‘What Do You Expect’ – The Music Of Change

Bob Dylan

2011 definitely feels like a time of change. From the demonstrations and protests that spread through Morocco, Egypt and Libya at the start of the year; to the riots in London and the the hundreds of global demonstrations taking place from Occupy Wall Street to the Spanish Indignants movement. Last Saturday Ann Powers of NPR’s The Record wrote an interesting piece asking “Will There Be Another Dylan?“; will there be a voice to emerge that will define this air of change and revolution?

Personally I would argue that music holds a different meaning for this generation compared with that of the ’60s. Even the way we listen to music has changed; he have easier access to it now and for many it’s become an endless way to create a backdrop to our their day. Indeed, I’m not the only one to notice this shift; Pulp’s frontman Jarvis Cocker noted the same, saying in yesterdays Guardian that “Music has changed. It’s not as central, it’s more like a scented candle”.

When Dylan sang that The Times They Are a-Changin’ in ’64, his song echoed the sentiment of the unvoiced mass public. Today, technology and the media have created plenty of new outlets for the public to voice their ideas and opinions. Now that the times are a-changed, it feels overly simplistic to picture that a song could be the best way to give a voice to an era of change.

One of the strongest voices to emerge from the pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt at the start of the year was the Internet activist and computer engineer Wael Ghonim. It was Ghonim who used the term Revolution 2.0. For him, change came from the contribution of everyones voice. In his appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes, he said that Egypt’s ‘revolution is like Wikipedia’. Ghonim saw change come about from everyone contributing small bits and pieces to the cause, and thus creating a single picture of the revolution. To this generation, another Dylan is not what we need.

That’s not to say that I feel music can’t play a role in change. Music is a wonderful way to bring people together and it can connect them. One only has to look at the drumming circles taking place during many of the ongoing demonstrations to see evidence of this. For me, music today seems to work best as a backdrop to change. The voices, ideas and words of a combined people should play a far more important role then that of a single voice.

In September, Swedish indie-pop singer/songwriter Sarah Assbring (aka El Perro Del Mar) released ‘What Do You Expect’, a track borne out of the flaring riots in the UK at the time. “I felt I needed to say something about the incidents” she said, “…I feel they speak volumes not only of one society in specific but about the society and time we live in at large.” For those familiar with Assbring’s music you’ll notice that ‘What Do You Expect’ is a marked change from her usual sound. Her sweet and melancholic vocals are all but removed from this track, leaving a dark and synth-heavy backdrop for a series of sound-bites taken straight from the streets. For Assbring it would seem that the voice of the people speak more then a single voice.

How about you? Do you think we need a Bob Dylan for this generation or have we reached a place where our united voices can stand as one?


October 17, 2011 / By