For angsty-types who came of age in the pre-internet era RATM’s original remains a formative anthem, with frontman Zack de la Rocha’s lyrics taking aim at American imperialism and corporate greed, and Tom Morello’s buzzing guitar-work evoking hip-hop’s righteous energy. But why is a rap-rock song that debuted at Sydney’s 1996 Big Day Out resonating so strongly with young listeners now?
“I think it’s the intensity and passion Denzel exudes during this cover which resonates with people the most, more than the song itself,” says Findlay. “Sure it’s a cracker of a track but Denzel brings to the plate a level of raw energy that gives you goosebumps every listen.”
In an interview with Triple J last October, Curry – who blended the song with a verse from his own Sirens, a track from his 2018 album Taboo that specifically calls out Donald Trump – praised its lingering relevance, and said he did the cover to “show that everything going on at that time is basically happening all over again.”
“It’s already bad enough as it is, and then you’ve got more of these motherf–kers feeling entitled because [Trump] is president, which is causing a shift and divide amongst the people,” the 24-year-old told the radio station.
Apple Music DJ Zane Lowe says Curry’s viral cover reflects the current pop landscape’s wider “age of agitation”.
“Music is always reflecting the times and we’re going through a very fractured time right now. There’s a lot of friction and so the music we’re listening to has that edge,” says Lowe. “It’s the same way that Slowthai and Dave are reflecting what’s going on in the UK, or artists like Billie Eilish and King Princess are a reflection of the anxieties in the US.”
A new generation of listeners are craving artists, like RATM in their day, who are unafraid of being politically provocative, says Lowe.
“No one wants to hear artists just talk politics but we do want someone who’s willing to contribute their opinion or vision so they can help us come to terms with our own,” he says. “That’s what music is supposed to do; it’s supposed to reflect the times we live in but it should never be something that feels like homework.”
For now we have Bulls on Parade‘s unlikely renaissance.
“Rage Against the Machine’s messages are timeless in many regards and you can’t deny there is a level of anxiety about the future for young generations,” says Findlay. “I think that combined with the ferocity of Denzel’s cover has given [the song] a new life.”
The Hottest 100, which has recorded more than 3.2 million votes, beating previous years, will broadcast on Triple J from midday Saturday (AEST).
Robert Moran is a culture reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age