Growing up, I assumed that “Electric Avenue” was a full-on party song. In fact, I have a vivid memory of rollerskating to this track at my local roller rink in smalltown Canada, along with “We’re Not Going to Take It” by Twisted Sister and “White Wedding” by Billy Idol. It was, I’m sure you’ll agree, a good year for rollerskating anthems.
The verses to “Electric Avenue” were, admittedly, a little depressing, but I assumed that they were just talking about a bunch of negative things (violence in the street, poverty, unemployment) in order to set up the big chorus, when everyone rocked down to Electric Avenue, and then — as if that weren’t enough already — they proceeded to “take it higher.”
My friend Allison, however, recently explained to me that Electric Avenue was one of the focal points for the Brixton riots in 1981. And so it turns out I was 100% wrong about the chorus — it’s not about escapism at all. “Taking it higher” means “ratcheting it up a notch” and escalating the political response to the social injustices catalogued in the verses.
Allison also let me know that Electric Avenue was just a few blocks away from the 121 Centre, a squat that from 1981 to 1999 was a centre for anarchist groups in London. I think this is a place we should probably learn more about (and we’ll find some way to link it in to Shakespeare…)