The past year had given us plenty of good tunes across all underground genres, but one common theme of the music we usually write about is that more often than not it’s overflowing with radical political ideas.
We know that all music is political, but DIY music, especially in genres like hardcore and punk, is meant to inspire dialogue and action going well beyond the superficial talks and no walk.
As Godspeed You! Black Emperor put it in their brilliant interview for The Guardian a few years ago, “You either make music that pleases the king and his court, or you make music for the serfs outside the walls. It’s what music (and culture) is for, right? To distract or confront, or both at the same time?”
As a late year-in-review article for music in 2019, we teamed up with some of our writers, friends and contributors for a list of 10 inspiring and politically conscious records that we’ve listened to last year.
1 Sole & DJ Pain 1 – No God Nor Country
I’ve listened to a lot of great hardcore punk records in 2019 and yet my absolute favorite record of the past year is a hip-hop one.
No God Nor Country is Sole’s eighth album and a sequel to Sole & DJ Pain 1’s 2016 collaboration Nihilismo. For those not aware, DJ Pain 1 is a platinum producer known for his work with Public Enemy, 50 Cent, Ludacris, Lil Baby, Rick Ross, you name it. With 13 tracks clocking in under an hour, the record is oozing with plenty of flamboyant beats that don’t come even close to any genre-defininng conventions. Running amok with his defiant political message, Sole sharpens his already formidable rapping abilities to a lethal point by absolutely ravaging all sentiments one could still have for nationalism, patriarchy and the capitalist system.
An anarchist, a podcaster, a permaculture gardener, and a phenomenal MC, Sole One is among the most prolific political artists in our time. —Mittens XVX (DIY Conspiracy)
2 Subhumans – Crisis Point
In an age of fashion over function, Subhumans stay on course with what’s important. Their legacy of telling a story about the brutal truth of our world is consistently profound and needed. Keeping with the true criteria of punk as a political movement, Subhumans are forever relevant, and this is what a political album feels like.
In this era when coat tails are ridden to threads and popularity overcomes need, the Subhumans have stuck to their guns by not only writing a clear and concise message in the vocal delivery, but also putting emotion into the music they write.
While a lot of folks search out the latest and greatest demo to keep up with the punk Joneses, punk for me is political; our world needs more voices to express the rage we so sorely lack.
Punk will always be an education and Subhumans deliver. —Andy Lefton (War//Plague, Organize & Arise Distro & Label)
3 Cliterati – Ugly Truths / Beautiful Lies
Cliterati’s exhilarating 2019 full-length debut, Ugly Truths / Beautiful Lies, was an intensely heartfelt denouncement of the intolerance and indifference plaguing this world. The rabble-rousing band matched searingly honest lyrics—which often tore narrow-minded prejudices apart—with equally urgent and impassioned hardcore.
Ugly Truths / Beautiful Lies’ inclusionary scope offered support to victims of hyper-capitalism and narrow-minded discrimination, with galvanizing tracks like “Trans is Beautiful”, “Unfuck the System”, and “Latinx Taken” speaking truth to power while rejecting apathy and hopelessness.
It’s all too easy to retreat into cynicism when faced with seemingly insurmountable political and social injustices. But Ugly Truths / Beautiful Lies was sure and certain proof that you’re not alone. Cliterati are here to stand beside you on the barricades, acknowledging that not only is your voice heard, it’s also valued. Ugly Truths / Beautiful Lies underscored that surrender is not an option.
Cliterati prove that punk is definitely not dead. —Craig Hayes (Six Noises, In Crust We Trust Series)
4 Dawn Ray’d – Behold Sedition Plainsong
Chock full of pummeling blast beats and atmospheric interludes, Dawn Ray’d cash in without selling out on their first LP on Prosthetic Records. They pull together some of the most resonant elements of black metal to transform this usually excessively misanthropic, and sometimes leaning to extreme right-wing politics, form of music into a social anarchist and militantly antifascist package.
