The Alt-Metal Legends Whose Name Is Subversive In All The Wrong Ways

Thargol, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
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As many musicians will tell you, the process of coming up with a worthy name is one of the hardest things a band will ever go through.

You can always write a new song and make a new record, but what you decide to call yourself will become your identity from that point onward. While it’s not unheard of for a band to change their name, doing so usually signifies a great change and takes a tremendous amount of work. Most groups just suck it up and learn to live with whatever they agreed to call themselves from the outset.

Before he got together with Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk and inadvertently became a global phenomenon, Zack de la Rocha was already a well-respected figure within the Orange County hardcore scene. As frontman of youth crew outfit Inside Out, he helped usher in a new breed of forward-thinking, aggressive punk in Southern California. No Spiritual Surrender, the band’s singular 7” release (which was later reissued with two additional songs), is a furious indictment of materialism that occupied a similar sonic space to contemporaries like Chain Of Strength.

While the record undoubtedly fit into a genre, Inside Out played with a uniquely tangible passion all of their own and the 7” is considered a staple among hardcore fans to this day.

Kent McClard, Ebullition Records label head and publisher of underground zines HeartattaCk and No Answers, was a peer of Inside Out. A stalwart of do-it-yourself punk ethics, McClard’s anti-consumerist essay in the ninth issue of No Answers would prove consequential in a way he never expected or intended. It read in part:

“We need a revolution within ourselves. We need a revolution within our scene. We need a revolution. Do you understand? Do I under-stand? We need to radically altar the way we conduct our lives. We need to change the way we relate to each other. We need to rearrange our goals and desires. The machine must be destroyed. I mean it. It is no joke. It is no game. It is no lyric. It is no idle threat. It is a war. Wage war. Commit. Agitate. Educate. Speak. Act. Learn. Disobey. Rage against the machine.”

Inspired by the essay, de la Rocha asked McClard for permission to call the upcoming Inside Out LP Rage Against The Machine. The zine publisher happily agreed, but the band broke up when guitarist Vic DiCara left to join a Hare Krishna temple; expressing those beliefs on a more explicit level with his next band 108. Rather than abandon it entirely, de la Rocha brought the phrase to his next project, albeit in a different context. The rest is history…

As a rebuttal to a rejected HeartattaCk column in 2001 about the concept of bands selling out, McClard addressed the name on his website, saying:

“I came up with the name Rage Against The Machine. It was a phrase that I wrote for a column in No Answers #9 where I was challenging hardcore to be a force against corporate capitalism. I was calling on a war on the “industry” of music, and I was calling on all those involved in hardcore to take control of their lives and strive for independence from the machine that is our society. Zach really liked the phrase, and he wanted to use it as the title of the Inside Out LP. I said he could of course. However, the Inside Out LP never came out, and Zach instead decided to use the phrase as the name of his new band.

“In my opinion he subverted the meaning. I do not believe that you can rage against the machine if you embrace being part of the machine. I believe that Zach has honest intentions, and I do believe he is trying to change the world for the better.

But he chose to do it in a way that I am not interested in traveling. He took this phrase that was intended as a call for independence, DIY, self-control, and an attack on major labels and multi-national corporations and outside forces trying to profit from our scene and lives, and he instead turned it into a profitable name that would help multi-national corporations to make more profits and in the end he subverted its meaning. So when I see ‘Rage Against The Machine’ on the cover of some corporate magazine I feel betrayed. He took my words but not my meaning.

“Therefore, I am probably more sensitive to Rage Against The Machine’s existence in the corporate realm than most. To me they represent the theft of my culture and my ideology for the profit and gain of corporate America. How can I not feel like they sold me out?”