Rage Against the Machine, also known as RATM, is an American rap metal band from Los Angeles, California. Formed in 1991, the group consists of vocalist Zack de la Rocha, bassist and backing vocalist Tim Commerford, guitarist Tom Morello and drummer Brad Wilk. They draw inspiration from early heavy metal instrumentation, as well as rap acts such as Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys and Dutch crossover band Urban Dance Squad. Rage Against the Machine is best known for its leftist political views, which are expressed in many of its songs. As of 2010, they have sold over 16 million records worldwide.
In 1992, the band released its self-titled debut album, which became a commercial and critical success, leading to a slot in the 1993 Lollapalooza festival, and is often cited to be one of the greatest and most influential rock albums of all time. In 2003, the album was ranked number 368 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The band did not release a follow-up record until 1996, with Evil Empire. The band's third album, The Battle of Los Angeles, followed in 1999. In 2003, the album was ranked number 426 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. During their initial nine-year run, they became one of the most popular and influential bands in music history, according to music journalist Colin Devenish. They were also ranked No. 33 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. The band had a large influence on the nu metal genre which emerged during the late 1990s.
In 2000, the band released the cover album, Renegades. The same year, growing tensions over the direction of the band prompted de la Rocha to quit, leading to the band's breakup. De la Rocha started a low-profile solo career, while the rest of the band formed the rock supergroup Audioslave with Chris Cornell, then-former front-man of Soundgarden; Audioslave went on to record three albums before disbanding in 2007. The same year, Rage Against the Machine announced a reunion and performed together for the first time in seven years at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April 2007. The band continued to perform at more live venues and festivals around the world, but has been on hiatus since 2011 and the band currently has no plans to record new material.
1991–1992: Early years
In 1991, guitarist Tom Morello left his band, Lock Up, looking to start another band. He was in a club in LA where Zack de la Rocha was freestyle rapping. Morello was impressed, people said, by de la Rocha's lyric books, and asked him to be a rapper in a band. Morello drafted drummer Brad Wilk of Greta, who had previously auditioned for Lock Up, while de la Rocha convinced his childhood friend Tim Commerford to join as bassist. The newly christened Rage Against the Machine named themselves after a song de la Rocha had written for his former popular underground hardcore punk band, Inside Out (also to be the title of the unrecorded Inside Out full-length album). Kent McClard, with whom Inside Out were associated, had coined a 1989 article in his zine No Answers.
Shortly after forming, they gave their first public performance in Orange County, California, where a friend of Commerford's was holding a house party. The blueprint for the group's major-label debut album, demo tape Rage Against the Machine, was laid on a twelve-song self-released cassette, the cover image of which was the stock market with a triple match taped to the inlay card. Not all 12 songs made it onto the final album—two were eventually included as B-sides, with the remaining three songs never seeing an official release. Several record labels expressed interest, and the band eventually signed with Epic Records. Morello said, "Epic agreed to everything we asked—and they've followed through.... We never saw a[n] [ideological] conflict as long as we maintained creative control."
1992–2002: Mainstream success
The band's debut album, Rage Against the Machine, reached triple platinum status, driven by heavy radio play of the song "Killing in the Name", a heavy, driving track featuring only eight lines of lyrics. The "Fuck You" version, which contains 17 iterations of the word fuck, was once accidentally played on the BBC Radio 1 Top 40 singles show on February 21, 1993. The album's cover featured Malcolm Browne's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, burning himself to death in Saigon in 1963 in protest of the murder of Buddhists by the US-backed Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem's regime. The album was produced by Garth Richardson. To promote the album, the band went on tour, playing at Lollapalooza 1993 and as support for Suicidal Tendencies in Europe. In 2003, the album was ranked number 368 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
After their debut album, the band appeared on the soundtrack for the film Higher Learning with the song "Year of tha Boomerang". An early version of "Tire Me" also appeared during the movie. Subsequently, they re-recorded the song "Darkness" from their original demo for the soundtrack of The Crow, while "No Shelter" appeared on the Godzilla soundtrack.
