Socialist Worker

Faithless still believe in the power of the people

Guitarist Dave Randall spoke to Maxi Jazz from Faithless about music and the movement before their gig at this Saturday’s anti-war demonstration in London

Issue No. 1943

Maxi Jazz backstage at last year’s Peace Not War gig in Hackney, east London (Pic: Ian Hunter)

Maxi Jazz backstage at last year’s Peace Not War gig in Hackney, east London (Pic: Ian Hunter)

Dave Randall: Maxi, you’ve consistently supported the movement against the war and the occupation of Iraq. Why do you think it’s important to be involved?

Maxi Jazz: It’s an absolute scandal. I remember for months after the start of the war I was still labouring under the misapprehension that 15,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives. Then the boys from Lancet go in and find out that the figure is nearer 100,000. It’s absolutely astonishing.

American soldiers are fearful for their lives-obviously because they have no business being there in the first place-and they are shooting at anything that drives at them at speed. It might be women and children.

It’s a noted fact that they’ve been doing this ever since they’ve been there and it’s just been kept quiet. And it’s being done in my name. So, yes, I must stand up and say something.

DR: Absolutely. Faithless recently had considerable success both here and in the US with the single “Mass Destruction”. Tell us a little bit about the lyrics you wrote for that tune.

MJ: It was a depressingly easy song to write because my head was full of it. It was all in the news and I was just dumbfounded by what I was hearing on the TV.

Long before the war it struck me as mystifying how this man Saddam Hussein could conjure up “weapons of mass destruction” when his military machine was completely crushed 12 years previously-I mean properly, completely crushed.

Then he had 12 years of the most stringent and rigourous sanctions known to man. So what sort of David Blaine character could he be to conjure these weapons up? It just didn’t follow. It didn’t make sense.

And now that none have been found I feel, not surprised, but really sorrowful. Because yes, he was a very bad man, but there are a lot of very bad men in the world. I think if the Iraqi people had said “Please Mr Bush, will you come and help us remove this fella?”, that would be legitimate.

You know, I remember Mr Bush being criticised for not having an exit strategy. Of course he didn’t have an exit strategy — he wasn’t going nowhere! It’s only when the insurgency started to really become effective that suddenly this idea of an exit plan became moot.

It was a depressingly easy song to write in that respect. But I’m really delighted that the Americans took to it. Because I thought America was the last place on the planet that would show that video. Yet MTV America went mad for it. It was on heavy rotation and loads of people saw it.

So we got a lot of respect in America, particularly in the industry, for that song and for the video too. I’m very proud of that as a statement. It was astonishing because I’d gone there with stories ringing in my ears of people like the Dixie Chicks being seriously censored by Mr Bush personally.

Linda Ronstadt, who is no small American artist, was doing a tour. She did a show in Las Vegas and dedicated her encore song to Michael Moore. She came back off stage to find her dressing room door locked, her stuff outside and her tour cancelled.

DR: Bloody hell.

MJ: Yeah, common knowledge in the States. It happened. In that climate you think to yourself, “Well they’re not touching us with a barge pole.” Then MTV America rang us up to say “we want to play this”- MTV America don’t do that!

Our record label BMG said that even though they have Dido on their books, they have never had MTV America play one of their acts-except for that recording. Of all the records that we’ve ever made, for that one to be played on heavy rotation in America-that was perfect.

DR: The fact that the industry and MTV in the US played the song is actually a reflection of the fact that a climate exists where they can’t ignore those sentiments.

MJ: I think that’s absolutely right. People talk about Mr Bush’s mandate-he won by, what, three million votes in a country of hundreds of million. So it’s nothing like a mandate-it’s very finely divided.

DR: It’s true. When you look at the number of people that actually voted for Bush, I think it’s less than 30 percent of the people in America who can potentially vote.

MJ: There is a strong feeling within America that what is being done in America’s name is entirely wrong. And it is, of course.

It’s being billed as a liberation of Iraq. If you’re going to go and liberate a set of people, how is it you don’t have a mechanism for counting the amount of people that you kill?

Not even counting them-much less trying to find out their names or any of that. No, that doesn’t strike me as being sympathetic with a liberation. It’s just unbelievable that more isn’t being said, that more hasn’t been done.

