Sounds of Our Revolution | January 2022: Anti-Capitalism

Contributed by Jonny Collins

My new year’s resolution was to stop being forced to live under the oppressive and inequitable system of Capitalism. Sad to say I have failed on this front almost immediately.

I could write essays on the many shortcomings of the economic system which has become so thoroughly normalized that even thinking about any alternative will see you dismissed and potentially vilified. But many smarter people than me have written more than I ever could about the context, nuances, and flaws of the basis of modern society, so I won’t patronise you by giving a long-winded and likely poorly thought-out history and analysis.

But on a personal level, I find myself increasingly falling into habits of measuring my worth against the values of capitalism, rather than anything with actual value to me. It’s weird to describe myself as a workaholic, given that I don’t feel that I display that behaviour in my actual job to nearly the same degree as my hobbies. But since running Blizzard Comedy especially, I often struggle to allocate myself proper rest and relaxation time. If I am mentally unable to write or organize or administrate, I won’t relax, I’ll just feel guilty that I’m not doing enough.

Now you could argue this isn’t directly capitalism’s fault, as to say that we don’t take any actual capital off of Blizzard would be a huge understatement. But it is still a part of the narrative and values of capitalism that productivity is the factor that denotes your worth more than anything else. I have no plans to make Blizzard my job, even if it was feasible. But if we lived under at least some kind of social democratic hybrid with our current system where all our needs were met and all of our voices were heard, we would be able to treat our hobbies just as things that we want to do, and not feel obliged to spend all of our free time on them for fear that we’re not taking it seriously enough.

A lot of pro comedians will repeat the line that if you’re truly serious about stand-up as a career, you need to do every gig you can, multiple times a night if you can. You need to be prepared to travel, lose money, and dedicate every waking moment to perfecting your craft.

More recently I think the idea that comedy, like any art or interest, can be whatever you want out of it, and you don’t need to sacrifice your own mental health and enjoyment to be serious at it.

But many people do still view comedy as a grift first and foremost, which does not sit right with me personally. No shade to those comedians. It seems like they know what they want and how to get it, fair play. But there is a tendency among pro and semi-pro comedians to think that anyone who appears to be doing less than you is on some level inferior.

This is a toxic attitude that stems back to capitalism. If you have a minimum wage job with no prospects, that’s on you for not trying hard enough. Anyone earning less than you just isn’t motivated enough. And it can make you feel bitter when you see these people doing things they enjoy. Whether it’s your friend who might owe you a fiver treating themselves to a nice coffee, or God forbid a homeless person buying cigarettes.

Capitalism really brings out the worst in us, and whenever we see those less fortunate or lower down the ladder than us using their money in a way we deem unwise, it can really get in your head, and you begin to see them as deserving of their situations.

Even the best of us fall victim to this, and I encourage you to examine your biases and privileges whenever you find yourself disapproving in these scenarios. Not only is capitalism a deeply flawed economic system hurtling towards its inevitable collapse, but it is also a social poison that turns us against each other and keeps us in check, so revolt isn’t on the table.

I don’t know whether I’ll see the end of capitalism in my lifetime, but in the short term there is a LOT of great anti-capitalist music out there to listen to, to ease the despair that many of us feel after being beaten down all our lives. Here are just some of my favourite Rap, Punk and Metal songs lashing out against the system either explicitly, or taking a more implicit approach of lamenting the inevitable consequences of it.

9-5ers Anthem – Aesop Rock

“Now we the American working population
Hate the fact that eight hours a day
Is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn’t us
And we may not hate our jobs
But we hate jobs in general
That don’t have to do with fighting our own causes”

Kicking off this list is a track from possibly my favourite rapper of all time, Aesop Rock. First discovering his song Labor in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, which is probably one of the first rap songs I remember actively liking, many years later I picked up the album which includes this delightful deconstruction of capitalism and the American dream.

Aesop Rock is widely regarded as one of the best lyricists working in hip-hop today, and while that’s not necessarily quantifiably true, he’s definitely up there. He has a way with language that really lends itself to the kind of trancey and introspective vibe that signifies his choice of beats. Smooth, slick, yet very clear. Aesop Rock is the soundtrack to a stream of consciousness. Even his angrier songs are somewhat soothing – which works with this subject matter as it manages to sound like the monotonous 9-5 routine, commute, work, lunch, work, home, too tired to work on your passions, bed, repeat.

It also references another similarly titled classic later on this list as the track fades to a close. No prizes for guessing what that is.

GDP – Bob Vylan

“Yeah, chasing the dream, either make it or steal it
Seems like the choices are take it or deal it
No one need to be told there’s hard times ahead
When it comes crashing down poor people gonna feel it
Let me make it clear: this wretched system isn’t playing fair”

Following up we have a group that’s fast becoming one of my all-time favourites Bob Vylan. I’ve said before, Vylan hit that sweet spot between what I love about UK Punk and Grime, with a really satisfying and heavy political onslaught of lyrical clarity with punk sensibilities.

