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Prague Indymedia interviews Chumbawumba (english)
by Prague IMC folks
Email: imc-prague (nospam) lists.indymedia.org
10 Dec 2002
Exclusive IMC Praha Interview with Alice from Chumbawumba!
ceska verze zde: http://prague.hacknet.tk/newswire/display/7330/index.php
We talked to Alice from Chumbawumba towards the end of
september 2002 on Stvanice, shortly before their concert at the Music Beats
Local Nazi festival. There were three of us, Alex, Slavek, and Mara.
Slavek had a cola, Mara and Alex had a beer, Alice had a whiskey and
coke. We sat on the floor in a dark hallway which was the quietest place
to record. At first there were some rather funny difficulties with the
recorder, but we managed to work them out, and here's what we
MARA: it vibrated but he missed it!(difficulties with recorder
ALICE: Oh, never mind.
ALEX: What are you doing in Prague?
ALICE: Let's sit down.
ALEX: good idea.
ALICE: We've come to play this anti-racist festival (Music Beats
Local Nazi). I've never come across an anti-racist festival which
approaches from the angle of "O.k. we're gonna try to do something
that's really human." Whether you agree with violence or not, it's an
interesting approach. Because it brings up the problem that Nazis are
real people. It's also interesting for us, we've got an anti-fascist
section in our set. One of the songs ends on "I'll never rest alive
until every Nazi dies," and the other one has a chorus which gives the
fascist man a gunshot, which we're playing here. People think the only
way you can be an anti-fascist is to be a street fighter. This image of
huge young males, fighting on the street, no place for people that feel
vulnerable in that position, who have different things to contribute.
Being a revolutionary doesn't necessarily mean getting out in the
streets. there's loads of different things you can do, whether it's
pushing ideas, or doing things with friends or where you work, or
setting up things in the community...
ALEX: Or having fun...
ALICE: Yeah, or having fun. Politics shouldn't just be a duty.
I really like this place because its free. When I was wandering round
earlier, I found a building at the end that's got settees. Oh,
fantastic! I'll go sit down and chill out there later. Normally when we
go to festivals, I have to watch loads of crap rock bands that are all
blokes. "O.k., all right, there's a beer tent and it's horrible."
Whereas this has got a political context. It's got a nice environment
and loads of different cultural things going on. Quite often things that
have a political context are mired in some sort of ghetto, so people
think it's just punk rock. Here you have these Brazilian dancers who
are gonna do an 18th century slave dance, a form of martial arts that
the slaves developed as a form of resistance. You never get that at a
festival in England. You'd be fighting your way through guitars.
ALEX: I've liked how people are reading the wonderful displays that
are set up, and really bieng moved by them...
ALICE: Did you see the picture of the baby with the handcuffs?
It's a bit disturbing isn't it?
ALEX: I haven't looked at a lot of it yet.
ALICE: There's an antifascist poster with a really tiny baby
lying on its stomach with a pair of handcuffs on its back, as in "You
condemn your kids to that." You look at it and think, "Christ, what's
that?" You never get that at a normal festival, I find it really
disturbing, but I like the fact that it's there.
ALEX: How does the relationship between Capitalism, Sexism, and
Racism relate your anti-Capitalist views?
ALICE: We originally come from Birmingham, where they've just
elected three Nazis to town council. The Nazis got in by exploiting
peoples fears and their poverty. All the jobs moved out of Birmingham
in the '70's. In the initial wave of shutdowns, Birmingham lost its
industry. So it's been suffering from a heroin epidemic since the '70's.
There's massive social deprivation and all the things that come with
that, like incest and awful problems. The racists have said, "Well, the
reason that you've got all these problems is because you're letting
asylum seekers in, because we've got blacks in our town." In fact, the
reason that people have got all these problems is that in the 70's
capital decided that people had too much power in the workplace, you had
all these wildcat strikes. They said "Ok we've got to do a turn on
this," so you got Thatcherism coming in '81. The people voting for the
Nazis truly believe that they're living in absolute fear wondering
who's gonna burgle them next, because two miles down the road there's an
asylum seeker - who they don't know, and are never gonna meet.
Capitalism scapegoats somebody with no power. The Nazis pick that up
for their own reasons. For the Nazis it's a way of having power in a
society where they feel powerless, it's that white-trash mentality. "At
least there's somebody under me."
For me the fantastic thing about the anti-globalization movement is all
these diverse interests coming together and becoming a movement. The
'80's were a complete mess. People got mired in single issues. You had
people who were INTO animal rights and JUST into animal rights, and
nothing else mattered "I don't like abortion, because I'M into animal
rights, and if the animal's sacred, then the fetus...."
