Musicians fight back: protest songs from the first year of Trump 

click to enlarge protest_songs_top-page-001.jpg

The only good thing about Donald Trump is that he has made time slow down. As we get older, every year seems to pass more quickly than the last in the rush toward death. But the Trump regime has slowed all of that down and the year since that dark night when he was elected has felt as long as any since high school.

As in high school, this slow-moving but insanely intense sense of time has seemed to heighten the emotional impact of music. When a song rings right and seems to express the horror and angst that emanates from the world around you, it feels glorious.

This collection of songs comes from the music editors of more than 20 different papers. As I was writing a column about the Trump regime for a number of alt-weeklies—and trying to find ways to take "alt" back from the Nazis—I ended up talking to a lot of editors and writers around the country and we thought if we could bring together the best protest songs from as many cities as possible, we might learn something about the state of dissent—while also finding some relief. (By Baynard Woods)

A project by member publications of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

Dais, "Atrocity"

Rochester, New York

Dais tells you exactly where it stands on "Atrocity," the first track off its self-titled debut EP. The post-hardcore band makes a racing, pounding apology to the Earth before (sort of) slowing down to confront the powers that be. "Show us a tyrant / And we'll show you our grievance / Fuck that, we will fight this" vocalist Travis Rankin yells and strains in defiance. "The person who the States had elected was talking about withdrawing us from The Paris Climate Accord," Rankin says. "We felt betrayed and began writing this song. It's an apology to the Earth for us not being as good to it as it has been to us." (Jake Clapp)

Green Dreams, "100 Days"

Rochester, New York

Rochester punk trio Green Dreams wants to challenge you. The music is always ferocious, noisy, and remarkable — Perfect Pussy's Meredith Graves and Shaun Sutkus worked on the band's full-length, if that clues you in on where Green Dreams is coming from — but the band consistently uses its punk platform to make urgent calls for social justice. On "100 Days," Green Dreams confronts the listener about "unlearning white supremacy in our lives and in our music scenes," says vocalist and guitarist Jesse Amesmith. "If you knew that you would change, would you want to? / Or would the bodies in the streets have to look just like you?" (Jake Clapp)

Keith Morris, "What Happened to Your Party?"

Charlottesville, Virginia

Known to at least one of his fellow musicians as "our rockin' protest grouch in chief," Keith Morris has a slew of protest songs, such as "Psychopaths & Sycophants," "Prejudiced & Blind" and "Brownsville Market," from his Dirty Gospel album, plus "Blind Man," "Peaceful When You Sleep" and "Border Town" from Love Wounds & Mars. His latest release: "What Happened to Your Party?" (Erin O'Hare)

Thunderfist, "Suck It" (demo)

Salt Lake City, Utah

Sure, there are more articulate ways to denounce Trump. And revolution by example — countering blustery, bigoted bullshit with artfully composed, well-reasoned takedowns — is how we'll effect change. That doesn't mean we can't occasionally vent our rage by strapping on Les Pauls, cranking up Marshalls, raising middle fingers and offering a blues-based, punk-rock invitation to fellatio. And maybe also, as the final, snarling chord slides into silence, calling him a "fat baby fuckface." (Randy Harward)

Dooley, Lor Roger, and TLow, ""CIT4DT"

Baltimore, Maryland

This Boosie-tinged Thee Donald diss from Baltimore which dropped long before inauguration still thrills: "Boy ain't even white, you yellow/ You said you'd date your own daughter you a sicko." Stakes are high here too—the mastermind behind it, Dooley, is Muslim for example—and right-wing semi-fascist snowflakes took the song totally seriously, denounced it as a "death threat" ("CIT4DT" stands for "chopper in the trunk for Donald Trump"), and bemoaned its Baltimore origins, where protest morphed into property damage and as far as a lot of us were concerned verged gloriously on revolution. Meanwhile, the trio responsible for it thought the shit was hilarious. (Brandon Soderberg)

Trombone Shorty and Dumpstaphunk, "Justice"

New Orleans, Louisiana

Trombone Shorty and Dumpstaphunk teamed up on a song called "Justice," which they released on the day Donald Trump was inaugurated president. A melange of funk, jazz and New Orleans brass band sounds, the video for "Justice" slyly marries video footage of Trump against pointed lyrics. "Inauguration day seemed to be an appropriate time to voice the need for equal say and opportunity for all people," said Dumpstaphunk's Ivan Neville. "We entered a New Year with a lot of unanswered questions on the subject of 'justice' that we all felt a little uneasy about. But there's only so much we can do and this track is our way of expressing our worries." The song is available on most streaming services.

