Max Raynard

Anarchy For Sale

marilyn manson"The revolution will not go better with Coke…"
-- Gil Scott-Heron, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

Rebellion sells. Marilyn Manson, a shock rocker hated by conservatives for his decadent excesses, was rewarded for his sins by having the number one selling album in America during its first week of release. In modern America, the musical cries of teen angst can barely be heard over the "ca-ching" sound of profits rolling into the wallets of drooling corporate executives.

Dotting malls of America is a chain store called Hot Topic, a store that claims "It's all about the music." Inside one might find torn and safety pinned anarchy shirts or spiky bracelets -- all necessary accessories for today's suburban teenage outcast. "The Company believes teenagers throughout the United States have similar fashion preferences, largely as a result of the nationwide influence of MTV, music distribution, movies and television programs. [The Company recognizes] that music is the primary driver of teen fashion preferences," Hot Topic's website cheerfully announces.

From early rock n roll and 60s psychedelia, to punk, to hip hop, to grunge, the music of the counter culture has been eagerly sought out, re-packaged, and sold back to the youth of America. This is a process, that while useful in bringing underground music to the mainstream, guts that same music of the very thing that made it revolutionary and dangerous to the mainstream -- its independence from the status quo. It is essential for any musicians who advocate social change to not limit themselves due to corporate censorship or grow apathetic with the fruits of success. To avoid this, they must remain free of major labels and other corporate aspects of music, and refuse to participate in a system that turns rebellion into profit.

bob dylanMusic has a long tradition of social protest. From "The Times They Are a-Changing" by Bob Dylan, "Get Up Stand Up" by Bob Marley, "Fight The Power" by Public Enemy, or "Kill the Poor" by the Dead Kennedys, musicians are among the first to point out the flaws of society and advocate for change. Since the start of modern music, musicians have faced the question of how much of their art must be sacrificed to make it amenable to the corporate system. Artists concerned with social change have faced this decision doubly so. How much of the system they supposedly oppose can they embrace to spread the message of their music?

The arena of modern mainstream music is a carefully managed machine. A disparagingly small number of companies own all commercial radio stations, TV stations, record labels, and sizeable concert venues in the nation. One of the more sinister examples of this is a corporation named Clear Channel. Clear Channel controls 1,200 radio stations, including 60% of all rock programming. Clear Channel can count their number of listeners in the United States in the hundreds of millions. The end result of the consolidation of ownership (and therefore power) in the music industry is that companies can carefully pick and choose which artists the vast majority of Americans -- who are unwilling or unable to examine alternative venues for music -- hear, as well as control the artists themselves once they enter the mainstream.

As can be seen by the stranglehold Clear Channel has on the music industry, corporations in America are part of the status quo. Capitalism, and more specifically money, in America is a religion with followers more devout than any other. Any voice, in music or otherwise, that challenges the status quo is inherently challenging corporations. The typical corporate response is to fight these challenges by turning revolutionary music into a product. Instead of being authentic art, music becomes a thing to be bought and sold, which debases the very meaning of the music and defangs the threat.

rage against the machineConsider the band Rage Against the Machine, who addressed quite a number of issues lyrically, including capitalism, revolution, immigrant and prisoner rights, racism, and police brutality. When they behave the same way as the pop group N*Sync, with the only difference (other than musical style) being lyrical content, Rage Against the Machine ceases to be a rebellious band. Instead they become as harmless as the next mainstream superstars.

How a band chooses to distribute and sell their music makes as much of a statement about a band's politics as lyrics do. If Rage Against The Machine and bands like them truly cared about the poor, they would not charge $20 for a CD or $30 for a concert, as Rage Against the Machine has done. These prices are many times the hourly wages of the oppressed that the band supposedly speaks for. Musicians who are interested in social change should realize that actions speak louder then words. Music that is lyrically rebellions, but in all other ways functions as the same mass marketed, mass produced corporate pop that poisons the airwaves, betrays its message by the reality of its exploitation.

n*syncIn addition to being rendered harmless, a musician who fights for social change but embraces corporations strongly risks hypocrisy -- if not directly aiding those who oppress them. Rage Against the Machine calls for riots and rebellion in their lyrics, but has bouncers and security guards to keep events orderly. The major record label EMI from England signed numerous outspoken political punk bands, including the Sex Pistols, Stiff Little Fingers and New Model Army in the late 70s and early 80s. However, EMI was heavily involved in investing in companies that built weapons for the military, participated in animal testing, and invested in apartheid in South Africa, as well as being a large contributor to England's conservative party (Profane Existence 23). By making money for EMI, these bands were making money for the very people they supposedly opposed. In fact the Sex Pistols, who are one of the most well know and influential punk bands, were "created to sell trousers" according to band manager Malcolm McLaren.

