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7th November 2016

30days40songs – the art of the protest song

Jacob Hopkins explores the 30days40songs project — a rare revival of protest music in the build-up to the US Presidential Election

Noel Gallagher — a man not otherwise known for his admiration of Margaret Thatcher — once complained that without such a divisive political figure in the world, the modern arts had essentially become boring and self-satisfied. Of course, this was back in the heady days of 2012, when all we had to go on were the Ed Milibands and David Camerons of this world — in Noel’s mind, the AOR of politics. Perhaps it’s a happy outcome then that 2016 has brought us meatier political frames of reference such as Brexit and quite possibly the most surreal US Presidential Election in modern memory.

By the time you are reading this, the seemingly unstoppable blond-maned controversy magnet Donald Trump may well be packing up in his Trump Tower, ready to move into the White House. Given that his has been such a polarising campaign, it should be no surprise that many musicians have penned songs voicing their displeasure with the idea of Trump at the helm and urging voters not to back him (or perhaps more appropriately, to fire him), and the ‘Artists For A Trump-Free America’ group are aiming to bring these efforts into a collective.

Their 30days40songs project (up from 30 songs — they added an extra 10 songs in once the campaign kicked off) brings these artists together in “a playlist of songs Donald Trump will hate” (the Washington Post’s words rather than The Donald’s). Most of these are freshly-written and incorporate some very big names such as Franz Ferdinand, Death Cab For Cutie, Moby, Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould and Loudon Wainwright, as well as lesser-known artists. I have picked out a range of personal highlights in the list below.

Franz Ferdinand – ‘Demagogue’

This track, which brought my attention to the 30days40songs project, manages to simultaneously show the pros and cons of writing music protesting against current affairs. Yes, it’s a great, catchy, yet vicious slice of 9/4 time dance-punk visioning “those pussy grabbing fingers” on the nuclear button … but it just feels a little bit unfinished by the time it reaches a piano coda. If only they didn’t have an election campaign they needed to fit this into.

Death Cab For Cutie – ‘Million Dollar Loan’:

The only song on the list to have received a shout out from The Donald himself so far — it shouldn’t be a surprise that he was no great fan of hipster-folk even before they were giving out advice on starting “a business the old-fashioned way” with that infamous ‘small’ loan. Surprisingly, it’s stripped back and satirical rather than an outwardly angry song, but does its job of ridiculing Trump well enough.

Thao – ‘Before You Vote’: 

Minimalistic with pounding drums and harrowing vocals telling us that “he doesn’t care about you and he doesn’t care about me”. It’s the polar opposite of Death Cab’s snarky, lo-fi effort but all the more effective for being so direct.

Moby and the Homeland Choir/Void Pacific Choir – ‘Trump Is On Your Side/Little Failure’: 

Two interesting tracks examining one of the apparent paradoxes which I feel has been missing from a lot of the Trump coverage — how many Americans are understandably furious at having been let down by the ‘elite’, and yet throw what faith they have left in someone who entirely encapsulates said elite. Moby and his collaborators manage one hell of a contrast as well, with gorgeous folky instrumentation too on the former, with industrial fury bleeding into dance on the latter track.

Ledinksy – ‘DonaldTrumpMakesMeWannaSmokeCrack’:

Deserves a mention for the title alone. Yes, it’s all one word.

The genres in the collection are wide enough here that this could almost be an anthology of American music, from traditional folk songs (Andrew St. James’ ‘Makin’ America Great Again’), through alternative rock and grunge (Mission of Burma – ‘Panic Is No Option’), to modern genres such as the takedown rap of Clipping’s ‘Fat Fingers’ and even trap (jpegmafia’s ‘I Might Vote For Donald Trump’). In a similar  sense, the collection could also be seen as an anthology of lines of attack on Trump – gun control (Mirah’s ‘No Guns No Guns’), attitudes to women (Ani deFranco’s ‘Play God’) and minorities (Helado Negro’s ‘Young Latin and Proud’) stand out amongst many others.

I would recommend visiting the website ( to get a feel for how the crazy world that is 2016 may well be revitalising the art of the protest song. At the time of writing, there are four songs left to go and I am genuinely interested to see how they’ll turn out — so interested, perhaps I might forget about the whole mess of an election the songs are protesting in the first place.

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