Lonely Horse, "Devil in the White House"

San Antonio, Texas

Shots fired! Lonely Horse come out guns-a-blazing with the track "Devil in the White House." Opening with a sludgy cadence that crescendos into a tumultuous rock 'n' roll explosion, the "desert rock" duo of Nick Long and Travis Hild make very clear their feelings about the 45th POTUS. (Chris Conde)

Mal Jones, J. Blacco, Lost Firstborne, and DJ Shotgun, CODE RED "Hands Up, Don't Shoot"

Jacksonville, Florida

Jones said, "We came up with this song after all of the recent acquittals in the cases related to the steadily rising murders of unarmed black men in the hands of law enforcement in America. We wanted to protest about this issue in the most affective way we know how. Through song. Hands up don't shoot!"

"My inspiration for writing my verse was first the climate of events going on at the time. It was right after the Alton Sterling situation. When my man's Lost Firstborne played the beat that's just what the track was speaking to me. It had a haunting soulful vibe about it so once I heard it everything flowed rather easily," added Blacco. (Claire Goforth)

Lingua Franca, "A Man's World"

Athens, Georgia

Shortly after Inauguration Day, two Athens studios invited 19 local bands to commemorate the dawn of the Trump Age, tracking 20 songs in a marathon 48-hour session. While much of the resulting album, Athens Vs. Trump Comp 2017, is suitably bleak, ascendant emcee Lingua Franca's "A Man's World" stands out for its sheer defiance. "Frenzied and indiscreet," it's a fiery feminist anthem for the resistance. (Gabe Vodicka)

OG Swaggerdick, "Fuck Donald Trump"

Boston, Massachusetts

Among diehard hip-hop heads as well as artists, Boston's underground rap scene is renowned as one of the most lyrically elaborate and intellectual anywhere. To that end, over the past year, such acts as STL GLD (Moe Pope + The Arcitype) and more recently The Perceptionists (Mr. Lif + Akrobatik) have released their most compelling works to date, largely inspired by the mess that Donald Trump has made (though not always naming-checking Dolt 45 directly). But when it comes to straight up protesting and verbally impaling the potty-mouthed POTUS, there's something undeniably satisfying, even admirable about the Hub's own OG Swaggerdick's simple and straightforward election anthem, "Fuck Donald Trump." From the fittingly filthy rhymes—"never give props to a punk ass trick / motherfuck Donald Trump he can suck my dick"—to the strangers on the street who gladly join along in rapping in the video, they're protest lyrics that you'll still be able to remember and perhaps even rap for relief on occasions when the president leaves you otherwise speechless. (Chris Faraone)

Clint Breeze and The Groove, "Blood Splatter"

Indianapolis, Indiana

Featuring over a dozen guest contributors, including poets, rappers and jazz musicians, Nappy Head weaves a phantasmagoric assemblage of words and sounds into a razor-sharp critique of racial oppression in modern America. "I wanted to symbolize the state of oppression that Black people experience every day. From not getting fair treatment in the justice system, to getting shot and killed by law enforcement, to being unfairly treated in the workforce — you name it. I wanted to make a statement on how we as Black people view this oppressive society that we live in. I also wanted to give a different perspective from white people. I have a couple of my friends who are white on the album speaking about the nature of white privilege," Breeze says. "Blood Splatter" is the record's most cutting track; featuring spoken word artist Too Black, with cascading cymbal cracks and careening sax. (Kyle Long / Katherine Coplen)

The After Lashes, "We the Sheeple"

Coachella Valley, California

The After Lashes is a new all-female punk band from the Coachella Valley that features Ali Saenz, the wife of former Dwarves and Excel drummer Greg Saenz. Frontwoman Esther Sanchez explained the inspiration behind the band's song "We the Sheeple."

"'We the Sheeple' was an easy song to write, because it came from a place of frustration and growing resentment toward the current powers that be, and, of course, more specifically, Donald Trump," she said. "We have a president who calls anything he doesn't like 'fake news' while simultaneously spending an insane amount of time tweeting nonsense and lies like a crazy person.