GDP is one of their newer tracks, kicking off describing the BBC news talking about the GDP, and how that means fuck all to the poorest citizens of the nation. We hear this a lot; rich white people in ties talking about the economy as a hypothetical. Whether it’s doing well or not, that rarely changes the fact that the most impoverished in the country will be just as screwed over.

Fact of the matter is the economy is a fantasy, money isn’t real, but enough people believe it is and benefit from the idea of it that it has the power to dictate oppression. So, seeing all these rich Tory sympathizers discussing economics as a series of mathematics with no real-world implications (or at least none that would affect them) has got to be both infuriating and baffling.

We don’t give a fuck about the GDP, we don’t give a fuck how well the pound is doing, when you’re living meal to meal, constantly at risk of losing your home – it doesn’t matter how rich the country is if the people in it are slowly starving either way. The GDP isn’t doing well? Austerity, closure of services, etc. When is it doing well? Bonuses for the richest, gentrification, building of new services for the rich. The poor foot the bill for rich people’s failures, while they pat themselves on the back.

Fuck the whole concept of finance tbh.

Just Look Around – Sick of it All

Maybe if they weren’t so blind, they’d see what I see
I see the homeless livin’ out on the street
On every corner they’re asking for money
I try to help them whenever I can
But sometimes I can’t afford to help myself
I see diseases and modern plagues of our times
The greed of our leaders has made them blind
To our problems, they spend millions overseas
People right here are fightin’ wars everyday

Next is a band who is new to me called “Sick of it All”, which first of all, mood.

Secondly, this track does not pull punches. Describing in harrowing detail how capitalism and the corruption that stems from it impacts the working classes. From homelessness, plagues, wars, and divide and conquer tactics. This hardcore track says it like it is, and not in the edgy, comedy clubs won’t book me ‘cause I use racial slurs tell it like it is, an actual unaltered reflection of societal problems brought about by capitalism, the kind of things that are dismissed by the 1% and those trying to be the 1%.

Cool band, will definitely be checking out more of their work.

Summertime Blues – Eddie Cochrane

“Well, I called my congressman
And he said, quote:
“I’d like to help you, son
But you’re too young to vote””

Going way back now to the 1958 classic Summertime Blues. It’s rare that I include songs pre 1980s, as finding Blizzard appropriate rebellious anthems that haven’t aged badly or been really problematic in some way or another is very difficult. But I think this track for the most part is still relevant today – if a bit softer than our usual suspects.

Eddie Cochrane had a knack for capturing teenage frustration in the 50s, and sadly died in a road accident not long after this track, which would go on to be his biggest success, and spawn multiple cover versions, including The Beach Boys. This early Rock ‘n’ Roll track depicts a teenager working through the summer to sustain himself and the family – and the catch 22 of needing to work to be able to afford to do nice things, but then being stuck in a job meaning you don’t have the time to do any nice things.

The song finishes off with the quoted particularly pertinent verse, alluding to how political representatives generally ignore the grievances and plight of the youth, as they aren’t old enough to vote, therefore aren’t beneficial to help. I’ve long been an advocate for lowering the voting age to 13, as those who aren’t politically minded simply won’t vote, but those who are will actually be a viable demographic to appease and work for, not just condescend to.

There are logistical arguments against this, but there’s absolutely no reason 15/16-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to vote. They will be past the age of 18 during an average governmental term and should therefore be given a say in how it’s governed. It’s either that, or have more regular elections, and I don’t think anyone wants that.

It’s a shame Eddie Cochrane died so young. There’s no guarantee that he wouldn’t’ve eventually been bought out by the establishment, but the fact that he didn’t even have a chance to stick to his guns and remain a voice for the oppressed workers everywhere is tragic.

9 to 5 – Dolly Parton

“Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living
Barely gettin’ by, it’s all taking and no giving
They just use your mind, and they never give you credit
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it”

I’m ashamed that I never picked up the irony and disdain in this song when I was younger. I always just assumed this was a commercial song trying to get people to celebrate their own oppression. But far too late I realized that this is a subversive song undermining capitalism, or at very least the power structures and misogyny it enables.

9 to 5 isn’t a celebration, it’s an ironically jumpy and catchy beat, whilst lyrically lamenting how the higher ups take advantage of base level staff to profit and take credit, whilst not sharing any of that with the workers who actually made it possible. This is particularly an issue with women, as even today many workplaces have horrendous gender equality records, with the highest paying execs being almost exclusively white men, while the women mostly occupy the lowest level roles, and are expected to be grateful.

But it is more than that, whilst if you look like someone who could be an exec (white and male) you have better chances of promotion, you’re still mostly likely to have the value of your labour undersold and manipulated to make other people richer.

