Rage Against The Machine

Intro + Testify

I can’t stand indie snobbishness. I love everything indie music is and much more, but there is some aspect of the indie attitude that I am allergic to. It probably is a sort of Lacanian mirroring, but it gets on my nerves.

I didn’t want to write about Rage Against The Machine free gig to celebrate the Christmas Number one single victory over X-Factor. Everyone knows the story, I didn’t go to take pictures. Reading some reviews and listening to some, typical indie comments, I felt the urge to do it. So it is also an excuse to relive and give to you the entire concert, song by song, shot from the crowd by youtube nonprofessional to give you the experience not a pristine music show.


Let’s start from here. RATM gig was a party. It was stated from the beginning, a party to celebrate an event. Neither a simple concert nor a communist revolution. Nonetheless something that wasn’t tried or achieved before.

RATM didn’t start any campaign, they were well busy in doing solo projects and other business when Jon and Tracy amazing idea became a Facebook campaign. Then the world remembered what a powerful band they were and how much their songs belong to the people imaginary of protest and revolutionary music.

RATM backed the campaign. Because before being musicians they are activist. They have always been and still are. Morello alter ego The Nightwatchman sings union songs to students and homeless, Axis of Justice does active politics and none of them ever retired from being politically aware.

People of the Sun

You made history doesn’t only mean, you won the second world war. Let’s agree on words. Anyone can make history doing a lot of small little things everyday.
The ones that say “I don’t do anything, It doesn’t change nothing” are simply putting the easiest excuse to justify apathy and laziness.
We all agree that this Christmas number one thing is not going to change the world, but it is one small thing that made history simply because it never happened before.
Most important it showed that it is possible, with no budget whatsoever, to overtake a millionaire war machine as X-Factor.
The core of the message was tweeted back in december by Tom Morello himself.
“People united cannot be defeated”. You can disagree but very rarely history proved otherwise.
On stage he also added “fucking up the system never sounded so good” which adds the bit of entertainment linked to the whole event. Awareness, fun and great music.

Know Your Enemy

Killing in the name isn’t just one of many songs that could have overtook X-Factor campaign, as I read somewhere, it is the one that achieved it.
The year before a similar thing with Jeff Buckley version of Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah was attempted. It sold about an order of magnitude less copies than RATM’s Killing in the Name. Of course it was backed by indie snobbish.
As well as, very sadly, the same indie snobbish this year promoted a parallel campaign to RATM. Fucked Up (the band) gathered a sort of indie all-stars and recorded a version of Do They Know it’s Christmas to compete with X-Factor and, of course, with RATM. It clearly failed on both sides, which was as expected as enjoyed (being losers is one of the main point of this side of indie-ness). Even more sadly, it showed the consequence of the frustration to belong rigidly to a community.
A way of life that dictates what’s right and what’s wrong, instead of the holy books there are the holy blogs who ask people (without asking) to follow or to be out.

No one of these holy blogs backed RATM campaign putting all sort of independent anti-major rants; accuses of Morello fake, De La Rocha being a millionaire, lack of creativity then interestingly stole that same idea for their own purpose hoping to hijack the Jon and Tracy’s campaign. Wonderfully ridiculous.

Bulls On Parade

RATM is not just another rock band who could have done it (I read this somewhere) is the only band who openly talked political in music in the last 20 years. Even more important (and more controversial) RATM is the only band who can do this to huge crowds, not to hundred friends on the back of a pub for a Socialist Workers fundraising show.
Despite being banned officially or less officially by the media worldwide, despite they aren’t recording a single song for a decade (I’ll come to that) they are still on the front line. In front of them there are hundred of thousands of people, whichever stage they walk.

If masses are no more politically involved, it’s not RATM fault. It is everyone else apathy succumbing to the system. Having someone out there shouting “Come On” as Zack De La Rocha does is refreshing.

Township Rebellion

RATM are loved by many and hated by more. Some hate them for obvious reasons, they aim to destabilize a system that moves millions of dollars. They support anything that uprises. Morello has “Sendero Luminoso” written on one guitar and “Arm the Homeless” on its favourite. The money raised from the single sales went all to Shelter, a charity helping homeless people. Go figure.
Some other hate them because believe their propaganda can’t be justified recording and distributing with a major as Sony-Columbia.
Indie snobbishness misses the point once again.

Tom Morello explained it very simply and better than me in a long interview. This is the key answer.

Q: “How do you reconcile being anti-corporate and being on a major label?”

Morello: “Rage Against the Machine sold fourteen million records of totally subversive revolutionary propaganda. The reason why is that the albums were released on Sony and got that sort of distribution.
You have two choices. I admire bands like Fugazi that take the other route. They are completely self-contained and independent. But if you do that, then you have to be a businessman. Then I have to sit there and worry about the orders to Belgium and make sure they get there. That is not what I’m going to do.”