"The policies he intends to establish are harmful to pretty much everyone who is not wealthy; unfortunately, so many who voted for him were unknowingly voting against their own best interests. The song is very much about uniting against a tyrant, because that is precisely what we believe Trump to be." (Brian Blueskye)

Priests, "Right Wing"

Washington, D.C.

There's been no shortage of scathing political protest songs coming out of D.C. since, well, the birth of punk. But in recent years, post-punk quartet Priests have succeeded in reminding the rest of the country that D.C. is, and always has been, pissed the fuck off. "Right Wing," off the band's breakthrough EP Bodies and Control and Money and Power so perfectly captures the ass-backwardsness of living in a country controlled by capitalists, fascists, racists, and war mongers. "Everything everything/ So right wing/ Everything everything/ So right wing/ Purse searches, pep rallies/ Purse searches, SUVs," sings Katie Alice Greer. It reads like a short, poetic treatise on how the toxicity of right wing ideals infects everyday life. (Matt Cohen)

Withdraw, "Disgust"

Columbia, South Carolina

On its 2017 debut EP Home, Columbia's Withdraw oscillate violently between bristling, pedal-to-the floor emo (think At the Drive-In) and brutal, clawing crust punk. And on "Disgust," the band proves the virtue of their versatility, shifting from an unflinchingly blackened hardcore blitz that bashes sexual abusers to a more expansive, anthemic coda that seeks to lift up the victims — "You are not tarnished!" It's a potent statement, a searing declaration of allyship in musical realm more often derided for problematic gender politics. (Jordan Lawrence)

NODON, "Alt-Wrong"

Burlington, Vermont

NODON are an anti-fascist, anti-hate power-punk duo born out of the 2016 presidential election. Seething with caustic epithets, their songs condemn xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy and, above all, President Donald Trump. “Alt-Wrong,” from their 2017 EP, Covfefe, delivers a swift and vicious kick to the alt-right’s figurative crotch. Over razor-sharp guitar riffs and seething drums, they scream their battle cry: “Annihilate this hate! Not right! Alt-wrong!" (Jordan Adams)

Rmllw2llz ""So Amerikkkan"

Louisville, Kentucky

Nationwide, when you think of the Louisville music scene, your mind probably bounces to My Morning Jacket, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy or maybe even White Reaper — all who are great — but our city's hip-hop scene is packed with poignant hip-hop artists, and if you're looking for a pure protest song, look no further than Rmllw2llz's "So Amerikkkan," where he says "Fuck Trump, he's a bum and Hillary trash, too." The song was released a few months ago, but, if you give it a listen, you can hear a lot of the country's past, present and future angst packed into a few powerful minutes. (Scott Recker)

Michael Bone, "My Peace Will Outlive You"

Chico, California

Michael Bone is a Chico musician, husband and father who has a day job teaching music to developmentally disabled kids, a night job playing drums for jazz combo Bogg, and dozens of side projects including running the 1day Song Club. The latter is a songwriting group that receives a one-word prompt every other week, after which participants are tasked with writing, recording and submitting a song to be posted online (at www.1dayclub.com) within 24 hours. "My Peace Will Outlive You," an angst-ridden yet hopeful slice of psychedelic pop, is Bone's contribution to the prompt of "Trump." (Jason Cassidy)

Iris DeMent, "We Won't Keep Quiet"

Iowa City, Iowa

Back in February, Iowa City held a Solidarity Rally Against the Ban, proclaiming support for immigrant populations and refugees in the wake of Trump's first and most ridiculous attempted travel ban. In between the community leaders, local politicians, and youth speakers, a variety of area musicians performed, including the brilliant Iris DeMent. She debuted a song, "We Won't Keep Quiet," that captured the feeling in the crowd that day in a really powerful way.

Joshua Asante, "No Time For Despair"

Little Rock, Arkansas

Asante, best known for fronting the bands Amasa Hines and Velvet Kente, is also a photographer; someone who delights in the tangible process of making art. It's in his latest work as a solo artist that this becomes most evident, Asante hunching down over a briefcase stuffed with loop stations and processors. Of "No Time For Despair," Asante says: "In times of distress and turmoil, it's easy to get kinda caught up in the collective despair, so the lyrics are very much about, like, "Yeah, times are tumultuous, but there's also a lot of really wonderful magical things that are going on in your life. ... That is probably the supreme act of defiance — to be joyful, to be loving." (Stephanie Smittle)

Protest Songs: No Time for Despair from Gerard Matthews on Vimeo.

