Monday, November 28, 2011

Boots Riley: "we can't be dedicated to a tactic; we have to be dedicated to winning"

First of all, Boots Riley of the Coup might be the most underrated MC in the world. If you've never heard the Coup before, I'd advise you to get familiar. But Boots is also a long-time community activist from Oakland, one who always has a brilliant way of mixing political philosophy with on-the-ground experience and realism.

Below is a series of Tweets from Boots regarding the Black Bloc tactics used during Oakland's general strike.  I caught some of these tweets as they were happening, but Dan DiMaggio forwarded me a full transcript that I think is (despite being written in Twitter-speak) extremely insightful.

The only thing I'd add here is to think about these ideas not just in the context of the Black Bloc (which is a very specific group/action that has been debated for years), but relating to all tactical choices.  It's not just smashing windows that can be counter-productive; there's a whole array of tactics, rhetoric and iconography that might not be doing what we want them to do.  The question that I keep coming back to is "how do we build a MASS movement?"  Not "how do we remain ideologically pure," or "how do we win the debate," but "how do we mobilize and radicalize as many people as possible?"  Some great food for thought here:


An extended series of Tweets from @BootsRiley from Friday, 11/24:

Not that we need that, but some dedicated non-violent folks in the movement should know that u have2work with others to make change.

Folks dedicated to blac bloc tactics shuld understand working w/others as well. We can't be dedicated2a tactic. We must b dedicated2winning.

I believe that breaking windows is not "wrong"- it just doesn't work. For a number of reasons. That is a tactic that puts the mask wearers

in a "vanguard" position. It says "We are the revolutionaries- everyone else needs to wake up!" This either turns ppl off cuz their not at

that point yet, or it causes people to simply cheer from the sidelines. It's problematic in a mass action where the masked ones know whats

about to happen and everyone else is caught off guard and more vulnerable to the police. The other problem is one of analysis. If we are

in the middle of one of the biggest, most overtly class conscious acts of the last 65 years- one that has the unity of action of 50,000 ppl-

one that caused millions in damage through an action that teaches class analysis and builds an apparatus for future action-why would u think

breaking a window at whole foods is taking it to another level? Its not. The message it gives to most is one of futile frustration. It makes

many feel that they can't win, that all we can do is break windows. We are making a movement that can stop the wheels of industry. That's

much more powerful than breaking some windows. Those tactics are ones that could b of use when masses of ppl aren't taking action. But w/an

action in which 50,000 people are making a huge step and having a general strike, the message should just be "We are all awake."

But, I think there is an ideological trend that i have encountered that leads to this- one that thinks that the ppl can't win.

When I critiqued someone around a similar action a few years ago, saying it didn't pull ppl in, & u can't win w that tactic. they resonded:

responded: "You can never win, you can only choose how to lose." Versions of this idea are at the heart of some of this, I believe.

I believe, now even more than a few months ago, that we can win. This is a new era. People are ready. We can win.

The other thing that I left out is that when a group of masked white kids break windows in a city that's many ppl of color, it feels like

the white kids are claiming ownership, not saying that this city is all of ours. It makes it harder to build a viable mass movement.

I'm saying this knowing the truth, many masked blac bloc folks are NOT white. But, if everyone perceives u as white cuz u have a mask on-

then it has the same effect. We need tactics that help build that movement. That's all. Black folks in the community I come from look at

marches on Washington and breaking store windows in a similar light- that they're futile appeals to power. So people stay away.

The thing is, no one can show me a successful revolutionary organization who relied on the tactic of breaking windows as a lynchpin.

It's like saying, in war, that ur gonna use 1 tactic in every battle, even if it doesnt work.

To be clear, I'm speaking to folks as comrades. Blac Bloc is not a group, its folks deciding2use that tactic at a certain time.

But, I have to say, there is a reason why ppl suspect that as bein done by agents:

Recently- During the OscarGrant case, proven police agent, Mandingo, did similar things. There r other cases as well. The problem comes w

using those tactics in a crowd. If u wanna break windows do it separately, don't have the crowd b the buffer btwn u & police.

Now, the only tactics I'm speaking of are vandalism and why that doesn't work. There are other tactics that do work.

There are tactics I've seen, and that we used for the march to the port, in which we have a group of folks with shields that can push thru

a police line, blocking themselves from batons and bullets & creating a spearhead for the march to go thru. That's a good one.There r others

Often as seen in OO's thanksgiving video, police will charge@ one person, causing our line to break and allowing them thru.

We can use our own distractions as well2get thru their lines. This takes not being dedicated2 a certain tactic, but being dedicated2winning.

The main thing I'm saying is that every situation, every terrain, calls for different tactics.

For example, most of you wouldn't know me if I had just made an album w different versions of "The Internationale". We'r in a new situation.

For everyone quoting Gandhi: His movement wasnt the only reason India gained independence. U think the British were only fighting Gandhi?

India had been fighting for its independence for decades via MILITANT movements that still existed during Gandhi's time.

Britain was involved in a BLOODY conflict w Palestine that soaked up resources. The Hollywood version of Indian independence amazes me.

Gandhi called strikes violent cuz they physically kept scabs out. He was at odds w many others in movement.

Lastly,2supporters of blac bloc tactics: it keeps folks away that would otherwise be militant supporters otherwise. We need the numbers.

