“What is the music of #OccupyWallStreet?” NPR music critic Ann Powers asked on Twitter over the weekend. As the movement rolls on after a weekend that brought hundreds of arrests and lots of publicity, we think that’s an excellent question. From the hippie ’60s to the riot grrrl ’90s, every great political struggle has had a soundtrack of its own. And while past anthems like Crass’s “Do They Owe Us a Living?” and Dead Kennedys’ “Kill the Poor” are certainly applicable to Occupy Wall Street’s critique of economic injustice and capitalism run amok, we think new music is vital to new movements. With that in mind, we’ve taken a stab at compiling some great politically conscious songs that have come out in the past five years. Add your suggestions (or, you know, gripe about “kids these days”) in the comments.
“Laugh, Love, Fuck” by The Coup
The quote “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution” is most often attributed to the famous anarchist Emma Goldman. She may never have actually said those words, but we’re happy to co-sign them. The message of this anthem by veteran Bay Area political hip-hop crew The Coup is similar: “I’m here to laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor — and help the damn revolution come quicker,” frontman Boots Riley declares.”If I’m not involved, I feel I ain’t breathin’/ If I can’t change the world, I ain’t leavin’,” he says, playfully adding, “And that’s the same reason you should call me this evening.”
“Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing” by The Thermals
The Thermals’ 2006 album The Body, the Blood, the Machine imagined a Bush administration-inspired religious dystopia, where government, the church, and corporations came together to plunge America into eternal warfare. Although we have a different president now, many of the band’s dark visions remain relevant. If the title “Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing” isn’t enough for you, the song also features Occupy Wall Street-friendly lyrics like, “They’ll give us what we’re asking for/ ‘Cause God is with us, and our God’s the richest.”
“Oh My” by The Drones
Don’t let the comparatively mellow feel of The Drones’ “Oh My” fool you — this is one pissed-off song. It’s a laundry list of complaints about modern life leading up to a prophecy of apocalypse. But here’s the verse that will really resonate with the Occupy Wall Street crowd: “If money is the root of evil, then fear of death is worse/ This mortal coil is not a test, and you can’t hide in a purse/ So don’t casting no aspersions in the street/ ‘Cause the half the world that starves will know/ The half you’re in does not deserve to eat.” Of course, if all protest songs were this dark, then everyone would probably declare the entire enterprise futile and abandon the movement.
“Too Much Money” by John Maus
To help you get over that downer, here’s a manic, goofy retro dance song that mocks miserly fat cats through heavy vocal filters and endless repetition. “What you gonna do with all that money?” Maus taunts. “Do you keep it to yourself?” Oh, and don’t say we didn’t warn you about that blistering scream. Yup. That one. You’re welcome.
“Who Am I to Feel So Free?” by MEN
JD Samson has followed one revolutionary band (Le Tigre) with another. Earlier this year, MEN put out their first album, Talk About Body, featuring the single “Who Am I to Feel So Free?” Although it’s most literally a song of feminist and queer liberation, it also makes reference to the realities of living in a police state (“On our way, stopped and frisked/ Government asks, ‘Are you a fucking risk’?”) and provides a welcome reminder that freedom to thrive is the goal of any worthy movement.
“Luxury Condos for the Poor” by Double Dagger
This may be a song about a specific situation — real estate speculators building expensive condo buildings in Baltimore, a city where many live in poverty and few can afford luxury apartments — but it speaks to the larger reality the Occupy Wall Street contingent is protesting: the vast and ever-widening divide between rich and poor in America. It is also one of the most cathartic songs you’d ever want to scream along with.
“There Is a Light” by Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra
Although it was “13 Blues for Thirteen Moons” that Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s Efrim Menuck dedicated to the protestors last weekend at All Tomorrow’s Parties, we’d pick a different track by this leftist orchestral post-rock group. The sprawling, 15-minute “There Is a Light” encompasses many moods familiar to the contemporary radical: collective power (“Go call the fuzz/ They’ll shine their lights on us/ We’ve been building in the dark/ There’s so many of us”), resignation (“Yeah, shit is bleak — we’ve seen it and worried/ Our timid leaps get knee-deep and buried/ Entire weeks where I swear I can barely rise”), hope (“Though we’ve been denied too much hope in our lives/ Let tonight be the night when it ends”). This is basically Vegan Chicken Soup for the Activist’s Soul.
“Situation” by Making Friendz
Yes, we just put this on our quarterlife creative crisis mixtape, but you’ll forgive us for including it here, too. It’s simply the best track we’ve heard about what young people are up against in today’s economy: “Now we’re workin’ for free/ Now are we a commodity?” That, friends, is indeed an S-I-T-U-A-T-I-O-N, and — like a number of the people living in the park downtown — many of us have been there.
“Fear Not the Revolution” by dead prez
“This is officially a takeover/ Not a makeover,” dead prez announce on this Drake-sampling slow jam from their fourth Turn Off the Radio mixtape. There’s a revolutionary message in almost every one of this anti-capitalist hip-hop duo’s songs, but this track argues that we shouldn’t shrink from making necessary changes to our society, even when it scares us. After all, the existing economic and political reality we’re up against goes something like this: “Old women asleep on park benches/ It’s heart-wrenchin’/ Below-poverty-level existence/ No public assistance.”
“Running the World” by Jarvis Cocker
Who better to end this playlist than the man who made class consciousness danceable back in the ’90s as the frontman of Pulp? In this tongue-in-cheek song, he pokes fun at those who think there’s a “natural order” that dictates economic inequality and sarcastically preaches, “The working classes are obsolete/ They are surplus to society’s needs/ So let ’em all kill each other/ And get it all made overseas.” Pithy as ever, Jarvis breaks all protest movements down to their purest reason for being: “Cunts are still running the world.”