For this band, political ideas are not simply a gimmick and this is evident in our 2019 interview with Dawn Ray’d. The Liverpool trio is probably the strongest voice for anti-authoritarian ideas in the contemporary UK black metal scene and we love them for that. And for their incredible music, of course. —Mittens XVX (DIY Conspiracy)
5 Trespasser – Чому не вийшло?
Some folks questioned Dawn Ray’d’s supposed anarchist and anti-capitalist allegiance after the band signed to a swanky record label and clearly benefited from a stack of promotional dollars being spent on their Behold Sedition Plainsong LP in 2019. Other anarchist black metal bands—see the indomitable Iskra or Swedish comrades-in-arms Trespasser—have released visceral music without ever wallowing in PR cesspits or playing vacuous hype games.
Trespasser tackle similar topics to Dawn Ray’d—economic inequality, anti-fascism, anarchist ideals, etc.—but Trespasser’s ferocious 2019 LP, Чому не вийшло?, also painted a much broader historical picture of revolutionary politics. Influenced by the nastiest Nordic black metal, Trespasser’s anarchist anthems were dark and abrasive, and while they reveled in red-raw rage, they were also built to “walk like Marduk but talk like Crass”. The abundant anarchist fire in Trespasser’s belly meant Чому не вийшло? was packed with more-evil-than-evil tracks crafted to open minds rather than cater to black metal’s narcissism and fairytale rituals. —Craig Hayes (Six Noises, In Crust We Trust Series)
6 Adrestia – The Wrath of Euphrates
The year 2019 was overflowing with mammoth-sounding crust albums featuring dystopian visions intermeshed with bleak sociopolitical commentary. (See powerhouse releases from the likes of Agnosy, Swordwielder, Dödläge, Genogeist, and more.) Hulking Swedish crusties Adrestia stuck to their “no illusions, no utopias” formula on The Wrath of Euphrates, but the LP also honored those fighting for freedom on the frontlines at home and abroad.
Adrestia’s fist-raising d-beat, crust, and thickset Scandi death metal was the perfect iron-clad vehicle for channeling the band’s fierce political punk. Bulldozing riffs battered down the walls, while Adrestia attacked bigotry and environmental inaction, and highlighted real-world battles for autonomy and independence. There was nothing oblique or subtle about The Wrath of Euphrates. Tracks like “Punks for Rojava”, “Rise Up”, and “Fight Back” were all rousing calls to arms, with Adrestia hurling similarly incendiary missives throughout the LP.
No question, Adrestia are true heroes of the resistance. —Craig Hayes (Six Noises, In Crust We Trust Series)
7 Petrol Girls – Cut & Stitch
Can there be a collocation more DIY than Cut & Stitch? The latest LP by Petrol Girls is a patchwork of all the various sounds, political ideas and feelings conveyed by the band for the past few years.
Cut & Stitch, their most musically diverse record to date, is underpinning an important point of political discourse. That collective liberation is a slow, complicated process that’s often only partly visible with hindsight. Both victories and failures are part of the struggle and there isn’t an easy answer to all the crises of capital, environment and state of the world that we are experiencing right now. As usual, feminism is also at the forefront of Petrol Girls’ message. Although, this time they are expanding the topic to also explore the perspective of cis-men struggling within patriarchy and capitalism.
Moving beyond any hint of genre trappings, Cut & Stitch is filled to the brim with heart and substantial ideas. The band has been constantly growing both musically and lyrically since their first EP in 2014, and as they want to bring an intersectional approach to feminism and the pressing social issues of the day, they do so with a brilliant efficiency on Cut & Stitch. —Mittens XVX (DIY Conspiracy)
8 Perra Vida – Eterno Retorno
September 2019 saw the second release from Peru’s Perra Vida.
Eterno Retorno picks up where the political hardcore punks had left off after their 2018 self-titled debut. Vocalist Dr. Diana Matos (yes, she’s an actual doctor) continues her rage-filled onslaught against topics like xenophobia, male supremacy and violence in the media.
