Sunday, 31 August 2014

Interview with The Oscillation.

Nowhere To Go? An interview with Demian Castellanos.

image by yvonne forster
Investigating the various bands at this year’s Camden Crawl I came across ”The Oscillation’ a band who have had various incarnations and at present consists of Tom Relleen, Valentina Magaletti, Julian Hand (visuals) and founder member Demian Castellanos.  After listening to a couple of tracks I visited their website which  comments, ‘The Oscillation’s third album “From Tomorrow” is an attempt to find some kind of new mental and spiritual zones, away from the psychological effects of the modern urban landscape, and the curious emptiness of the digital social world that we are forced to inhabit. The introversion of these bleak and unsettling conditions are reflected back as music with all the ambiguous emotions of hope, despair, aggression, indolence and narcoleptic bliss’ (4). Intrigued I contacted Demian who was kind enough to agree to an interview.

Q. Picasso wrote about art washing away the dust of everyday life from the soul (1). Is that something you would aim for with your music, that it would wake people up?

 I haven’t heard that. Yeah I could relate to washing away the dust from everyday life. I try to put in all/any emotions that are present into an idea and would hope that it could be the case. But sometimes my fear is that it’s hard to know if you are really exorcising something or giving more life to it by giving this stuff more energy. I feel like I’m not really becoming even remotely enlightened as time goes by and I’d hoped that by exploring some dark stuff in music there would be some epiphany or feeling of release. But I think that can’t be the case (with me anyway!).
I’m not so sure about wanting to wake other people up. If someone out there relates to it then that’s great. I don’t think of myself as any kind of messenger for the people, although I do feel some kind of duty to just do what I feel is needed at the time musically

Q. We live in a physical and social world that is shaped by and for the elite, in an interview with APF (2) you compare it to the film ‘They Live”-is your music a comment on that, an alerting of people to it or an act of resistance against it?

Yeah it really seems that way doesn’t it? And more and more things come out that where once people would have said something was a “conspiracy theory” which is the ultimate way of putting down some idea or possibility that you don’t want to look at. But actually it’s just something that some people have had the guts to talk about and further down the line they are often proved right.
I was just expressing what I felt but I don’t think I want to put myself in any position where I’m feel qualified to have any coherent opinions. But I’m not afraid to admit that I find modern reality a bit of a joke. I’ve been quite interested in the books of Michael Talbot recently, with his theories on parallel realities and quantum physics. I don’t know where all that is going as that makes things even more confusing (for me!). Let’s just say that I’m pretty disillusioned with money and survival in the modern world, I almost have this fear that some people are being edged out this world by the cost of modern living, not just financially but this endless bombardment of advertising everywhere you go. “Obey” ha ha.

 Q. What is the song ‘No place to go’ about?

It’s an ode to feeling pretty frustrated about everything but also celebrating it, it’s kind of a bit sarcastic and taking the piss out of the lethargy that is so easy to sink into.

Q. The Situationists pointed out that much of what we experience is mediated to us, is second hand, representation-do you think (live) music can help reconnect us to reality?

I don’t know because I don’t feel that the music I want to make really engages with reality, as so much of it seems superficial and hard to believe as it is. Whether that’s the music or reality or both. Maybe in a live format it’s more visceral and somehow easier to feel the energy of sound so there are literal things that resonate the body, whether that helps to reconnect I couldn’t really say. I guess as an audience member there are times where I’ve felt really invigorated by other people’s music, emotionally, physically or both. But I do love listening to records really loud as well and hearing the production and the moment it was made in. Although for sure it’s a totally different thing from live.

 Q. You said that music can be ‘transformative’ (3), could you expand on that..

I hope that music can be transformative but I’m not really sure. For some reason I find it quite hard to write overtly positive music but that’s not because I feel negative all the time, it just seems to happen that the lyrics  come out that way, so it makes me think that there’s some form of exorcism going on to clean out the system in some way. It’s obviously not a good idea to contain negativity so you have to get it out of you as best you can and in the process try and see it in a different light while you are. I wouldn’t want to just throw a lot of pessimism at people. For example “Never Mind The Bollocks” is really energising to listen to as is “Pornography” and loads of other records that are maybe born out of anger or whatever emotion. Not that I’m comparing “From Tomorrow” to those albums!

 Q. What were some of the issues you were exploring on ‘From Tomorrow’? On your website you comment that urban late capitalism has created ‘bleak and unsettling conditions’(4).

It’s because I feel a bit out of step with the way that London and probably all cities are developing. It seems harder to get by for lots of people that I know (and obviously for lots of people I don’t know). I have this slightly paranoid feeling that everything is getting a bit homogenised and we’re being forced, through not particularly subtle means, to comply or get out if you’re not prepared or able to be a part of it. There seems to be an increased international attempt to shove entertainment down everyone’s throats to keep the masses happy, to disguise it. I guess this is more of the “They Live” scenario.

Q. Who have you been inspired by musically?

The Durutti Column, The Deviants, early Pink Floyd, The Stranglers, The Cure, The Stooges, Klaus Schulze, Popol Vuh, Miles Davis, Tangerine Dream, PIL.. there’s always loads I can’t remember when I’m asked that question. I just try to absorb as I can.

Q. In Relational Aesthetics the art piece is competed by the contribution of others, is it in the live setting that The Oscillation’s music finds its fullest expression?(3)

Well I’d say that it’s another side of expression for the songs as opposed to be the fullest expression of them. There’s parts of making albums that I love and find frustrating and that’s also true of playing live. I like the spontaneity of playing live and when we’re all playing well and the sound is good it’s a great feeling. But I really appreciate the time and thought that you have to put into writing songs and making an interesting sounding record, and you kind of need time and reflection to do that. Also I like the opposing thing of recording in a bubble without the feeling of pressure from other people watching or listening in, and I get a kick out of live performance when you’re totally immersed and people can get something out of it too. Playing live goes against my comfort zone quite a lot so it’s a good thing to push against that I think. I couldn’t have one without the other to be honest.


Civil Religion

Civil Religion.

Over the last few years we’ve had a Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Jubilee and this year we’re remembering 100 years since the start of WWI. All these occasions are expressions of, and vehicles for, something that sociologists call ‘civil religion’.
National civil religions are concerned primarily with creating a sense of national identity and unity, of reaffirming national mythologies, of reinforcing the elite’s story and version of the nation. It uses rites, commemorations, ceremonies, symbols (1), weddings and sports events to reaffirm as “right” and “natural” the existing hierarchy and oppressive class structure and gives the elite the opportunity to tell their story of who we are and how we should be. It is one of the ways a nation is told what to think about itself by the elite, part of “the spectacle” referred to by the Situationists. You could see this going on under New Labour as they sought to present Britain to itself in ways that justified the UK’s presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, by continually commemorating and emphasising Britain’s military history.
Over the last few decades civil religion has been facilitated by almost universal access to television (in the UK) and now events experienced in the immediate location by a few thousand can be participated in by the entire population (2). In 2000 89% of prime time UK TV viewing was on only 4 channels therefore State television as a means of perpetuating and reinforcing civil religion and telling us what to think is still very effective (3). State sponsored or hijacked events, like royal weddings or international sporting events like the Commonwealth Games, World Cup and the recent Winter Olympics are occasions when both national unity and traditional enmities (and stereotyping) are reaffirmed and therefore transnational working class identity is undermined.

This serves the interests of the national and international  political/economic elite as it maintains artificial and false divisions between the exploited working class and militates against transnational working class solidarity, it also hinders the realisation that the interests of those in power and the interests of those ruled over are mutually hostile. There are many civil religious events that are televised that perpetuate this sense of “imagined community” (4), in these events we’re told to accept that the status quo is good, that we are all one big happy national family and that the average British working class person has more in common with David Cameron than with other working class people who may happen to live the other side of an artificial boundary known as a national border!

At civil religious events dissent or anti-nationalism is absent, marginalised or demonised. All these civil religious events, televised or not, involve the deliberate re-presentation of “the nation” to itself by the State/elite reaffirming their values and interests as good and legitimizing existing social hierarchy, even presenting it as “God ordained” when the institutionalised church plays a submissive, co-opted role. Interestingly, when these events are televised the immediate audience is recast in an affirming role for the television viewer, their original role as immediate spectator translated into an affirmation of ‘the event’ (2), this is effective as the new (TV) viewer sees his peers affirming the event watched.

