In a time of great resistance there needs to be a soundtrack to accompany it.
The glasses of nostalgia regularly look back on the revolutions of the 1960s as a time where the music captured the era. While it is certainly true that a host of artists best encapsulated by the songs and music of Bob Dylan provided a musical accompaniment to youthful rebellion and political upheaval, there was just as much popular music intent on having a good time.
In an October 2017 video posted on his secondary channel, highly influential music reviewer Anthony Fantano addressed this very issue. So as not to continue covering well-trodden ground, lets look at the state of affairs in 2018.
In Australia and across the world, an air of resistance and rebellion is emerging in response to the political machinations that led to the Trump presidency. As many have noted, Trump is the result of the system – not an anomaly to it (see Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough).
With a number of these tracks coming as a direct response to the current climate, several others reman just as visceral in capturing the frustrations felt by those left behind while self-serving corporate and political interests assume money and power.
To give you the soundtrack needed to break the status quo, here are ten tracks to get you ‘mad as hell’.
Take the Power Back – Rage Against The Machine
In discussing music with an axe to grind, few have been as prominent as RATM. Featured on the band’s self-titled debut album, Take the Power Back is one of the many musical manifestos targeted against the institutional influences that impact the lives of the general population. From the prism of the current social and cultural landscape, the push by the union movement within Australia to #ChangeTheRules can be seen as a prime example of how the political desire to give tax cuts to corporations (many of whom pay little or no tax as it stands) only serves to diminish the job security of the working class. In standing up for the rights of employees struggling with stagnant wages, an increasing cost of living and agenda-driven demonisation of the union movement, the call to enact change should get fists raised and hearts pumping.
Call ‘Em Out – A.B. Original ft. Guilty Simpson
Few albums have been as in your face as A.B. Original’s 2016 debut Reclaim Australia. Citing influences such as growing right-wing nationalism and taking aim at the enduring effects of colonialism, the collaboration of Briggs and Trials is a self-described portrait of not just overcoming the struggle, but Black excellence. While January 26 has undoubtedly left a mark on the evolving discourse around Australia Day, Call ‘Em Out exposes racism with nowhere for the audience to hide. Incorporating historic audio of mining magnate Lang Hancock, the father Gina Reinhart, calling for an Indigenous genocide by way of sterilisation, the track is everything the title suggests. While the views presented through the various Couldn’t Be Fairer samples may seem extreme to contemporary society, in focussing on racial profiling, government inaction and overrepresentation in the justice system, the need for Australia to confront its racial history is at the top of the A.B. Original agenda. To quote the band themselves – ‘No Justice. No Peace’.
Blue Sky Mine – Midnight Oil
The musical and political career of Midnight Oil as a band fronted by former Labor minister Peter Garrett has seen a host of issues brought to the public consciousness accompanied by a rocking beat. Released in 1990, Blue Sky Mine was initially intended to shine a light on workers impacted by asbestos at the Witternoom mine in Western Australia. In 2018, the song retains just as much heft considering the push by the Indian-owned Adani Group to establish a coal mine in Central Queensland, despite protests and serious doubts over the financial viability of the project. Alongside the conservative ‘Monash Forum’ who boast former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in their ranks, as well as the rhetoric of the environmental benefits of ‘clean coal’, the current government policy that opts against taking meaningful action on renewable energy and addressing climate change makes the song’s message all the more profound in the current era.
It Ain’t Fair – The Roots ft. Bilal
Accompanying the brutally provocative 2017 film Detroit, this collaboration between The Roots and frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator Bilal encapsulates the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. Sound tracking the conclusion to over two hours of the dramatised injustice committed at the Algiers Hotel in 1967, It Ain’t Fair is an uncomfortable reality that violence against the black community remains relevant 50 years later. For those who are forced to deal with these circumstances on a daily basis it may seem like voyeuristic exploitation devoid of authenticity, but for many who call themselves allies or indifferent towards addressing the enduring struggles faced by people of colour, the song and film serves as an uncomfortable need to reconcile privileged ignorance.