public enemyA similar development can be seen in the genre of hip hop. When it first started, hip hop was home to many outspoken artists such as NWA or Public Enemy who had a rebellious lyrical agenda. Because of the way the genre was pimped, so to speak, modern mainstream hip hop is largely nothing more than a string of sexist references to women and boastings of wealth, nice cars, and pimping skill. Both hip hop and punk have strong underground scenes. The vast majority of groups in each genre that have remained political, both through words and actions, have been the groups that have remained in the underground and rejected major label contracts.

It is hard for an artist, even one who recognizes the corruption of major labels and corporations, to say no to making money doing what they love, which is almost always what a rejection of major labels means. However, to artists who care about changing society, their music and politics should come first. Integrity is not something that can be bought with any amount of money.

This is not a condemnation of all mainstream artists who advocate social change and radical politics, nor is it a condemnation of those who do not. However, bands who wish to be truly revolutionary must be the change they wish to oppose. Condemning those in power, calling for change, but acting with the same profit-making lust of those condemned is not enough. Instead of sitting complacently by while musical rebellion is whored out for dollars, artists should create their own networks of musical liberation.
Musicians and others concerned about rebellious music should work to create independent bands, record labels, venues, and stores. By remaining free of corporate control, by saying no to major labels, big contracts, and the commodification of rebellion, musicians can become a true threat to the status quo.

Max Raynard is a musician and activist. He currently attends City College of San Francisco and is a writer for Wiretap. Email him at max_raynard@yahoo.com.

Explode

explodeBefore anyone’s hopes get too high, let's get one thing straight -- this is NOT the Unseen you know and love. The hard hitting political lyrics, angry street punk riffs, and sing along choruses are all absent, and what is left is a lackluster rendition of heavy metal and rock influenced punk (if you can call it punk).

The Unseen first formed in 1994 in Boston, releasing several seven inches and a full length on Toxic Narcotic’s Rodent Popsicle Records. After many shows and a growing fan base, they released "Lower Class Crucifixion" on Anti-Flag’s AF Records. Then the Unseen put out “The Anger and the Truth” on BYO and toured with Anti-Flag. Their most recent -- and worst -- musical endeavor is “Explode,” also out on BYO.

My first experience with the Unseen was when they opened for Anti-Flag on a tour supporting “The Anger and the Truth” in April 2001. While I considered that album mediocre, they soon became one of my favorite bands after I heard their earlier songs. They were something special among most of their contemporary street punk peers due to intelligent, honest, and highly revolutionary lyrics. They transcended the “F--- the system” politics that most of the other bands fell victim to and spoke out on specific issues, such as how capitalism creates a whole loser class that then becomes dependent on state welfare. Even the non-political songs, such as “Are We Dead Yet?” spoke of a gritty realism that came from life on the streets of Boston.

Already the changes in the Unseen's sound were beginning to manifest themselves in “The Anger and the Truth.” Many of the songs were slower, more slickly produced and notably less political. However, other songs still reminded one of the old Unseen, particularly “Live in Fear.”

On the album “Explode,” Unseen confronted the question that musicians and particularly punk artists have grappled with for ages. After playing a successful formula for several years, should they continue on with the same style or change and expand? If they stay with the same kind of music, then they may grow bored of the formula and not satisfy themselves. However if they change the kind of music they play, the artists risk alienating fans and producing sub par music.

Unfortunately, with punk bands, if a band decides to change their sound to something more mature and musically complicated, it almost always means that they lose their original intensity and urgency and become a hollow reflection of what they used to be. Punk as a musical form is largely effective due to the explosive energy a punk band brings to a live performance. The bands that are most effective when recorded are those bands which can communicate this energy through a CD or record player. When a punk band decides to “grow up” musically, often they lose the ability to communicate this energy and feeling.

The Unseen are no exception to this. They even address the issue of punk formulas in one of the songs on “Explode,” called “False Hope.”

I have not changed my views
But every band reports the same news
I don't wanna repeat someone else's lines.
That's such a waste of time.

Time, boredom, and too many Warped Tours have dulled their once potent rage. “Explode” steers clear of political lyrics, and has only vague expressions of rage and confusion that lack the direction and urgency of previous releases. With well written political lyrics being one of the qualities that defines the Unseen as a band, the change in writing was disheartening to say the least. The musical side of the album is also not up to par with their old albums. It has a somewhat split personality, not being either straight forward punk or a rock/metal hybrid with strong punk influences. The advance in technical musical skill is not an acceptable substitute for the missing energy and spirit. This album fell far short of my expectations and ended my dwindling faith in the Unseen once and for all.

