Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Long reads
17 December 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 2:59am

Machine rage

By Becky Hogge

And so, the decade ends with a clash of ideologies. In the blue corner, we have the individual, coiffed, tanned and flossed, battling against what life
throws at him, relishing each challenge without questioning the system that created the obstacles he must overcome. In the red corner huddle the united masses, dreadlocked and disaffected, aware of the complex elites that govern their lives and ready to overthrow them through the simple act of violent rebellion. The fight for Christmas number one has never been so exciting.

Before Joe McElderry had even been declared the winner of The X Factor, members of the (at time of writing) 770,000-strong Facebook group “Rage Against the Machine for Christmas No 1!” were already purchasing downloads of the US alt-metal outfit’s 1993 single “Killing in the Name”. Their aim? To keep McElderry’s disinfected country ballad “The Climb” off its almost guaranteed number one spot, in favour of a track whose lyrics use the word “fuck” 17 times. If each of the Facebook group members downloads the track in the coming week, victory is almost assured.

The battle between old and new media is compelling. Simon Cowell has branded the RATM campaign “cynical”. In reality it is anything but. “Killing in the Name” was released back when the recording industry seemed authentic – at least to the middle-class kids who made up most of RATM’s fans then, and probably most of the Facebook group now.

Yes, RATM are signed to Sony. But in 1993, major labels hadn’t yet commenced their war against a nascent internet – and, by extension, against all young people. That war is culminating now in Westminster, as legislators debate a bill with shady provisions for punitive action against illicit file-sharers that gives the First Secretary carte blanche to devise enforcement measures that favour the record labels. What the RATM Facebook action recognises is that the music is ours, as well as theirs – that years after a track has been produced, hundreds of thousands of people can still be moved by it to take action, however trivial that action might seem.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

So if you fancy some hope that’s a little subversive this Christmas, join the Facebook group and get downloading. And as you pogo to some of the best guitar riffs of the Nineties, remember: the devil doesn’t have to have all the best tunes.

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up