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Let Us Never Ask Where the Protest Music Has Gone Ever Again

There is a recurring story media organizations like to publish. The story typically asks where all the protest music has gone or something like that. Or, the writers ask, who is this generation’s Bob Dylan?

This perspective has seeped into the consciousness of Americans. One thread on Reddit asked:

With all the racial and class tension in the past year or two, I’m really surprised that there hasn’t been much in the way of protest songs. At least not that I’ve heard. My generation had Rage Against the Machine (whose lyrics seem even more relevant today). What artist is carrying their torch today?

Somehow we have trained ourselves to think that one singular artist or band should be the representative of a generation.

The idea seems to be that artists or bands compete for popular attention and whoever becomes a bigger part of the consciousness will speak for everyone. It is a capitalistic way of viewing protest music. It also places a burden on one artist or band to bring everyone together into one movement, a responsibility that should not be foisted upon any musicians.

Here at Shadowproof, I will spearhead a Protest Music Project that will push back against this idea and help put to rest this notion that there is an absence of protest music or protest singers/bands.

The project will kick off in the coming weeks with a list of 25 top protest albums released so far in the 2010s.

Next, I’ll publish a four-part list of the top 100 protest songs released of the decade so far.

Each list will be posted with the intention of introducing readers to music and musicians that they may not have heard. It will also show there is plenty of protest music being created by artists and demonstrate how musicians are harnessing the power of the internet for distribution.

Tom Morello, who is known for his work as a guitarist in bands like Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and as The Nightwatchman, recently co-founded a record label with Ryan Harvey of the Riot-Folk Collective. The label is called Firebrand Records. It will be a one-stop shop for “rebel music needs,” a label focused on putting out protest music.

Ideally, at some point, I will highlight the work of artists at Firebrand Records and other similar music projects. I will also look at what goes into making albums, where artists come together to create an album for a cause.

The project will advance a broad view of protest music. For the most part, any songs with social or political commentary will be considered protest music. An album where commentary on the state of the world is part of almost all of the songs will be regarded as protest album.

Music which includes basic commentary on the state of the world and how an artist’s identity is shaped by global developments will be considered protest music. And, in some cases, artists producing music in the face of a corporate-dominated music industry, which often discourages an unapologetic expression of one’s own humanity, will be treated as protest music too.


Some may recall, when The Dissenter was part of Firedoglake, I published a feature, “Protest Song of the Day,” for a number of months. It was largely inspired by music which played a role in the Occupy movement. It was hugely successful, with a number of independent artists even contacting me to have their work featured as a “Protest Song of the Day.”

Take a look at the righthand sidebar here at The Dissenter. You will find a “Protest Song of the Week.” There also is an email address: protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

Artists are encouraged to submit songs to this address which they would like to see featured as future protest songs of the week. Readers are also encouraged to submit their favorite protest song they may like to see featured.

Each week, a post will be published on the song, so those who submit songs are encouraged to describe why they wrote or recorded the song. Readers are encouraged to share why this particular protest song resonates with them.

This weekly feature, the planned lists, future interviews with artists, and stories about new protest music will go a long way toward bringing excellent music to a new audience. It will also help us prevent burn out and inspire us to keep fighting for a better world.

And now, how could I write this without sharing a protest song at the end?

Here’s The Coup’s “The Magic Clap,” which just seems like a perfect tune to use to hype this project.

Patton Oswalt in The Coup’s “Magic Clap”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."