Songs for the Streets: Charity Releases Dedicated to Civil Rights

Michael McKinney gathers up a handful of club compilations donating their proceeds to various civil rights organizations.
By    June 19, 2020

Art by Kelly Kline

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Michael McKinney wishes a motherfucking cop would throw a bottle of tear gas at him.

After George Floyd was murdered, streets around the world lit up with chants, flames, and gas. Peaceful protestors asking for what should be basic human rights—air, an average life expectancy, a humane relationship with authority—have been beaten, blinded, shot at, and killed by police. “Law and order,” always a farcical dog whistle for unjust racial hierarchies and harmful status quos, has been deployed in ever greater force by the current Presidential administration. Meanwhile, public support for Black Lives Matter is rocketing even as the White House deploys “Antifa” as a meaningless catch-all for enemies of their openly fascist and authoritarian aspirations.

Through all this, musicians keep working. In some cases, this means putting out protest music; elsewhere, labels are changing their names and websites are pledging donations and shifting coverage. Following the success of similar events, Bandcamp has pledged to donate their share of proceeds to the NAACP Legal Defense fund during this and every following Juneteenth. These are all small but meaningful steps towards counteracting an industry that has made untold amounts of money from stolen Black art; the fury in the streets makes that need feel even more acute.

In the past few weeks, Bandcamp has been flooded with charity compilations and surprise releases, with funds going to individuals, social justice organizations, and bail funds. Selected below are ten of many, as well as links to where that money is going. You’ll find hard and heavy metal, manic techno, alien ambient, hypermodern club music, plainspoken folk, and plenty that straddles genre lines in uncategorizable ways. It’s exciting music going towards organizations doing an increasingly essential type of work.

Babe City Records – Songs for Bail: A Quarantine Compilation

Songs for Bail is an unassuming and low-key affair, filled with left turns but driven by a bedroom-pop fuzziness that makes even its oddest bits beguiling rather than off-putting. It derives its power from intimacy, with many tracks finding plenty of mileage in just piano and voice. Sam Walters’s “Out of Mind” is just plaintive falsetto, xylophone, and keyboards; Elise McAfee-Hahn’s “TakeABreath” is airy vocals and sun-kissed synthesizer squiggles. Even its loudest cuts hold onto that one-on-one sensibility: Murayama’s “The Only Truth” finds room for breathy vocals among room-filling synthesizer riffs, and the devil-may-care noise rock in Godcaster’s “Stormtalk Whiplash” seems more like a live jam than a studio session. Filled with off-kilter covers, winking folk tunes, and a wholehearted sense of play, Songs for Bail is just as colorful and joyous as its cover suggests.

Proceeds from Songs for Bail: A Quarantine Compilation will be donated to COVID Bailout NYC and National Bail Out.

Balance Club / Culture Festival – Tender Squads

The Balance Club / Culture Festival was supposed to be a five-day interdisciplinary event, but COVID-19 forced it online. With themes like “rave capitalism” and “harder, faster, fragile,” the festival was—and, thanks to archived writings, is—explicitly political. Its lineup also showed a wide-ranging and club-focused approach to dance music, with high-energy bookings like Sarah Farina, Nazira, and LYZZA all offering their own takes on regional sounds. It should come as little surprise, then, that the event’s companion compilation is forward thinking, both sociopolitically and musically. Little else binds the productions, but that’s part of what makes the grab-bag so rewarding: you could get Kelman Duran’s bleary birdsong, TSVI’s high-strung hard-drum, or KABLAM’s busted-amp bass workouts. In any case, Tender Squads makes a strong case for the festival that birthed it: experimental, slamming, and strikingly beautiful.

Proceeds from Tender Squads will be donated to Leipzig Migrantifa.

