Rage Against The Machine is a band from Los Angeles, California. Their music is a creative blend of hip-hop, metal/hard rock and punk, and reflects their far-left wing sentiments - supporting the working class, preserving the environment, and speaking out against police brutality. They have been called one of the most political rock bands of the 1990s. If Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Eugene V Debs and Ralph Nader could play rock, you'd end up with basically the same stuff. Despite their political objectives, their music has great pop appeal. This works to Rage's advantage: Zack de la Rocha said, 'We're not going to play to the mainstream. We're going to hijack it.'
Who is Rage Against The Machine?
Rage Against The Machine was founded by vocalist Zack de la Rocha, from Irvine, California. The son of Chicano political artist Beto, he was born on 12 January, 1970, in Long Beach, California. He was in a well-known hardcore band, Inside Out, whose second album was intended to be named 'Rage Against The Machine'. The band broke up before its release.
Tom Morello is the guitarist for Rage. He was born in Harlem, a neighbourhood of New York City, on 30 May, 1964, but grew up in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville, Illinois. His father was part of Kenya's Mau Mau insurrection against British colonial rule after World War II, and his uncle is Jomo Kenyatta, the first Kenyan president. Morello holds a degree in Social Studies from Harvard University.
Tim Commerford is Rage's bassist. His interest in playing bass was ignited by childhood friend De la Rocha when they were in the ninth grade. He is also noted for constantly changing his name for each album: for their eponymous debut he was listed as 'Timmy C.'; for their second album, Evil Empire, he was listed as 'Tim Bob'; when 'No Shelter' was released on the Godzilla soundtrack, he went by 'Simmering T'; for their latest album, The Battle of Los Angeles he goes by 'TIM.COM' and 'Y.tim.K'.
Brad Wilk supplies the drums for Rage. He was born on 5 September, 1968, in Portland, Oregon. After he placed an ad in a Los Angeles paper, Tom responded and brought him into the band. He has an obsession with the number 3 - they are placed all over his drum kit, and the liner notes to The Battle of Los Angeles credit '#3' in Sesame Street1 fashion.
Just Exactly What 'Machine' Are They Raging Against?
Rage Against the Machine's intent was to raise the level of social consciousness in their fans. They wanted them to get involved in issues and fight for a better world. The 'machine' is what they call the 'state propaganda system' of media, corporations and government, but can also mean any sort of authority that operates beyond the law. In their nine years of working together they supported many causes, played numerous benefits, and organised many protests. One of their most famous causes is the death-row inmate, former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamar. Other causes include Leonard Peltier, a Native American under sentence of death, and the fight for democracy in Mexico. As de la Rocha says, 'Rage Against the Machine is not a stranger to controversy.'
Their Performances, Benefits and Protests
The Early 1990s
Rage's first performance was in the living room of a friend of Tim's in 1991. They only knew five-and-a-half songs. The crowd went wild for them and insisted they play them again. Afterwards, they made a demo tape containing 12 songs and began playing shows around Los Angeles.
In time, they would open shows for Porno For Pyros and Suicidal Tendencies, and earn a spot on Lollapalooza. The performance at Lollapalooza III turned into a protest against censorship and the Parents Music Resource Center. The band stood on the stage for 14 minutes without playing a single note. Strips of duct tape were placed across their mouths, and the letters PMRC were written on their chests - one letter for each band member. Tom said, 'It was to show that if the fans didn't take matters into their own hands, they wouldn't be able to see bands like us.' Their first album, Rage Against The Machine, was released on Sony's 'Epic' label and remained on the Billboard Top 200 for 84 weeks.
1993 - 1997
In December, 1993, they released the video for 'Freedom', a film about the American political prisoner, Leonard Peltier. Featuring clips from the documentary Incident at Oglala, text from Peter Mathiessen's In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse, and portions of a Peltier benefit concert, the video went to number one in the USA.
They continued to tour through 1994 and settled down in Atlanta to begin work on their second album. Tensions ran high through the band for a while, and it wasn't until 1996 when real progress was made. Rage appeared on the NBC comedy show Saturday Night Live and performed a new song, 'Bulls On Parade'. They were kicked off the set, however, when their producer attempted to hang inverted American flags on their amps as a protest against presidential candidate Steve Forbes' presence on the show. The video for 'Bulls On Parade' was released the following week, and two days later their second album, Evil Empire, knocked Alanis Morisette's Jagged Little Pill out of the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200. The video won the 1996 'Video of the Year' on MTV.