Bullet In The Head

Morello doesn’t say anything innovative but he knows what he’s talking about. He graduated at Harvard in politics science. He knows more about it of me and most of the people reading.

Throughout revolutionary history there have been two different approaches to achieve the same cause.
The avant-gardes aim at subverting the system starting from a group of few intellectuals. They think to be ahead of times with the idea that they must act alone first. Break through and then the masses will follow. They have a strong theoretical and philosophical base. History, so far, proved it hasn’t been very successful in practice.

Then there are those who believe that the masses have to be awaken, gathered, taught and then mobilised to achieve the goal. This is where RATM positioned themselves. Public awareness.

White Riot [The Clash]

In a capitalist world there is only one way to talk to big crowds: using the media. And the media are owned by corporate companies, including Facebook and Google. So RATM to achieve what they want, couldn’t do anything else then using Sony power to spread their propaganda and back up Facebook campaign as soon as it appeared.
It’s Machiavelli strategy 5 centuries old: “The end justify the means” or, to use the writing on Nightwatchman’s guitar (Morello folk alter ego) “Whatever it Takes”.

So they promised a free gig. They financed it themselves playing some festival dates. They donated 100% of the profit of the 500.000+ copies of Killing in the Name to Shelter. They spoke from the stage against Israel action, they joked about Simon Cowell luxury.
These are actions, facts, real money. Not “liking” a facebook page or retweeting a 140 characters sentence to feel active.

Those 14 millions albums and the millions of people that saw their gigs in the world are the result.

Guerilla Radio

They didn’t change anything, they didn’t make history?
Devaluation is a useless exercise when there is no answer that can reply. It does not exist a parallel world where RATM haven’t existed to show us how it would have been. Certainly many guys wouldn have enjoyed some brilliant music.

Songs. They have 16 years old songs, they haven’t released anything for ages?
Right then? Since when political anthems need to be up-to-date? RATM catalogue is the most modern collection of political songs available. They still say something, people identifies, refer and agree with those anthems. As modern versions of This land is your land or The Internationale.
Where are indie snobbish complains when some beardy folker covers Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie or Son House? Aren’t those old songs? Aren’t them using hundred years old stuff instead of writing new music?
Anthems are there to be sung and sung and sung again and again. They work on repetition, on singing all together, they contain sentences with the intent of waking up.

“Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”

is nothing more and nothing less than that. Give me something more powerful written by someone else since the Clash.

Clearly not something to identify with when you do whatever Pitchfork tells you to do.

Sleep Now In The Fire

Reviewing a RATM gig from the point of view of setlist choice, musical execution, band attitude is simply wrong.
Reviewing this free Finsbury Park Victory gig that they did to celebrate a unique event using that approach is simply mad. I read plenty.

If you can’t see the importance, if you don’t put together the combination of music and experience that that rock concert was not only for the band but for any of the goers you simply not only missed the point, you don’t understand rock music beyond the bloody indie exclusive club that made you be jealous of the few who managed to see the Strokes playing Dingwalls tonight.

You must have never wore a T-shirt of a band because the “belonging to a community” feeling that your Dinosaur Jr T-Shirt gives to you has the same value of the community that identifies those 40.000 people wearing a RATM T-shirts.
If you differentiate the two groups you are, in fact, an indie snobbish.
To read about Berne’s transactional analysis books and understand why you position yourself in the “I’m OK, you are not OK” category would self-help.


Help also to understand how it is possible to glorify men as, let’s say, Morrissey who is at the same time racist, millionaire, so self centred to ignore anything but himself, lives outside the country who adores (and fund) him, publishes with a major, releases a greatest hits every other year and, of course, hasn’t written a good song for 16 years.
He was one of the Smiths, he’s cool, he’s god. In a sentence, He is OK the others are not OK. It’s Lacan again, it’s mirroring again.

That is why I will always be on RATM side. On Tom Morello nostalgic hammer and sickle hat, forever convinced that Marx was right, “Religion is the opiate of the people”.
Many youngsters today are devotees and see indie rock as a religion. With its books, its sins, its dogmas.

Killing In The Name

~ by Valerio on June 9, 2010.

16 Responses to “Rage Against The Machine”

  1. Funny, I thought they were on Sony.

  2. good stuff and i totally agree… apart from the bit about moz (which actually has some amazing tracks in his recent production), but you should have expected such a comment from me.

    anyway in general there is nothing more stupid than saying “he’s got money, can’t be a lefty” that is such poor thinking but still quite common

  3. Whoops, I missed the bit where you were talking about Sony.
    Let’s put it this way: they can say what they want, but fact of the matter is that for every pound they are making or, philistinically (if such an adverb exists in the English language) giving away to charity, they feed ten more pounds into the very same system they are trying to subvert.
    A bit like insisting on chopping your own balls off in order to upset the wife, if you ask me, except in this case the wife doesn’t get upset.
    Moreover, in this day and age, with all this fancy modern communication stuff such as the information superhighway and things (sorry, the Indie Luddite in me never really caught up with times) it shouldn’t be too hard for a super-famous band such as RATM are to go their own way, stop feeding the System and still make shitloads of money, or proselytes.
    Radiohead, who – being the nice, good, thoughtful public school boys they are – are obviously smarter, clearly figured that and are now on an indie, meeeeow!
    Funny how all these self-proclaimed Marxists all seem to ignore Rule Number One of Marxism (which is: Economy comes first…).
    There’s no defending them: RATM are either too naive, too complacent or simply too American, so stop defending them, and give yourself over to Glasgow -Scene-Improv-Folk!