We must be guided by what's rightðical,not what's legal. Blockin the port: illegal. Did we do it? Yes. Will we do it on Dec 12? Hell yes.

To answer some tweets- Nothing I said advocates assault. I advocate using numbers2make it so police can't stop our movements.

Sidenote: I'm in Paris, doing shows. When I say I'm from Oakland, many say "Oh! Caleeforneea!", but half say "Oui! Occupy Oakland!"

Here's my old friend Josh Healey performing a poem for OccupyCal:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some Thoughts on Big Quarters

If you read my writing regularly, you probably know that I don't dish out praise easily. I tend to be more of a critic, partly because that's my personality and partly because I think there's already too much cheerleaderism in indie hip hop, especially locally. But Big Quarters have a new album coming out, and this is one group that I think really deserves all the hype they can get.

I don't know the brothers from Big Quarters (Brandon Allday and Medium Zach) all that well, but I feel like they embody the spirit of indie rap better than just about anyone.  Here's a phenomenally talented hip hop duo from a scene overflowing with talented hip hop artists, a group that's put work into their community as much as their craft, a throwback boom-bap artist that isn't boring, a rap act that has zero interest in jumping on trends, selling out their principles or kissing ass.  Have you heard of them?  If you have, you probably already love them.  If not, here's an introduction.

I feel like Big Quarters sometimes falls victim to the idea that an artist can't be good at two things simultaneously.  We like to box people in-- you're either a producer who raps a little or a rapper who produces a little (or a slam poet who raps some, haha).  And it's true, Brandon and Zach make some of the best beats in the Twin Cities.  But I'd argue that they're also two of the best MCs in the Twin Cities.

Big Quarters' production (whether done in-house or with a collaborator like Benzilla or Mux Mool) is soulful and funky and organic and all the other adjectives that we use when we fail to describe music.  I guess beyond that, there's an unmistakable earthiness to their beats-- partly from their sample sources, but I don't think that that's all of it.  The beats sound like lava bearing down on a forest and the forest fighting back, soil churning up into walls, tree roots slithering through the dirt.  I hate to get overly poetic, but that's really what I think of when I hear this stuff.  It's traditionalist, sample-based hip hop music, but it never sounds like they're just doing the same old thing that the Beatnuts or DJ Muggs have already done-- it pays tributes to the legends without biting them.

And as MCs, Brandon and Zach are special.  They're not flashy, but they're always engaging, which isn't easy to do.  There's a confidence and poise in their deliveries that transcends the need for big punchlines and pop culture references-- it's grown-folks hip hop, but without the elitist baggage so often associated with that label.  Brandon is the more recognizable voice, with a bass-y growl somehow deeper than Crescent Moon and Joe Horton combined.  Zach is maybe a little more agile, but both display an understanding of the poetry of MCing that's rare and refreshing.  And the lyrics don't just sound cool-- Big Quarters is one of the smartest, most political (without ever venturing into platitudes and rhetoric) hip hop duos making music today.  Again, it's not punch-you-in-the-face lyricism-- it's subtle and thought-provoking and down-to-earth and utterly unique.

That combination of brilliant production work, truly smart, meaningful content, quality technical rapping and a cohesive sound/approach is simply not something that many artists can pull off.  For "real hip hop heads" and casual listeners alike, this is a group that needs to be on your radar.  I could talk more about why I like BQ, but it'd probably be better to just post some videos so you can listen for yourself.

Those are just a few, mostly from "Cost of Living," which is my favorite BQ album, even though it's a little older. "Painkillers" is probably my favorite track. What's yours?

Big Quarters' new album, "Party Like a Young Commie," will be released on December 16 at the Triple Rock in MPLS.  You can pre-order it here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Death Poetry Jam at Intermedia Arts, 11/28/11

I've been wanting to throw this show for a while.  This is an unbelievable lineup of artists, and if you have even a passing interest in spoken-word, this is not a show to be missed.  We'll all be performing work that deals with death in some way-- some serious, some light, some heart-wrenching, some beautiful.  Hope you can make it.  Facebook event page here.

Bring Out Your Dead (prod. Big Cats!) by Guante

A Loud Heart: get the new album

Here's the new album.  Click on the image to go to the Bandcamp page and listen and/or download.  We're pretty proud of it.  Big thanks to Big Cats! for playing bass on the first two tracks and doing the mixing/recording, as well as Renee Klitzke, who played cello on the last three tracks.  We hope you like it!

And in case you missed it, here's our video.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A LOUD HEART video: "The Illusion of Movement"

A Loud Heart -- The Illusion of Movement from Unique Techniques on Vimeo.

Me and Claire stopped by the Unique Techniques studio to shoot a live video for our song "The Illusion of Movement," which is actually an acoustic remake of one of my older tracks.  At its core, this is a song about struggle, about reaching for something even if you know that you might never actually get there, about valuing the process as well as the product.  It's also a love song, which is a running theme on this project-- using love songs as entry points to talk about larger issues.  Hope you like it.

Huge thanks to artist, educator and media whiz PCP, who shot and edited the video.  You may remember that I stopped in a month or so ago and we had a great conversation for his podcast.

Anyways, don't forget about our release party, coming up 11/11/11 at Honey in MPLS.  The whole A LOUD HEART album will be available online as well, but not until after the show.  If you buy it at the show, you'll get a handcrafted package including the CD and lyrics sheet.  Details:

EDIT: Listen to the full album here!