ALEX: Idealistically framed...
ALICE: Religiously framed, all about denial, all about saving
somebody, when the reason to be political is to save your own
life. Eastern philosophies are so fucking popular because people think
"Right, there's something wrong with the world, I can't understand what
it is, maybe if I chant." Instead of actually studying Western
philosophy and capitalist economies to work out why life is as it is,
because that's what we're living under, they read some mystic book. "The
answer's gonna come from from the East." It seems mad to me. In some
ways it's easier, "Well I don't actually have to move into the outside
world, all I have to do is sit in front of this dresser with some beads
in my hand."
MARA: Do you think that capitalism is sexist in some ways?
ALICE: I don't think Capitalism has any influence at all. I think
it bends in the wind. It has to survive and carry on making a profit. So
if sexism is no longer profitable, it'll abandon sexism. In the same way
that the World Bank and the IMF are saying "Actually, we're quite
benevolent. We'll let you not pay back some of your debts." They'll find
another way to grab the money back. Capitalism does whatever it has to
do to stay in power, I don't think it has an ethos. It's core ethos is
that it must carry on making a profit. And if that means giving people a
few rights here and there, it'll do it. But it'll take them away
somewhere else. I think that it's racist and sexist as a by-product.
If you're gonna exploit people, then people need to feel powerless.
MARA: That's where racism and sexism start...
ALICE: Yeah, because they need to be in a position where people
think "I can't organize against working in a factory in Thailand for 16
hours a day, for 60 cents a day."
MARA: "But I can beat the shit out of a black man."
ALICE: The whole thing is that people need to be powerless. Once
people start to gain power, it's like what happened to Britain in the
'70's. It?s much easier to fight back when you're feeling optimistic and
hopeful. In the 70's they was a real Union movement, where people had
wildcat strikes, demanded less working hours, more money, and Capitalism
had to adjust. The reason we have the 40 hour week isn't because
Capitalism is benevolent, it's because people fought for it. The reason
that we have any welfare state at all (which is going), is that people
came back after the Second World War, still armed, "OK we want a land
fit for heroes. We haven't got one, so we'll fucking fight for it!"
Capitalism realized that every so often you've got to give out a few
prizes. We make a mistake in thinking that capitalism is all powerful,
in always reacting to it. I look at it as the Italian Autonomists look
at it: Capital is reacting to us. It's always on the run from us, it's
always in flight. That's why it's moved its factories from Shipley and
Yorkshire over to Mexico, because people in Shipley and Yorkshire
demanded too many rights. Now people in Mexico are making links with
these people in Shipley, and that's really dangerous for Capitalism. It
changes and becomes more oppressive, or less oppressive, as a reaction
MARA: Do you think there's an Answer, like some people are
ALICE: I call myself an Anarchist, but I don't think it's that
important. I've done things with some Anarchists who are so right-wing
and so conservative that you're shocked. I don't think it matters what
you call yourself, I think it matters what you do. Over the years, I've
become suspicious of people in parties. They're never allowed free
thought, which is really dangerous. As long as you've got a party line
you're restricted from being truthful and having contradictions. That's
a part of the problem with politics, it's much easier for people to feel
pure and feel there are no contradictions. We live with loads of
contradictions, and you've got to be truthful about it. Otherwise, you
end up telling lies.
ALEX: The whole idea of "selling-out" is a really strange concept to
ALICE: It's a punk concept. I'm a forty-odd year old punk
mother, because I think it's an ethos and not a style of music. When
you talk about selling out, quite often people think they haven't sold
out because they're living in some sort of self chosen ghetto.
ALEX: ...a shit job.
ALICE: They don't think its a shit job...
ALEX: ...or no job.
ALICE: Yeah, or no job. People don't have the option of not doing
shit jobs most of the time. It's a fact of life. Especially as soon as
you've got kids, then you have to provide. There's lots of ways you can
fight back against capitalism. People are part of the capitalist
society whether or not they do a job for it. We're enmeshed in it. You
have to recognize you're part of it and at the same time stand against
it. The only way you're not going to be a part of it, is to do a
"Unabomber," which I think is bummer. The last thing that I want to do,
is become a primitive. Technology is amoral, it's what we do with it,
technology itself doesn't have a morality.
ALEX: I'm not a primitive, but...
ALICE: Look at the internet, it's got a fantastic communist
strand in it. Look at free software,
how people are sharing information, it's miles more successful than
Microsoft, and it's free. There's a whole community there using the
ethos of the Yippies.