Despite rumors of a breakup for several years, Rage Against the Machine's second album, Evil Empire, entered Billboard's Top 200 chart at number one in 1996, and subsequently rose to triple platinum status. The song "Bulls on Parade" was performed on Saturday Night Live in April 1996. Their planned two-song performance was cut to one song when the band attempted to hang inverted US flags from their amplifiers ("a sign of distress or great danger"), a protest against having Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes as guest host on the program that night.
In 1997, the band opened for U2 on their PopMart Tour, for which all of Rage's profits went to support social organizations. including U.N.I.T.E., Women Alive and the Zapatista Front for National Liberation. Rage subsequently began an abortive headlining US tour with special guests Wu-Tang Clan. Police in several jurisdictions unsuccessfully attempted to have the concerts cancelled, citing amongst other reasons, the bands' "violent and anti-law enforcement philosophies." Wu-Tang Clan were eventually removed from the line-up and replaced with The Roots. On the Japan leg of their tour promoting Evil Empire, a bootleg album composed of the band's B-side recordings titled Live & Rare was released by Sony Records. A live video, also titled Rage Against the Machine, was released later the same year.
In 1999 Rage Against the Machine played at the infamous Woodstock '99 concert. The following release, The Battle of Los Angeles also debuted at number one in 1999, selling 450,000 copies in the first week and then going double-platinum. That same year the song "Wake Up" was featured on the soundtrack of the film The Matrix. The track "Calm Like a Bomb" was later featured in the film's sequel, 2003's The Matrix Reloaded. In 2000, the band planned to support the Beastie Boys on the "Rhyme and Reason" tour; however, the tour was cancelled when Beastie Boys drummer Mike D suffered a serious injury. In 2003, The Battle of Los Angeles was ranked number 426 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
2000–2006: Break-up and subsequent projects
On October 18, 2000, de la Rocha released a statement announcing his departure from the band. He said, "I feel that it is now necessary to leave Rage because our decision-making process has completely failed. It is no longer meeting the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band, and from my perspective, has undermined our artistic and political ideal." The band's final studio album, Renegades, released shortly after the band's dissolution, was a collection of covers of artists as diverse as Devo, Cypress Hill, MC5, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. Renegades achieved platinum status a month later. The following year saw the release of another live video, The Battle of Mexico City, and 2003 saw the release of a live album titled Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, an edited recording of the band's final two concerts on September 12 and 13, 2000 at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. It was accompanied by an expanded DVD release of the last show, and also included the previously unreleased music video for "Bombtrack".
In the wake of 9/11, the controversial 2001 Clear Channel memorandum contained a long list of what the memo termed "lyrically questionable" songs for the radio, uniquely listed all of Rage Against the Machine's songs.
After the group's breakup, Morello, Wilk, and Commerford decided to stay together and find a new vocalist to replace de la Rocha. They eventually teamed up with then-former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell to form a new band, Audioslave. The first Audioslave single, "Cochise", was released in early November 2002, and the debut album, Audioslave, followed to mainly positive reviews. Their second album Out of Exile debuted at the number one position on the Billboard charts in 2005. Following a "one-album-per-year" schedule, Audioslave released its third album Revelations on September 5, 2006, but a tour to promote the album never occurred as Cornell and Morello were working on solo albums. After several months of dormancy and rumors of a potential breakup, Audioslave disbanded on February 15, 2007 after Cornell announced he was leaving the band.
Morello began his own solo career in 2003, playing political acoustic folk music at open-mic nights and various clubs under the alias The Nightwatchman, which he formed as a means to make political music while playing apolitical music with Audioslave. He first participated in Billy Bragg's Tell Us the Truth tour with no plans to record, but later recorded a song for Songs and Artists that Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11, "No One Left". In February 2007, he announced a solo album, entitled One Man Revolution, which was released in April 2007. Morello followed up his first studio album with "The Fabled City" which was released on September 30, 2008. During the latter of his career as The Nightwatchman, Morello joined up with Boots Riley and formed the rap rock group Street Sweeper Social Club, which released its debut self-titled album in June 2009.
