It was only a few days after the election, at once distant to a Californian like me and thoroughly near thanks to the many friends online I know from throughout the UK, and the general mood from said friends was pretty well peeved, at least south of the Scottish border. I forget where I was -- I only just moved from south of Los Angeles to San Francisco within the last few days, and trying to place where I was at any point has been a little hard. But I remember it being somewhere to eat, playing some music, and as I was thinking something over, 'Ghost Town' by the Specials started up. Pretty sure it was just by chance on someone's favored playlist, but it was perversely appropriate.

Or so I felt initially. Then it seemed wrong -- not in a sense that the song is terrible, anything but, but that it seemed out of place, out of time. Why should a song from almost thirty-five years back seem more appropriate than anything happening right this second? And was that the only framework we would have it in? Of course, if art is deathless then there's no reason why something can't resonate beyond, and we're not all that far distant in terms of human history. But beyond the sense of whatever frustrations boil over at the result, not to mention the projections of the wreckage to come, there's almost a feeling that the sonic language available seems perversely placed -- that the past is needed to interpret and frame the present.

Before going further, it should be clear that my perspective is, again, removed, an American perspective, but also one that is Anglophilic for any number of reasons, from personal to societal ones. But even that has limits. In general terms, you could say that the US knows about only four prime ministers -- Churchill, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron -- and everyone else are already forgotten in old newspapers and rotting videotape (Brown too, really). Even then, Churchill is mostly seen as the World War II guy and then there was a grey haze of random people nobody knows about over here and then Thatcher appeared.

So for American people of a 'certain age' like myself, Thatcher was always lurking clearly behind the '80s UK art we got, whether via implicit approval, direct attack, or just freefloating context. Sure there was the Queen, Diana et al but always Thatcher, and the steady implication throughout the decade was that she was bad news or seemed solely to be; there was implicit approval as noted but those artists that seemed to show even that much, or anything further than that, were pretty well regarded as tools or worse. This turned up in Errol Brown's recent passing, where celebrations of Hot Chocolate's astounding '1970s run of moody soul and funk were tinged with comments about him singing 'Imagine' at a rally for Thatcher at the dawn of the '80s.

So many things I could mention, electoral actions, particular figures, reports that filtered through one way or another. Not everyone was politicized, but if everything was still political, there was a definite sense of "Well..." and looking askance at play, even through something as simple as withdrawal. Crucially, though, this was all filtered through a set of limitations -- I was trying to figure out Reagan's America first, and I barely did, so figuring out Thatcher's UK was even harder to do. Only retrospectively are certain things seen more clearly and more in-depth by myself, thanks to time, reading, getting to know people, visiting the UK a number of times directly.

This could explain, though, why the language of the past, musically and otherwise, feels handier to apply to the present, to a continuing mess of things that trusted friends aren't pleased about. Go with what you know and all, familiar songs with familiar sentiments, barbed or compassionate. But... why the past, why not the present? Dorian Lynskey hinted upon part of the reason in a tweet the other day: "Who knew that timid or apolitical "alternative" musicians would be put to shame by Charlotte Church?," noting her actions following the election and herfierce essay that followed, specifically referencing her upbringing, background and decisions in life. Given how modern arts in UK terms seem to have become a plaything of the privileged, the implications are clear enough -- perhaps the past is the only way to reclaim certain voices or perspectives now.

But there's something else to it as well, thinking of whatever UK alternative was supposed to be to a distant Anglophile. It's a pat-self-on-back move, I admit, but when I was lucky enough to be a fan of an act like Disco Inferno in the early '90s, to be there when an approach to music and politics' intersection was something in the realm of 'alternative' as such could and did actually test boundaries, then the frustration at a time of the inherently conservative becomes obvious. For others might have been Stereolab, plundering the past to create a constantly self-critiquing churn where Marxist visions achieved particular translations in language and sound. There are endless numbers of names and acts to cite, and then you get older and now radicalism is Mumford and Sons seen to be doing things 'differently' because they plugged in a guitar. Self-regarding singalongs and the bleeding obvious, no real challenge, nothing that feels musically daring at all.

It's not that the newer language or the songs aren't there, nor that the artists going (at least) "Hang on" aren't there, thank goodness. The disruptions and the frustrations and the feelings rage and percolate. But a wider apparatus to give them air is gone, a context stripped away. By this time into Thatcher's initial years there were already a slew of cards on the table from artists, the songs were written, the interviews were circulating, the sense of anger and frustration taking shape however sublimated and in turn being fed back to people, however at a remove, to give a sense of just where those distant songs actually came from beyond some fairytale place called England. It might as well be a fairytale now, only a 'grittier' reboot, and nothing but blaring klaxons to serve as the soundtrack, at least anywhere else but luxury tower tops and Chipping Norton.

Ned Raggett writes for the likes of The Quietus, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Red Bull Music Academy. You can find him over on Twitter.