Divide and Conquer – the evolution of a song

In recent years, times have been increasingly trying in the UK with referenda and elections aplenty, each one being more divisive than the last. Social media has reached fever pitch with family and long standing friends falling out with each other in droves. The rhetoric is becoming increasingly unpleasant and as a nation, we seem to be tearing each other apart.

In 2009, I formed a band called Suicide By Cop, inspired by Peter Joseph’s Zeitgeist series of films. One of the first lyrics I penned was a song called “Divide and Conquer“. At the time, Islamophobia and racial hatred were rife with the rise of the EDL and overseas, the likes of ISIS were gaining strength (or at least news coverage of it was on the increase). I was becoming increasingly aware of the divisive nature of the mainstream media, always keeping us angry or scared about something. Nothing has improved much since. We just find different things to get angry and upset about. The advent of social media has only served to exacerbate the divisions.

I was immensely proud of the lyric even before it was put to music. The original version kind of just happened in a single rehearsal. The chord progression was written by Mick Dunn (he later told us it was heavily inspired by the song “Umbrella” by Rhianna – go figure!) and it came out as a kind of Floydian ballad when we’d finished with it. It was epic and powerful. When we recorded it at Voltage Studios, it was the first time I had seen Tim Walker enthuse about anything so much in years. So much so, he asked if he could play the guitar solo on it. Me not being a very confident soloist and him being a guitar whizz, it was a no brainer. He played the main part of it and I retained the second, less prominent part. He also did a really cool string quartet arrangement in part of it, which reminded me very much of “Eleanor Rigby”. We were very pleased indeed with the end result. It sounded nothing like our other material but remained a firm favourite.

Towards the end of 2010, Mick decided to leave the band and we went through the process of re-configuring our songs to compensate for the lack of keyboard. Divide and Conquer didn’t really work in its previous form so we decided to speed it up and go for a more tribal feel. I was never fully happy with it as it always felt a bit unfinished to my ears. The song had just two sections, which worked well as a spacey ballad as there was plenty to listen to but upon its transformation, nothing was added to it. I think I was the only one who felt that way at the time and so the motivation to further develop it was not collectively there. We stopped playing it shortly after that, reviving it only for our final two gigs. Although the tempo of the amended version was actually more akin to what I had imagined when I originally wrote the lyrics, it never quite made the grade. I had always had in mind that I might revisit the song at a later date.

Here’s a rough video of Suicide By Cop performing the song in 2011:

In the summer of 2018, long after Suicide By Cop had disbanded, I had my own home studio and decided to see where I could take the song. I presented it to my band-mates in Dawn of Elysium to see what they thought of it and they were very enthusiastic, so I set about recreating it from the ground up. I retained the chord progression, added a bit more lead guitar, a mid section and an intro as well as some supporting spoken word samples. I particularly love the intro. The spoken word section is lifted from a George Carlin show and it just fit the song so well, it could have been written for it. I sang the vocals myself since I was the only singer in the band at the time. It gave me the chance to phrase the lyrics in the way I had originally intended. We released it in the summer of 2018 and I was extremely pleased with the way it turned out.

At our last gig of 2018, we performed the song live with Kaz on vocal for the first time. She joined us on stage once more in February 2019 to sing it as a guest before joining the band as a full time member in the summer. The song had taken quite a journey from its original form to where it sits now. It has been a live staple over the last year and Kaz loves singing it.

Here is a video of her appearance with us back in February:

Although the song has stylistically changed over the years, its meaning still remains. I have been immensely proud to see people sharing links to it from time to time as social media gets evermore toxic. It seemed appropriate, as the UK faces yet another divisive election this week to look back on its journey.

Dawn of Elysium will be performing it as part of our set at the Big Bradford Food Bank Benefit Gig 2019 on Saturday of this week.

By Idle Hands Posted in Blog

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