FDT – YG ft. Nipsey Hussle
Subtlety can be an effective tool of getting a message across undetected. Compton rapper YG certainly didn’t have that in mind when penning this 2016 anthem, but in being so direct there can be no questioning any hidden meaning. Full of fury for the blatant racism and fear-mongering used to appeal to the worst instincts of Trump supporters, FDT has the appeal of pure simplicity on the surface, but in devoting verses to exposing the US President’s hateful attitudes, the musical polemic cannot be ignored. Working in tandem with Nipsey Hussle in expressing the eventual consequences that were merely ominous warnings upon the song’s early 2016 release, criticisms of the profanity present appear insignificant compared with the damage and instability brought on by the current White House administration.
Atlas Drowned – Gang Of Youths
Directing their fury at the Objectivist philosophy espoused through the writings of Ayn Rand, Gang Of Youths reject the selfish capitalist mindset that Big Business and numerous conservatives have drawn inspiration from. Preferencing a view of human betterment coming about as a result of the efforts of the working class, Atlas Drowned is a timely rally cry in an era where company tax cuts and trickle down economics are presented as being in the interests of everyone and not solely the top 1%. While a 2014 John Oliver package on the influence Ayn Rand has left on the Western capitalist, consumption-driven culture presented Objectivism as farcical, the approach taken by the multicultural Australian rockers should fuel the fire to bring about an equitable distribution of wealth throughout democracy.
Good Cop Bad Cop – Ice Cube
Having spent most of the 2000s poking fun at his ‘Gangsta’ image pioneered as part of N.W.A., Ice Cube stunned many with a new track released as part of the 25th anniversary of his classic record Death Certificate. Showing that despite being on the precipice of 50 he still boasts the lyrical skills and intensity attributed to him as a legend of the genre, Good Cop Bad Cop draws from the youthful fury of Fuck The Police to deliver a more mature look at the role of corruption throughout law enforcement. Rather than taking a no holds barred approach, as was the case in 1989, GCBC directs its fury towards the insular attitude of ‘good cops’ in remaining silent when the ‘bad apples’ within the system abuse their power. Calling on the need for systemic change as presented by the BLM movement, the message of the song is accompanied by a beat that cannot be denied as anything other than a ‘banger’.
Sleep Now in the Fire – Rage Against The Machine
It could be considered lazy for this list to comprise entirely of RATM songs; but given the strident passion with which they take aim at the system they oppose, a second mention is warranted. Released at the end of 1999 off their final original studio record (to date), Sleep Now in the Fire touches on issues such as colonialism, slavery and US military actions. While the song has a solid following, the music video directed by Michael Moore serves as a haunting prediction of a series of events that have taken place in the new millennium. Protesting outside Wall Street in a display against the embodiment of capitalist greed, the resulting GFC wasn’t all the video foreshadowed. Showing a seemingly farcical placard reading “Donald J. Trump for President 2000”, the failure of the DNC and GOP to recognise the failings of the system that saw Trump rise to power proved to be an all too uncomfortable reality 18 years later.
No More Whispering – Glenn Skuthorpe
While he may not be as well known as many of the other artists featured on this list, Glenn Skuthorpe’s No More Whispering is a contemplative look at far greater issues. Recorded as part of the Nhunggabarra, Kooma, Muruwari singer-songwriter’s 2004 album Restless Souls, the story of a young Indigenous man’s death is a call to put an end to silence and inaction on the widespread issues affecting the First Australians. Adopted by Australian comic Tom Ballard for his comedy lecture Boundless Plains to Share – a look at Australia’s history and attitudes towards refugees and national identity – the song may have originated with a specific intent, but through a profound chorus, the message becomes applicable to any marginalised group throughout society.
Letter to the Free – Common ft. Bilal
Much like It Ain’t Fair, the soundtrack to Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary 13th evokes the injustices faced by African Americans to this very day. Fresh off winning an Academy Award for his contribution to DuVernay’s MLK biopic Selma, Common teams up with Bilal for a track as critical and musically layered that it could very easily have fitted into the musical opus To Pimp A Butterfly. Directing its ire toward slavery, Jim Crow and the implications of a dreaded Trump presidency, Letter to the Free is the perfectly conclusion to one of the best films of the decade, as well as a song of the times in its own right.