Meanwhile, de la Rocha had been working on a solo album collaboration with DJ Shadow, Company Flow, and The Roots' Questlove, but dropped the project in favor of working with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor. Recording was completed, but the album would probably have never been released. A collaboration between de la Rocha and DJ Shadow, the song "March of Death" was released for free over the World Wide Web in 2003 in protest against the imminent invasion of Iraq, and the 2004 soundtrack Songs and Artists that Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11 included one of the collaborations with Reznor, "We Want It All". In late 2005, de la Rocha was seen singing and playing the jarana huasteca with Son Jarocho band Son de Madera on multiple occasions. Rage Against the Machine was ranked 33rd on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock list in 2005.
Members of the band had been offered large sums of money to reunite for concerts and tours, and had turned the offers down. Rumors of bad blood between de la Rocha and the other former band members subsequently circulated, but Commerford said that he and de la Rocha saw each other often and went surfing together, while Morello said he and de la Rocha communicated by phone, and had met up at a September 15, 2005 protest in support of the South Central Farm.
2007–2008: Reunion and tours
Rumors that Rage Against the Machine could reunite at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were circulating in mid-January 2007, and were confirmed on January 22. The band was confirmed to be headlining the final day of Coachella 2007. The reunion was described by Morello as primarily being a vehicle to voice the band's opposition to the "right-wing purgatory" the United States has "slid into" under the George W. Bush administration since RATM's dissolution. Though the performance was initially thought to be a one-off, this turned out not to be the case.
On April 14, 2007, Morello and de la Rocha reunited onstage early to perform a brief acoustic set at a Coalition of Immokalee Workers rally in downtown Chicago. Morello described the event as "very exciting for everybody in the room, myself included." This was followed by the scheduled Coachella performance on Sunday, April 29 where the band staged a much anticipated performance in front of an EZLN backdrop to the largest crowds of the festival.
Rage Against the Machine continued to tour in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, and also played a series of shows in Europe in Summer 2008 including Rock am Ring and Rock im Park, Pinkpop Festival, T in the Park in Scotland, the Hultsfred Festival in Sweden, the Reading and Leeds Festivals in England and the Oxegen Festival in Ireland. The band also performed on August 2, 2008, in Chicago as one of the headliners (Radiohead, Kanye West and Nine Inch Nails being the other three) for the 2008 Lollapalooza Music Festival. When asked in May 2007 if the band were planning on writing a new album, Morello replied:
Morello declined to comment about the possibility of a new album when interviewed by MTV News in April 2008. In July 2008, it was revealed that de la Rocha had begun a new project called One Day as a Lion with drummer Jon Theodore formerly of The Mars Volta, with an eponymous EP released on July 22, 2008.
In August 2008, de la Rocha revealed his take on the possibility of new material:
In August 2008, Rage headlined the free Tent State Music Festival to End the War in Denver during the Democratic National Convention. The band was supported by Flobots, State Radio, Jello Biafra, and Wayne Kramer. Following the concert, the band, following uniformed veterans from Iraq Veterans Against the War, led the 8,000 attendees to the Denver Coliseum on a 6 mile march to Invesco Field, host of the DNC. After a 4 hour stand-off with police, Obama's campaign agreed to meet with members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and hear their demands.
In September 2008, Rage performed at the Target Center in Minneapolis during the Republican National Convention. The previous day, they attempted to play a surprise set at a free anti-RNC concert at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul, but were prevented from doing so by the police. Instead, de la Rocha and Morello rapped and sang through a megaphone. Later that evening, Morelli and Boots Reilly joined up with Billy Bragg and Jim Walsh for a three-hour jam session at Pepitos Parkway theater in south Minneapolis.
In December 2008, Tom Morello revealed that Rage Against the Machine shows in 2009 were a possibility, although plans for the band to record a new studio album were very unlikely. When asked by Billboard.com whether they planned to head to the studio in 2009, Morello stated that: "we've had a wonderful year and a half of playing shows, and I don't see any reason to not play more shows. The thing is there's only so many hours in the musical day, and mine are very occupied right now."