DR: In concert you often speak out against the likes of Bush and Blair and Sharon. And it’s clear from your lyrics that you believe that another world is possible. You tour all over the world with Faithless-how do audiences internationally respond to those ideas?

MJ: It’s amazing. To be honest, I think that a lot of the reason why people come is because of those ideas. We have the most amazingly diverse audience I’ve ever clapped eyes on. We have people in their sixties-properly senior citizens-at the front and pumping their hands in the air with a stern look on their face!

Like I say, it’s an idea that “yes, another way of living is entirely possible”. You see it every time you go to a concert, every time you go to the race track. You see thousands of people treating each other with respect and dignity and a fair degree of love and compassion.

And that’s because, at that particular time, all those people are there with a shared value-we have come to see the band. Because you have that shared value, you can get on with everybody.

But when they all leave and their values become completely separate-that’s where conflict comes in. So, if one simply has as one’s main value humanity itself, rather than profit, rather than egocentric ideas, then...

There’s a really old tale about the difference between heaven and hell. There’s this huge banqueting table filled with every type of delicacy and well cooked food you can possibly imagine-except that the knives and forks are three feet long, so you can’t get the shit into your mouth.

So that’s the hell. Heaven is exactly that same scenario, but everone’s feeding each other. And that for me is so do-able. It’s so obvious, it’s so not a problem.

But of course we’re seduced by the media and its idea that this is a dark, terrible world, filled with dark, terrible people, that we should be on our guard all the time. It sets up a climate of mistrust, suspicion, fear. Which is, of course, exactly how the devil likes it.

DR: It seems to me that a lot of politicians, or powerful people in general, have a fear of ordinary people getting together en masse.

MJ: It’s a palpable terror, a pathological terror! Witness the Criminal Justice Bill. When Tony Blair came to power saying “education, education, education”, I was like “liar, liar, liar”. No politician worthy of the name is ever going to educate. Never. Because then how would they be able to play the race card and get votes?

If they had that- playing the race card to a well educated public-voters would say, “Fuck off, we’re not fooled by that.” If we know what’s going on, if we are well informed, if we are well read as an electorate-it’s suicide for them.

But it is within the gift of everybody in the country to educate themselves and I would strongly urge everybody to do just that. Because you can’t sit still with the bullshit that comes out of the media.

The idea that we have any sort of independent media, it’s rubbish, absolute rubbish. There are no questioning voices raised or allowed, there aren’t any.

For example, when we did a Stop the War gig, at the Hammersmith I think, I remember we had to do a press conference before. George Galloway was there and a couple of other people. They asked me a bunch of questions

It was on the BBC News 24 coverage of the event-there was a shot of me saying that there was no justification for the war and a shot of Chris Martin of Cold Play. They ran it between midnight and seven in the morning. At eight in the morning-gone.

It was very clever. Nobody can say that they didn’t show it. They just showed it when everybody was asleep. I was like, “That is unbelievable!” Shabby, low, wrong. And absolutely typical of our media, who are absolutely in bed with corporateness-and so are all the government. So it’s pretty much restricted from all sides. It’s going to have to come from us as people to make changes.

DR: And the idea that we’ve got a Labour government that is actually stirring up racism, quite deliberately...

MJ: I don’t know what to do anymore. Do you know what? It’s beyond my ken. All I know is that, no, Tony Blair can’t get my vote. The only vote he’s gonna get is if there’s a vote to put him in prison. Then I’ll go and vote two, three, times man.

DR: What would you say to someone who shares many of the values articulated in your lyrics, but who’s never been on a demo, or anything like that, and feels powerless to change the world?

MJ: It is about getting on the demo, getting into a website, finding other people and doing as much as you can. If everybody did ten percent of what they could to stop the war, the war would get stopped.

I think to myself-two million people we was out there with. Had it been 14 million, no way my boy would’ve risked it, forget it. Loads of people I spoke to-I’m sure you did too on the day-were saying, “Do you think it’s worth it? Do you think it’s going to change anything?”.

That’s that same powerlessness: “They’re not going to listen to us, we’re only little.” It’s a really pervasive, sinister vibe that pervades all countries. And it’s actively encouraged by government.

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Sat 19 Mar 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1943
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