It was the in the middle of May, not the 18th, but almost. The sun hadn't really risen yet, but other stars had moved all the way to our latitudes. More specifically Christiana, where Strictly Underground had invited a completely sold out Grey Hall and itÕs excited audience to a show of the most hardcore political bands ever to see the light of day and even gotten commercial success, with what the reviewers have called a preaching auto-monotone-rap-metal-crossover. Never the less, the American Rage Against the Machine is a band that both politically and musically knows how to kick ass... The last time they were at the Grey Hall was with the policeÕs tear gas and everything. This time it was ŌjustÕ a revolutionary rock explosion. PropagandaÕs reporter met the charismatic lead singer Zack de la Rocha for a talk before the concert.
Propaganda: Could you start off by telling about your political background, before you joined Rage?
Zack: At that time I wasnÕt very active. I let my views be known but, I didnÕt see the potential in music as a political weapon - a tool for direct action. Today weÕve been able to create an alternative media that reaches an enormous mount of people, instead of the usual media that misinforms people and only brings stories that serve the ruling class, instead of telling the population about what really happens. When we started the band we were still confused, we had a lot of worries, one was to live out the political words. It stayed at a very personal level but, as I grew up and developed I realised that personal conflicts are directly related to the societyÕs conflicts.
P: But you werenÕt organised in any groups or something like that? You only made music?
Zack: Yeah, just music.
P: And that was the way you became politically inclined?
Zack: No. How I became politically inclined is a completely different question. There are several reasons. My father was a painter. He made giant paintings in East L.A. He was in this group. They were one of the first Chicano-Art-Groups that exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Living with him helped me to see a lot of things that I normally wouldnÕt see, if I had grown up in a ŅperfectÓ family. He read Mao, did a series of paintings for United Farm Workers and always had some incredible answers to all my questions. I also think that my upbringing as a Chicano in a white suburban environment has a lot of effect on my awareness. My parents separated when I was a year old, and I constantly moved back and forth between them and to very different neighbourhoods. From the poor East L.A. where my father lived and to the college in the rich Orange County where my mother lived, where Chicanos like me normally only would be if they had a broom in their hand or filling baskets with strawberries. There was some large oppositions, that I had to realise and learn to handle, and has probably founded my opinions today.
Land of the free...
P: Is it hard to have opinions like that in the US?
Zack: ...Uhm.. Haha. No... itÕs only hard to get people to listen to them...
P: Can you explain the political situation over there in general?
Zack: There are two reasons that the American political culture is as immature as it is. The first is the educational system thatÕs been developed to encourage obedience and not critical thinking. The second thing is that the press is pretty extreme to say the least, in the sense that itÕs the commercial interests that control the US, isnÕt interested in letting the kids know whatÕs going on in the country and the world outside. They donÕt hear about the Zapatistas in Mexico for example, because the press is so controlled, the news so manipulated and the available information so limited. When you hear more about Mike TysonÕs life than you do about the 1500 bodies theyÕve found at the border between the US and Mexico in the last five years you have a serious problem. I think itÕs those two factors that are responsible for the fact that the US never had a strong political movement.
P: ThereÕs an enormous oppression going on in the US, where among others, the unemployed is an outcast group that the government ignores totally. Why donÕt the young unemployed direct their anger and frustration upwards, instead of shooting each other?
Zack: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the government used tax money back in the 50Õs and 60Õs for fighting movements they considered rebellious and communist. An example is the Black Panther Party who clearly were revolutionary and with a reason but, with J. Edgar Hoover and the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a 24 hour fight was lead against them, both in the media, in the schools and on the street. It created a big political gap that was filled with very conversative indoctrination, so people just bought it. But now here in the 90Õs whatÕs happening is thereÕs a subversion of the social rights, of all the things people have been fighting for since the beginning of the century like higher wages, no childrenÕs work, eight hour workdays - all these requirements are getting challenged by the commercial life and their minister puppets. We will see a new liberation movement, which is already starting, but not to that great an extent.