However we are not in 1984 yet so the transmitting of these events into households allows room for private interpretations of, or dissent against, these events, our responses to these events are not able to be controlled by the elite irrespective of their power to promote their propaganda(2). As the old guy in the pub in V for Vendetta says of the State’s televised propaganda “Can you believe this shit?!”
(4) Anderson, B. (1991) ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and spread of Nationalism’, 2nd edn., London/New York, Verso quoted in Pittaway, M. (2003) ‘Language, identity and nation’ in Chimisso, C. (ed) Exploring European Identities, Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp.149-182.

(3) Burton, G. (2005) ‘The media and new technology’ The effects and implications of technologies for the media and their consumption’ in Burton, G. Media and Society, Critical Perspectives, Maidenhead: The Open University, pp. 197-223

(2) Dayan, D. and Katz, E. (1988) ‘Articulating consensus: the ritual and rhetoric of media events’ in Alexander, J. C. (ed), Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 161-86.    

(1) Parsons, G. (2002) ‘Introduction: the concept of civil religion’ in G. Parsons Perspectives on Civil Religion, Aldershot: Ashgate/Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 1

Capitalist Culture?

Culture and Capitalism.

image by yvonne forster

Capitalism is a system that incidentally and deliberately eradicates alternatives to  itself. Some of this is due to its economic efficiency, but it also deliberately seeks to eliminate any alternatives. For instance, after being elected David Cameron promised to make life more difficult for travellers and squatters, two of the few alternative lifestyles that still exist in the margins of capitalist Britain, and this was subsequently realised in the Dale Farm eviction and the changes of laws regarding squatting.
The globalisation of the last 20-30 years has been a globalising of neoliberal capitalism – class war masquerading as economics (4). One of the effects of this erasing of alternatives is that capitalism is able to represent itself as “natural” rather than one option among several. If you listen to political debate in the mainstream media it is normally between two positions within a narrow capitalist perspective, the bickering of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Rarely is a non-capitalist perspective heard – capitalism in the cultural mainstream is now a “given”.One of the hallmarks of late capitalism/post modernity is the death of the meta-narrative, the big ideological stories of meaning and purpose, the belief that society/humanity is on a journey, that we were somewhere, are somewhere and are on the way to somewhere better (2). Obviously this demise was not always a bad thing: some meta-narratives justified oppression, imperialism, the nation and the status quo. However the lack of meta-narratives, of a sense of purpose has led to a cultural cynicism that is not due to a sense that things could be better, from an alternative vision but is the result of an often intuitive realisation of the true nature of capitalist politics/economics and a lack of hope/idealism, like continually watching Have I Got News For You, good at “attacking” the powerful but from within the same camp!. Like some of the early punks 21st century mainstream cynicism attacks what ‘is’ without having a clue what it wants to create. For many in the industrialised world late capitalism is experienced as a moribund purposeless ever open shopping mall. Late capitalism has no past, present or future, no direction, it is a competitive system where entities seek to maximise their profits/advantages and defeat rivals, all activity is geared to these two goals. Mainstream capitalist culture is the tarted up result of market forces and the commodification of all things, it cannot help but be bereft of meaning and over arching purpose, it has no idea where it is going, it recycles/repackages the past, stages continual ‘events’ and generally tries to self anesthetise.

For every mainstream film that is angry and trying to communicate hope and vision, like Hunger Games or Elysium, there are a hundred that reaffirm that there is no alternative to the big status quo and to relax/improve your own life/wait for a hero. In this late capitalist culture where objects are ascribed magical life changing qualities and people are reduced to consumers and commodities people spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need and the ideal woman is a pole dancing “Barbie”, an objectified commodity (5). For many the late capitalist/postmodern experience is one of alienation, from themselves, their work, those around them. Forced to live in competition with their fellow workers they feel vulnerable, insecure, precarious, unfulfilled by their roles of producer/consumer. In post industrial work there has been a change, industrial capitalism demanded the workers body but was uninterested in their mind or ‘soul’, their thoughts, relational skills, communication abilities, however post industrial work wants those aspects as well. 21st century work often demands all of the worker leaving her with little to construct a meaningful life outside of work. In industrial work there was a chance to find meaning, community in unions, political/social clubs (1) but often the modern worker is drained of all energies and goes home to watch TV and get ready for tomorrow. No wonder mental health problems continue to rise.
In this situation we need to fight for workers rights, wages, pensions and against government cuts but remember this is all within the capitalist system. Fighting for the best deal for the poor and hard pressed within the existing system is important but simultaneously we must be reminding people that what they are experiencing doesn’t have to be, that capitalism is a system, an economic/political/ social construct maintained by the elite and that there are alternatives  worth working towards. We need to enable people to realise that a non capitalist world/model is possible. Many people know intuitively that they are living in an alienating wasteland decorated with shiny technology but have never heard that something else is possible. We need to be organising and communicating, encouraging each other to explore the possibility of living life based on community, co-operation, egalitarianism, so that even if we don’t see the end of capitalism we will have an alternative model for our own lives.
Capitalism is a social world and like all social worlds it needs maintaining, it is not stable and inviolate, it will have an end, we live in the time before that end  but anarchists through organisation, education and agitation (N. Chomsky ‘tweet’!) can offer glimmers of what could be, an alternative that offers people community, meaning and value.
Whole article based on (3)

(1) Berardi, F. (2009) The Soul at Work, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles.

(2)Bowman, M., Herbert, D. and Mumm, S. (2001) Religion Today: Tradition, Modernity and Change.The Open University, Milton Keynes.

(3) Fisher. M. (2009), Capitalist Realism: Is There Really No Alternative?, Zero Books, Ropley.

(4) Harvey, D. (2005 ) A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.

(5) Walter. N. (2010) Living Dolls. The Return Of Sexism, Virago Press, London.

Hanin Elias interview 2014.

Fantome, life and misunderstandings.