In this song, Dolly advocates for climbing your own ladder and fulfilling your own dreams, which isn’t exactly the smash the system vibe we usually go for, but honestly even if it’s not the most aggressive critique of capitalism, it is a fucking bop, and there’s no way you’d have forgiven me if I didn’t include it.

Oligarchy – Space Monkey Mafia

Been a while since I’ve been able to put this on a playlist! Can’t remember when this was originally included, probably the anti-corruption playlist back in 2020 – but it is very fitting here.

An oligarchy is a system where a small exclusive group of people have control. In this case the small group of people are the billionaires who control large portions of the media and have ins with most high-level politicians, meaning that even in the event of evicting the Tories from Downing Street, the same people will still be getting what they want.

The fact is, whatever we say, the UK and the US are oligarchies with lots of different faces. Sure, there’s elements of democracy to give the electorate the illusion of choice, but realistically the richest people will always get what they want. Whilst we’re living under capitalism, there isn’t really a way to stop that. Even if someone were to carefully legislate against it somehow, there will always be incentive for people to take bribes- sorry, “donations” from high profile donors in exchange for policy change.

The only way to stop this corruption, would be to abolish capitalism. And I don’t think that’s likely to happen in Parliament or Congress.

Cockroach King – Haken

“Hypnotized by the cockroach and its promise
I was compromised by a treasure
That was fit for fools”

I’m so excited I get to use this song. It’s one of my all-time favourites, and I didn’t even realize it was about capitalism, or more specifically greed until Genius helped me out.

Being a prog song, there is a lot to unpack here, and I won’t bore you with all the details, but it is steeped in imagery and metaphor, the eponymous “cockroach” being a representation of capitalism and riches – lots of references to characters and instances where getting rich, wanting more wealth was a curse more than a blessing: The Great Gatsby, King Midas, Dune, as well as the song “The Grand Illusion” by Styx.

The song alludes to the desire to be a “Self-made man” and rags to riches – but the presence of the cockroach is always looming, and the music is haunting and jarring, so that rather than having excited determination at achieving these goals, it is foreboding, and the fate for this path has long been decided.

Another cool thing this song does is alter certain refrains earlier in the song at the end, coming full circle. “Golden Wings to Fly” become “Blackened Wings to fly, burning ashes of the hunter, scattered in the sky”; “An Empire built on guile and greed” becomes “An empire falling to its knees”.

This song depicts a journey, of the naïve soul dreaming of capitalistic success, only to discover that to achieve that they have been choking out the working classes, and there is no wealth without oppression, and that infinite growth isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later the empire will fall. By its nature, this system cannot go indefinitely, it will crash at some point, and each individual capitalist success is a microcosm of what will happen to the whole society unless we abandon the fruitless endeavour of endless economic growth before its too late.

(Spoilers, it’s probably already too late.)

A truly unique and addictive track, taking elements of jazz into a modern prog masterpiece that I just can’t stop revisiting. It’s a niche sound, I’ll admit, but those who do like this kind of thing will adore this track. And if you don’t, don’t worry, it’s only like … 8 minutes long, just go have a long poo and come back for the next track.

Gandhi Mate Gandhi – Enter Shikari

“Yabba dabba do one son, we don’t want you rules
Who you fooling son, we’ve got all the tools
We need to build a whole new system
To correct these flaws”

Unless you’re new to our shows and these playlists, you should know by now that Enter Shikari are far more than that *clap clap clap* song and one-hit wonders you may have thought they were back in the later 2000s. Gandhi Mate Gandhi (which is like 10 years old now, holy shit, aaa I’m so old) starts off with a rising electro beat and a monologue about everything that’s wrong with the current system, before one of the most satisfying drops in both Dubstep and Metalcore.

The song that continues as an argument between the band, and capitalist bootlickers. The highlight for me being this quoted lyric “Yabba dabba do one son” is the best phrase anyone has ever coined, and we all need to start using it whenever another Corbyn is dismissed as a communist or we’re told that there is no viable alternative to capitalism.

It is upsetting that after a decade, despite tracks like this, we’ve still not built a whole new system to correct all the flaws, we should really get on that. Chop chop.

Seriously though, this song is a beautiful takedown of capitalism, that never fails to re-motivate me, no matter how bleak the political situation may seem, give it a listen.

Under the Rotting Pizza – Nobuo Uematsu

I was in two minds about including an FF7 track after Square Enix’s totally tone deaf and harrowing New Year’s message, indicating a plan to dive headfirst into NFT gaming despite the environmental, social, and scammy implications this entails. I can’t be bothered to go into details here, but I imagine if you’ve bought into NFTs, you’re probably not reading this, so I’ll just assume you’ve read, listened to or watched someone much more informed and coherent than me explaining why they’re so bad and carry on.