P: Which groups are in question? We hear nothing here in Europe about whatÕs going on in the US.
Zack: Oh, thereÕs several. A big step forward happened after the L.A. riots in Ō92 where the two largest rivalling violent gangs, Bloods and Crips, made peace. Another important step is the recreation of Black Power Movement in L.A. and people from the old Black Panther Party are helping in organising people in different places in L.A., so the two groups are very much alive. Student organisations are also becoming more and more active in the States, and with a revolutionary goal, as we saw in the 60Õs.
A revolutionary record deal
P: Is that why you signed with Sony? To get the message through to as many people as possible and make the lower class more aware?
Zack: Yeah, to get as many people as possible to join the political debate, to get the dialogue going. I was wondering today, why would anyone climb to the roof of the American Embassy with a banner that says ŅFree Mumia Abu-JamalÓ, why do you do that? ThatÕs to get the international pressÕ attention. The international network that Sony has available, is to me the perfect tool you know, it can get even more people to join a revolutionary awareness and fight.
P: We have heard rumours that said that your record company - the multinational record company Sony, produce parts for weapon factories that make nuclear weapons among other things.
Zack: ... Yeah but, IÕm not sure about that, I donÕt know anything about it but, I guarantee that there are a lot of companies that make a lot of shit, including stuff for the weapons industry and Sony is probably one of them. It became clear in the 60Õs that armed fighting had failed, at least temporarily. So what is most important information tool in our time? ThatÕs information. To me, not using Sony or abusing them to tell people whatÕs going on in the US and Europe, would be the same if the Zapatistas didnÕt use the guns theyÕve stolen from the Mexican army.
P: Yeah but, canÕt you use them in other ways? We heard that you went to Sony and asked for $30,000 for the Zapatistas?
Zack: Yeah, thatÕs right.
P: Then, couldnÕt you say that they abuse you and you abuse them?
Zack: Oh yeah, definitely, a kind mutual abusive relationship. Culture and stuff
P: Here in Denmark, in our movement weÕve had discussions about anticulture/subculture - where subculture is more about music and fashion style, as an identity and the anticulture is more of a political revolutionary identity, that canÕt find enough in itself and wants to break with society. Who do you address, anticulture or subculture or both?
Zack: I think we address them both. Not just because we try to spread out political awareness through our music and information, that will inform people about the nature of the American system and the global economical system. But weÕre also individually engaged directly in our local areas. In the beginning of 1994 I started a centre for political activity for common powers in Harlem Park in North-East L.A., which is a cool way of using Rage Against the MachineÕs resources and ideas and thereby contribute to a more aware culture. Other than that can we mention a lot of supporting concerts. For example, we made an Anti-Nazi League supporting arrangement in England at Brixton academy, right after a member of The British National Party was elected to a spot in the city council in Brimstone, and we collected 25, 000 pounds and the audience helped in the demonstration against the National Party afterwards.
P: Yeah but, thereÕs also a downside to addressing everybody, through commercial ways. For example, on the front of one of our buildings we painted Che GuevaraÕs face, like you have on your T-shirts and single cover and stuff like that but, then one day two guys came by and asked why we had painted the lead singer from Rage Against the Machine on the wall.
P: ArenÕt you afraid that youÕll just become an advertising culture, where the message is forgotten and people only hear the music and wear the shirts without knowing what the symbols mean?
Zack: No, I donÕt think so. Of course thereÕs someone that might be wrong but, usually theyÕll ask ŅWhoÕs that?Ó, and that gives people a connection. For example, in the US there arenÕt a lot of people that know who Che Guevara is, who canÕt name the surrounding islands, they donÕt know what Haiti is, what Cuba is, they donÕt know what social system Cuba has. To them itÕs just a bunch of communists... I can understand your scepticism but, for us that image has two sides and we think itÕs important to give people the possibility to find out who Che Guevara is and most important what he did, why he is such an important person, why we chose to promote him. And it is kinda cooler with a Che Guevara picture in a record store, than other covers of bands with their dicks hanging out of their pants - it makes more sense doesnÕt it?