At the end of January in a Berlin club ‘Fantome’, Hanin Elias’ and Marcel Zurcher’s new band, gave their first live performance. Afterwards Hanin talked about Fantome, fishing, misunderstandings and life post Atari Teenage Riot (ATR).
Your latest band is Fantome with Marcel Zurcher-could you explain how that came about?
Yeah, Marcel and I met and we are both from these very hard bands, people stick others in a box and expect them to deliver the same kind of sound but we were meeting exploring our own sound, developing something. We wanted to do something we had never done before, that we secretly always loved but had had to hide, like you were into Depeche Mode when you were about thirteen, that you had liked all the post punk bands with melodies. All this came up when we met, we started playing — he plays guitar, bass and drums — and writing songs together. It was all about doing something that we really feel. After a while being in a hard band is just the same stuff over and over again, you still mean what you say of course but you have another side of you that is never expressed and I think it takes a lot of courage (to express that). Today it was really hard for me to stand there and sing something from my heart, not having a shell of ‘I’m so hardcore!’. This time I really opened my heart and felt really vulnerable and was so scared that people would scream ‘Play some Atari!’, I was scared to death, this was for me was a big challenge, and also for Marcel.
Would you say the album is autobiographical?
Yeah, I write all the lyrics and the next album will be different because now the album is out I don’t feel that way any more, the lovesickness, the sadness about things is out, like if you write a diary, its been cathartic. We will still be a band and do another album, we will continue making music and writing about how our lives go and people will get the information in the lyrics 1 year later.. or maybe 5 years, it takes so long to record an album!
In your musical journey you’ve moved with ATR from a preoccupation with the external, structures, politics and struggle to also exploring relationships and the emotional life. Was that a deliberate thing, a natural progression or did you feel that you had exhausted that preoccupation?
I think I had said everything I had to say about the external and if I still write in that direction I don’t have to write it in the manner of ATR, I can still write it a little bit hidden underneath, a bit more subtle. (When we were doing it) in the 90s I loved it and was totally passionate about it, but it is not me now. As an artist you want to progress and develop, to go somewhere else and see where your limits are.
I noticed on youtube that you did some stuff at Occupy Oakland a couple of years or so ago, how did that come about?
We were touring with a band called ‘Violent Vickie’ and most of the band members friend’s were participating in Occupy Oakland and they asked if Id like to play Occupy Oakland and of course I want to support that. But when we got there it was really boring!! There was a discussion and a panel and then a speech and then another discussion and then when we went on it was all improvised, we did it on the street, but I think it gave them the energy back that had got lost for a moment. They were trying with 30 people to reach a united conclusion, it was so difficult and it took for ever but in the end they did it!
Your video for ‘Love’ is fairytale like with you doing a magic thing, your daughter and her friends as Pixies and Marcel as a forest creature…
Well, it’s a metaphoric thing, I wanted to show that this person’s life is something like a black hole so he is living in a black hut and he is totally black inside the hut, you only see his eyes when he looks out of the window, he is chewing on the bones of his own hate and rage, it was very difficult to put that into something (visual) and lots of people misunderstood.
Yeah, I read someone accusing you of being racist…what does it feel like as an artist when you put something in the public realm and it’s misinterpreted?
It’s horrible, it’s frustrating, there were 3 people from the same group writing to me accusing me of ‘black facing’ and I was trying to explain to them that Marcel was not meant to represent a black person at all, we meant something totally different. It was an amusing love story about 2 freaks in love, the guy lives by himself, he is totally distant and the girl is trying everything, she loves him but everything she gives him in a positive manner he turns into something negative in his mind, and there are people like that. But we only had cheap ways of expressing what we meant and that made it very difficult, we never thought that anyone (would misunderstand it as racist) because we don’t think like that.
In art theory there is the idea of ‘the active viewer’-that the viewer fills the artefact with meaning but obviously that can lead to wrong understanding…I went to a Pre Raphaelite exhibition and thought it was great all these strong Souxsie Sioux type figures only afterwards I found out I was wrong, that they were representing women as a sexual snare, the dangerous other, that the painters had been misogynistic.
I know! The same thing they said about our video I said about ‘Lord of the Rings’, that it had a racist message but I never thought my own video would come across like that! I was totally shocked! But all my black friends loved the video and found it very funny; nobody identified Marcel as a black person.
In the 1990s you were in ATR, you started ‘Fatal’ and were referenced by the Riot Grrrl movement, you’ve been a feminist icon for a lot of people. Who were your heroines?
Same as you, Souxsie; Souxsie was one of my heroines. There is also a German writer who is a friend of mine Charlotte Roche she wrote this book ‘Feuchtgebiete’ she was a host in a music programme ‘Viva’. She was so crazy and open minded and became a writer, lots of people hate her of course! I love Kathleen Hanna also, we wrote a song together and she had one song where she went ‘Hanin Elias…don’t stop!’ (‘Hot Topic’ by Le Tigre). But after a while I got sick of all the boxes they want you in, ‘Hey Hanin why are you wearing lipstick, why are you wearing high heels, why are you wearing your nails red and stuff?’ Because I like it! It’s not because society forces me to. A lot of my heroines were silent movie star, you know like Theda Bara, I like vampy women, to me they were totally strong you know. I like that classical timeless way.
You feel comfortable expressing your own sensuality and are not afraid of that?
Yeah, I like sex and I’m not frustrated and that’s what people blame me for you know. Sometimes I behave sexy but I do that because I feel that way and I’m not doing it because anyone is expecting me to do it.
So it’s not for the male gaze
No! But it’s very hard nowadays to be with (some) feminists because they look at me like I’m a total bitch or something.
After you had released 3 solo albums you went to live in French Polynesia for 5 years. In ExBerliner (1) about a year ago you said you felt it had changed you. That must have been an immense cultural shift for someone from urban Germany?
And I went to an island that was very isolated and there were not many tourists around, we basically started living off the land and catching fish and I learnt how to catch fish using an underwater gun, but at first I was like all foreigners, ‘I cant kill a poor fish!’ and then I shot one, a tiny yellow one and we cooked it over the fire! We couldn’t get any other food because everything that gets imported from France has 70% tax put on it so you can’t afford to just go to the supermarket and just buy things, after a while you get hungry and go and find some food! It changed my thinking on that, if you want to eat you have to confront the prey, it could be smarter than you, it has a chance but if you win you are happy and have something to eat! I learnt some basics we don’t learn, we learn to play in the playground, to go to school, to go to the supermarket and make money and buy things but that’s not what life is about. Also on the island there is nothing happening and you become very patient, very quiet. I was very stimulated by the people there they have open minds, they totally charmed me, they don’t care who you are, what you did, the only thing that counts is who you are right now, how you behave. The moment counts. I also started in the girls paddling team, I was the only one who was thin enough to fit in the front seat, up to then our village team didn’t have someone to give a rhythm for the paddlers, I could fit in and then we won many competitions!
Do you feel that what you and Marcel are doing with Fantome has a continuity with what you have done before or is a new direction?
For me I can’t just cut off from the past so it has a continuity but it shows people that you change; while still being the same person there are other issues in your life that you want to share. There is nothing I could possibly say that isn’t clear right now. In the 90s it was cool that we sent people these messages that we did with Atari because there wasn’t so much access to the information but now the information is out everywhere…and there are people who were influenced and inspired by Atari Teenage Riot and it continues…I’m free to discover other territories. I have a normal job like most people to make a living and invest in my expensive hobby, making music. I don’t have to do what people tell me (as) I’m not dependent on them, it’s not the music that feeds me.
You have talked about collaborating with Marcel for Fantome, is collaboration something you particularly enjoy?
Totally! I always meet people that I really like, Steven Severin from ‘Souxsie and the Banshees’ wants to do a remix with us, this is always happening it’s like a ‘give and take’ thing. Everyone you work with has a different energy and brings out something else in you, pushes different buttons. If you open your mind you can become someone else through that other person, I think it’s a freedom that most people don’t use.
Big thanks to Hanin for her time and authenticity and to Fantome for a great night.
1. ExBerliner. ‘Sex riots! Hanin Elias and Electrosexual’ Mihret Yohannes Jan. 14 2013.

Anyone for anarchism?

Anarchy could be the answer, now what was the question?

