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Taking the power back

This year, a generation tired of being spoon fed conveyor belt pop songs took matters into their own hands and demanded change.  In true revolutionary style, an unknown member of the masses rose up to lead a rebellion which achieved the seemingly impossible – turning a song which was 17 years old into 2009’s Christmas Number one single beating X Factor winner Joe McElderry.

This battle for the charts was lead by 35-year old part time DJ Jon Morter, together with his wife Tracy, 30; they started an online petition on the social networking site Facebook.  Before long the group had attracted thousands of members, all of whom eager to put a stop to Simon Cowell’s Yule-tide rule.  However, this isn’t the first time Rock DJ Jon Morter has tried to overthrow the system.  Last year he started a campaign to get try to get nineties pop star Rick Astley’s song Never Gonna Give You Up to the top spot.

Unfortunately 2008 wasn’t his year and the system he fought so hard against came out on top, temporarily.  Cut to December 2009 and by choosing rock rebels Rage Against The Machine’s angst fuelled Killing In The Name Of this faceless hero has motivated the British public into doing something that has never been done before.   So X Factor judge and grumpy music mogul Simon Cowell fast became ‘The Machine’ and the majority of the British music buying public where all chomping at the bit to ‘Rage’ against him. However not everyone believed the stunt would be a success.

The popular music magazine NME followed the story as it developed via their online blog.  “Even if all 300,000 members of the Rage Against The Machine Facebook group bought the track – which of course they won’t – it’d still be dwarfed by the inevitable monster sales of Joe McElderry’s winning song (yeah, I went there: Joe’s a dead cert to win)” said NME writer Luke Lewis in early December.

Straight away it seemed unlikely that the rebellious anthem would be able to beat Joe McElderry’s single The Climb, a cover of a song originally sung by Miley Cyryus, to the number one spot.  Despite the initial doubt, as the Internet uprising gained more media coverage the tables began to turn and soon enough victory seemed a possibility.  Even NME switched sides on the debate, after Luke Lewis’s article received heated feedback, a week later writer Tim Chester posted an article urging people to buy the track to ensure that the anarchic band top the seasonal chart.

“It’s like torching the castle just before the invaders finally breach the gates” said the NME journalist, adding “it’s just nice to see so many people stand up to The X Factor, in however overly optimistic or misguided gesture, and to think that maybe, just maybe, something like this might somehow jab at Simon Cowell’s bulletproof conscience”.  On Sunday the 20th December the winner was announced and Rage Against The Machine hailed in the festive season. In just over a month they had raised over £70,000 for the homeless charity Shelter and actually made people take notice of the Christmas Number One spot, which had arguably lost its importance in recent years.

But how exactly did they achieve this great feat? What was it about this campaign that ignited the enthusiasm of so many people?  According to Mark Bentley, production editor of Uncut, one of the UK’s biggest music magazines, it’s “simply because of the ennui – if not actual dislike – of the monopoly Cowell and his X Factor protégées have on the Christmas Number 1 spot, which even if it doesn’t mean as much as it used to, is still coveted.”

So was it was just the right musical movement at the right moment?  It seems the British music buying public where ready for change in any shape or form “Rage Against The Machine just got lucky – the Facebook campaign might quite easily have been another song, by another band” added Mark.  Despite the success of this Christmas musical miracle, the point is somewhat lost when you delve a little deeper into the heart of the event. The chart topping track Killing In The Name Of is owned by Sony BMG the company that also owns Simon Cowell’s music label Syco, the label to which Cowell signs all his acts.  So after punters have made their choice and spent their cash, it ultimately goes into the same pocket, a percentage of which would probably land in Cowell’s bank account.

“Whether he benefits or not is irrelevant.  He is a businessman and the industry needs money to filter down to its component parts,” says Mark. Adding, “He is a PR genius, of course, and intelligent and powerful enough to sell people what they didn’t know they needed.  This makes him no different to Colonel Tom Parker, Albert Grossman, Brian Epstein, Peter Grant, David Geffen – any of the feared music moguls of the past.  And without them no Elvis, no Dylan, no Beatles, no Zeppelin, no Neil Young…”

So seemingly everyone will benefit from the stunt, but what does this say about the today’s music consumers? Have we missed the point of this phenomenon? After all, hordes of people rushing out to buy a song with lyrics which scream “Fuck you I wont do what you tell me” simply because a social networking site told them to do so, well, you can see the irony.

But below the surface, perhaps there is more to this stunt than meets the eye, “Many UK music buyers lack imagination, sadly, but they did like the idea of this stunt and it inspired them to engage with music” suggests Mark. It’s possible that this stunt was not just mindless consumerism, as Mark quite rightly points out “Maybe it will inspire people to check out other similar bands, or dip into rock’s past once more!”

Check out this BBC Radio 5 interview with Rage Against The Machine talking about the campaign and a funny live performance of the track.

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