Morello elaborated that The Nightwatchman is now "my principal musical focus, as I see it, for the remainder of my life. From the earliest days of playing open mic nights at coffee houses, it was apparent to me that this music was as important to me as any music I've ever been involved in. It really encapsulates everything I want to do as an artist." He repeated this point in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
However, After the "Rage Factor" celebratory show in Finsbury Park on June 6, 2010, after the campaign to get Killing in the Name to Christmas Number 1, Zack de la Rocha stated that it was a "genuine possibility". Stating that they may use the momentum from the campaign to get back into the studio and write a follow-up record to 2000s Renegades after 10 years. When talking to NME, Zack de la Rocha said: "I think it's a genuine possibility, We have to get our heads around what we’re going to do towards the end of the year and finish up on some other projects and we’ll take it from there."
2009–present: Killing in the Name campaign, subsequent European tour, L.A. Rising and the future
In December 2009, a campaign was launched on Facebook by Jon and Tracy Morter, from South Woodham Ferrers, which generated nationwide publicity and took the track "Killing in the Name" to the coveted Christmas Number One slot in the UK Singles Chart, which had been dominated for four consecutive years from 2005 by winners from the popular TV show The X Factor. Before the chart was announced on December 20, 2009, the Facebook group membership stood at over 950,000, and was acknowledged (and supported) by Tom Morello, Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney, Muse, Fightstar, NME, John Lydon, Bill Bailey, Lenny Henry, BBC Radio 1, Hadouken!, The Prodigy, Stereophonics, BBC Radio 5 Live, and even the 2004 X Factor winner Steve Brookstein, amongst numerous others. On the morning of December 17, Rage Against the Machine played a slightly censored version of "Killing in the Name" live on Radio 5 Live, but four repeats of 'Fuck you I won't do what you tell me' were aired before the song was pulled. During the interview before the song they reiterated their support for the campaign and their intentions to support charity with the proceeds. The campaign was ultimately successful, and "Killing in the Name" became the number-one single in the UK for Christmas 2009. A similar campaign was run on Facebook in Ireland the same year but Killing in the Name placed 2nd that Christmas to X Factors 2010 single. Rage's Zack de la Rocha spoke to BBC1 upon hearing the news, stating that:
The band also set a new record, achieving the biggest download sales total in a first week ever in the UK charts. de la Rocha also promised the band would perform a free concert in the UK sometime in 2010 to celebrate the achievement. True to their word, the band announced that they would be performing a free concert at Finsbury Park, London on June 6, 2010. The concert, dubbed "The Rage Factor", gave away all the tickets by free photo registration to prevent touting over the weekend of the February 13–14, followed by an online lottery on February 17. This proved to be overwhelmingly popular, with many users facing connection issues. The tickets were all allocated by 13:30 that same day. After allowing ticket holders to vote for who they wanted to be the support acts for "The Rage Factor", it was announced that Gogol Bordello, Gallows and Roots Manuva would support Rage Against the Machine at this concert.
In addition to the free gig at Finsbury Park, the band headlined European festivals in June 2010 including the Download Festival at Donington Park, England, Rock am Ring and Rock im Park in Germany and Rock in Rio Madrid in Spain. They also performed in Ireland on June 8 and The Netherlands on June 9.  Zack de la Rocha had stated that it was a definite possibility that the band would record a new album, the first time since 2000's Renegades Morter confirmed this, stating the discussions he and the band had backstage before the Finsbury Park gig saying the band did write new material, but they had no motivation to release them until now. De la Rocha mentioned the very strong reaction from the Download Festival 2010 audience as an incentive for releasing new material. In addition, the band returned to Los Angeles on July 23, 2010 for their first US show in two years and their first hometown show in 10 years. The concert benefited Arizona organizations that are fighting the SB1070 immigration law. On the night of the show, a spokesperson announced to the crowd that ticket sales—all of which are non-profit to the bands—had raised $300,000. The band has been confirmed to do a short South American tour in October, performing at venues such as the SWU Festival in Brazil, the Maquinaria Festival in Chile, and Pepsi Music Festival in Argentina. It was the first time the band played on those countries.
