With 'Resist' out now on Ovum, Josh Wink reveals his all-time favourite protest songs
Let us appreciate the paradox of the protest song; how topics that are uncomfortable to fathom can be tackled in an artistic form that's immersive, evocative, beautiful and ultimately hopeful. A fine example might be your Mum merrily singing along to Bob Marley's I Shot The Sheriff. On the flipside, you have much more direct songs of resistance. Angry, raw, dangerous; powerful enough to instil a physical empathy with their oppressed perspective. A fine example might be your Mum never singing along - merrily or otherwise - to NWA's Fuck Tha Police.
And then, somewhere, in-between you'll find much more subtle themes of resistance. Songs where the message is present, but not the full focus of the song. All it takes is a tone, lyric or action that signposts the artist's feeling about a situation and reinforces a right we all share: it's okay to want progress, it's okay to question the status quo and voice your opinion, it's okay to care about each other.
Cue Josh Wink's recent acid bomb Resist. His first release on his own label Ovum in over a year, Resist follows a string of big hitters on Boys Noize and Intec. It's a sinewy slice of 303 hypnosis with all the right sense-blurring, time-defying Wink signatures.... including an insistent, down-pitched one-word vocal sample that's not likely to encourage many maternal singalong sessions any time soon, but that certainly does a damn fine job of drawing you deeper and deeper into the mesmerising acid melee Josh has made his own since his first official release Nervous Build Up in 1993 and 1994's Acid Breaks. Resistance is futile.
"Music is a way to escape. Like seeing a movie; you can just be there and not think about anything else. Just totally immerse yourself," considers Josh. "I like to create that as a DJ. A way to escape and not deal with shit. A way to get lost through repetitive rhythms and my artistic creativity and forget about your problems, your bills, your woes, your political frustrations, your wife, your husband, your mortgage, your car payments.
"But I also love having a way to engage within the escape," he continues. "I want to bring this to people's attention. I know it's not nearly enough, but it's my way of reminding people that it's okay not to accept things the way they are. It's our right to refuse and resist. We can't be complacent."
Resist isn't the only way Josh has made his thoughts on his country's current political direction clear; he was one of the millions who marched during last year's presidential election. In fact, resistance and a desire for progress have been a key element for the Ovum boss since his teens, as he grew up during the Reagan administration.
"I was inspired by the Refuse & Resist movement in the late 80s," says Josh, who'd already been DJing for several years by that stage, having set himself up as a mobile DJ from the age of 13. "People have resisted for all time. Peacefully protesting against the authoritarian beliefs of the state in a democratic way was first apparent to me because of Reagan, who advocated far-right political programmes against the rights of the people. This moved me."
It's also poignant that Josh has returned to his most famous sonic signature and production dynamic to make his message of resistance - a lean, physical acid funk that echoes and respects the revolutionary sounds Chicago's Phuture crew were squeezing from their 303s at the same time the Refuse & Resist movement took place. The drawn-out acidic ripples and stretches within Resist plot a lineage that can be drawn right through Josh's work and back to the roots of house music.
"John Digweed told me recently that I still make music for DJs who play vinyl," considers Josh who, in case you wondered, still owns his original 808, 909 and two 303s, and still uses them in tandem with Roland's Boutique plug-in range. "I take that as a compliment, and it's true: I do still think of people DJing with vinyl rather than loops or stems. The intro-build-groove vinyl mentality will never leave me. I hear people mixing my tracks in ways I never imagined - which of course is beautiful, but it's hard to imagine people rolling out the whole nine-minute version. Especially when we only have an hour and a half to perform.
"There's a lot of pressure there," he continues. "The two most important things a DJ needs to do is educate and entertain. I know how to get everyone jumping, but do I want to put an artistic spin on things? Of course I do, but how much leeway do I have? It's more and more of a challenge to stay true to what you really believe in, rather than what people want. It's a case of doing something that is right, rather than what is easy."
Educate, entertain, do what you believe in... this potted list of attributes and ambitions has helped Josh stay relevant and in-demand for almost 25 years. More importantly, it's how Josh remains inspired and motivated to continue striving to be in that position. And why he still gets pinch-yourself moments of disbelief himself. Like warming up for pioneering electronic composer Jean-Michel Jarre in his hometown of Philadelphia.
"How about that!?" laughs Josh. "He's one of the people who influenced me getting into electronic music, and I got to create an atmosphere for people as they walked into his show! I will never forget this. It was a chance to respect his music and translate that respect and how his music influences mine and how it makes me feel. It was an incredibly humbling experience, and an exciting opportunity to explore records I love but wouldn't usually get to play at other shows."