Brutal Panda Records – Brutal Panda 2020 Label Sampler

Sometimes, the only response to a bleak situation is even darker music. Brutal Panda Records trafficks in heavy and hard rock of all stripes: their catalogue is largely defined by a thousand shades of hardcore and metal. Their 2020 Label Sampler is filled with pitch-black and tumultuous guitars, pummeling rhythms, and riffs piled on top of riffs. In other words, it’s exactly what you’d expect. This gale-force intensity never lets up, and it attests to the curatorial talent behind Brutal Panda. The hyper-specific guitar work on Transit Method’s “Parasight,” pointed and locked-in rhythms of Full Bush’s “Ill Tempered,” and walls of guitars on INTRCPTR’s “Dusted” may all come from clearly different creative visions, but their weight—unrelenting, heaving, and empowering—makes them seem of piece. If you’re looking for some hardcore to play on your way to a protest, consider reaching for this.

Proceeds from Brutal Panda 2020 Label Sampler will be donated to Campaign Zero. Brutal Panda Records will match all contributions.

Chroma – Source of Nurture

CHROMA is a New York-based creative studio devoted to “nurtur[ing] a cultural consciousness that centers womxn of color.” It’s fitting, then that Source of Nurture focuses on material by those same people, making for a roster that is both a who’s-who of modern club music and a maddeningly wide selection of stylists. At points, this means club sounds—JADALAREIGN’s 140-BPM stormer “Floydian Slip,” Riobamba’s maddeningly twisted pile-up of chopped vocals and synthetic basslines for “Rompe (Apocaliptico Edit),” 8ULENTINA and FOOZOOL’s hyperactive nu-footwork. Elsewhere, it means ethereal and plainspoken beauty, like Kelsey Lu’s endlessly ascending orchestral introduction in “The Sun Sets in Pig Theatrics” or Bergsonist’s “Feel,” a piece for pattering hand drums, ghostly choirs, and synth pads. Source of Nurture is surprising and playful, putting a spotlight on some of the most exciting electronic musicians working.

Proceeds from Source of Nurture will be donated to Equality for Flatbush, Undocu Workers Fund, Movement for Black Lives, and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts.

Divine Schism – Community

Since 2012, Andrew Grillo, James Cunning, and Aiden Canaday have been running DIY nights in the United Kingdom—sometimes film, sometimes visual art, sometimes music. The trio launched a label of the same name in January, and for their first compilation they pulled out their rolodex. Community, then, is aptly named: assembled from their years of hosting DIY art nights, the collection has a playful and low-slung aesthetic and many songs that wouldn’t sound out of place at an open-mic night. The record is rarely high-stakes and frequently hushed, with pastoral folk and lightly played rock taking up the bulk of the runtime. Its best songs harbor a quiet yearning and undeniable intimacy. Community is built on the kind of serenity that’s worth fighting for. 

Proceeds from Community will be donated to The Trussell Trust and The NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Naive – No Justice No Peace

As Violet, Maria Coutinho has made a career out of consistently surprising and left-field dance music that blurs the line between breaks and house. Her label’s latest release, No Justice No Peace, is similarly exploratory. Its seventeen tracks all showcase club-music wizards pushing themselves into new corners and ever deeper grooves. Its first three cuts all set things off in slow motion, all dimly lit ambient and club music heard through the wall, but that soon gives way to bare-knuckle ragers and livewire club sounds. Lisbon’s BLEID contributes a white-hot kick-drum-and-sample exercise “Workout”; Ciel, Toronto’s boss of off-kilter techno, blends breakbeats and skittering electronics to make an epic that feels half its seven-minute length. Octo Octa, one of Brooklyn’s finest purveyors of house and breaks, bleeds into the red on “Channeling Pain.” Then, Seattle’s Gag Reflex turns the knobs again: harder, faster, rougher. Thanks to masterful curation and sequencing, much of No Justice No Peace works like that: an ever escalating and always thrilling collection of modern dance music.

Proceeds from No Justice No Peace will be donated to 70-plus community bail funds, mutual aid funds, and racial justice organizers.