Max Raynard is a musician and activist. He currently attends City College of San Francisco and is a writer for Wiretap. Email him at max_raynard@yahoo.com.

924 Gilman Street













max
Interviewer Max Raynard isn't just a journalist, he's also a Gilman member.

I first met Smitty when we ended up in the same jail cell after being arrested at a peace protest. His sense of humor and light-hearted attitude was a drastic contrast to the somber surroundings. After our initial meeting I saw him often at punk shows at Gilman, where he was a volunteer.

924 Gilman Street is one of the United States' longest running independent music venues. Originally opened in 1986, it operates on the Do It Yourself (DIY) ethic, which means that people who wish to make social change or do anything embark on it themselves without waiting for an okay from the establishment. The club is not operated for profit, but rather as a venue for artists to express themselves -- a breath of fresh air in the world of arena concerts, bouncers, and ticket stubs.

All the members of the club have the ability to make decisions and work for the improvement of the club as a whole. A member of Gilman is anyone who attends shows -- a membership card must be purchased on entry to the club. It is this idea that sets the club apart. After the closings of Burnt Ramen Studios and Mission Records, Gilman remains one of the only all ages clubs in the Bay Area that caters to the punk rock and hardcore community. Their website is www.924gilman.org

Quirky and always ready with a sarcastic joke, you might find Smitty on a typical Friday or Saturday night at Gilman, running around with a clip board signing people up to volunteer or making sure people have paid at the door. I interviewed him via email, after a Saturday show.

Disclaimer from Smitty: This is not any sort of official Gilman statement or anything. To get something like that one would have to come to a membership meeting, have the Gilman membership approve the interview, and then delegate someone, or more likely a few people, to do the interview. I am only representing myself, an individual who volunteers at Gilman on a regular basis.













gilman flyer
Flyer for a Gilman show.

WireTap: How long has Gilman been around and what is the history of the club?

Smitty:
Gilman's first show was December 31st of 1986. I wasn't around back then, so I can't really tell you too much about it. I do know that the idea to have an all ages venue in Berkeley was floating around for a few years, and then finally in April of 1986 a few people found the 924 Gilman space and signed the lease. After this they put up flyers around town trying to get more people involved and held once a week meetings to hammer out what exactly they wanted in a space other than it being all ages.

They also had to do a lot of construction on the building, redo all the plumbing and make it wheelchair accessible. These were all punk kids that didn't [know] a whole lot about construction so they were learning as they went. They also had to get permits and things from the city of Berkeley, but that wasn't a huge problem. Berkeley is a liberal city, so it was fairly supportive of the club.

Finally after eight months of paying rent on a place without being able to hold shows there, on December 31st, 1986 they passed the last fire inspection, and had their first show that night. Asides from a few breaks, the club has been putting on shows ever since.

WT: Why was the club founded?

S:
To have an all ages venue for kids to go to. Also to have a safe space because the punk/hardcore scene at the time was fairly violent, i.e. Nazis coming to shows and starting fights.

WT: What is the current mission of Gilman Street? What is the club trying to accomplish?

S:
Honestly I don't know the mission statement of the club. I'd imagine it has to do with providing a safe all ages community space that allows independent musicians to perform. Though it is not limited to music only, there have been art shows, movie nights, plays, and other uses of the space.

WT: How does the surrounding neighborhood view Gilman? How does the club balance neighborhood relations with how events are run?

S:
With certain neighbors the club has a very good relation, while others would like nothing more than to see the club go. We do our best to not cause any problems for the neighborhood. We clean up graffiti; we pay for any vandalism that takes place on the nights that we hold events. We try to keep an open dialogue with the neighbors to see if they have any complaints, and if so, we do our best to deal with them.

Because we only hold shows Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday nights, the shows themselves are not a problem. A lot of our neighbors do see that we try our best to accommodate them, by doing things like cleaning up local graffiti, and many are supportive of the club.













gilman flyer
Flyer for a Gilman show.

WT: Why do people have to buy a membership card in addition to paying the cost of shows? What does membership in Gilman mean?

S:
Gilman is technically a private club. This is for technical reasons, such as insurance and for certain legal reasons, but it is also because those involved with the club wanted the people who come to Gilman to realize that because they have this little card they are a part of the club, and the club belongs to them just as much as it does to anyone else, and that they can and should get involved with the club and help make it their own.

