When a 90s Political Metal Hero Waterboarded A Tennis Icon to Make a Statement

Scott Penner, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons Eurosport, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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In 2014, the sudden emergence of a masked figure in politically charged music videos marked the enigmatic entrance of supergroup Future User. Fronted by Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford, the band, along with producer Jordan Tarlow and drummer Jon Knox, delved into a genre they coined as “progtronic,” blending prog rock with contemporary EDM.

While their debut album garnered praise and comparisons to Depeche Mode, Killing Joke, and The Prodigy: the music took a backseat to their visually explosive critiques, tackling police brutality, Guantanamo Bay torture, NSA spying, and GMO foods.

One standout was the 2014 video for their track, “Clockwork.” A comedic yet poignant commentary on police militarization, the vignette cast a spotlight on America’s potential descent into a police state. Laden with social media and news outlet parodies, “Clockwork” resonated on a global level while highlighting America’s struggle with brutality.

Intriguing as the song might be, it was the video that stole the show by featuring an unexpected centerpiece: former tennis star John McEnroe being waterboarded. The shocking visuals, shot in an undisclosed L.A. location, were no cinematic illusion—McEnroe willingly endured the process, a confounding sight repeated multiple times over a 90-minute shoot.

“It’s a pretty powerful clip,” said McEnroe in a press release. “A friend involved with the project asked if I wanted to participate, saying he was making a video about living in a police state where people are punished for the smallest of infractions – sort of a ‘this could happen to you’ scenario. It seemed like a sci-fi concept at the time, but given everything that’s been happening around us lately, this video could easily be mistaken for an evening newscast. As for what it was like to shoot my scenes, let’s just say it was an experience I’ll never forget. I read about waterboarding and all the debates, and let me tell you from firsthand experience, it’s a brutal and terrifying form of torture. No one—American or otherwise—should ever have to endure that.”

Asked if his friendship with McEnroe made it easier to get him involved in the clip, Commerford told Billboard: “It wasn’t easy because maybe we don’t see eye to eye politically and I had to pitch to him what the video was going to be about. I wasn’t really sure how he was going to react and at the end of the video it was moving ’cause it wasn’t going to be an act. I didn’t want to faux waterboard John McEnroe, I wanted to waterboard him. And I told him I wanted him to feel it so he could speak from experience and I gave him this hammer and he held it. I said, ‘Okay, dude, if it gets really bad, drop the hammer.’ And so he would drop the hammer and I would continue to waterboard him because I wanted it to be real. And at the end he was emotionally moved and crying. It wasn’t easy, it was crazy, what it was.”