I’ll start this post with a photo I took at the beginning of the academic year on a bus stop.
Music has shaped millions for various reasons. It causes emotions and bursts of memory. People reminisce about songs they heard during important moments in their lives. Music can also be a factor in the culture of protests, this blog post highlights the various reasoning for why music in protest matters and causes emotion. Music as a support of protest has been around for a long time, an example being a folk song from the early 19thC, a violent song featuring fighting against the King (Watson, 1983, p 1). It became incredibly popular during the 1970s punk movement (Frith. 1980). It became popular during Thatcher’s period too.
I grew up surrounded by punk rock new wave music. Literally. A quarter of the living room is made up of my dad’s records he has been collecting since he was a young lad. Dead Kennedys, The Smiths, Green Day, Manic Street Preachers, Talking Heads, Radiohead, the list goes on. He could spend a week talking about his favourite songs, albums, the stories behind them (“isn’t it great? he just starts singing in French! Hilarious!” every time we listen to Psycho Killer. Which is a lot). The use of music as a form to support the culture of protest has shaped the emergence of protests against local governments. A key example, non-London related (sorry John), is the Dead Kennedys. The Dead Kennedys, a US band, are well known for their political songs against political figures at the time. Their song ‘We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now’ (linked above) highlights awareness of President Ronald Reagan. It has references to human rights being removed, secret conscriptions, fighting and ‘making money for President Reagan’. It starts off with soothing jazz and then suddenly the drums, guitar, shouting hit you and your mind doesn’t know how to respond other than going with the music. You’ve got to be careful with the volume on this song, my dad has tinnitus because of their gig.
We have our own protest bands and singers in the UK too. Billy Bragg is a strong example for his anti-Thatcher songs, . Many years later, Frank Turner’s song ‘Thatcher Fucked The Kids’ released in 2006, is similar to Bragg’s political songs. Its strong lyrics about the 80s and how Thatcher ruined communities and children’s lives:
And all the rich folks act surprised
When all sense of community dies,
But you just closed your eyes to the other side
Of all the things that she did.
Thatcher fucked the kids.
Frank Turner’s song remind the audience of the aftermath of Thatcher’s Britain and can bring communities together. Turner received many threats and hate, and ultimately regretted writing the song in the first place as it ‘started getting a lot of people coming to my shows who didn’t give two shits about my music … I’d just said something they agreed with‘. The music these singers share bring people together with a united sense of fighting against the bad in the world. However, these artists fine the line between relying on the dominant culture to promote their music, and then turning into the dominant culture and losing its key message. There’s also the fear that the dominant culture refuse to accept their music as it is too alternative or goes against their norm. Turner ultimately regretted writing the song as being a protest singer was not something that he wanted to be. Turner himself is particularly different as as of 2013, he did not agree with state funded arts as it was something he considered to be a ‘large conglomeration of authority’, which he found similar to private companies supporting artists.
Music shapes those fighting for causes or experiencing different emotions at any time in their lives. I’m looking forward to the future of protest music.
Watson, Ian. 1983. “Song and democratic culture in Britain: an approach to popular culture in social movements.” London: Croom Helm
Frith, Simon. 1980. “Formalism, realism and leisure: The case of punk.” Pp. 163-174 in Ken Gelder & Sarah Thornton (Eds.), The subcultures reader. London: Routledge