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Basslines and Protest Signs

Basslines and Protest Signs Part 52: The Rulers and the State

At this point it’s fairly clear that there’s a revolution taking place before our very eyes. Yes, it’s been complicated by the fact that it’s happening right in the middle of a global pandemic but, still, it’s a very necessary revolution. As much as COVID-19 is affecting every corner of the world, so is racism. Be aware — the murder of George Floyd has kickstarted protests in a number of countries — this isn’t just an
American thing.

The message behind these protests would seem to be a simple one: Black Lives Matter. Don’t be a fucking racist. How about? Hey, authorities, don’t kill people, disproportionately imprison people, or even pull people over, simply because of the color of their skin. That seems like something we can all get behind, right?

Wrong, apparently. Because you can be sure that if people are out protesting in favor of what’s right, other people will be out marching for their right to be awful. They’ll twist it in all manner of different directions; they’ll claim that they’re trying to defend their country (“patriotism” is all too often the starting off point for racism, sadly), they’ll claim that it’s about their freedom of speech, the right to fly whichever damn flag they want, their right to not feel white guilt, etc, etc, et cetera.

A month ago, we tackled Chris Brown of metal band Trapt in this very column. We spoke of the fact that his claims that “white privilege does not exist” are not only nonsense but dangerous nonsense. Can you guess what happened? He took to Twitter to say that the writer is “virtue signalling.” Because of course he did. That’s what they do.

Liverpool FC

This past week has seen Black Lives Matter protests and marches took place in the UK too. Soccer teams such as Liverpool F.C., were photographed taking a knee in support of justice for George Floyd while in Germany, Dortmund player Jadon Sancho scored a goal and then revealed a shirt under his strip that read “Justice for George Floyd” — showing just how far the message has spread. 

But the counter to that solidarity is the marches that took place in London this last weekend; white supremacists, nationalists, all out under the pseudo-patriot banner. “We want to protect our statues, our history,” they said. Presumably because pieces of rock are more important than black lives to them.

On Tuesday, June 2, the music industry took a pause, choosing to focus attention on more important matters. The “blackout” day may have seemed like little more than a gesture but it helped raise awareness. 

A widely circulated message called on companies to “disconnect from work and reconnect with our community.” Major labels that observed the blackout included Columbia, Warner Music Group, Capitol, Universal, Sony, Def Jam, Elektra, Interscope, Geffen, A&M, Island, Republic and Virgin.

Before that, as highlighted in this column two weeks ago, musicians rushed to support the cause. That support remained true post-blackout too. Notably, Bank Robber Music and Rough Trade Publishing joined forces to put together a compilation album called Talk – Action = 0 to raise funds for Blacks Lives Matter. It took them only a week to put out the call to all of the artists they’re associated with, and compile the 100 tracks. Yep, that’s not a typo — one hundred tunes.

“We as a small company have always been committed to our artist community, but it would be a disservice to not recognize that the music we love and the roster of artists we represent are influenced by Black culture,” said Emily Roman of Bank Robber Music in a press release. “The artist and the Black community are in the midst of changing times. We wanted to use our platform to amplify the two communities that allow us to do what we love every day in this industry. We are extremely grateful for all the artists we work with who quickly mobilized to be a part of this benefit compilation; We are here for our artists, and we stand with Black Lives Matter. This is the time to dive in, dig deep and take action.”

Bis (photo: Stuart Chalmers)

It’s one of those things too, where the music ranks a distant second to the message in importance. But at the same time, the quality on display throughout the 100 tracks is superb, and they all seem to be on point too. They generally weren’t written especially for this album — in many cases these are previously recorded but unreleased efforts. But take a song like “Rulers and the States”, by Scottish indie band Bis, and you quickly realize that the songs weren’t randomly assembled.

“Go fetch the mirror, let me see if I am not there

Undo the process and remove what’s rotten and what’s stale

See, l’m exploding with a gift to help you understand

I came in peace but I have become angry with man.”

Bis, “Rulers and the States”

The anti-authority message is clear. Similarly, Superchunk’s “Freaks in Charge”
was written about George W. Bush’s presidency but the sentiment holds true
today. Moreso.

Courtney Jaye’s 26-second “Fuck This Fucking President” doesn’t see the singer/songwriter sitting on the fence: “I hate this motherfucker oh so much, everybody please register to vote, so we can all say fuck this fucking president.”

And then there’s Phantogram’s very appropriate “Running From the Cops.”

“My dreams are haunting my soul

And when I’m driving down the road

I’m not in control

I want to let go

I want to shake hands

With the person that’s

Responsible for this master plan.”

Phantogram, “Running From the Cops

Again, there are 100 songs to sift through and most of them are great — the cause most certainly is. All proceeds will go to Black Visions Collective, and the album is available to purchase on Bandcamp now. Go do that.


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