image by yvonne forster

Despite attempts by government to individualise mental health problems — presenting them as the illness of the individual — it is obvious that we live in an ill society that generates ill people. Studies show that individuals are happier within societies that are more equal — wide disparities of income and wealth create societies that are less happy and more ill at ease. The UK has high rates of inequality, one of the consequences being the prevalence of mental illness and the use of anti-depressants. In a society marked by inequality, exploitation and environmental degradation people are struggling with unease and alienation and a lack of an alternative to ‘what is’.
Since the industrial revolution of the mid 1700s capitalism has concentrated power in the hands of the owners of the means of production — factories, land, mines, distribution — and has separated the vast majority of people from those means. Power and wealth have been and are accrued by an elite while the rest of us hope to pay our bills. This plus the commodification of the necessities of life-food, shelter, heating etc — means that the working class are forced to sell their labour, whether mental or physical in order to survive above destitution. Within capitalism the wealth of the few and the exploitation of the many is linked, the worker spends her day adding value to the assets of the company, at the end of the day that work/added value is taken by the company who then gives the worker a wage that is less than the value they have generated pocketing the difference. They pay enough to keep the workforce functional-unless they can get the government to subsidise those wages via Working Family Tax Credit etc- as they need their labour and thus each day the shareholders/boss/company gets richer while the worker struggles on, hoping they might win the lottery or looking forward to the next weekend.
Capitalism is exploitative, oppressive, alienating and instrumentalist. The worker is alienated from their work, having to carry out tasks assigned to them, the benefit of that work being largely accrued by someone else; from their colleagues that they are taught to see as competitors, as threat; from themselves as they wonder how they ended up doing this, being this. And the worker functions as an instrument, a means to someone else’s ends. In post industrial work there has been a change, industrial capitalism demanded the workers body but was uninterested in their mind or ‘soul’, their thoughts, relational skills, communication abilities, however post industrial work wants those aspects as well. 21st century work often demands all of the worker leaving her with little to construct a meaningful life outside of work. In industrial work there was a chance to find meaning, community in unions, political/social clubs etc but often the modern worker is drained of all energies and goes home to watch TV and get ready for tomorrow. As this goes on the only place of meaning in her life becomes work, the very place that incapacitates her for anything else.
Since the 1980s neoliberal capitalism has dominated UK politics, an ideology of free markets, small state provision (for the workers, though not for corporations), individualisation, privatisation and a continual dismantling of workers rights and protections, concessions gained since the Second World War. In short class war waged by the rich to cite Atari Teenage Riot and David Harvey. Neoliberal capitalism and politics have reconfigured institutions (governments, schools etc), individuals and society into it’s own image. Brought up in a commodification environment that promotes work and individualised consumption as the highest goal people have been reduced to objects, women especially valued according to their physicality-and make of handbag. Capitalism’s most brazen trick is to try and pass itself off as natural or ‘god ordained’ in a bygone era, attempting to convince us that this is how it is meant to be, that no other world is possible. The Situationists wrote about this in 1950s/60s referring to it as ‘the spectacle’ — how advanced industrial societies are represented to themselves by the elite, so effectively that the oppressed internalise those values, those views. Society and culture dominated by a seamless representation of a capitalist version of the world via the media, state and corporations, where any dissent is marginalised or co-opted. Gramsci referred to something similar as cultural hegemony.
And over this society that is a material expression of capitalist interests exists the state, hierarchical, coercive, serving the interests of the political and corporate elite. The capitalist state is a capitalist construction expressing capitalist’s interests, configuring society to the interests of capital. Between 1945 and the 70s there was a respite from the state/corporate amalgam as unions and the labour party gained concessions for the working class but since the 1980s the state has re-assumed its historic role of enforcing capitalist interests. Where there has been resistance, as in the Miner’s Strike  of 1980s, the coercive nature of the state has come to the fore, undisguised and brutal. The state’s authority rests on the use of, or threat of, force, it is normally structured and bureaucratic but if it has to be more violent to achieve it’s ends it will be. The modern capitalist state is inherently hierarchical, coercive, patriarchal and militaristic.
As individuals we are ‘socialised’ by the societies and cultures we are reared in, we imbibe the values and embody their world views. We listen to their fairy tales of royalty, hierarchy and the sinister ‘other’ both as children and adults and believe them. We take the norms of our societies and believe them to be nature, believing this is how it is meant to be rather than seeing them as top down constructs, the result of class war that has been waged particularly ruthlessly by the rich over the last 30 years.
Capitalism and the nation state system have been responsible for the misery and deaths of countless millions over the last 300 years. The state communist system proved little different to capitalism perpetuating the same old patterns of hierarchy, instrumentalism, elitism and coercion. However throughout history there has been another way of organising society, economics and politics that has been glimpsed, sometimes poorly, sometimes more fully explored; anarchism. Anarchy is a word often used by the media to describe disorder, violence and chaos and the Sex Pistols did it no favours either! Anarchism has been misrepresented by many people for various reasons. There have been violent anarchist who in the 1800s believed in ‘propaganda by deed’, the idea that the assassination of a leading industrialist or politician would stir the working class to revolution, they were wrong, but it did enable the state to represent anarchists as violent and to crack down on non existent global anarchist networks.
However anarchism did not go away and has hung around waiting its time-which should be about now!
Anarchism is the belief that communities of people are capable of self organisation for the common good and don’t need to be told what to do by bosses of whatever kind and that in fact being socialised to look to a parental figure to always adjudicate or direct holds people back from maturity. In an anarchist community all people are equal there is no hierarchy, no patriarchy, no racism. All people take part in making decisions about those things that affect the community, the decision being reached by discussion that concludes when every one has agreed or is at least happy not to block the consensus.
The means of production — land, machinery, natural resources, distribution — are held by the community there is no private ownership of the means of production and people organise and work in co-operatives of equals. Obviously some people have certain skills and abilities and that would not be neglected but certain roles would not bestow special status on anyone, all valid work is of equal worth. Production would be primarily on the basis of need, consumption also, the maxim ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’ is appropriate here.
Because production would be organised on the basis of people’s needs not profit there would be more leisure time available for people to explore their creativity. An anarchist community should be a place of creativity, arts, crafts and relationships. Communities would be voluntary associations of willing participants whose concern would be for the common good knowing that their own well being and the well being of others is intricately linked.
Lots of anarchists are federalists, realising that autonomy is different from independence they favour local or regional councils made up of recallable representatives from different communities. These councils could resolve difficulties or coordinate actions to do with production etc.
Syndicalist anarchists would see anarchism as applicable to the function based, spread out world of industrial work as well as geographical communities.
Some anarchists have been preoccupied with individual freedom while others see it as the only reliable path to social justice and equality as its structures preclude anyone from accumulating wealth or power. Over time people brought up in anarchism would be socialised into a different way of being, of co-operation and collaboration and of seeing people as equals to be worked with rather than as objects to be used.
Obviously production in an anarchist economy would use less natural resources and energy due to holding many goods collectively and producing primarily on the basis of need this would stop the rapid exhaustion of the earth’s resources and with the decentralisation of energy production slow global warming
In an anarchist community where things are held collectively, everyone’s needs are met and status goods are irrelevant so crimes of appropriation would fall, however in instances of violent crime a period of supervision or even exile may be appropriate, disciplining action would have to be agreed by the community and be victim centred aimed at healing, restitution and rehabilitation.
So how do we get there from here? The classic anarchist answer is to begin ‘building the new in the shell of the old’, to disregard the structures and powers that be and to do something better instead. Capitalism according to John Holloway is a verb, it is something we do rather than it existing independent of us. It will end when we stop doing it! Other anarchists think there would be a period of conflict, that the powerful are not going to allow the source of their wealth and power-the working class- to turn away and reconstruct society without a struggle. There is certainly nothing to be gained by the use of violence because 1. not enough people would be prepared to get involved; 2. there is no point taking on the capitalist state at it’s point of strength; 3. your means must be consistent with your aims, if they are not you won’t hit the ends you were aiming for, ends are shaped by means; 4. if you believe it is acceptable to use violence to achieve your objective you have to cede the same right to your opponent.
Many people in the industrialised world are experiencing alienation, lack of community, purpose and fulfilment-they know something is wrong with their lives, with the way we are organised but they are distracted and anesthetised by TV and the tabloid press which keeps them away from alternative narratives and visions. What is needed is the propagation of an anarchist alternative and an example of what it looks like in practice so it can be seen and experienced. The future is not necessarily anarchist, it could be even more authoritarian capitalism or environmental meltdown but if we want to avoid these two then the working class are going to have to decide to change our direction, to find ways of discussing and exploring how we can move towards a more equal, just and free tomorrow. The challenge for anarchists is how to facilitate this, a mass movement towards a just, equitable society-how to move out and engage in a project of coordinated education and activism.

Atari Teenage Riot, ‘Black Flag’ on ‘Is this Hypereal?’ Digital Hardcore, 2010.
Berardi, F. (2009) ‘The Soul at Work’, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles.
Butterworth, A. (2010) ‘The World that Never Was. A true story of dreamers, schemers, anarchists and dreamers’. The Bodley Head, London.
Harvey, D. (2005 ) ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’, OxfordUniversity Press, Oxford and New York.
Holloway J. (2010), ‘Crack Capitalism’ Pluto Press, London and New York.
Thomas, M. (ed)(2012) ‘Antonio Gramsci: Working-Class Revolutionary’, Workers’ Liberty, London

Anarchism, The Ex and King Champion Sounds.GW SOK interview 2013

GW Sok interview.

