Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Raging Against the Machine

Normally the track that reached Christmas no1 in the UK singles chart wouldn’t merit comment. For the last few years it has been whichever performer that won the X-Factor final’s debut single, but even prior to that it has mostly been a song released at just the right time to maximise sales.

But this Christmas a facebook campaign to wrest the Christmas no1 away from the latest X-Factor winner’s track, The Climb was launched. X-Factor winner, Joe McElderry, whose victory in that competition had been watched by close to 20 million viewers, was pushed aside by the campaign to get anti-capitalist band Rage Against the Machine’s anthem, Killing in the Name, to the top spot. Whilst as the bands guitarist, Tom Morello, has commented, the campaign “tapped into the silent majority of the people in the UK who are tired of being spoon-fed one schmaltzy ballad after another” and would simply be glad for anything different to be Christmas no1. Yet there has certainly been a number of people choosing the song for its overt lyrics denouncing alleged links between the Ku Klux Klan and US Police forces, and the political content of the rest of the bands music.

Of course, the tools used to win this victory are the same ones that have been used to attempt to place past winners at the no1 spot, a concerted campaign which involved large scale purchase of the particular song (physical single sales from 6,500 retail outlets and downloads which cost over 40p from online retailers count towards chart ratings). It is somewhat ironic that Sony both released Killing in the Name originally back in 1992, as well as Simon Cowell’s Syco which released The Climb, and therefore will have profited from the fierce competition between the two tracks.

But the key difference in this case is that such a clash had not been promoted by the music industry, and stands as a testament to people wanting a change to the usual dictatorship of mainstream music. Whilst McElderry’s track had been consciously promoted, both through the build up of the X-Factor competition and the promotion of the newly released single, which was sold in physical copies unlike Killing in the Name. Although the first ever download-only no1 was in April 2006, this is the first download-only Christmas no1, marking the continual development of the internet as a music distribution tool, undermining the traditional role of the record labels.

But the great question is what next? True, that Killing in the Name was an unexpected Christmas no1 will have surprised the music industry and those who have participated in this success have begun discussing on the facebook group that started the campaign whether to keep buying this song to keep it at no1, or to plan to try and repeat this feat next year. Either way, the record companies and Simon Cowell (who seem to have a similar status to the bankers in that we detest what they are doing but seem powerless to stop them) will still be there not just next Christmas where they will undoubtedly come back to attempt to dominate again, but all year round. As great a feeling as you get from denting the dominance of such figures, it is only when their power is permanently broken and the organs for publicising and distributing music are taken into public ownership and democratic control that we can see a blossoming of real musical talent and not just what particular acts that Cowell and his ilk can make the most money from.

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