

As COP26 (the 26th Conference Of The Parties attached to the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) descends on Scotland’s largest city to discuss the impending climate disaster, the streets and cafes are crammed with a strange mix of world leaders and diplomats, cutting-edge climate scientists and furious protesters. United States President Joe Biden has attracted criticism for bringing a gas-guzzling motorcade and commuting back-and-forth some 100 miles along the M8 from Edinburgh each day. Hollywood royalty like Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Watson have been cropping up to show their support in unexpected corners of town. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg swept through to a heroine’s welcome.

Frontman Rou Reynolds isn’t exactly sure where Enter Shikari fit in, but he’s more than happy to be in attendance. “I’ve never been to any of the previous COPs and being so close to home it felt like we [needed to] be here. It was destiny that we should be in the vicinity.”

At the heart of the St Albans crew’s involvement are two explosive shows in partnership with Music Declares Emergency on November 3 and 4 at the University Of Glasgow’s 900-cap Queen Margaret Union (QMU), about a mile from the Scottish Event Campus at the heart of the conference. As an author and activist well beyond music at this point, Rou will be sticking around. “I’m basically here for the week and I’m gonna spend a lot of time meeting and connecting with people that we normally wouldn’t. The first reason I’m here is to learn. The second is to support climate activists – especially the youth who’re turning up in greater numbers, with greater enthusiasm, and greater knowledge than many previous generations. Beyond that, it’s just to continue putting the pressure on as we have for the last 15-odd years. We’re going to make as much noise as we can!”

Shikari are lucky to have a number of esteemed friends in the Climate Science community with whom to connect. Chief among those is Professor Ed Hawkins MBE from the University of Reading, whose famous “Warming Stripes” visualisation of climate change the band took out around the world as their onstage backdrop in 2019. The striking artwork makes a return for these shows, too. “We’ve all seen Michael Mann’s ‘Hockey stick graph’, which came along just over 20 years ago,” Rou enthuses, “but the climate stripes are so beautiful. They look like a Factory Records front cover from the post-punk era, so we were drawn to them aesthetically. Their subject matter isn’t beautiful, though – it’s horrifying!” They’ll be seeing Richard Betts, Chair in Climate Impacts at the University of Exeter and Head of Climate Impacts in the Met Office Hadley Centre, too, and Rou will be sitting on a discussion panel at the same venue on Saturday, November 6 for the Common Ground festival – fliers for which come studded with seeds, and can be planted after use.

For Rou and his bandmates, the banner headlines about agreements struck by world leaders during COP are nowhere near as important as the meeting of minds to talk hard science, and injecting an energy into the grassroots movements that will get the message across to people on street.

Indeed, sometimes those political figureheads’ declarations are downright insulting. Western powers’ repetitive insistence that the ‘free market’ will eventually force solutions to the climate crisis, for instance, is mind-boggling to Rou and anyone else with a clue. “I don’t know how anybody can get away with saying that now,” he stresses. “It’s so obviously bullshit. The market effectively is self-interest and competition. It’s short-sighted and short-termist. Those are the things that go against supporting the natural world. So to say that it has the solutions is wild to me. For a market to work, you have to exploit. Market players aren’t thinking about what they call the ‘market externalities’. You’re not thinking about the damage you’re doing to the environment, because you’re not paying for it. That’s at the core of all environmental problems since day one.”

Greta Thunberg told a meeting of activists at COP26’s outset that politicians are “pretending to take our future seriously.” Is that accusation – of politicians effectively cosplaying – too harsh? “She’s so funny,” Rou grins. “I just love how direct she is. But if you look at the history of COP, that’s probably fair. The big announcement the other day was that the leaders had struck a deal to end all deforestation by 2030. But that’s so similar to a deal made in Paris in 2015, and one before that in 2009. And nothing has happened, really...”

Despite that, he pushes the point, there is hope. In August of this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report that confirmed humanity’s damaging impact on the climate is now a “statement of fact”. Rou described a feeling of “helplessness” in its immediate aftermath. The groundswell of youth movement he has seen at COP26 has helped change that.

“When you get to your late-20s/early-30s, you begin to drift into cynicism, because it’s so easy. You sort of feel like you’ve had your chance to save the world. But then the new generation comes in with this energy that wankers would call naïveté but which is actually this beautiful sense of idealism. For me, since the 2019 Climate Fridays For Future protests, I realised that there is a whole generation who don’t just feel a righteous anger, but a complete disconnection from the existing system. They realise that we can actually make the change, because the science is there. Even if you look at the ugly economic side, returns on renewables have been greater than they have on traditional fuel in recent years. Therefore it is now literally just down to political will and overcoming the noose that business and politics have put around renewables.

“It’s more about what’s happening outside of politics that excites me, but yeah, I’m weirdly optimistic!”