Rage headlined their own tour during 1996. The video for 'People Of The Sun' was released, heavily censored on MTV. In 1997, they joined U2 on their 'PopMart' tour, and all Rage's profits went to support social organisations. In late 1997, they released a home video featuring live performances and all the uncensored versions of their videos from their first two albums.
1998 - 1999
They returned to the studio in summer 1998 to begin work on their third album. Rage graced the soundtracks to the movies Godzilla ('No Shelter') The Crow ('Darkness') and Higher Learning ('Year of the Boomerang', which later appeared on the Evil Empire album). In the meantime, they took part in protests, began collaborations with other artists, and played large festivals. In April, Zack de la Rocha appeared before the United Nations to speak against the death penalty and on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamar. After giving a rousing performance at the tragic Woodstock '99 festival in Rome, NY, they began touring and playing politically-motivated concerts like the Tibetan Freedom Festival, the Fuji festival, and a controversial benefit for Mumia Abu-Jamal. On 5 October, 1999, Rage's fans were overjoyed to hear a new song, 'Guerrilla Radio'. On 2 November, 1999, after three-and-a-half years, The Battle of Los Angeles hit the Billboard Top 200, selling 430,000 albums within the first week and knocking Mariah Carey off the number one spot.
2000 - 2001
In February 2000, Rage performed outside the New York Stock Exchange. Clips from the concert were used for their new video, 'Sleep Now In The Fire'. After the director for their video, Michael Moore, was arrested by the New York Police Department, Rage and thousands of their fans rushed the Exchange. For the first time since anyone could remember, the New York Stock Exchange shut down an hour early for fear of a riot.
On 1 August, they released their third single, 'Testify', the video of which criticised the 2000 US elections. Two weeks later they played a free concert outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. After the band left the stage, the Los Angeles police came in and lived up to their reputation by raining rubber bullets on the crowd as they were trying to leave the area.
Rage played at the MTV Video Music Awards on 7 September, 2000. When they lost the 'Best Rock Video' award to Limp Bizkit, Timmy C scaled a 15-foot stage prop and rocked back and forth, screaming some rather colourful obscenities. He was arrested but later released.
In December of 2000, Renegades was released, de la Rocha's final studio effort with the band. Rage covered several songs originally released by bands such as the Rolling Stones, Devo, Cypress Hill, Bob Dylan and others. Their cover of Bruce Springsteen's 'The Ghost Of Tom Joad' was also included. This was previously only available as a single along with Rage's 1997 home video.
In February, they released their full-length concert and video journal chronicling their visit to Mexico City, called The Battle Of Mexico City. The members of Rage regard it as one of the musical and political highlights of their career. Parts of this concert were shown when 'The Battle of Los Angeles' was released, but this video is the full, uncensored version. Not only is there a live performance on this video, but there are also vignettes featuring the Zapatistas and the labour situation in Mexico.
The Machine Breaks Down
Soon after Rage spoke of their plans for a live album, de la Rocha announced his plans to leave the band and begin work on his solo career. He blamed a communications breakdown and the band's inability to make proper decisions. 'It is no longer meeting the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band and, from my perspective, has undermined our artistic and political ideal,' Zack said. 'I am extremely proud of our work, both as activists and musicians, as well as indebted and grateful to every person who has expressed solidarity and shared this incredible experience with us.'
While Zack de la Rocha has left the band, the remaining members are still committed to social activism. Guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk said, 'We're proud of our history and what we've accomplished musically and politically over the last nine years. We are committed to continuing with our efforts to effect change in the social and political arena and look forward to creating more ground-breaking music for our fans.' The fans are still waiting for more music and, aside from Tom Morello attending a couple of protests, things have been pretty quiet. Meanwhile, de la Rocha has been working on a solo album and contributed to a track on Roni Size Reprazent's newest album, In The Mode.
Even though Rage has left the spotlight, they haven't been forgotten. In February of 2001, they won the 'Best Hard Rock Performance' for 'Guerilla Radio' at the 43rd Grammy Awards. And in April of 2001, Morello was awarded 'Best Guitarist' at the 24th Annual California Music Awards. We're still feeling the impact of their nine years of social activism - in December of 2001, Mumia Abu-Jamar's death sentence was rescinded. He still faces life in prison and, possibly, a retrial. For updates on current events and social issues, check the official Rage Against the Machine website.