The first computer stuff was influenced by the Yippies, they worked
collectively and did things for trade...
ALEX: Your talking about W.E.L.L and stuff?
ALICE: Yeah. And now you've got Richard Stallman, who's still
ALEX: I don't know about that.
You get on the Internet and there are so many advertisements. One of my
email accounts gets just shitbombed every day, with..
(to Slavek) I think you're drinking a Whiskey and Coke.
SLAVEK: I know.
ALICE: Can I have it back, here's your coca-cola. (laughs)
ALEX: Smooth, Slavek.
ALICE: That is funny - you guzzled that!
ALEX: So, where were we...
SLAVEK: It was very good.
ALICE: You're gonna be staggering around all over!
ALEX: Do you have any questions Slavek, or any thing you wanna
ALEX: What about fun and the revolution, and dancing and working? How
does music relate? I've learned a lot of the history you were talking
about from listening to Woody
ALICE: The reason Woody Guthrie did what he did was the joy of doing
it. He loved creating. He got to sing, which is a fantastic thing.
Creative ideas and the ablility to put them down enriched his life.
Woody Guthrie didn't write songs because he thought he was Jesus. People
do what they do to save their own life. It's fun for me, and hedonism,
not being religious, not seeing politics as another form of denial. The
best reason to be political, to be involved, is that you recognize that
the quality of life could be enhanced. And not just for you, but for
ALEX: There's ways of doing it structurally and there's ways of doing
outside the structure...
ALICE: If people have lives that are more fulfilled and more
happy, then it's a lot easier to be good to other people, isn't it?
ALEX: It seems like it should be.
ALICE: Which sounds really simple and hippyish and ridiculous,
but you don't have the option of being happy if you're struggling to
eat, or you're worried sick that you can't pay your bills, or working in
a sweatshop, or you have a shit job. Because it's not just sweat shops,
let's not pretend that you've got to work under those sort of conditions
to be incredibly unhappy. You can be incredibly unhappy with whatever
you do, if you do not choose.
ALEX: Marx talked about that in his theory. I don't know that I've
even read it, but I've probably been told about it... that the master
also feels oppression from the relationship.
ALICE: Well it's that surplus-value thing. If you wanna go on to
Marx...that idea that you've got to work and you're only paid a fraction
for what you do, because the surplus value is taken off by the boss.
The rest of the time that you could spend doing things for yourself is
the time that the boss takes. You've already earned what you need to
survive, say in six hours and the other 34 hours are his. They've been
stolen. And it's not even work anymore, that's the other thing...
MARA: But if somebody doesn't have a creative thing to do in their
spare time, then they won't make that time for themselves.
ALICE: Don't matter whether it's creative...
MARA: Yeah, but do something for themselves.
ALICE: But we never get the option of doing things for
ourselves. When I talk about the creative life, I'm not talking about
making things. I'm talking about having the choice over how you spend
your time and what you do. The problem is that people do not choose. One
of the choices you should have is to walk from here to Patagonia. Or to
stay at home and be involved in some sort of committee. The problem is
that people don't choose how to spend their time. We sell this idea of
happiness that never works. So you're always thirsting for a bit more of
it. I'm not particularly anti-consumer, because I'm a mad shopper. I'm
anti- the way Capitalism sells you an idea of happiness, but I'm not a
purist. I love style, which is part of fun I think. I love the
aesthetics of things. For me, that's a creative thing as well, the
aesthetics. There's so many parts of our lives that are completely
ordered, where you never really get the chance to break out of some
What you said about the internet - there are loads of adverts - but over
the last five years, I've been in contact with more people than the
fifteen years before that. Because the Internet makes it possible. The
way that you e-mailed us, suddenly the world's much smaller. One day,
in the space of ten minutes, I might send an e-mail to Germany, another
to Italy, another to Idaho - there are all these networks. We've just
done a book, and it wouldn't have been possible without the Internet. We
wanted to get all these artists and activists and put them in the same
space. To show that, even though you might not consider yourself to be
part of this movement, we're actually all in the same movement. We just
don't know each other exist. We couldn't have done that without the
Internet. Obviously if you're living in a small village in India, with
no computer access then obviously you're not gonna be part of it. But it
isn't just young white men using the internet anymore. The Zapatistas
could not have survived without sending bulletins over to the West, they
fought a propaganda war via the Internet.
ALEX: ...and beautifully.
ALICE: Yeah beautifully. Sorry. Warren?
WARREN: Last minute, if you're going to continue, you need to
ALICE: OK. Do you need to continue? or do you just want to have
a drink? The End