It's part of the whole DIY ethic. Gilman isn't just some club where you come to be a spectator. People should consider it their club, and they should feel empowered to get involved and make it into what they think it should be.

WT: How are decisions made about which bands play or other issues made? How are disputes resolved? Who "runs" Gilman?

S:
The membership meetings, which are open to anyone with a membership card and are held the first and third Saturday of every month hold the ultimate power in the club. At the membership meeting anyone can bring up an issue, which is then talked about and voted on, and if a majority of people vote for the proposal, then it passes.

As to things like which bands are allowed to play there, first this goes through the bookers, simply because it would be illogical to have the membership screen every band that sends in a demo. It's fairly easy to see if a band is allowed to play Gilman or if they do have lyrics that are against Gilman policy (no racism, homophobia, misogyny).

WT: How is money from the door distributed? Are there any other sources of income?

S:
A fraction is subtracted to pay security, who are the only paid members of the club, and then the rest of the money is divided evenly between the house and the bands. This and the little store that sells sodas and snacks are the only sources [of income] of Gilman.

WT: I know the list of rules on bands lyrics and audience behavior has been a source of contention in a punk musical community valuing freedom of expression above all else. Can you explain what these rules are, why they were devised, and what some of the main disagreements about them have been?

S:
The main rules would be no misogyny, racism, homophobia, and violence. Also no drinking or drug use in or around the club (though because Gilman is a membership only club, smoking is allowed). The reason for these rules is to provide a safe space.

I believe that things like not allowing misogyny IS providing a space for freedom of expression. If misogyny is allowed in the club then women very likely will not feel welcome in the club, let alone welcome to express their opinions. Freedom of speech is not about allowing one group of people [to] intimidate others into not speaking up. There are those within the club who do believe that these rules are too restrictive though. There are a number of people who believe that no misogyny should be changed to no sexism. They argue that sexism against men is no better than sexism against women, and that we shouldn't allow either.

There are also a very large number of patrons who would love for Gilman to allow drinking in and around the club, but if that happens, the club will end up getting shut down by the city.

WT: What other roles in the community does Gilman have besides booking and hosting shows?

S:
Gilman tries to provide a community space. It allows political groups and groups like narcotics anonymous to use its space. Gilman is not limited to music, and does other events like art shows and movie nights.

WT: Does Gilman see itself as an organization that is trying to make change on a larger scale in the world? If so how?

S:
I don't see Gilman itself as trying to change the world. It does provide a space for independent artists to perform, and it does help empower a lot of the youth that go there by showing them that they can get involved and help run a club. Gilman does teach people leadership skills.

On the other hand political organizations that are trying to create social change have used the space for different things, and have put on benefit shows where the money goes to certain political causes. While I don't believe Gilman itself is going to create any sort of large scale change, it does support groups that have the potential to do so.

WT: Why were security guards hired? How can Gilman, which caters to the counter cultural anti-authoritarian person, justify the use of forceful security?

S:
Security guards are the only paid people [at] Gilman. This is because no one would deal with all the things that security has to deal with for free. The reason Gilman has security guards is so it does not get shut down. If there was no one to break up fights or enforce the no drinking rules, it would be very easy for the city to shut the club down. Security is made up of paid volunteers who are a part of the punk rock community, so they do care about the club and want to see it stay open. Without them the club would have been shut down a long time ago.

WT: What is the DIY ethic and how does this come into play when building a community musical space such as Gilman? How is Gilman unique from other clubs?

S:
DIY ethic is about empowerment. People realizing that they can do things themselves, and don't need to have someone else do everything for them. It's about people taking power and control over their own life and not being a spectator that has everything done for them.

This the whole idea behind Gilman, a club that was built by punk kids for punk kids. It's run by punks for punks, and everyone who comes there is encouraged to get involved and help out. At other clubs you come, pay your money, watch the band and leave, and you could care less about the club. Whereas at Gilman you are asked to get involved and volunteer. People are encouraged to come to membership meetings and help decide how the club should be run. If the punks want the club to exist they have to get involved and do it themselves. If they want to change anything about the club, they can come to a membership meeting and bring it up.

WT: How can someone start a "Gilman" of their own? What advice can you give?

S:
Because I wasn't there at the start of Gilman, I don't know a huge amount about it. But it takes a lot of work. The people who started it had to pay $4,000 in rent alone before they were able to put on their first show. As Gilman tries to do today, I would recommend trying to get as many people as possible involved with the project.

Max Raynard is a musician and activist. He currently attends City College of San Francisco and is a writer for Wiretap. Email him at max_raynard@yahoo.com.
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