By Daniel Ucko
They have been gone for nearly seven years since their breakup
in 2000, but they are far from being forgotten.
From their startup in an Orange County living room in 1991 to
Woodstock in 1999 and a startling performance at the Democratic
National Convention in 2000, Los Angeles rock quartet Rage Against
The Machine have performed enough festivals, benefits, and arenas
in their near-decade long run to last a lifetime.
The politically-charged hip-hop, punk and thrash manifesto that
is RATM returns for a one time performance this April when they
headline the third day of Coachella, the massive Indio Valley music
Since their 12-song cassette tape debut in 1992 that got them
their major label deal with Sony’s Epic Records, vocalist Zack de
la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and
drummer Brad Wilk have been known just as much for their leftist
rants against corporate America and government oppression as they
have for their distinctive sound.
“A rock-influenced band to be that political was and still isn’t
the norm,” said music Professor, David Kopplin. “Especially in the
’90s when being political wasn’t, let’s say, in favor. That’s what
makes them interesting to me.”
A couple of Grammy nominations and two double platinum records
later, RATM was well on their way to world conquest. Countless
benefit shows and public speeches, many aiding an unfairly tried
prisoner named Mumia Abu-Jamal, allowed de La Rocha and Morello to
pave the way for future rock hero benefactors like U2’s Bono.
“The thing that we can learn (from them) is that you can be
successful in the music industry without fitting into a certain
mold,” said Kopplin. “The fact that they were so political and able
to be signed to a major label is fascinating.”
In 1996, Rage played the Tibetan Freedom Concert in San
Francisco alongside bands like Run DMC, The Beastie Boys and
Blondie. The sold out show of more than 100,000 fans made it the
largest U.S. Benefit Concert since the 1985 Live Aid.
Influential music videos like Rage’s “Renegades of Funk,” which
features a montage of riots, police brutality and famous activists
like Martin Luther King Jr. and Che Guevara, also upheld their
Tom Morello once said in an interview, “A good song should make
you want to tap your foot and get with your girl. A great song
should destroy cops and set fire to the suburbs. I’m only
interested in writing great songs.”
In 2000, de la Rocha announced his exodus from the band, citing
a lack of group communication and his pursuit of a solo project.
The next year, the remaining members joined former Soundgarden
frontman Chris Cornell to form Audioslave.
Steve Hofstetter, a second-year computer information systems
student, began listening to RATM just as they were on the verge of
breaking up, when he heard their single “Guerilla Radio” in the
videogame Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
“I had the track on repeat and my brother told me he had the CD
in his room. I think I listened to that CD for the next month
straight,” said Hofstetter.
Hofstetter just bought tickets for Coachella, where Rage will be
sharing the Sunday stage on April 29 with Manu Chao, Willie Nelson,
The Roots, Explosions In The Sky, and dozens more.
“I got pretty excited when I heard they’re playing,” said
Hofstetter. “Just as I got into them, they broke up. I never
thought I’d be seeing them live.”
Kopplin’s take on Rage’s significance in the 90s was that their
odd blend of hip hop, rock and funk influenced by anyone from
Grandmaster Flash to George Clinton and The Clash opened up
mainstream listeners, especially white Americans, to the sound of
“They brought a lot of African American rap and funk acts to the
attention of a lot of people. I think that’s pretty significant,”
said Kopplin. “When they were performing in the 90s I don’t think
rap was as mainstream when they started as it was when they ended.
I don’t think I’d be stretching it to say they brought that music
to a whiter audience.”
RATM’s music has been more than just a means of getting their
voice out there; it has always been about being true to one’s roots
and standing up for what you believe in.
“The message within their music is a huge influence in the way I
think,” said Hofstetter. “It’s sad that dissent isn’t exercised in
music anymore. Back in the 60s and 70s with CSNY, The Beatles and
Bob Dylan, that’s what their music was about, that’s what they
preached. Unfortunately, that’s not what our music is about anymore
and it’s refreshing to hear Rage play with integrity.”
Daniel Ucko can be reached at email@example.com or by phone
at (909) 869-3744.
(from left) drummer Brad Wilk, singer Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, and bassist Tim Commerford.
Machine Rages Again
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