Last October I caught a track by ‘King Champion Sounds’ on Radio 6 and was excited by something that sounded somewhere between ‘The Beat’ and ‘The Psychedelic Furs’-although that may be contested! Later that month I was lucky to see them at a small venue just outside Highbury and Islington Tube-brilliant! At the gig I got a copy of their album read the lyrics and realised they were pretty left leaning in their content, turned out the lead singer and lyricist is GW Sok, renown Dutch anarchist and ex lead singer with The Ex who was happy to do an interview.
The Ex emerged from the Dutch squat scene of the late 70s as an anarcho punk/art band. Can you describe the Dutch anarchist squat scene of that time, does it still exist now?
In the late 70s the Netherlands suffered from a huge economic crisis. Unemployment rates were high, and so for the youth there were no jobs. And no possibilities of affordable housing either. (Sounds familiar, right?) Squatting solved some of these problems for us. We were on the dole, but didn’t need much money as we didn’t need no luxuries. Squatted housing was cheap, although not totally for free, as a lot of time was invested to for repair and renovation. But the great thing was, that we had a lot of free time. Time which we could spend on the things that we felt was important. Art, music, magazines, soup-kitchens, alternative shops and restaurants, stuff like that. And next to that many of [us] were busy with activist activities, such as anti-militarist actions, demonstrations against the weapon industry, support-groups for Latin-American refugees, etc. Not all of these were necessarily “anarchist” initiatives, the Left was a quite varied environment, where everybody more or less helped and supported each other.
How did you become ‘an anarchist’, what authors have you found helpful?
Basically I became some kind of anarchist once I entered the Amsterdam alternative scene, being a squatter, playing in a punk band, and supporting certain leftwing causes. But in a way I never really called myself an anarchist. We (i.e. The Ex) preferred to call ourselves “friends of anarchism”. We liked the ideas and ideals of anarchism, but not the nihilist versions of that. The anarchist struggle before and during the Spanish Civil War was a great inspiration, not the mindless smashing of shopwindows during a demonstration. We saw too many people doing stupid senseless destructive things who called themselves anarchists… Easy targets for the rightwing media to give anarchy a bad name. We didn’t want to be part of that negative idea of anarchy.
As for the serious anarchists… well, they often were really too serious, in our opinion. Not much of a sense of humour there to be found. I guess that’s also why I didn’t read much from the oldtime authors. So I do not really have any favourites in that department. My/our idea of anarchism was mainly shaped in present-day-life and via articles and discussions in the leftwing media from that time.
You have written lyrics and columns for over 30 years, have you found your subject matter has changed over time as well as your understanding of things?
In a way I still write about things that I care about. Things that concern us all, that I’m worried about, or angry, or happy. I don’t try to convert people, but I do like to comment on things happening around us, and I do like to say where I stand in these matters. I don’t think that will ever really change. But the way I express myself can change, I don’t feel obliged to stick to a certain routine. Looking back, with the knowledge of today, I might have wished to approach certain topics a bit differently, but I don’t have any regrets about what I wrote back then. True, certain things I now understand better, and with the years I also learned to express myself better, but that’s an important fact of life: the learning and understanding never stops.
One of the things I noticed online was the frequency of collaborations you have been involved in, both as part of The Ex and as an individual musician. Is that something you find particularly valuable? Why?
It is very inspiring to work with other people from time to time. With The Ex, we were always the same four or five people, so after a while you kind of know what you can expect from each other. Then, when you work with people from outside your own inner circle, your own inspiration gets fuelled anew by their creativity and it helps you to explore parts of your own Self which you sometimes didn’t even realize they were there. These collaborations can help you look at your own ways of expression and push them into new directions. Sometimes the results were kinda so-so, but often they were beyond expectation.
You decided to leave The Ex in 2009, what have you been involved in over the last 4 years. Have things worked out how you imagined they would?
To be honest, when I left, I had no idea what it would be like. The main thing was that I realized that after 30 years with The Ex it was time for a change. Somehow my life had become too much The Ex, I was unable to use my creativity in side- or solo-projects outside the band. I’d feel guilty using my texts there, instead of for The Ex. Or I’d get stuck with something unfinished when The Ex machine demanded too much of my attention for a longer time.
So, when I left, I thought I was done with music and I wanted to focus on merely writing and graphic-design.
In the second half of 2009, however, I ended up on stage again, as part of a Dutch theatre-play, and I realized that I still liked to perform and play with text. Then I met this French group from Toulouse, Cannibales & Vahinés, for a project. Which went quite well, and we decided to keep on working together (on a slight irregular basis, though, as we live about 1200 kilometers apart). Then I met with other people/bands, who asked me for collaborations, and it hasn’t stopped since.
I hadn’t realized or imagined that, once I had left The Ex, others would/could be interested in working with me. And I felt really free now to do so, when I would like the people or the project. It’s a bit scary too, also, because it doesn’t guarantee any steady income at all. But, well, it’s now five years since I left The Ex and I am still alive and doing the things I like best.
I saw you with King Champion Sounds in October, the lyrics on ‘World of Confusion’ deal with xenophobia and the ‘Fortress Europe’ mentality. Is that something you see increasing across Europe?
Yes, I do. But I have seen it increasing for a long, long time already. The lyrics of “World of confusion” are slightly adapted version of “Euroconfusion”, a text from 1992, which in a way is the year of the birth of this Fortress Europe. But the problem is bigger than that. Worldwide there are so many people on the run trying to find a safe home, and there’s no easy solution. Simply saying welcome or fuckoff won’t solve it. But, for me, as I see it, this xenophobia is closely connected with the present economic crisis, as it builds on fear. Fear for the unknown, for the people we are not familiar with, who are different from us. And so we’re told they’re gonna take over our jobs, our cities, our countries. This fear is fed by politicians who use it to gain votes. But I haven’t heard them come up with any proper solution yet.
Once we learn to get to know each other better, we can take away some of this fear. And if we think that there are too many foreigners invading our countries, then perhaps we should make a better effort trying to give the refugees less reason to come to us: we should help try to improve the situation in their home-countries.
The song ‘Orbit Macht Frei’ compares television with religion. Could you elaborate on that?
I guess most explanation can be found in the text itself. But, in short: televison is a drug, like religion is a drug. Just like the internet (which, in my opinion, is also a kind of television) it makes people stupid, and keeps people stupid, both out of free will. It could have been such a great medium, but the amount of drivel is increasing, leaving less and less room for intelligence.
You have spent 30 years in activism and stimulating others to thought! How have you sustained that and avoided cynicism and getting jaded?!
I think the main thing that kept/keeps me/us going, is the fact that we are happy with the lives we live. We believe in working together with like-minded people, we don’t believe in greed. We enjoy sharing things, we don’t need much luxury. We try to keep an open mind, and we meet a lot of friendly, great, inspiring people everywhere, it makes us realize we are not alone in this. Maybe we cannot change the whole world for the better, but we can change our part of the world, step by step by step, meeting and making new friends one by one, day by day. It’s not that difficult, in a way. And we laugh a lot, even when we’re tired, and once you can laugh you don’t feel tired anymore.
Holland is a relatively small country, is there a sense of cohesion among the anarchist community there? Have you any insights that could help us here in the UK?
Not sure if I can be of much help with that. As I see it, the Dutch anarchist community is quite small. Some are organized, some are not. I guess the organized ones kind of automatically have international contacts and collaborations, especially due to the fact that Holland indeed is small.
Have you any plans and projects for 2014?
Plans there are aplenty, but you never know which ones you’ll be able to realize. With Cannibales & Vahinés we’re trying to organize shows in Russia, I want to publish a book of Dutch poems, maybe also one in English. I might like to release a compilation-CD of me with some of the artists I’ve been working with the last couple of years.
Projects that are sure include a spring album with UK’s Action Beat (their first album with vocals) with a two week tour in April. My duo The And (voice and guitar) will record some tracks this month for a 7” an 10” release later in the year. I’m working with Cannibales & Vahinés on new songs. Through the year I’m working with several artists (mostly French, I don’t know why that is) on various musical projects. And, of course, there’s King Champion Sounds. The first album was very well received, so now we are busy with new songs to put out later in the year when we go touring again.
And since it is 2014 and The Ex will celebrate their 35th anniversary, so will I because, although I was born a few years earlier, G.W. Sok was also born in 1979.

Christian Anarchism?

Christian Anarchism?