I ended up including this, as Nobuo is technically a freelance composer now, and while he still does some work with the company, I’m confident enough that he doesn’t share the same values. This should be evident that the entirety of Final Fantasy VII is a critique of capitalism, but since when has that stopped artists disappointing us before?

I wanted to include this track, as to me the “Rotting Pizza” section of Midgar illustrates the disconnect between classes under capitalism so beautifully.

First of all, the working classes are literally underneath the main city where all the corporate buildings are. Shinra are literally on top of you at all times, and you are looking up at them, and they are looking down at you. When Shinra decide to drop one of these plates onto the slums in an attempt to turn people against Avalanche, without caring about the casualties, this too is a dark depiction of the broken system this playlist is critiquing.

I can’t think of many RPGs that have tackled this topic with such brutal imagery before or since (do recommend me some, I’d be interested to play them). And also, Nobuo’s compositions are breath-taking, and if I can squeeze one in anyway, you bet your damn butt I will.

That One Percent – The Human Project

“That one percent that live above us all,
kept in power ‘til the blues do fall.
As the rich get richer, and leave the rest to rot,
it’s the working class that foot the bill regardless of if they can or not.”

I feel like I’ve talked about this song enough, and the title should say it all, but yes, surprise surprise “That One Percent” is a critique of capitalism, who’d’ve thunk it?

Like any good punk this track has concise lyrics that sum up the issues in less than a paragraph. As I’ve alluded to in previous segments, the 1% will throw all of us under the bus if it’ll help them out of a tight spot, but we never see any of the benefits when things are going well thanks to our work. We’re kept just satisfied enough that we keep working, but not so much that it impacts them.

The instrumentation is also great, as always with this band. If you like your punk melodic and fast, then these guys are definitely for you.

Third Class Coffin – The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing

“Now my journey to the afterlife has been quite fraught
Because a third-class coffin ticket was all I bought
No, I couldn’t afford a send-off with style and class
And the necropolis company can’t be arsed!”

More punk now, but closer to the crust variety with a steampunk flavour. TMTWNBBFN, as you will know if you’re a fan, are very good at discussing contemporary political issues through allegory based on Victorian politics and society. While the details are different, the general structure is largely the same.

This song is based on a real phenomenon in those times, where the class system extends to death. (Arguably it still does, although in slightly more subtle ways.)

Third Class Coffins, unlike their expensive counterparts were treated more like dead meat than people. While 1st and Second-class coffins had some dignity and comfort for the mourners, third class coffins were just piled onto the backs of trains, to be disposed of as easily as possible, no mourners allowed, no care, no dignity.

This particularly gruesome idea really hammers home just how fucked up our class system is. The upper classes get everything, the middle classes get a more modest but still comfortable experience, while the working class are treated as an inconvenience and only ever dealt with as obligation. Not only is no effort put in, but effort into making things worse for them is.

Whilst not as explicit in today’s class system, the gap between the working class and upper classes keeps widening, and while state funerals aren’t quite as ruthless these days, the differences between the 1% who are often treated like deities, and the poor who are just processed and forgotten as quickly as possible is striking.

A person’s worth should not be based on their capital standing, I can’t believe this needs reiterating.

It Can Be Done – Redskins

“Look at Petrograd!
Look at Barcelona
Fight against the land
Fight against the land & the factory owners
Same fight today against another ruling class
Learn a lesson from your past”

Closing off once again with “It Can Be Done”; a song all about worker revolutions of the past and how we should learn from history and repeat it. And we absolutely should.

(Don’t be put off by the band name, it’s based on a British slang term for socialist skinheads, not related to the racist term for native Americans. I’d like them to change their name, but they’ve not been together for over 30 years, so I’m just letting it slide.)

This was a hard playlist to compile, as there is a thin line between songs against capitalism, and songs against consumerism. These do overlap of course, but I find the latter tends to be more patronizing and places the onus of blame on the victim, rather than the system that manipulates them into the behaviour.

For that reason, as much as I love it, there is no Between Angels and Insects by Papa Roach. A few other songs lost the cut for similar reasons, just because I felt that even if they had some clever and insightful lyrics, their direction was misguided, and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel bad for treating themselves to material possessions and things which spark joy, just because the system I’m criticising thrives off of it.

You’re allowed to enjoy things, and while we’re stuck under capitalism, you may as well buy things that make you happy.

Our next stream is on the 31st January, with team captains Kirstie Summers & Katie Mitchell, guests Jonathan Murray, Jake Pickford, Kieran Lawless & Eleanor Morton, and myself hosting. You can also get tickets to our next (hopefully) live show on the 7th February with Raul Kohli, Sophie G Collins, Edward Roworth & Thom Bee, with guest host Bobbie Jones here.

You can listen to the full playlist on YouTube and Spotify.

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