The announcement was out by 2:30pm on Sunday, and leaked onto the internet long before the 7pm embargo that the Official Charts Company had set in their press release – Rage Against The Machine are No.1 in the UK this Christmas. Theirs is the first Xmas No.1 to reach that position on only digital sales. A milestone that will pass pretty much unnoticed in the turmoil surrounding the campaign that won it for them.
They are the beneficiaries of a campaign launched by Jon and Tracy Morter, mainly on Facebook but touted around most of the net by anyone who agrees with Charlie Brooker that Joe McElderry’s (the X Factor Winner) track is a “…pissweak vocal doodle… a listless announcement on a service station Tannoy; an advert for buttons; a fart in a clinic; a dot on a spreadsheet.” Reactions to the news have been predictable in their variation: the usual slew of vituperative comments on Facebook and YouTube crowing over Joe/the X-Factor/Simon Cowell’s failure – hilariously highlighting their “Number Two” ranking, journalists pointing out the disappointing irony that both tracks belong to Sony; the machine has anticipated your rebellion and is profiting from it.
This doesn’t really detract from the success of the campaign for me. What the Morters managed to do was give the motley rabble of alternative music fans a harlequin flag to rally behind. In his inimitable way, Mr. Brooker was making the point that Rage’s song is emotional, impassioned music for it’s own sake, unlike the X-Factor single, which is part of a vehicle created by Simon Cowell and others to make money from music
RATM are obviously very pleased about all this and are planning a free gig next year to say thankyou to all their fans:
“We’re very, very ecstatic and excited about the song reaching the number one spot and I just want to say we want to thank everyone for participating in this incredible, organic grassroots campaign.”
“It’s more about the spontaneous action taken by young people in the UK to topple this very sterile pop monopoly,” he continued. “When young people decide to take action they can make what’s seemingly impossible possible.”
This is a positive, encouraging response, and I’d love to see them make a comeback, but am I alone in thinking that the campaign was more anti-X-Factor than pro RATM? Good on them, plucky little 40 year old punks that they are – but they’ve moved on. The campaign seemed more about rejecting what is fed to the masses, the point that is covered in ‘Killing in the name of’, and was so succinctly put by Paul Weller – “The public wants what the public gets”. It’s a complaint that, well intentioned as Joe McElderry may be in himself, to the RATM buyers, he is a grinning mask stretched over the pitiless metal visage of Cowell and Co.’s marketing machine – a machine so successful that it has made even the process of disappointing hundreds of hopeful young people profitable, and reinstated the pillory as a form of national public entertainment, whilst simultaneously chiding us for expecting the worst from the pitiable social outcasts they drag up specifically for our ridicule, and profiting from their talent too. Yes, in the flurry of excitement over ‘Ragemas’, everyone’s ignoring the fact that the Simon monster has got it’s vicelike grip around the No.1 album slot.
Cowell’s response to his defeat is that of a true shark; he offered the couple that orchestrated the campaign a job. He told the Mirror: “I’m genuinely impressed by the campaign they have run. It has been a good campaign with no dirty tricks and without funding. They have been passionate and worked hard.” “This is their first attempt at putting out a record and they got a Christmas No 1, so they have not done badly at all.
Good, Simon, magnanimity becomes you.
“I wanted them to come and work for us. I was deadly serious but they haven’t taken me up on the offer.”
“I now realise I’ve taken too much for granted. I have got to hold my hands up. I accept there are people that don’t like The X-Factor.”
Either he’s a master of dead-pan sarcasm to rival Humphrey Lyttleton, or his head is so far in the sand he can taste magma… Either way, he’s relentless – the mob are at the castle gates, pitchforks in hand, and he condescends to ask them if they’d like a job moving hay.
I think my favourite reaction to the whole debacle came from poor, naive little Joe, whose reaction on listening to ‘Killing in the Name Of’ was printed in the Sun:
“They can’t be serious! I had no idea what it sounded like. It’s dreadful and I hate it. How could anyone enjoy this? Can you imagine the grandmas hearing this over Christmas lunch?
“I wouldn’t buy it. It’s a nought out of ten from me. Simon Cowell wouldn’t like it. [Why Joe, what a brown nose you have!] They wouldn’t get through to boot camp on The X Factor – they’re just shouting.”
He really doesn’t get it! It’s wonderful! In his 18 year old little bubble, the world is really full of Unicorns, kittens and leprechauns snuggling rainbows. Let’s look forward in time ten years to when the phone in his Kensington apartment has bizarrely failed to ring for the sixth consecutive month. Let’s think about the moment when the first crack appears in that illusion he’s holding right now. It might even be next year, when the next X-Factor winner gets the food bowl next to Simon’s chair at dinner, and his is pushed down a row. Let’s understand that this is why there is no long tail on the manufactured, novocaine smelling, surgical pink pop that gets churned out by the Pop-Idol mill – there’s no emotion in it; no real understanding about music, no desire to communicate something passionate and unique in a way that makes the financial gain irrelevant. The art of music only exists when it transcends the material and is a thing for and of itself, and that’s what people love it for. Joe, Simon and Co. are using people’s base tendency to buy what is put in front of them to make money, not to make music.
[On the other hand, we here at RouteNote are providing a service to the underappreciated, hard working independent artists, and we would very much like to distribute your tracks for you, and make your music make money for you.]
So what can we take from the whole affair? It’s good that some musicians are at number one, rather than a marketing team wielding the bludgeon of a multi million pound marketing vehicle and weekly TV show. It’s good that the balkanised, fractured section of the public that loves music, be it Grime, Hip Hop, Metal or good old fashioned anti-corporate Rock have got together and taken charge of the charts for a week. It’s very good that the campaign to achieve this has also raised more than £70,000 for charity. But. It’s not sustainable – the people that like listening to music rather than staying in watching gumph on telly of a Saturday night generally like too many different types of music for this chart domination to be a regular occurrence; but perhaps we can feel reassured that there is still a music buying, music loving public out there, prepared to pony up for something they believe in. The artists that really care about what they’re playing will always have real listeners – ones that will buy them a beer and say thanks after the gig, and reminisce in the pub after their band has broken up. I don’t think anyone will mourn the passing of Joe McElderry’s musical career over a pint of real ale in the Islington Arms. I hope that the campaign organisers can repeat their feat, and that next year we can buy a record from a great new artist on an independent label; a proportion of the profits from which will go to support a charity, or to supporting more up-and-coming artists. Maybe, and I realise that this is a wistful, hopeless dream, just maybe that song could be Rolf Harris’ ‘Wonderful Christmas Pig’ [no derogatory comments about Susan Boyle, please].