Rage Against The Machine may have closed a cycle of politically active music. Is there still any kind of protest in today’s music or is it all a bunch of meaningless lyrics and sounds?
Words: Mattia Bosio, Subeditor: Alex Hurd
There was a time when music was a whole different thing. A time where the music industry was built on different cornerstones. There was a time when money didn’t matter so much. When artists had a their own entities, concepts and skills. A time when, if you were not good at singing or playing, well, music wasn’t for you.
There was a time, and to me seems a lifetime ago, when music did mean something to all of us. It did because it had something to say.
Music has evolved and readapted in order to respond to audience demand (not to mention the economic aspect of it), creating, most of the time, sounds that are far from being artistically appreciable.
This whole transformation has brought the death of protest bands and artists, to a state of musical apathy.
On 16th of October Eagle Rock Entertainment released a DVD of the Rage Against The Machine’s free concert in Finsbury Park on June 2010. The gig, with a crowd of 40,000 people, marked the end of the Californian band in the best way possible, symbolising both the triumph and the death of one of the most iconic and influential bands of all times.
Rage Against The Machine created something that had never been seen before. The band, mixed heavy metal instrumentation with urban hip hop, creating the so-called rap metal which brought one of the last breezes of political activism and protest against government oppression and cultural imperialism to the music scene.
The members of the band, Zack de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, all well known for their leftist and revolutionary political views, were never scared to express their feelings through their music as well as participating in protest and other activism, engaging the audience to mobilise in proper social movement. (They campaigned strongly for many causes such as ‘free Mumia Abu-Jamal‘, they showed support to the Mexican Zapatista Army of National Liberation and to Leonard Peltier, former leader of the American Indian Movement. They protested at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, the Democratic and Republican conventions in 2008 and the movement ‘Occupy Wall Street‘ in 2011).
RATM biggest success was undoubtedly their ability to communicate strong political messages in a mainstream way, without showing hypocrisy. For them the message always came first. Using a mainstream form of art like music, RATM managed to play the music business in bringing in their own ideals and causes to an audience that they may never have reached, changing their minds and lives.
The band broke up in 2011, after 20 years. The Finsbury Park concert celebrated the amazing career of the band, marking the death of a cycle of protest music that started with various artists in the 60’s and 70’s and and continued right through the 00’s inspiring and shaping different genres of music such as rock, hip hop, reggae etc. (Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Neil Young, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, N.W.A, Public Enemy and many more).
The Finsbury Park concert also celebrated the triumph of politically active music. In December 2009 the English DJ Jon Morter and his wife Tracy launched a Facebook campaign to stop yet another X Factor hit becoming the UK Christmas number one. With more than 950.000 voters, and the support of artists like Tom Morello, Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney, Muse, Fightstar, Hadouken!, The Prodigy, Stereophonics, the campaign made ‘Killing In The Name’ the new number one, showing how the audience had become tired of X Factor domination.
This phenomenon simply questions what is considered music nowadays. The music industry, a continuous developing market, has become so dense and rich that it offers more opportunity than the past. This is no doubt an advantage for emerging artists, but it proves how the musical tastes of the new generation are, after all, less sentimental.
These days we see stadiums and arenas overcrowded, ticket reaching £100, hours of queue outsides venues, all for the music’s sake. But are we really sure we understand the music we listen to? Or even, are we sure we know what the real music is?
In a world dominated by music created pushing buttons on a keyboard, with lost and meaningless words about love and parties, most songs are produced for an audience of screaming teenagers. Themes are, more than ever before, the celebration of a generation where there is no critique, no individuality and even less political commitment.
Music has become, for some reasons, a repetition of identical sounds produced, in the best case by skilled artists, otherwise it’s made by digital instrument and played by DJs who have no right to be called that way.
The music business has become a giant monster characterised by ridiculous amounts of money around it as well as new media strategies to help artists get bigger. In today’s music the image has replaced the content. We can see it in the marketing that has raised around the industry (T-shirt, posters, etc) and in the music videos which let artists become fashionable and trendy icons (even though it all looks ridiculous most of the time).
Another aspect well played by the business is the brainwashing action that some tracks have on the audience. Music is not even longer characterised by melodic content, but it’s rather a bunch of meaningless lyrics accompanied by awful sounds played over and over at the radio or on MTV. The song you have to hear all summer long (or the Christmas number one), everywhere you go, is going to become your favourite track just because you are fed up and forced to remember. That’s the easiest way to make a hit, and the market knows.
By saying all this I absolutely don’t want to discredit the thousands of talented artists there are out there right now, but I rather want to criticise to the poor music we have to deal with these days. I know there is great music that is produced on a daily basis all around the world, and I appreciate and especially respect how these artists survive in a complicated and demanding market, but I just want to say: can we please have the protest artists back?.