Rage Against The Machine’s Triumphant And Anarchic Free Gig At Finsbury Park Revisited

Rage Against the Machine will release ‘Live At Finsbury Park’ on DVD on October 16. It documents the band’s epic free show, promised to fans after they made 1992’s ‘Killing In The Name’ 2009’s Christmas Number One in an anti-X Factor display of punk rock solidarity and a celebration of smashing Simon Cowell’s chart stranglehold. We sent reporter Dan Martin down to the show on June 9, 2010, where the band told him the event was a “cultural revolt”. Read his archive feature below

Across town he was being gifted an Outstanding Contribution gong at the Bafta TV Awards, but on Sunday night somewhere within his soul, Simon Cowell is crying. In front of 40,000 fired-up music fans in north London, a cartoon avatar is taking the piss out of his “strangely erect nipples” and making a symbolic dent upon his empire. Voiced by socialist comedian/author Mark Steel, cartoon Cowell declares: “It gives me great displeasure to introduce to you the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world, Rage Against The Machine!”

And with that the Los Angeles rock legends make good on their word, that if the fan-founded campaign to get ‘Killing In The Name’ to last year’s Christmas Number One over Joe McElderry’s Miley Cyrus cover, they would come over to the UK for a free show.

One might have expected a free rock show in one of London’s beeriest football districts to descend into carnage, of course. But the mood at ‘The Rage Factor’ in Finsbury Park is one of hope and pride and heroic moshing – and a renewed faith in the power of the human spirit, and music’s power over it.

Rage power through a seamless 90 minutes of their incendiary, righteous rap-rock, paying lip-service to London’s punk tradition along the way with a cover of ‘White Riot’ by The Clash. For singer Zack de la Rocha, throwing the party is nothing less than his duty as a citizen of the world. “This show is about a kind of organic initiative,” he tells us. “Over the last 10 years or so, the charts really have been dominated by a very rigid formula. Here in the UK in particular it seems that here aren’t as many choices when it comes to the mainstream. It’s not about Simon Cowell, but it’s about what he represents. I think that somewhere between that grass roots initiative and the cracks in the armour of the X Factor formula is something I think you could define as a cultural revolt.”

Indeed, this was not Rage’s campaign. But when they saw the groundswell of support growing for the fan-led Facebook campaign last Christmas, they were inspired to throw their weight behind it. The band was not even active, and had no firm touring plans for this year. But as Zack explains, the decision soon became inevitable. “I have a friend that runs a local bookstore in my neighbourhood in east Los Angeles. I went to see her one day and she says ‘Is there some kind of contest going on in the UK using a Rage song?’ I went, ‘That sounds really strange, but I wouldn’t put anything past Sony at this stage of their downfall’. So I investigated and I thought ‘Oh my gosh’. The sides were drawn and it couldn’t have been clearer what was at stake culturally. It took about 30 seconds of thought to decide to come. All over the UK people had found a way to topple this giant distraction and this giant pop monopoly, even for a brief moment, and one of our songs was used to do it. It really was like democracy in action.”

The people responsible for this were married couple Jon and Tracy Morter from Essex, who were as surprised as anyone that their stab at mobilising people power led to such big and bizarre consequences. “We would moan about it at home,” says mum-of-three Tracy. “I do watch The X Factor because it’s fun and you do go online and on Twitter and chat to people, it’s entertaining in that way. But I don’t think our charts should reflect that completely because there are so many different types of music that people in the UK love. If an alien came down and watched our TV and listened to our radio they wouldn’t know. That motivated me. The charts belong to all of us, but there’s so much apathy. People won’t release a song at Christmas because they think they won’t get anywhere. We’re not going to have amazing bands in the future if that’s how we treat our music. We won’t have another Led Zeppelin if that’s how the music industry is.”

The Morters later got to share oxygen with Jimmy Page, just one of the many who had come to pay respect to their example of people power. And back in the compound, they finally meet the idols who had inspired them, exchanging hugs with Zack and guitarist Tom Morello, who later welcome them onto the stage as “the David to X Factor’s Goliath.” They then accept a cheque on behalf of Shelter for £162,713.03, the band’s royalties from the extra sales of ‘Killing In The Name’. Rage covered the costs of the free show, their shows at Download and Rock Am Ring are taking place to pay for it. But Zach hints that there were dark forces in the industry opposed to their gesture. “I can’t tell you how difficult it was to just put on a free show in London. And without burning any bridges or talking about people that profit off of music, it was surprisingly difficult to do. We didn’t want to have a surcharge on the tickets, we didn’t want to have anything that got in the way of it being a totally free show, and that was very difficult.”

As night falls on Finsbury Park, the run of classics culminates in a pre-encore airing of McElderry’s ‘The Climb’, accompanied by a montage of press quotes including the South Shields boy’s now legendary slaying of ‘Killing In The Name’, “They wouldn’t get through to boot camp on The X Factor – they’re just shouting.” The final screenshot reads simply ‘YOU made history’, after which mass hugs erupt, the shoutalong to “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” could not be more widely felt. But how does the singer really feel about The X Factor and American Idol? “I’d be lying to say I don’t watch the show,” he admits with a smirk. “It can be mildly entertaining, but for the most part The X Factor is to modern music what McDonalds is to food. You take a few bites of your Big Mac and it tastes good and after the sixth one it tastes like shit and you feel awful and you wanna go home and some exercise. To me that’s what The X Factor is, it’s cheap, digestible and just flies in the face of what I find interesting about culture.”

And yet, Joe may just have contributed to rock history in a way he cannot yet comprehend. With Rage now active again and enjoying each other’s company, Zack won’t not rule out making a new album. “I think it’s a genuine possibility,” he said. “We have to get our heads around what we’re going to to do towards the end of the year and finish up on some other projects and we’ll take it from there…”

THE SETLIST

‘Testify’
‘Bombtrack’
‘People Of The Sun’
‘Know Your Enemy’
‘Bulls On Parade’
‘Township Rebellion’
‘Bullet In The Head’
‘White Riot’
‘Guerrilla Radio’
‘Sleep Now In The Fire’
‘Freedom’
‘Killing In The Name’