From humble beginnings the Christian faith and its collective expression, the Church, spread rapidly through the Roman World and after experiencing several periods of persecution was co-opted by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century CE as the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Since then the Church has had a chequered history globally often working to maintain the status quo and usually siding with the ruling class. Historically the Church has been hierarchical, patriarchal and sexist but in ‘Anarchism and other Essays’ Emma Goldman refers positively to Tolstoy-an enthusiastic, idiosyncratic advocate of Jesus’s teachings, John Ball (maverick Priest who was a key figure in the Peasant’s Revolt) and ‘the agitator of Nazareth’ (Goldman, pp. 34, 65, 83, 2005). Some Christians go as far as to claim Christianity and anarchism are compatible, one of these is Dr Keith Hebden, Anglican Vicar, activist and author, who agreed to an interview.
Keith, you identify yourself as a Christian Anarchist, how do you reconcile anarchism with the New Testament, the core text of Christianity, which, especially in the case of Paul’s writings, is Statist, hierarchical and sexist? Do you really see a similarity between the teachings of Jesus and anarchism?
I don’t know that identify myself as a Christian Anarchist – although others have – I think ‘Christian’ probably covers it since following the Jesus of tradition, as people like Tolstoy understood his teachings, leads us to reject moralism, violence and authoritarianism. Not only does Jesus seem to reject these things but he offers both questions for analysing injustice and tools for changing things.
I suppose I start where Tolstoy started with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel. The verse that often reads “Do not resist evil” is better rendered “Do not resist evil with violence”. The implication here is that we should indeed always resist but we should do so in ways that have integrity of “means and ends”. My nonviolence comes first and my anarchism second in terms of how I got to where I am. If violence doesn’t bring about justice and Jesus argued for nonviolent resistance then the state, which is violent to the core, must be resisted and something else – compassionate human community – put in its place.
The dominant expression of Church since 325 CE has been reactionary, patriarchal and often on the side of the oppressor, the antithesis of anarchism-how as a Christian Anarchist do you see yourself in relation to that Church?
I’m a straight, white, cis-normative, middle class Anglican (Established Church) priest! I see myself as a thoroughly inconsistent and more than a little uncomfortable on a chronic basis. I’m interested in those places of contradiction and paradox, I suppose that’s what keeps me so interested in theology and the church at all. One of the reasons I’m interested in that space is because, like permaculturists, I notice that the most vigorous and healthy growth in the garden takes place on the borders between different environments. You might say the same thing about ideas. There are members of my church who are current or ex-military; this is hugely difficulty for me but it’s also hugely difficult for them. Because of this I live in constant dialogue with “the other” but so do they and this leads to all kinds of insights that a “purer” way of being might not allow for.
As for the Church of England itself. It is in a state of flux that’s quite exciting. No longer the right hand of the state it now has privileges and pomp but a decreasing amount of “power of” others. This means that the church is moving, involuntarily, to the borders of society and so rediscover a “God of the margins” and of revolt. There have been broadly two reactions to this: claw back power and privilege or embrace and chase the new and healthier vocations of the Church to be prophetic instead of just pathetic.
Has Christian Anarchism a long history? How has it been viewed historically, have Christian Anarchists been ‘shot by both sides’?
Tolstoy might be said to be the first Christian anarchist although his was of a particular kind and he shied away from the word anarchism because of it’s connotations of violence. His Christian anarchism had a huge impact on Gandhi. But there have always been those in the Church who’ve been persecuted by Church and State because they took up broadly anarchic positions. While not exhaustive, I’d recommend Alex Christoyanoupolos’s book “Christian Anarchism” for a good history of this and Dave Andrew’s classic “Christi-Anarchy” for a look both how the church got compromised and what Christian anarchism could look like.
Last year you were involved in an anti drone direct action and arrested, could you elaborate on what happened and how it concluded? Does Christian Anarchism emphasise anti-militarism?
Myself and five others (some Christian, some not) cut through the fence at RAF Waddington where the RAF are piloting the drones in Afghanistan from. Having made the way in, two of us planted up a peace garden while the other four went off in two around the base putting up posters, and giving out information but primarily hoping to find the pilots themselves. We were, of course, arrested. We were held “incomunicado” until late that night and not released until 4pm the following day. Meanwhile some of our homes were raided and all our computers, cameras, memory sticks, and some posters and notebooks taken. We weren’t charged until after 2am and when we got to court the next day the charges were down-graded from “conspiracy” to “criminal damage” – they were obviously in flap and made lots of mistakes in their handling of us.
When we finally had our day in court, amidst much national and regional, print, TV and radio exposure. we were supported by around fifty anti-drones protestors and – to a large extent – by our judge! The judge called us “dutiful people with a legitimate target” said that he was “ruled by the law not by common sense” and, after giving us all a full day to make our case, found us guilty “with a heavy heart” and order us each to pay £15 compensation to the RAF plus costs. I hope others now take on direct action at RAF Waddington because if we wait for a just government we’ll be waiting for ever.
You are based in Mansfield where you a Pastor and the “Seeking Justice” Adviser, what does that entail?
It’s a brand new job they made up so I’ve got a fair amount of autonomy. We’re setting up a chapter of Citziens UK in the district and town and I’m working with a group of villages on a Transition Initiative. I’m exploring ways of demonstrating the intrinsically political nature of faith and spirituality through public actions, workshops and other media. Being a parish priest for the other half of my job roots me back in the reality – mostly joyful reality – of every day pastoral concern. I think the jobs balance each other out. For example, when my house was raided by the police I had a lot of listening and unpacking of the action to do with a lot of people for whom Direct Action was completely alien – it was as exciting as the action and far more nerve racking.
What do you think is the most important lesson Christianity can learn from anarchism, and vice versa?
I think anarchism explains Christianity. So I guess the most important lesson anarchism can teach Christianity is how to do Christianity more authentically. And having been at endless meetings at collectives, social centres or squats over the years I think the main thing that Christianity can offer anarchism is a richness of language that goes beyond the materialism – in the proper sense of that word – of imagining a better world. I don’t see a need to “become” an anarchist or even to call myself a Christian, most of the time. These labels are just abstractions meant to tell us where we can and cannot travel intellectually. So it’s better just to take the journey and enjoy the company of whoever’s by your side at the time.

Goldman, E. (2005) ‘Anarchism and other Essays’ Filiquiarian Publishing, LLC.
‘Anti-drone protesters’ lenient sentence is ‘invitation’ to activists’. H. Williamson, 11-10-13, The Guardian.

Atari Teenage Riot 2012

Atari Teenage Riot 2012

You’ve probably noticed that in late capitalism mainstream culture, including music, is often the tarted up result of market forces and the commodification of all things, it cannot help but be bereft of meaning and over arching purpose, it has nothing much to say and no idea where it is going; it operates as a social anaesthetic. In contrast Atari Teenage Riot are a band with purpose, vitality and a strong anarchist position. I got to interview founding member Alec Empire over the phone to Berlin recently.

Q. Atari Teenage Riot regrouped about 2 years ago and seem to have been on a world tour since then! Recently you have played Moscow, Mexico City and Athens, what have you been able to see of the various class struggles going on globally?
Alec. Well, people who are politically aware would come to our shows anyway, you speak to people after the shows, and certain groups contact you and want to have a stand and flyers but when it started to take on another level was last year in the summer. I remember when we started the ‘Black Flags’ viral video project to get fans to participate, it started to grow when we got all this footage and then Anonymous activists asked if they could send in footage wearing the Guy Fawkes masks which was great because we referenced the hacker group in the song, we got a lot of stuff from America, from Europe, from the protests in Chile. It was spreading and becoming more than the original idea. Then we got stuff from Japan where people had changed our logo to ‘Anti Tepco Riot’ (in protest against the company who own the Fukushima nuclear plant). I thought that was great when fans take your thing and adapt it into banners at protest. When we were in America last year it was like we would play a city and a week later there would be an Occupy protest!
Q. Your collaborator on ‘Black Flags’, Boots Riley was really involved with Occupy Oakland wasn’t he. What have you made of the Occupy movement?
A. In the beginning I was thinking where is this going? You know the usual questions. But on tour I met people who were involved in the protests and from Anonymous, I realised that this was a new generation of people who want to change something, who want to get together and network, I thought this was the beginning of something that could lead to something very powerful. It involved many new and different people and wasn’t under the banner of a usual political group. I can understand the criticism that there are all these different voices, some protesting against the banks, others against the politicians, but I think what’s good about it is that people were communicating about what is wrong and must be changed, maybe to an outsider it isn’t clear why these people want to get together and why they are passionate about change and ‘Shouldn’t there be a spokesperson’ but that was the strength of that movement. When we travelled to America it was very exciting, we played a show at a festival at the start of September, just before all that stuff but you sensed something…there were people with banners, political stuff, they handed it to us on stage to put up over our band banner! It felt great that people at a rock concert would bring their stuff even though it wasn’t arranged beforehand, just a spontaneous thing! You could sense people had had enough and wanted to speak out and wanted to be heard, there was a real energy! People were ‘Let’s get information, let’s network, let’s improve things’. Really positive. You know I’ve been to so many protests and demonstrations over the years and it would be easy to go ‘yeah, whatever it’s just another thing’ but there is something else going on. We are at a time where we need to question a lot of political theories. On the song ‘Black Flags’ guest Boots Riley is more socialist/communist, not really with the ‘Black Flag’ but with the ‘Red Flag’ but I thought it was good that the track gave space to that other opinion, I think it’s a constant dialogue that we need to have. No body has the perfect answer.
I really liked that in the end we had the video footage from Wikileaks with Julian Assange speaking at Occupy London, it was amazing that all these people contacted us and the video became something completely different to a normal music video, almost a documentation of all these protests that were going on this last half year. What was also amazing was that in February and March there were these Anonymous guys called ‘Operation Blitzkrieg’ taking down major neo Nazi websites and putting up the ‘Black Flags’ video on there! Some sites had that on there for 3 days and didn’t know how to technically remove it! For me that was so awesome!

Q. On a discussion of your album ‘Is this Hyperreal?’ you said that you see yourselves as anarchist libertarians and you have said elsewhere that you don’t believe in hierarchies. It is fantastic to hear a rock musician being so upfront about their anarchist views. How long have you identified yourself as an anarchist?
A. For me that would go back to before Atari Teenage Riot, it’s a long time! It has a lot to do with the history and the environment in Berlin, the political scene and stuff in the 80s that I grew into as a punk rock kid. We were really in the middle of West and East and we would get from the eastern, socialist so called, Germany the propaganda stuff, from the West and the East and I developed a big mistrust of governments, you know it seemed to me in the West the politicians were involved in all these corporations and almost defended decisions made by big business. In East Germany there was almost the opposite but you would see the corruption, all under the banner of socialism.
Also as a musician, I started making music very early on, what I never quite understood was that people would treat certain musicians as a religious… leader, this was the 80s when the contrast couldn’t have been bigger between stadium rock and punk rock and DIY stuff. Concerts happening in squats and stuff like that and then the Rolling Stones playing football stadiums! In the 80s the way that they marketed went to a new level. And pop music took on a different role, that was when we first saw pop music being very manufactured.
Q. The ‘Stock, Aitken and Waterman’ stuff..
A. Yeah! There was always that part probably in pop music where producers and record labels would push artists in a certain direction…it was like puppets performing.

