by: Lovell, Jarret
At a time when the United States is at war with...well... just about everyone, Sole, Pedestrian and Dosh of the Anticon record collective decided to launch the "War on Self Tour." KUCI sat down with these vegan, progressive, hip-hop artists to discuss, war, politics, and Debbie Gibson's electronica comeback.
KUCI: The tour is called the "War on Self Tour." Why the need for yet another war?
PEDESTRIAN: Taking the war home - as the anarchists love to do when the black bloc breaks off from demos - finds its logical conclusion in taking the war to the self, kind of declaring war on yourself in some sense. To be an American means to not have to think about your nationality too much. You are barely a part of the world. As an American, you are a distinct thing. Indifference is the real American patriotism. And so to declare war on one's unspoken privileges (whether race or class) and the assumptions that we make is somewhat interesting.
SOLE: For me, the obvious thing is that there already is a war on self. Whether it's school or your credit agency or your friends or whatever, there is this nonstop barrage of things that try to dehumanize existence.
KUCI: Given these responses, it seems that Anticon isn't as political within the music as you seem to be outside of the music.
SOLE: We just don't want to be on a soapbox. And all of those themes are tired. What am I going to say? "Don't bomb Iraq! Stop the War! Peace Now!"?
PEDESTRIAN: Although it is positive in a lot of ways, there is a tendency to exhalt your first-person voice into something that sounds almost omnipotent. And so in political rap, traditionally you have these kind of sniper fantasies where a single character can change the course of history by sniping the first George Bush or doing something similar. We want to qualify this way of thinking. But part of it is also aesthetic. Sole was saying that propaganda is cliche. It is not convincing or compelling. It comes off like you're reading a pamphlet from some Trotskyites. It's non-aesthetic. And if it's non-aesthetic, there's no point in us producing it.
SOLE: Political music is totally cliche right now. It doesn't interest me. I never wanted to be a "political" rapper because the people who were lauded as political would only have one line from Animal Farm and then everybody's like, "these guys are soo political." But in reality it is anti-political.
KUCI: Let's talk about the politics of Anticon that are non-partisan. What does it mean to refer to Anticon as a collective?
SOLE: It means it's a collectively run record label. It means that the founders that own the label are all equal members.
PEDESTRIAN: Legally we are a cooperative, but more than that there is a spirit that is implied when you say "cooperative" which is a kind of alternative to hierarchical and/or corporate ways of pursuing a business - which is what we're running. And in something like the music industry which is so utterly top-down, Anticon is one of many labels that is trying to explore alternative routes. Not licensing our songs for the Sprite website is one aspect of that, but I think that's generally the spirit of Anticon.
KUCI: And are decisions made by consensus?
SOLE: Yes...actually, it's a bit less than consensus. Basically everything has to be unanimous. If it's not unanimous, nobody really wants to push forward with something and impose it upon everyone else. When everyone agrees upon something, it is able to move forward.
KUCI: How do your politics influence your music, and how does your music influence your politics?
PEDESTRIAN: I think it comes down to identity. I certainly am careful not to project myself as a revolutionary warrior in some imaginary revolt. At the same time, politics are a very real part of our lives, so to not address politics even in a song would be to miss something about life as it's actually lived. So when I approach politics in music, I do it very systematically. I take a particular subject, maybe do a little research and treat it like an essay with certain poetic and aesthetic qualities. And there can be real beauty in a piece by John Rawls or in a rant by Paul Krugman. I believe those kinds of things can have aesthetic value. "Arrest the President" with Sole and Jel is in someways a fairly coherent argument for international law as well as the normative potential for the International Criminal Court. The bottom line is that if I'm going to get up in front of a microphone and pretend to know something, I should actually know something and present that information. You have to earn your pulpit.
SOLE: For me, it's been a gradual thing. When I was younger, politics always seemed to abstract and vague. Everything was happening and I didn't have a say in it, and I didn't know anything. I didn't have any facts or historical knowledge so I didn't have a place to say anything. I only had what I thought, but I didn't know if I was right so I couldn't really address certain subjects unless I could argue back and forth about it.. So, it took years of reading every single thing I could find until I felt like I could talk about this stuff without sounding like an idiot. So this is a continuous process for me. This is why "Live from Rome" is my most political record, because it is also my most recent. I know more on that record. The two parts of my life go back and forth. I'll be reading my Emma Goldman and stealing lines for my lyrics out of it!
PEDESTRIAN: I'd add, though, that rap music deeplyy influenced our politics and our awareness of identity politics and our empathy for the voices of the underclass. I think rap for both of us was probably a long period of sensitization to the marginalized peoples.
KUCI: Both of you hinted at having some apprehension when discussing politics about not being informed enough or having all of the facts right. Certainly this is really important. But what role do emotions play? I think a lot of people are less politically active because they assume that they are not qualified to take a position. To what extent should emotions guide us? If we sense that something is immoral or wrong, isn't this good enough?
PEDESTRIAN: Sole, though, is kind of a great poet of indecision but being aware of the ways in which people are changeable and ideas are always colliding in the human being. And Sole is often trying to get at the process by which people can take action and then he steps back from it. He's actually recording that real internal argument between reason and emotion.
KUCI: Anticon's music seems to run the gammut. Anything from "Arrest the President" to some of the quirky songs that Why? records. Certainly, Anticon has a very "Do-It-Yourself" sound which is befitting of the anarchist theme. But how do you describe your music?
SOLE: It's a melting pot. We all come from a hip-hop background (or at least 80% of us). But I don't want to call it experimental.
PEDESTRIAN: The problem isn't with which genre we fall into. The problem is with genres in general. There is always crossover. Having so much background in rap, we simply qualified the definition of what rap could be. Rap could be anything in the world. It's kind of the first great transparent artform. It's entirely collage. And once you accept that the beating heart of rap is collage, you can do anything.
KUCI: Can you explain what is meant by "un-Indian Songs?"
PEDESTRIAN: It definitely ties into the idea of the war on the self. It is a simple negative identification. Define a thing by what it's not in order to suggest the costs of things that aren't here. The United States is what it is because we have the bones of Indians beneath our feet. And that is what it is. I'm not going to pour red paint on the Washington monument but these are the kinds of phantoms that should never leave us. So, that's the premise of these songs. It is because of this history that I'm able to record these songs. I'm a middle class dude. I can do an album in my spare time and put it out and there is enough discretionary funds in the middle class United States that we can almost make a living off of it.
KUCI: The 3rd track on "Live from Rome" predicts that Debbie Gibson will make an electronica comeback. What other predictions do you have for the next four years?
SOLE: Coke is going to come out with a minty drink.
DOSH (entering the room upon this question): I have a son, so I have to have a lot of hope. But it's tough. I just hope he doesn't join the military. I hope I'm raising him the right way. Maybe he'll move to Canada or something.
SOLE: I don't have a lot of hope.
PEDESTRIAN: I predict another couple of prosperous decades for those who predict the end of the world in novels, movies, pamphlets and politics. I predict a boom industry in predictions and pessimism.