Once again in 2017, NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION is teaming up with Hamburg’s acclaimed Reeperbahn Festival for a media partnership. Our ongoing article series Road To Reeperbahn will report about specific highlights in the program of the 2017 edition. Find all articles of the story right here.
For most people, it is quite common to be somehow political and discuss local as well as global political issues. Voicing one’s opinion is not only healthy, but most of all important to keep an open discussion going. However, as an artist it’s a different story sometimes. It’s easy to become a target or even a puppet once you’re in the public eye and decide to speak up against something that is bothering you or to raise your concerns in the form of your music.
Music is not and has never been exclusively a tool of entertainment, though. Although the protest songs of the 60s and 70s have long been replaced by more subtle forms of rebellion, it still feels like there is a much bigger need in terms of musical outrage at what is going on on a global scale at the moment.
Thankfully, the past election in the United States, as shocking as it was among other events, has served as a trigger for artists to come forward and be brave enough to publicly raise their voices. Whether it’s through their music or in interviews. Now is definitely not the time to be silent or to hold back any of your concerns and fears, especially not if you are an artist with up to millions of fans.
Despite music increasingly becoming more political in recent months, especially with albums like FATHER JOHN MISTY‘s Pure Comedy or the recent outputs by KENDRICK LAMAR, ALGIERS, A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, NEIL YOUNG and SOLANGE – only to name a few – one question that is still on the table is to which extent music can give answers or make change happen. Or in how far the past US election and the public outcry among artists had any real impact on listeners.
Trump’s win and persona being in the centre of a global dispute allowed a significant rise of protest to happen. But whether it is his everyday inability and arrogance or more local issues exploding in our faces on a daily basis, it certainly feels like more and more artists choose to take a stand instead of playing the waiting game for some kind of miracle to happen and things to turn around all of a sudden.
The problem with politicians is that they hardly ever really speak to people. Especially not the younger generation. Musicians and artists in general, however, have the ability to reach people in a way that goes beyond the emotional wound they dig into musically if they are willing to appeal to people’s common sense with an equal amount of sensitivity and sharpness.
But artists are not the only ones who should be more outspoken. Looking at the German music industry, you can’t help, but notice that there is an overall lack of protest or even dispute going on before the federal election in September. A campaign that is trying to change that and raise more awareness is Reeperbahn Festival’s ‘Raise Your Voice’ initiative this year which serves as an additional platform for artists to enter into a dialogue with others apart from the festival’s musical programme that is going on.
‘In my opinion, there are still not enough artists out there who are willing to publicly voice their political views and take part in a panel, for example. It’s not only the music that can make a change, but also the artist going out there and raising awareness outside of the nature of a song. There has to be another level of communication and public discourse which we are hoping to fuel with the help of artists. Only appealing to the emotional aspect within the musical context is simply not enough.’
Also sitting down with us in New York just before the Reeperbahn Festival’s showcase last month were Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass from BOY who, creatively speaking, consider the current worldwide events as particularly important as Valeska tells us: ‘It is a very interesting time to be creative and process what is going on with the help of music. Political discussions are even happening backstage and you can feel that music and art in general are more open again to deal with political issues of all kinds.’
‘We haven’t really been political in our songs yet, but I’m interested in seeing in how far it will affect our music in the future.’
Her bandmate Sonja Glass adds: ‘I don’t think every band has to start writing political songs because there are so many more ways to become politically active, but the main thing is that music maintains its power to connect people. We definitely talk about what is going on politically in this world.’
A real music industry expert that has witnessed many political as well as musical movements in his lifetime is the legendary musician and producer TONY VISCONTI, who was kind enough to share his views with us on this particular matter during Indie Week in Manhattan. Asked about the importance of raising one’s voice as an artist in times like these, Visconti emphasizes why we need musicians to speak up by saying:
‘I think an artist should speak up about their beliefs. On both sides – right wing or left wing. That’s a good way to settle scores in arguments rather than violence.’
Furthermore, the legendary gentleman adds: ‘Music is a very powerful and passionate medium. A lot of people have been changed by a song and I hope some writers can find that magic formula where they can change some people’s way of thinking. We have to end racism, we have to end misogyny, we have to have equal employment. There are so many issues that you could write about. Not just one. I really respect songwriters who raise the bar on that level. We don’t want anymore love songs. We’ve had enough of that. When stuff like this was happening back in the 60s and I was a hippie with very long hair, we wrote protest songs and I think that’s a good thing. Protest songs are really good if they’re done artistically and with sensibility in it.’
For someone like Franklin James Fisher, who has just released the incredibly critical album The Underside Of Power with his band ALGIERS, there is no such thing as being silent in terms of what is going on around us: ‘There is no such thing as being apolitical. If you’re apolitical, then you’re really a vessel for ideology. The only way that you don’t fall victim to that is to realize that within yourself into almost on a constant daily basis fight the sort of proclivity that you may have towards it.’
Many musicians in the United States became very vocal during the Presidential election last year. Some of them even to the extent of doing more than only publicly supporting Republican or Democratic candidates when being asked about their opinion. One of the bands that continuously tried to make change happen way back in the primaries and before that was GRIZZLY BEAR.
While discussing their upcoming album Painted Ruins with us recently, singer Ed Droste also described the political climate in the US and why the band felt so committed to go out and actively do something: ‘It is quite difficult to make political music. Effective political music. Hats off to people who can successfully do it in the way that it’s not only tasteful, but also gains a momentum to be some cultural moment. It’s very hard to do.’
Elaborating further on this topic, Droste says: ‘In my lifetime other than the Iraq War, I’ve never seen so many people being politically aware of everything that is going on. That is encouraging. People are using their energies, at least we are as a band and as individuals, to combat what we would classify the crisis that is happening in the United States right now via being outspoken, donating time doing benefit concerts, getting people to register to vote, focussing on the next mid-term elections and trying to raise awareness amongst those things. There are connotations in the album for sure, but it’s not an overly political album.’
BERNIE SANDERS may not have been able to climb to top as the leading candidate of the Democratic party in the Presidential election, but nevertheless, Ed Droste expresses his admiration for Sanders during our conversation:
‘It’s impossible to say, but I do feel like if Bernie had been the candidate, he would have won because he really performed extremely well. I don’t want to put any blame on Hillary, it’s just that people were craving an outsider and the Democrats chose the biggest insider they could in the era of the outsider.’
Even with the US election being over now, there is still a great need for artists to speak their mind and maintain their ability to keep a public discussion going and raise awareness beyond releasing music that addresses the kind of issues that are bubbling up on a regular basis. Bands like GRIZZLY BEAR are committed to do that, even if ‘our time is slightly swallowed up by the album release and tour that is coming up’, says Droste. He adds: ‘We’re going to get people to register at concerts, donating proceeds to various causes local or national – as much as we can. We do as best as we can to raise awareness via social media and all of that as well.’
The most fatal thing that can happen is when artists choose to be silent on purpose. Thinking that music should not interfere with politics. Being in the position to talk to thousands, if not millions of music fans, gives you an incredibly important platform and responsibility you should not shy away from with a political turmoil going on like the one we have been experiencing for a while now.
You have a voice, use it! You have a soul, use it! No matter how big or small the success and hope for change is on a scale. After all, music will always be an extremely important part of our cultural life and therefore for us as individuals in a somehow broken society and political environment.