By Max Stewart
“We’re storming the gates in 10 minutes,” a local Londoner whispered as a group of us approached Finsbury Park in London on a brisk evening in Summer 2010. Los Angeles’ Rage Against the Machine were about to put on a free show to celebrate a record-breaking grassroots campaign that resulted in the song “Killing in the Name” being the #1 UK Christmas Single of 2009 (the song had originally been released in 1992 off of their self-titled album, mind you). I had unfortunately missed the boat in securing one of the 40,000 allocated tickets for the free event, so naturally I convinced a group of people that I was studying abroad with to take the London Tube to the concert site so that we could revel in all of the excitement and enjoy echoed versions of the earth-shaking rock taking place inside the park. I could not pass up an opportunity to hear the rock-rap legends live, especially not overseas as part of such a unique set of circumstances.
“Haha, yeah sounds good,” I brushed off this stranger’s comment assuming he was ‘having a laugh’ at a group of American blokes’ expense. “No, I’m serious mate. 10 minutes,” he affirmed with a look of cold hard commitment. What? He could not be serious right? I mean these gates were surrounded by British “Bobbies” with batons and funny hats in tow. Although not the most intimidating group of chaps, they still had authoritative power and could throw me in jail (and I did not want to have that phone call to the folks across the pond).
As a little background, every Christmas the United Kingdom’s #1 single is a ‘flavor of the week’, pop-heavy song that is many times brought to you by the Simon Cowell-centric, singing reality show, The X Factor. Moreover, the Christmas Number Ones from 2005-2008 were all winners from The X Factor (apparently in the UK the Christmas single is especially prestigious due to the volume of sales around Christmas).
Some of the best Rock ’N’ Roll fans in the world are in England, and there is no way in hell that they all support cookie-cutter, mindless pop every year.
The makings of a musical revolution were brewing in the U.K. in 2009, all the people needed was a leader.
Enter English DJ Jon “Che” Morter. He took it upon himself to set up a Facebook group encouraging people to download the song in the weeks leading to Christmas in order to dethrone The X Factor and seize the #1 spot for RAGE.The grassroots campaign spread like wildfire and had the support of musicians such as Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Muse, and The Prodigy.
When it was all said and done, the single sold 500,000 copies and “Killing in the Name” won out the spot for the Christmas #1 Single of 2009. The song also broke the UK Guinness World Record for the ‘Fastest-Selling Digital Track.’ Politically-charged Rage Against the Machine are the quintessential band to support a grassroots campaign fueled by the power of the people that intended to revive a song that was nearly 20 years old. As a token of gratitude, the band announced that they would be playing a “Thank You” gig for 40,000 fans at Finsbury Park on June 6, 2010.
“A historic grassroots rebellion made our song Killing in the Name the number one Christmas single of 2009,” said guitarist Tom Morello in an online statement. “The people of the UK toppled the X Factor giant, raised a great deal of money for homeless charities, and shocked the world. As a thank you to our UK fans and freedom fighters we promised to play a free show. Well … here we come … The celebration/party/revolution is ON!!”
As we laughed off the passerby’s comment about “storming the gates,” we decided that our best bet of hearing the commotion from the show would be if by securing a spot on the lawn next to the massive metal wall partition surrounding Finsbury Park (aka “the gates”). “Do you think he may have been serious?” a friend of mine said as many of us were exchanging sideways glances with other unsettled fans looking to piggyback off all of the fun. The anticipation was building, “Yeah, I think this might be for real.” At this point, we stood up and abandoned our lawn spot and my heart was working overtime. It felt like we were revolutionaries about to overthrow the king. Who was the king you ask? Let’s just go with King Simon Cowell the Unbearable.
There was still some hesitation in the group, “I don’t know, I mean I don’t think we shoull…” And just like that, a mob of Londoners stormed the fences in droves. There was no time to deliberate and make a rational decision, we had to firmly commit ourselves and not look back. Fans were climbing in attempts to hop over the partition, but the vast majority were pushing to try breach a hole in the castle wall.
I will always vividly remember a friend of mine yelling as eventually a hole broke open and people began pushing their way into the venue: “Let’s go!” It was now or never. We charged the mighty gates and did our best rock ’n’ roll impression of Storming the Bastille, all we were missing were the pitchforks.
Disclaimer: I am not overly political and absolutely have nothing but respect for the police, I was just a young college student with a stroke of rebel fever who fell victim to the power of “mob mentality”.
We made it through the breach in the wall and immediately sprinted into the massive crowd of people in the park to avoid being snagged. Eventually, we settled and everyone had miraculously made it in. Holy shit, we had made it! And all that I managed to lose was a pair of Ray Bans (they were from an ex-girlfriend anyway, so good riddance).
Before we even had time to catch our breath, sirens erupted as Rage Against the Machine took the stage and began a 1.5 hours, non-stop rock set that began with “Testify”.
The show itself was kind of a blur, honestly, as the endorphins were at an all-time high and I was drenched in sweat while in a state of constant thrashing in the mosh pit. What I do remember is that the band didn’t let up and brought the heat for every song in the 12 song set. Tom Morello has always been one of my favorite guitarists due to his love for the power of the guitar riff and his fearlessness in exploring new and unique sonic paths during guitar solos. Morello played with the power and intensity of three metal virtuoso guitarists throughout the evening. Highlights included “Know Your Enemy”, “Bulls on Parade”, “Freedom”, and obviously “Killing in the Name”.
Here’s a very brief snippet of “Guerrilla Radio” that I took, with the snarly Zach De La Rocha kicking things off by stating, “Awwww shit, London, set it off!”
The band and Morter were also able to use their platform to spend a few minutes highlighting the generous charitable donations that occurred in tangent with purchasing the single (which ultimately amounted to a total of £162,700 or $235,000 USD).
It was no surprise that the encore was the ferocious “Killing in the Name,” and this represented by far the heaviest musical moment I have ever experienced as a rock ’n’ roll fan. The video speaks for itself. I tried to capture the maniacal energy of the mosh pit during “Killing in the Name” while holding up a now antique digital camera (it was 2010, okay?) and simultaneously jumping / moshing, and the video quality reflects my multi-tasking.
There is an inherent irony in the fact that we broke into a free gig that was put on as a result of a grassroots campaign for a band that constantly encourages citizens to question the government / authoritative figures, and I recognize that. I firmly believe, however, that Rage Against the Machine would have welcomed and supported the events of the evening, given that no one was hurt and it was all in good fun. If you think differently, all I have to say is: “**** you, I won’t do what you tell me!”
Cheers and viva la revolution.
Rage Against the Machine – Finsbury Park, London – 6.6.10
People of the Sun
Know Your Enemy
Bulls on Parade
Bullet in the Head
White Riot (The Clash cover)
Sleep Now in the Fire
Killing in the Name