Inside the QMU, as Enter Shikari roar back to life for what are only their second and third shows in front of fans since lockdown (the first inside a rammed indoor sweatbox like this, after June’s Download Pilot headline) that optimism is in full flow.

“I’ve been thinking of this moment for 20 months, and I don’t know what to say…” Rou gasps, before saluting “surge of energy being captured in your city right now!” Live debuts for Crossing The Rubicon (inspired by “the passion, the intelligence and the fortitude” of youth climate activists the band encountered in Austin in 2019), The Pressure’s On (dedicated to those “so-called leaders” at COP26) and T.I.N.A. stoke the room into a frenzy. The ‘My lungs will with air / I feel supercharged…’ refrain of Shinrin-Yoku provides a beautiful breather. Rabble Rouser and Gandhi Mate, Gandhi pulsate with righteous anger.

“Music is fuel, isn’t it?” Rou reflects. “It’s energising. I want [those activists and scientists in the city] to feel that they’re supported. Fandoms, fanbases and the communities around a band prove that when people have just one common interest, they start supporting each other, from helping with mental health to starting friendships around the globe. A lot of time people criticise traditional protest like marches and things, too – and there is legitimate criticism to be made there, about whether they really work – but what it always does is create connections. And the more connections you make, the more strength your movement has. That is more important than anything: strengthening the lattice beneath the activism.”

In bringing about the change we need, it is crucial that we take personal responsibility. There are obvious steps that any individual can follow: reduce meat intake in favour of a plant-based diet; be conscious about the practices of your electricity and mobile network suppliers; vote for politicians who are willing to push things in the right direction; never be cowed by the “hypocrite charge” and continue to make positive moves in the areas of your life that you can.

As a band, Shikari have visibly made numerous adjustments. The multipack bottled water on their rider is gone, replaced with reusable flasks, as are the heat spewing Par Cans in their lighting rigs, changed out for energy-efficient LEDs. When possible, they use tour buses fuelled by vegetable oil or recycled chip-pan grease. They admire the work of major acts like Coldplay in pushing for carbon-neutral touring while championing the development of audience-powered piezoelectric dancefloors. Rou can’t help but raise a smile, mind, when we suggest songs like Destabilize and Sorry, You’re Not A Winner might be a higher-voltage fit for that technology than Yellow or Fix You.

Such personal measures will be for naught, however, if we don’t take the people at the top pushing for projects like exploration of the Cambo Oil Field to task. In the past, Shikari have felt like something of a lone voice for the climate cause in rock music, and though bodies like Music Declares Emergency have helped change that, we wonder whether, compared to other injustices, it’s inherently difficult to paint the villains and capture fans' imaginations about a crisis with such creeping timescales and with whose intricacies so many struggle to connect. Rou ponders the point, but declares that it is possible to point at the Big Bads.

“I still think it can legitimately be portrayed as an ‘Us vs. Them’ [battle to] burn down the houses of the powerful. In this case, the powerful are the traditional energy sector. They’ve done so much damage, firstly in climate change, then in denying climate change, then by arguing that it’s just [naturally cyclical] Anthropogenic climate change, which isn’t real! It’s about big oil and coal constantly backtracking into their corner, in the same way that religion does as atheism pushes in. Then they’ve done even more damage by taking out patents on electric vehicle technology purely so they can stunt its progress. That is evil. So if you want to portray it as more of a sexy, Hollywood, rock'n'roll thing, there is an enemy.”

The path to victory should always be through enlightenment rather than anger, though.

“For me, predominantly still the main reason we perform is to create a space where people can come together indiscriminately and enjoy themselves and celebrate human vulnerability and connection,” Rou continues. “It’s this beautiful, raw experience that you don’t get anywhere else, which is crucial, especially in a divided society where polarisation is getting worse and worse. We’re always so proud and happy to offer people the reason to come together. Here in Glasgow, the focus is very much on climate change, but our ultimate goal is always to make people have fun!”

Speaking to fans in the ringing aftermath, it’s clear that imaginations have been captured along in amongst the gallons of sweat spilled.

“Honestly, I don’t think a lot of people here tonight really understood what COP26 was all about before they came along here tonight,” admits Gillian, from Whiteinch. “Politically, I still don’t, but the beauty of Enter Shikari is that they make manage to make these big issues into things you can get your head around, while putting on a stunning show that proves that the future really is worth fighting for.”

“Shikari have been a band at the forefront of many issues over the years, and climate change has always been an important one,” continues Jonathan from Carlisle. “Using the backdrop of COP to highlight the issue not only allows people in Glasgow to enjoy the band but also reminds people around the world who follow along with just how important the fight against climate change is. I think Rou said it best himself: ‘The dinosaurs didn’t see the asteroid coming, but what the fuck’s our excuse?!’”

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