Q. When I saw ATR in Colchester Art Centre one of the things I loved was how you dismantled the dichotomy between the band and the crowd, the crowd were on the stage, the band were in the audience…
A. I think I could speak for the others in the group that you don’t feel comfortable when people — they don’t mean it in a bad way — who love the music look at you as an icon or whatever and don’t see you as a normal person anymore. You appreciate that someone likes your music so much but to be put above others like that makes me uncomfortable. I feel at a concert we all come together rather than I perform ‘top down’ my entertainment to ‘the little people’!!
Also at some concerts and festivals we have played people are treated in a bad way, some promoters seem to look at the audience as cattle or something! Some people don’t understand how every individual makes a difference…I don’t understand how some musicians and people who work in the music industry always have a cynical approach…
Q. Do you think it is because some people buy into the capitalist view of people as a means to their ends?
A. Yes, of course! Sometimes my jaw drops and you just go ‘Are you serious’!!

Q. On ‘The Keiser Report’ recently they were talking about how ATR had got money from Sony and then given that money to help Anonymous fund their legal costs. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
A. That was a few things coming together, mid/end February I got this request, I think what happened was they (Sony) couldn’t get another song licence and they were under time pressure because they had the TV slots booked and they were like ’Hey maybe you guys have something?’ I was like ’Hmm, maybe…’ you have to understand the history with Sony. In 1999 in Asia there was a camcorder ad and Sony took the intro of a song of ours put it in the ad and thought nobody would ever find out, Nine Inch Nails were on tour over there and then we supported them in Europe and the team that was making a documentary about NIN’s world tour came to us and said ‘Hey did you see this, there is your music in this ad, did you know about this?’ I thought it must be a mistake and maybe it was The Prodigy or something! But a friend of theirs videoed it from TV and sent it over and we realised it was actually our song, we couldn’t believe this was happening! It was an absolute nightmare to try and fight this because it was Sony Asia, you have to take it to court, they have all these lawyers. We kind of settled it, they said it was in the ad by mistake, so they only had to pay for damages for 5 broadcasts or something instead of the whole campaign. It really pissed me off at that point! I did an interview with NME and those magazines in 1999 because I was so outraged! It was the mentality of bullying artists, just grabbing something that you have created. Some musician friends said ’Look Alec, whatever, it’s in the ad’ but to me it is a political song. Us appearing in an ad with Sony immediately corrupts the message. I would never have agreed to this no matter for whatever amount of money.
Q. So when they came back 13 years later…!
A. It was different people, in America, I was like ‘Actually there is something in here!’ I talked to some Anonymous guys and said I can actually put this in here and fuck these guys! I put the instrumental in, it fitted perfectly and started airing and as soon as the money arrived in my account I transferred it over to the law firm that collects donations to defend Anonymous activists in court. Why this blew up so much was there was a big FBI arrest in March, they arrested a couple of Anonymous hackers, the FBI had an undercover person in there. That happened 3 hours after my money arrived there. In the beginning I wanted to do it as an inside thing, through the back door, but it blew up and ‘The Keiser Report’ spoke about it at the same time as the reporting of the FBI arrests.

Q. You have mentioned Anonymous a few times and we talked about Boots Riley guesting on ‘Black Flags’, do you enjoy collaborating, does it help you to be more creative working with other people? You had CX Kidtronic on board now you have Rowdy Superstar…
A. All these people bring something different to the table. The artist in isolation, this genius, I don’t really believe in that! It’s the interaction, I love that process, different people have different ideas, that’s the strength. I believe in the collective in that way…music has to move forward, what we don’t want is to go and see a classical concert and hear Mozart for the thousandth time although for some people in the upper class this is their ideal world, keeping going to the same events for those who can afford it, it is a top down thing and dead in my opinion.

Q. Against a backdrop of a mainstream culture that is a by product of market forces, cultural product as some thing new to sell, how have you managed to avoid being assimilated, as someone who identifies them self as an anarchist and who wants to express those views in your music do you get a lot of pressure to bland out?
A. The ‘rules’ exist so they always hope that you as a musician adapt to that. It starts with ‘You shouldn’t really have a political view come across in your song’ because it can’t be played on the radio show, so people like me say ‘OK, so you can’t play it on your radio show!’ but other musicians will go ‘Oh, no, if we want to get on the show we need to (make it more vague)’ There is a lot of, in Germany we call it self-censorship, where people go ‘Oh my god, I would get in trouble for saying that stuff’. But if I can’t express my real opinion then it is not worth doing, but people would argue that is why other artists got bigger than ATR or my own stuff because they were willing to make those compromises. But that is a handful of artists who profited from that, hundreds and hundreds of others shut up hoping they would be picked to be a star and it never happened, so to me I don’t even want to make that trade. Why give up what you believe in in the hope that everybody will support you? It’s very interesting how ATR has influenced so many bands and musicians from all kinds of genres, for me that’s much more important than can we sell twice as many tickets. Although you always want people to come to your shows and listen to your music, that’s great! It was amazing when we got over 400,000 views on youtube for the Wikileaks edit of ‘Black Flags’! Though some people said ‘Yeah but if you compare that to other music videos it should be 2 million views’ But I think for a viral video that just includes footage from protests its amazing that so many people would watch this stuff! From that angle it’s a success though if you come from a Britney Spears/Lady Gaga angle then it is a small amount of people! I think in a different way I guess!…in the long term compromising corrupts your own personality almost…
Q. When you were recording ‘Is this Hyperreal?’ you had 21 tracks but only 10 made it on to this album, have you got any plans for those other 11 tracks?
A. Yeah, and we have added some new stuff and we want to put a record out as soon as possible, hopefully after the summer. I feel there is a lot more to say now, and with Rowdy now (new member of ATR), the guy has just grown into it! It was amazing we played this festival in Coachella and he was right away in the crowd and ‘Yeah, Coachella are you fuckin’ ready’ and this red neck guy who didn’t seem to like us punched him in the face and he was getting into a fight in the second song and I was thinking ‘Where’s Rowdy’ and he gets up and he’s ‘Fuck you Coachella!’, totally punk rock! Its also great to have more ideas and I love it that he is from England, and that when we speak about the riots last summer I thank god that there is someone from England who is not part of that typical white established music scene who says ‘They are all dumb looters’; with him he is coming from the right angle!
Many thanks to Alec for his time and to Claire at DHR for organising things

Atari Teenage Riot interview 2011.

Atari Teenage Riot 2011.

As the struggle between Capital and Labour intensifies all over Europe and the battle lines are drawn between neoliberals, reformists and anti capitalists a band who have never hidden their anarchist views have regrouped and started playing live shows again. Atari Teenage Riot (ATR) are back after a ten year break and have plenty to say about society, politics and economics in the second decade of the 21st century. After going to see them in November 2010 and being completely amazed by the experience I was keen to find out more about the band and their views, and got to interview (via email) their founder member Alec Empire.
Q: It’s about a year since ATR regrouped after a ten year hiatus. How has the last year gone? Have you been encouraged by people’s responses?
Alec: Yes, in this case the response of the fans drove ATR forward. First we thought we would play one show in London. And suddenly the timing seemed to be so right for this music and its message. We didn’t see that coming. Next thing we were playing massive shows in Japan again, Taiwan was added, the US tour got extended – it just didn’t stop. What is so different now compared to the 90s is that people want us to speak about these issues because the problems are so visible to almost everybody now.
Q: You’ve got a new album out later in the year. How is work going on it? What kind of new dynamic has the new member (CX Kidtronik) brought to the band?
Alec: We don’t really look at albums in the same way as we did in the 90s. It is a bigger picture now. We have written 21 new songs, they won’t all be released on the CD version of course, because they won’t fit that format. So we will put all kinds of music out this year. CX brings in some fresh energy and his own views about the USA and the politics there. It’s an important input for ATR in 2011. I am the only German left in ATR, so the focus has shifted away from writing songs about Germany’s politics.
Q: The last 10 years while ATR were in abeyance saw the election of Bush, the Twin Towers attack, financial collapse, the imposing of neo-liberal economics in Europe and the establishment of ‘Fortress Europe’ – does the new album confront these issues or do you have other contemporary issues in focus? Were you frustrated that ATR weren’t a functioning band over the last 10 years?
Alec: The new album ‘Is This Hyperreal?’ has its focus on hacker activism, keeping the internet free from government and corporate control, control technologies in the modern age and democracy, human trafficking. We think these are the main issues of our time and there need to be powerful songs written about them. We wrote about the Bush era before Bush got elected. The record ‘The Future of War’ was our vision of terrorism and wars for profit. I was never frustrated that we didn’t do anything with ATR in those years. I did so much as Alec Empire and was doing well in many countries with that. So it wasn’t like I didn’t have a platform to express my views. My album ‘Intelligence & Sacrifice’ dealt with a lot of issues.