The idea of translating emotion through instrumental music has also been a strong consistent theme throughout Josh's work. Largely instrumental and stark in its ingredients, it's why just a one-word sample can have such an impact and it's why pretty much all of his tracks - whether it's 2013's cosmic acid romp Balls or the perennially riffed and referenced Higher State Of Consciousness – remain at the eight-minute-plus mark to really conjure those feelings out of you.
"It's about creating a feeling," he explains. "Music can do that without lyrics. I've not been a lyrical guy for many years. My strongest lyrical resonance was when I was a working as a landscaper with a Walkman, and carried three or four albums on cassette at any one time. You'd listen to one album over and over and over. That's very rare to do that now - to really get inside a song and hang off every lyric."
Rare, but for the purposes of this interview, it's exactly what we've asked Josh to do: to consider his own favourite resistance songs and what they mean to him and his own musical DNA.
"I wanted to make a conscious effort and look into songs that have a political aspect more than anti-war," Josh explains. "I know war is political in itself, but I wanted to make sure that there was a cross-section of songs that had a different message."
"I thought a lot about Underground Resistance records, of course. But for me their political statement was how they performed their shows. All the guys - except Jeff Mills, who was just busy being Jeff, a turntable wizard - had bandanas and wore black in this militia type of way. But because so much of the music is without vocals, I couldn't pick a track explicitly and tell you it's a protest song. Of course we get emotions and political feelings from their music, but that's one of the many beauties of music that still keeps us all enthralled and moved and touched today."
So without further ado, here are Josh's Top 10 resistance songs of all time...
NWA - Fuck Tha Police (Ruthless Records, 1988)
"This song is a physical feeling. It's oppressive musically, it's oppressive lyrically. It's about how the system and the police dealt with African-Americans, and the anger is palpable."
Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Flying Dutchman, 1974)
"This was so politically charged. It became the slogan for the 60s black power movement which was heavily played out on the media. I was only four years old when it came out but it was just always there. It wasn't until years later when I started collecting records that I really understood it, and it moved me."
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Tamla, 1971)
"This is an anti-war song, but Marvin was one of the most prolific and influential songwriters there was, and I figured if I wasn't going to pick any Underground Resistance tracks then I've got to have a Detroit artist to take their place and represent! This is one of his biggest albums - it's a political anthem. Hopeful yet sad. It's not specifically a resistance song, but it's hugely important and influential."
Sex Pistols - God Save The Queen (Virgin, 1977)
"Now this really is a resistance song. Such an angry feeling. That punk rock angst and the cynicism of an antiquated system really drives the whole track. There's no future, right?"
Isley Brothers – Fight The Power (T-Neck, 1975)
"I'm a big fan of the Isley Brothers full stop, but this was especially resonant. Fight the powers that be. From their album The Heat Is On, this could have been a big hit but the lyrics say 'bullshit' so few radio stations would play it. I was only five or six when it came out but made up for lost time when I got into them as a collector."
Public Enemy - Fight The Power (Motown, 1989)
"The same message but a different form of energy and delivery. Along with NWA, Public Enemy played a very strong role in my musical make-up growing up in the 80s. The whole execution of everything they did really grabbed me. It just stopped you in your tracks. Revolutionary."
The Wailers - Get Up, Stand Up (Island, 1973)
"Originally on The Wailers album Burning. It was written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh and it's always really called to me. I've always thought it was about oppression but I've since read that they wrote it as a result of their tour of Haiti and experiencing the poverty there. Either way, it's such a beautiful song but subconsciously it's charged with such a strong message."
Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A-Changing (Bounty, 1965)
"Some of these songs are beautiful, a lot of them make me feel angry. But with Dylan it's a very solemn experience. It doesn't have that instant feeling of protest and resistance, but the message and feeling is there through his lyrics and his songcraft."
Edwin Star – War (Motown, 1970)
"The biggest earworm of all these songs. This has always stayed in my head. Another Detroit hit that was sung by The Temptations first, but Edwin's version was the much bigger hit that everyone remembers. Again it's an anti-war song, but it's from Detroit so you can't remove the heavy political energy that came from that city. Detroit had a huge amount going on politically, with a lot of the influential black activists coming from Detroit as well as New York and Chicago."
Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name Of (Epic, 1992)
"Such a powerful, angry record to finish off with. The 'fuck' count in this song is a cool 17, in case you're interested! Funnily enough, when I had dreads a lot of people thought I was a doppelganger for [Rage vocalist] Zack De La Rocha and I came very close to collaborating with [Rage guitarist) Tom Morello once, on the Spawn soundtrack. But that's another story..."
Words: Dave Jenkins
Resist is out now on Ovum