  4. I think Valerio is right.
    You can fight the system better if you’re a part of it.
    You can see it from within.
    You can learn its rules.
    You can really “know your enemy”.
    Also Clash were in a major label. So what’s the problem?

  5. Thanks Valerio! I did say to Zack that yes, the chart is ultimately a trivial thing and he said to me they didn’t care about being number 1…it was people coming together that they loved. That it could inspire people to change more important issues.

  6. @chippy… I knew Moz wasn’t the right example for you, you can change that name with so many other “cool boys” of the indie circus, though.

    @JP good points throughout, I guess they are a bit more pragmatic, they aim to change the world being aware they won’t bankrupt Sony in the next 5 years. Whatever it take, even if it’ll take time.

    @DD and you can use the system power to your advantage, like a trojan horse

  7. @Tracy thanks again for your campaign, for the gig and everything else. You and Jon did something awesome. Enjoy your RATM AAA pass at Download on saturday and tell Zack/Tom to come out with new material outside Sony… so my friend JP will be silenced ;-)

  8. The Clash were on a major?
    Well, The Clash were all about heart, passion, Brigade [sic] Rosse T-shirts, cocaine addiction and limousines. Nothing wrong with that, if you like this sort of things, but they weren’t exactly renowned for political subtleness.
    I kinda like the fact that you all Indie-bashers are resorting to the “they try to change the system from within” argument, which is what every Indie band said, when signin for a major.
    Fact is that trying to change the system from within left us with lots of crap records made by once-promising bands who suddenly needed to pay back record company advances and a long row of cadavers of indie labels who couldn’t make ends meet once their biggest acts switched sides to the Enemy.
    Haven’t heard much of SST, Amphetamine Reptile et al, recently.
    But, oh, guess what?
    I still hear, occasionaly, about Dischord.
    And, as Dear Old Uncle Leo Cohen once said:”They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom/for trying to change the system from within”.
    Maybe it’s the system that changes bands from within….

  9. The point I think you are missing is that there is not a single independent band which is openly political today. I am not aware of someone doing politics in their music, most talk about girlfriends, beards, lakes and wolves.

    Clash used to give propaanda leaflets to workers in front of the factories, RATM got arrested for playing Wall Street… what’s left?

    Even Ian McKaye moved from Minor Threat and Fugazi to play with his wife in the Evens which are a nice band but clearly not committed to change the world, the most they achieved was to tour the world which is good, but not enough. Dischord publishes.

  10. the last post by JP is generating some confusion by juxatposing two different issues:

    1) political bands going on major and turning into the ‘enemy’
    2) indie bands going on major and becoming crap

    the first one is ‘philosophical’ while the second one is purely quality related, anyway, apparently the issue here is that ratm sell a bunch of records and they pack stadiums because they are good at playing live.
    i think we should suggest them to start playing crap gigs and record shite records so they won’t sell a copy anymore.
    that way they’ll stop feeding the system and be, finally, coherent.

  11. ah, nearly forgot: il prosciutto e’ di destra while la mortazza e’ di sinistra

  12. Hello again!
    I think the only thing we should suggest RATM is to put their money where their mouths are, and go indie.
    “Not a single independent band being political”?
    Vale, I thought it was you I went to the A Silver Mt Zion gig with…
    And as for nowadays bands not being overtly political, well, that’s just a sign of the times, and who am I to bash a whole generation on the head for doing just what they (don’t) believe in?
    Kudos to Fleet Foxes (who don’t sconquiccher me to much, capiscamme’)for sticking with Sub Pop: they might not want to overthrow the pluto-fascist-capitalist Empire, but know a thing or two about how it works.
    By the way, the Evens records suck.

  13. Said that, my pasta aglio, olio and peperoncino is waiting for me, and that’s just about as left wing as it comes…

  14. I know who’s back “JP” but, for god’s sake, I can’t imagine who’s chippy bones.
    Nevertheless (figo eh, suona bene anche se non so se ci sta bene) I suppose we could write Italian…..

  15. DD: chippy = marranzana

  16. So what the hell happened to the last track?!? Killing in the name of.. is their best song and that’s why they closed their show with it, why are you unable or unwilling to show that cut?!? WTF man. .

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