Q: I saw ATR at Colchester Art Centre last November, it was wild, the best gig I’ve ever been to! Part way through the set you said that ‘The Future of War’ had been banned in Germany, also iTunes were unhappy with the ATR app and Myspace are going to shut down your page, do you think there is a danger in Europe of a slide into sophisticated fascism, an authoritarian capitalism, or does it already exist?
Alec: Yes, the risk is always there, that’s why we need to fight it. Many people don’t understand how these changes will have a negative effect on their own lives. In Nazi Germany it wasn’t like suddenly Hitler appeared and took over the country, killed millions of Jews and started a World War. The majority of the people voted for him and German society made these steps one at a time. I feel that our society is moving towards something very, very dangerous. This so-called democracy has become so corrupt and politicians seem like the puppets of multi-national corporations. The reality of that and the majority of people out there not taking the democratic system seriously anymore opened the door more than ever before.
Q: As a band based in mainland Europe, how do you see things going socially and politically? With neoliberal economics being rolled out by and via national governments all over Europe is there more grassroots resistance in mainland Europe than in the UK due to a stronger socialist and anarchist traditions?
Alec: Many people out there are starting to understand that the system will not work out for them. They keep working harder and harder and a small minority of people are taking the profits and not giving anything back. The super rich don’t even pay taxes in most cases. I am personally completely against any form of government. People have to learn how to determine their own lives again, and not expect the government to sort everything out for them. Because that won’t happen. I see more and more people looking at the idea of true anarchy in a different way than before. Of course the media is spreading this image of fear, so people don’t try to think about those ideas. But if we look at the internet, and especially at the beginning of it, we can interpret it as a proof that anarchy works.
Q: The Situationists talked about ‘the spectacle’, the way that an advanced industrial society is represented to itself by the elite of that society (e.g. Britain as a champion of freedom and democracy globally!). Do you think the internet has helped to dismantle or increase the elites’ control over flows of information and representation? Does ATR set out to smash ‘the spectacle’ by confronting power with truth?
Alec: It did for a while, but we are at a crossroads. The corporations and the governments are trying to control the internet too much. The technology that worked for us will be turned against us. I think that those who are politically very active are already feeling these control mechanism taking effect. A lot of the ‘Facebook revolutions’ in the Arab countries are the soft power approaches by the US government and not so much the internet on its own like some sort of miracle. People have to understand that. Our new album deals mainly with that issue. Truth is our best weapon. And you have to move constantly because those in power, and I am talking about the mainstream music industry which has a political agenda, take what we do all the time and feed it back to the mainstream in a compromised way. It’s the way the system works. And the cynics who question political bands or any political activism just work in support of those who are in power right now without often realizing it.
Q: The internet has radically altered the ways we can access information and ideas and also music. Do you think downloading has led to the hyper-commodification of music where songs float freely in cyberspace disconnected from the artist or original time period so that there is just a series of songs consumed rather than a sense of identification with the artist? Do you think that lack of identification with the artist may be one of the reasons people are happy to download without paying the artist for the song?
Alec: Oh that’s a very complex discussion and I have my very own view of the situation. I’ll try to sum it up for you a bit. Basically right now there is a war going on for what some call intellectual property. The corporations have started it, so that they can take any idea, anything creative from people like you and me and exploit it financially. Copyright must be defined from new. It has to protect the writers, musicians, filmmakers, artists, anybody who is doing creative work and NOT the big publishing companies and the major record labels. The trouble is that those who support the Pirate Party don’t have any understanding of how creativity works and flourishes, they don’t often understand the way independent artists can survive financially in a capitalist system. There is a mob mentality right now, almost like fundamentalist Christians they attack any artist who wants to get paid for his/her work. When I talk to my father about this, he has a socialist history and comes from a working class background, he says it’s insane how anybody can try to claim and take somebody else’s work and then even accuse him of being a greedy capitalist or something. A young band starting out is not Metallica. Pirate Bay could have been an interesting approach but of course they had to make millions from corporate advertising on their site and lost any kind of credibility… I am pretty hardcore about that. You do not take my music and message and put it next to a Nokia ad and make money from that. If you want to do that, call me and we share the money. But be prepared that I might say ‘no’ to it.
Major labels like Sony get finance from other sources, they sell hardware for example, their music labels lose money, always did… So the reality of what we are seeing now, is that indie bands become nothing more than a number in a telephone book, they can upload their music onto Myspace or whatever, make those companies rich, while they might gain a few hundred new fans who then leave weeks after, then they give up and stop. The majors moan a lot about the situation but in fact they love it that the so called pirates eradicate all independent competition for them. So we’ll see record stores disappear completely now, the Majors cosy up with Apple’s iTunes and leave everybody else with pretty much nothing. If you look at how venues are being bought up by a multi national corporation like Live Nation then you can imagine that the future will look pretty bad for independent and underground music. The music scene always mirrors the real world. The gap between rich and poor is widening. That is the same in the music scene. When I started there was a strong support for underground and independent music everywhere. When you were into music you just knew the enemy. We need to bring down the Major record industry when they finance artists like 50 Cent or Beyonce who perform for dictators like Gaddafi. If you support the small local store that sells organic food, you might want to think the same way about the music you’re listening to. Making music shouldn’t be a rich man’s thing. Why? Because it will not bring us the best music! The main thinking mistake that the Majors make is that music stays the same and just needs to be presented by different musicians. Music is like language, it is part of evolution, it changes, it moves forward all the time, sometimes backward…but if there is no innovation, then it dies. Even the worst and evil capitalists would tell you that. They know that in the computer industry, in the car industry and so on…but when it comes to music, people get all emotional and try to make those decisions based on their feelings or personal taste. This is the real crisis, not kids downloading mp3s from home. I want musicians to make music. I don’t want them to give me their music for free but advertise something else with it. I rather pay my small share so the bands I like can keep their integrity.
Q: ATR have always modelled the equality of men and women. Do you think things are better for women in music now than when you took a break in 2000 or are they still forced to perpetuate sexist stereotypes?
Alec: Hard to say…in pop it got worse. It always swings forward and backwards… Those who finance top 40 pop records are usually old men who like to see a blonde girl singing a melodic song or something… This distorts of what’s really going on, but then again the public and the musicians think they have to go down that route to be popular. I think we should get rid of the charts system or if we keep it in place than we must print the marketing budget for each song/artist next to the chart position. The fact is we need more strong girls and women in our society because the ship is going down and we need new and fresh ideas on how to solve those problems. Being a man or woman, that shouldn’t matter, we need the best people. Riot Grrl plays a huge part in what ATR is about. Even more on this album than any other we did. 

Q: Are there any bands that have appeared over the last ten years that have excited or enraged you? What direction do you see mainstream pop music going in?
Alec: Not much…there is always some good stuff here and there…but I am convinced that we’ll see the real change coming now… The last decade was a bit like what I heard people say about the 80s. Not much depth and soul….
Q: The timing of ATR’s regrouping coincides with a new, more widespread, grassroots militancy so I imagine that your lyrics are going to resonate with a lot of people. Are you excited to be around at this time and do you have any hopes/plans for the next year or are you just seeing how the whole thing develops?
Alec: I was very active with my solo stuff over the past decade, so I never felt like I wasn’t around before ATR. But it’s true ATR stands for an idea, that’s something you can’t get across as strongly if you’re an individual artist. In general I never hope for anything, I do what I think is right. Very often my instinct is right. Regardless of if I like it or not, it is down to people out there to decide. If they don’t want to see or hear ATR, then we move on. I love the interaction with the ‘fans’, that’s my main motivation. It might sound weird to some people, but it’s true. I met the most interesting people through my music. It connects us. I find that much more exciting than playing a sold out concert. When I can talk to political activists before I go on stage in Taiwan, then fly to Croatia and talk to a journalist about politics that is amazing… I met my favourite musicians via this music. There is a lot more we need to say with our music.
Much thanks to Alec for time taken and to Claire at Digital Hardcore. If you get the chance to see ATR then grab it, you honestly won’t be disappointed! They are playing the UK in May and their new album ‘Is This Hyperreal?’ is out in June 2011.