The band had previously made a strong name for themselves and created a faithful following worldwide gaining attention from features on Vice and in Maximum Rock N Roll. Since their latest release, Diana has left the band and is working on some solo stuff which will no doubt likely be just as incredible.
Until then, enjoy the masterpiece that is Eterno Retorno! —Elizabeth Galdamez (Hear She Roars)
9 Bad Breeding – Exiled
This age is a paradox. While politics have never been so pervasive and divisive, I cannot think of that many punk bands offering relevant political statements about the current sociopolitical state of their country, and probably none as sharp and pissed as Bad Breeding, from Stevenage, a so-called North of London new town built in the 1940s.
There is a lot to be angry about in 2019’s Brexit Britain, and Bad Breeding are very angry indeed. They relevantly embody the past decade’s turbulence and all the frustration with austerity politics, rampant racism and class society.
While their previous album, Divide, felt a bit rushed, Exiled is a massive improvement. The songwriting is more focused and cohesive, with the songs acting as parts of a broader political narrative.
Sonically, Bad Breeding sound like the insanity-driven, rabid noise-rock bastard of vintage anarcho-punk bands like Conflict, Exit-Stance or Icons of Filth. Exiled is a versatile work that manages to be referential (the ace-looking foldout poster and the collages nod toward Crass, without mentioning the literature and of course the music) and yet unpredictable, meaningful and very modern.
Dissonant bursts of rage for confusing times and easily the most ferocious and pertinent anarcho-punk work I have heard for a long time. —Romain Crustcave (Terminal Sound Nuisance)
10 Rafael Anton Irisarri – Solastalgia
Yes, there’s an ambient album wrapping this collective write up of our favorite 2019 political records. Wonder why? If you approach Solastalgia without the curiosity to dig deeper into the meanings, etched in its multi-layered textural music realms, it makes for a beautiful, sometimes harsher and nostalgia-inducing listen. However, the 2019 full-length by ambient artist and mastering engineer Rafael Anton Irisarri, published by the iconic ambient Australian imprint Room40, carries a very strong personal, political and environmentalist message.
Solastalgia is a recently coined term for a mental or existential disturbance caused by the notion or effects of environmental change. Among the reasons for which one might find global issues as climate change, pollution or local events as drought and volcanic eruptions, etc.
Irisarri came up with the idea of the record after travels to Iceland and Scandinavia where he observed centuries-old glaciers melting and people abandoning their own habitats due to issues resulting from climate change. The music on Solastalgia is a reflection of his own contemplations of the future and all dreadful question that bothers most of us when we go to sleep at night.
What will be left of the Earth and the life on it for future generations to come and can we even do something to prevent the crisis that lies ahead of us at this point?
Irisarri delves deep into personal experiences, anxieties, thoughts and the constant struggle to keep up with the oppressing information flow we’re all exposed to daily. Glued all together, these influences are translated into his signature blend of beautifully melodic, high-density ambient music, produced with the memorable and majestic grandeur of decaying nature, smoke-filled skies and the silenced cries of extinct species. Solastalgia manages to capture the uncertainty that lies ahead, but also the beauty we’re leaving behind.
What this album also does is ensure we’re not alone at night when the heavy thoughts cloud over our restless minds. As real and scary its influences are, as Irisarri himself put it in a Vice interview last year, this music is still ‘a form of therapy’, a safe space and beautiful reminder a storm is coming. —Angel S. (DIY Conspiracy, Amek Collective)
As probably 99% of the music we listen to could be classified as political, there are tons more records that could potentially be added to such a list. These ten are just the ones we didn’t review on our site before but sticked to the most during 2019.
If you feel like changing the world through your own work, art, convictions and collective action, we would be really happy to showcase your efforts through our modest platform. And, of course, feel free to share your favorite *political* records in the comments down below.
Love and rage.