During an interview with the Chilean newspaper La Tercera in October 2010, Rage frontman Zack de la Rocha allegedly confirmed that a new album was in the works, with a possibility of a 2011 release. De la Rocha is reported as saying, “We are all bigger and more mature and we do not fall into the problems we faced 10 or 15 years ago. This is different and we project a lot: we are working on a new album due out next year, perhaps summer for the northern hemisphere." However, in early May 2011, guitarist Tom Morello said that the band were not working on a new album, but would not rule out the possibility of future studio work. "The band is not writing songs, the band is not in the studio," Morello told The Pulse of Radio. "We get along famously and we all, you know, intend to do more Rage Against the Machine stuff in the future, but beyond sort of working out a concert this year, there's nothing else on the schedule (for 2011)." As Morello stated, the only Rage appearance for 2011 was a performance on July 30 at the L.A. Rising festival with El Gran Silencio, Immortal Technique, Lauryn Hill, Rise Against and Muse. As of mid-2012, there are no plans for any more shows. During an interview on July 30, 2011, Commerford seemingly contradicted Morello's comments, stating that new material was being written, and specific plans for the next two years were in place.
In an October 2012 interview with TMZ, bassist Tim Commerford was asked if Rage Against the Machine was working on a new album. He simply responded, "maybe". Asked by TMZ again in November 2012 whether a new album was being worked on, Commerford replied "definitely maybe...anything's possible." Later that month, however, Morello denied that they were working on new material, and stated that Rage Against the Machine has "no plans beyond" the reissue of their self-titled debut album. Morello said he would be open to recording new Rage Against the Machine material, but added that it is "not on the table right now."
The band announced on October 9 via their Facebook page that they would be releasing a special 20th anniversary box set to commemorate the group's debut album. The full box set contains never-before-released concert material, including the band's 2010 Finsbury Park show and footage from early in their career, as well as a digitally-remastered version of the album, b-sides and the original demo tape (on disc for the first time). The band released 3-disc and single-disc versions. The collection was released on November 27.
Political views and activism
The members of Rage Against the Machine are well known for their leftist political views, and almost all of the band's songs focus on these views. Key to the band's identity, Rage Against the Machine has voiced viewpoints highly critical of the domestic and foreign policies of current and previous US governments. Throughout its existence, RATM and its individual members participated in political protests and other activism to advocate these beliefs. The band sees its music as a vehicle for social activism; De la Rocha explained that "I'm interested in spreading those ideas through art, because music has the power to cross borders, to break military sieges and to establish real dialogue." Morello said of wage slavery in America:
Meanwhile, critics pointed out what they regard as the hypocrisy of voicing commitment to leftist causes while being millionaires signed to Epic Records, a subsidiary of media conglomerate Sony Records. Infectious Grooves released a song called "Do What I Tell Ya!" which mocks lyrics from "Killing in the Name", accusing the band of being hypocrites. In response to such critiques, Morello offered the rebuttal:
On August 27, 2008, Rage Against the Machine played a free concert in Denver at the Denver Coliseum during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in protest against the war in Iraq. After the concert, the band joined members of The Coup and Flobots in an anti-war protest march from the Denver Coliseum to the Pepsi Center led by Iraq Veterans Against the War.
- Zack de la Rocha – lead vocals (1991–2000, 2007–present)
- Tom Morello – lead guitar (1991–2000, 2007–present)
- Tim Commerford – bass guitar, backing vocals (1991–2000, 2007–present)
- Brad Wilk – drums, percussion (1991–2000, 2007–present)
- Rage Against the Machine (1992)
- Evil Empire (1996)
- The Battle of Los Angeles (1999)
- Renegades (2000)
Awards and nominations
Rage Against the Machine has received two Grammy Awards; Best Metal Performance for the song "Tire Me" and Best Hard Rock Performance for "Guerrilla Radio". The band has also received three nominations from the MTV Video Music Awards, but has yet to win an award. In 2008 the band were given a special "Hall of Fame" award from Kerrang!.
- Grammy Awards
- MTV Video Music Awards
- NME Awards
- Kerrang! Awards
- Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards
- Devenish, Colin (2001). Rage Against the Machine. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-27326-6.
- Stenning, Paul (2008). Rage Against the Machine: Stage Fighters. New York: Independent Music Press. ISBN 1-906191-07-7.
- "Anti-Capitalist Critique and Travelling poetry in the Works of Lorna Dee Cervantes and Rage Against the Machine." By: Alexander, Donna Maria. Forum for Inter-American Research. 2012 April; 5.1.
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Image from Discogs