New York Haunted – NYHX V.A. #FUCKRACISM

Eventually, politeness fails. Sometimes the only response to systemic and deeply ingrained pain is to turn the volume up: on protests, on rhetoric, on amplifiers. The latest compilation from New York Haunted, a Dutch label specializing in twisted house and techno, takes that to heart. It’s four hours long; it’s filled with blisteringly hard and frantic techno; it’s called #FUCKRACISM. Drvg Culture, the label’s founder, contributes two pieces that feel instructive. One, “Jericho,” sees techno wizard Perc jacking an original and coming out with a mutating and unnerving wall of blistering synths; the other, “Fear Monger,” uses alien machinery and foghorn synthesizers to make an otherworldly and disconcerting almost-club track. Much of #FUCKRACISM works like this. Sometimes, it’s pitch-black and eerie, all wrong-side-of-town sound design and apocalyptic beats; elsewhere, it’s hypermodern and imploding club music. Regardless of the mode it works in, though, the compilation is a marvel: using sounds from across the hardcore continuum, its forty-something artists bottle anxious and apocalyptic energy into something captivating and powerful.

Proceeds from NYHX V.A. #FUCKRACISM will be donated to the GoFundMe for Gianna Floyd.

Rabit – DIS EASE

Rabit has spent the past five years slowing down. He made his name on post-apocalyptic club music stuffed with gunshots and shattered glass but, in the past few years, has pulled off an impressive pivot to disorienting and surreal screw tapes. Jumping genres like that may look like a pivot, but his productions are linked by a shared desolation and late-night, bleary-eyed sound. DIS EASE takes that emptiness and blows it up to titanic proportions. In some ways, it carries the aesthetic of his previous work, but all recognizably human elements have been jettisoned in favor of glitched sound design, broken synthesizers, and pitch-black nothingness. It is both beautiful and deeply unsettling, and its most compelling material here arises from that friction: languid and endlessly fading guitars, duets for synth pads and scraped metal, half-decayed keyboards echoing in the dark. He may have gotten rid of his slamming drums, overdriven samples, and disorderly blends, but the effect—unsettled, eerie, and deeply mesmerizing—remains.

Proceeds from DIS EASE will be donated to the Official George Floyd Memorial Fund and Black Lives Matter.

Rough Trade Publishing / Bank Robber Music – Talk – Action = Zero

It’s impressive what a week can get you. On May 30th, Rough Trade Publishing and Bank Robber Music asked their affiliated artists to contribute to a benefit compilation: as they put it, “their voices will always speak much louder than ours.” The result, released in early June, would be impressive even if it weren’t assembled on a crunch. It’s the compilation at its most wide-ranging and least aesthetically consistent; one particularly instructive stretch crashes wild-eyed dance music, lethargic rap tracks, and Phantogram live cuts together. But, partially due to that ever-present whiplash, Talk – Action = Zero is thrilling. The jumps between styles—close-harmony bluegrass, ethereal folk tunes, hooky punk cuts, shimmering gospel, spectral protest music, discordant fists-raised rap, towering synthpop, and a few dozen others besides—ultimately underline how wide racial and judicial pains have spread.

Proceeds from Talk – Action = Zero will be donated to Black Visions Collective.

Towhead Recordings – New York Dance Music III

At some point in the past few years, the tri-state area became a hotbed for modern club music. For an illustration of that, look no further than New York Dance Music III, the latest dispatch from New York’s Towhead Recordings. TAH’s “Track 09,” which staples bleary drones to storming club rhythms and chopped-up vocals, is a fitting opening: it is both quietly experimental and ready for the dancefloor, built with the no-genres-barred ethos shared by so many of the scene’s finest names. It’s that sensibility that links the tracks on New York Dance Music III—BASSBEAR!!’s space-faring house-etc. “Heard Voices Today,”  MoMA Ready’s pointillistic and discordant “Black Fluid,” Kush Jones’s nu-footwork jazz workouts on “Jazzy,” quest?onmarc’s slamming and queasy remix of their own “Cabin Fever.” From top to bottom, New York Dance Music III is a joyous and infectious ode to the music coming out of its titualar state and beyond.

Proceeds from New York Dance Music III will be donated to Black Visions Collective and National Bail Out.

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