Protest in the 21st Century


What has happened in the 21st Century? The major theme of this century is this push forward. Okay, this has been a push since the Industrial Revolution but obviously, the pace of progress is with this unbelievable intensity that has not been seen before. Information moves fast and money moves faster. When progress progresses at this pace, the masses are trodden upon harder than ever before.

And that is what I think has characterised the world. Protest. The age of independence was that beautiful period that lasted for 50 years after WWII when citizens of the world said NO and overthrew oppressive regimes. Beautiful might not be the best word to use as millions of lives were lost in our collective push to be free and take our rightful place in the world as people. Which was all and good until the leaders overstayed their welcome. But I don’t put my blame onto them. I put the blame into the super and hyper corporations that have resulted from the post-WWII boom. Ones that lobby entire governments in ways that oppress the people in ways way worse than before. We’ve become accustomed to accepting this oppression all in the name of the free market and free world economy.

But people still fight. There are uprisings in countries all over the world. The Arab Spring was the biggest beacon of light. But this has spread even into First World countries where people have had enough and demand change. The fact that it all is targeted against governments only means that it is bound for failure but, well, it’s nice that people are rising up. Yeah, it’s nice.

So that has this got to do with music? It’s all the fault of the music. Okay, fault is a relative word. It’s an apt word if you’re sitting in a four star hotel in some foreign country and reading this but it’s not the right word if you are unable to read this.

A few weeks ago, I took a drive to Linden. In particular, the cool shop called Record Mad. They’ve moved their premises (just down the hall) since I last went there so this was cooler because it felt like an all new shop! With the demise of my record player (stupid needle) I can’t really listen to records but I still go hunting for them. Go figure. When I do listen to them, I have a preference for classic albums or greatest hits compilations. I avoid singles mostly because they warp so easily. Enough about my buying habits, I happened across the greatest find of my entire record hunting life.

A 10″ 45 rpm vinyl pressing 2728 of the Manic Street Preachers The Masses against the Classes.

I love how that sentence reeks of music snobbery.

The Manics have an interesting discography in that the most well known songs are well, not that grand. They are a quintessential band but sometimes you really want something grand and that’s not what their music is. Does that make sense? Okay, put it this way – If you’re going on a date and you’re sitting in your car listening to random songs (that you carefully chose) that are on your iPod, you would skip over one of their songs because your date might think you’re a bit boring by playing it.

But this song says, “NO NO NO,” just like Jonah Hill’s character (Aaron Green)  in Get Him to the Greek, where he denies Aldous Snow his drugs.

This is the song that made the Manic Street Preachers one of the greatest bands of our era.

But you haven’t heard it. What’s up with that?

I know right?

The song originated on their huge tour which culminated in a stadium show at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on the final day of the 20th century. Aptly the show was called Leaving the 20th Century. Quite original.

The Masses against the Classes is pure unadulterated rock! It’s loud. It’s seductive. It’s unsustainable. It’s a protest. And all this makes it the perfect song! The title is based on a quote by the British 19th-Century Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone who was Britain’s most rock star-looking prime minister. He was also referred to by Benjamin Disraeli as, “God’s Only Mistake.” Love it!. The song starts of with a quote from Naom Chomsky and ends with one from Albert Camus. The CD single cover art is a nod to socialism with the prominent Cuban flag sans the star. And it is basically an “up yours” to the system that made them successful. Just like every good protest song does.

And it just sold 76000 copies. Okay, that means nothing. The first new Number 1 single in 2015 was Ellie Goulding Love Me Like You Do sold 173 000 copies in the first week of it’s release. But the reason for this low number is too damn cool. It was deleted the day it came out! Moreover, it wasn’t included on any album. And this is why I say that 21st Century protest is all music’s fault – this was the No. 1 single in the 21st Century. This song that told the music industry to shove it. The band basically said to it’s fan base that if they want the song, they need to burn it onto CD or download an MP3 of it from Napster. And this is what started this century! I can’t wait to listen to this on my new record player (which I am on my way to go buy once I’m done with this … )

Did this song set the scene? I would say it has. Protest has become so complex that we are fighting a system yet we don’t know what will replace it. And as we fight, the “man” becomes stronger but so do we.

Sadly, what it didn’t do was ignite the passion of artists who used their prowess and familiarity to fuel the fires of the untamed youth. Protest songs in the 21st Century have been, well, non-existent. Sure there have been many scathing songs but none of these reached the heights of the anthems sung in the 70s and 80s. A true protest song speaks to millions rather than just a few thousand people that know about the song and appreciate it’s sanguine chord structure (whatever that even means). The biggest protest song was probably Eminem Mosh from 2004.

I bet you’ve forgotten how that song even goes. Although I guess my favourite 21st Century protest song is this one where Jarvis Cocker sings about the people that are running the world

At least we still have the Manics.

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Shahil Juggernath

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