P: We think that the message on the first record was very clear and straight forward but, on the the new one ŅEvil EmpireÓ the lyrics are more ambiguous and abstract and with a lot of slang. We have a hard time on understanding them.....
Zack: ..... I can follow you on that. I put a lot of effort into writing the lyrics and communicate but, IÕm not good enough at that at all. Unfortunately I can only speak English, which IÕm very sorry about. IÕd wish I could speak more languages so I could communicate with more people, itÕs a barrier but thereÕs not really anything to do about it - right here and now. Okay, I try, IÕve been with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico and unfortuneately always need people to translate.
P: If youÕre alone out there, have heard the message on your CD, what can you do?
Zack: I think that people who are isolated from every other proper source of info, you could get a couple of hints on the record, for example about the international campaign against the execution of the political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal or the ZapatistaÕs struggle in Mexico. People need to decide for themselves what they will use that knowledge for. Hopefully it will lead to a lot of critical questions, especially in the US because when IÕm in Europe IÕm often surprised on how knowing, critical and engaged people are here, in proportions to Ņback homeÓ. When I was in Spain on the 1st of May, it completely overwhelmed me. Never have I been with that many engaged people in a ŅcivilisedÓ country - so aware.
P: Why this difference between the US and Europe?
Zack: Uhm, I guess its because the US has always been run by fascists.
P: So has Spain. He he...
Zack: Nah, not always. Except Franco, they have never had the same institutions as we have a tradition for. For example the Ku Klux Klan. In reverse, the US have never had any large workers movements, like many places in Europe, especially in Spain and their syndicates and anarchists... It was in reality a big and well organised movement but, one that I have never been in contact with... But I really dunno, do you?
P: Nah, not really, I think it has something to do with traditions and also because itÕs smaller countries with better connections and possibilities for being able to organise together and because it may be easier to see whatÕs going on with the country. But what about militant resistance, would you encourage people to use militant methods? Or would that be the wrong message to send out?
Zack: ... No, no, that wouldnÕt be a wrong message at all! I would support an armed rebellion, if the message gets properly through. An armed rebellion for a society where people donÕt have to sell themselves to prostitution, cheap workforce etc to survive. A society that changes the differences between men and women, an armed rebellion that learns from the soviet ŅcommunistsÓ errors, that forced a system down on people.
P: We have heard some rumours about you supporting Shining Path in Peru, (who are known for killing their opponents in the most brutal and fierce ways and treat the local populace like enemies if the government army is in their village and so on).
Zack: You should talk to Tom about that. I donÕt personally support them. I support some of the things they fight for. I donÕt think Fujimori (president of Peru) should remain in power, I think they should wrestle themselves out of the USÕ clutches and get control over their own faith, like all the other countries in Central and South America. But I think that Shining Path repeat a lot of errors that they should have learned from throughout history. I think that if Shining Path got control, it wouldnÕt change anything about the Peruvian peopleÕs situation. It would just be someone else in power.
P: How far would you go yourself?
Zack: ...How could I answer that now...WeÕll have to see what happens. Inside I feel spiritually related to the Zapatistas, I donÕt feel I can neither be satisfied nor alive if I donÕt fight for the weakest in society. But I wonÕt join any armed group if I donÕt feel the conditions are right. The most important thing right now is to educate, inform and make people aware until time is ready for an armed fight... and Rage is part of that process...
P: But you have so many privileges as a rock star, so it may be hard for you to say how far you will go...
Zack: ... No, no. The money and the influence hasnÕt changed who I am and what I fight for. THATÕS FOR SURE!
Text: The Propaganda Writing Staff
Translation: Rasmus Lund-Hansen