The Whiskey Farm, "Flag Pin"

Madison, Wisconsin

The Whiskey Farm is an Americana/folk rock band from Madison, Wisconsin. Formed in 2010, the band has produced four albums and won Madison Area Music Awards in the Folk/Americana and Ensemble Vocals categories. The band's most recent album, Songs of Resistance (2017) is their first record comprised entirely of social and political music, covering topics including immigration policy, faux patriotism, money in politics, gun control, equal rights and gerrymandering. "Flag Pin" is a tongue-in-cheek blues-inspired indictment of opportunistic patriots, including Trump. The band released Songs of Resistance as a benefit for the ACLU of Wisconsin. (Catherine Capellaro)

Listen at thewhiskeyfarm.com/listen/s/flag_pin

E-Turn, "Ill Legal Alien"

Orlando, Florida

Everything about Orlando emcee E-Turn is a particularly eloquent middle-finger in the face of Donald Trump. The Persian American, outspoken, femme MC is a firebrand on the mic, and her lyrics deftly meld the personal with the political in ways that hardcore dudes could only dream of. The fury and technique with which she drop bars - and other, usually male, MCs - on stage is the proud definition of a nasty woman. Her anthemic "Ill Legal Alien" may predate Trump's election, but the Swamburger-produced track (Solillaquists of Sound) is still furiously of-the-moment. (Matthew Moyer and Bao Le-Huu)

Cheap Perfume, "Trump Roast"

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Cheap Perfume are a four-piece Colorado Springs band who follow in the tradition of feminist punk acts like Le Tigre and The Slits. "Trump Roast" is, not surprisingly, one of their biggest crowd-pleaser, as Stephanie Byrne and Jane No deliver a "Dear Don" letter to the resident president, culminating in a final verse that grows more timely, and more serious, with each passing day: "You wanna ban Muslims? Well, we wanna ban you / Your fascist ideas wrapped in red, white, and blue / Your KKK clones won't be the ones to choose / Enjoy your last gasp cause racism's through." (Bill Forman)

DBL DRGN

Charleston, South Carolina

There were several election-reflection songs that came out of Charleston following Nov. 8, 2016. One of those that stood out for us is by a local hip-hop duo — Damn Skippy and Bad Mojo — dubbed DBLDRGN. Before releasing the audio, the guys filmed the video for the song "Trim the Bushes" on Election Day. With Bad Mojo dressed as a dragon, high-fiving passersby, the silly aspect of the visuals was meant to complement the circus-like atmosphere of the 2016 election — it also brought a smile to the faces of voters on an otherwise stressful day. The video was released on Inauguration Day, another attempt to lift the spirits of those who felt the doom and gloom all too well that January morning. In the single, the duo rather brilliantly mash up George Bush ("Fool me once ... can't get fooled again") with Bob Marley ("You can fool some people sometimes but you can't fool all the people all of the time"), while the video shows footage of Donald Trump's remarks on everything from immigration and Mexicans to birtherism, Putin, John McCain, and women. The acknowledgment of all the things we as progressives find disturbing about the current administration coupled with the sense that folks should keep their heads up (and alert) and stick together for the duration of the hand we've been dealt was the perfect combo. Check out the video for yourself below. (Kelly Rae Smith)

Vincent Randazzo, "What We Don't Know"

Monterey, California

Randazzo, a Seaside, California native, got his start with a local metal band, and has since gone solo. On his latest album, Politics Are Parlor Tricks, there's a bright and fast guitar part but the chatty lyrics and are all about despair, and the angst comes through in the quality of his vocals too. "No president to come is gonna wave his magic wand," Randazzo sings. "What's this bullshit, collectively agreeing we can't do it on our own." Other songs go beyond Trump-bashing to to the political system more broadly: "$20 for a congressman / We've got billions lacking common sense," he sings in "Blame You For It." The subject matter goes even wider, with a pro-vegan commentary in "Punk As Anyone": "I'm asking you to consider removing meat from all your dinners / There's a mass genocide of animals and when I ask, you look at me like Hitler." The album tagline accurately covers the scope: "political and social ideas and explorations from the year 2016." (Sara Rubin)


Pin It

Speaking of...

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Latest in Music Features

Readers also liked…

Latest in Music Features

Browse Listings

Submit an event

Tweets @RocCityNews

© 2017 City Newspaper.

Website powered by Foundation.