MAY 2020

Music and protest have gone hand in hand for centuries; from folk songs to the blues. It lifts us up in times of need and can provide a platform for our shared struggles. This intrinsic link can be described as none other than a ‘chicken and egg’ style debate. Music events and festivals can be used as platforms and even boost the profiles of lesser-known causes. Here I have examined a few festivals and their relations to protest. 


We celebrate music with festivals all over the world, and in fact, political motivators are present for a load of our most famous festivals; think Glasto, Burning Man, Coppafeel and Oxjam. Even Jezza gave it a go with Labour Live. These can all be described as protest events as they have connected people from all over the world with similar views. They have led to some incredible moments in our political and social histories, which have been burned into our memories; like the Seven Nation Army “ohhhh Jeremy Corbyn” chant erupting from every festival that happened in 2017. 

Less well-known than these big names, The Statement Festival was host to an array of music acts in Sweden at it’s launch in 2018. The festival was open only to women, transgender and non-binary people, the first of it’s kind in the world. Whether the papers were agreeing or not, it caused a media stir. This protest was ground-breaking in it’s approach – fusing together a strong message to the patriarchy and opposing violence against women, as well as using music as a tool to communicate the message of the festival. 


Whilst many festivals have political roots, they are scarcely the sole brand of the festival. After all, a lot of festivals need huge sponsors with huge amounts of money, so any chances of keeping those on board means erasing any political hostility. Statement Festival stands in stark contrast as it was formed as a reaction to the reported r*pe cases at Bravalla Festival in 2017, and crowdfunded over £40,000 from it’s supporters. 


Craig Robertson states in Protests as Events that the songs used in protest movements ‘provided an amplification system for communication purposes’. He also described the music of movements such as the Civil Rights Movement as ‘the scaffolding on which to hang certain messages’. Music events such as Live 8 and more recently, One World Together, have absolutely proved that music is a powerful tool to convey messages, and one which ultimately brings people together. 


The commodification of music within the Civil Rights Movement, while propagating the cause, led to a number of supporters feeling as though they had become part of the movement solely by purchasing physical copies of the music. Is our participation in music events such as Coppafeel, a one-day festival in London hosted by Fearne Cotton which raises money for Breast Cancer UK, enough? It is clear that the festival achieves it’s aim of raising awareness of breast cancer, but it could also be argued that this is an example of weak participation. The impact of exclusion within these events could also be a factor for music events to consider, as it sends a message to working class women that capital is a primary way to show dedication to the cause. 

Inversely, it is interesting to note that Coachella, one of the biggest festivals in the world, has received sponsorship from some far-right political campaigners. In 2016, news broke that the festival’s owner donated over $1 million to anti-LGBT+ organisations, despite providing a world platform for artists such as Courtney Barnett, Years & Years, and the supposedly progressive 1975 in the same year. Although it is somewhat easy to ignore when you’re caked in glitter enjoying the sunshine at America’s largest festival, there is no doubt that attendance of Coachella harms young LGBT+ people. Therefore, we must ask ourselves; is boycotting a festival enough to be considered protest? 


It would appear that some of our favourite festivals have a huge impact on more than we think. If you feel passionately about a cause, music events are a great way to show that, connect with like-minded people and spread the message. But in a world which is so saturated with products for us to buy and must-see events, it is important to know where our money is going. This could be a turn for the festival and special events industry, and an incredibly creative way to raise money for important causes, protest injustice, and bring issues within our society to the fore.