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Rage Against the Machine


Rage Against the Machine (1991-2000, 2007-2011, 2019-2024): a Nu-Metal band from Los Angeles, California, USA.


igning to 'Epic' mostly on the reputation of their infamous live performances, Rage Against the Machine (often abbreviated as RATM and shortened to simply Rage) started up with Zack De La Rocha (vocals), Tom Morello (guitar), Timmy C. (Full Name: Tim Commerford; bass) and Brad Wilk (drums); their song lyrics traditionally expressing revolutionary political views.

Shortly after forming, their first public performance would be at the Quad of California State University, Northridge on October 23, 1991. The foundation that the group's major-label debut album would be based on the demo tape Rage Against the Machine, a twelve-song self-released cassette, the cover image depicting newspaper clippings of the stockmarket section with a single match taped to the inlay card. Not all 12 songs made it onto the final album, however. Two were eventually included as B-sides, while three others never saw an official release. Several record labels expressed interest, with 'Epic Records' winning out. That resulting self-titled debut album, reached triple platinum status, driven by heavy radio play of the song Killing in the Name; a heavy, driving track featuring only eight lines of lyrics. The "Fuck You" version [yes - that's the name], contains 17 variations of the word 'fuck', and was once accidentally played on the BBC Radio 1 Top 40 singles show on February 21, 1993.

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The UK would be one of the first places to see Rage Against the Machine on a wholesale scale with the performance of Killing In The Name Of on the now defunct cult TV program yoof. The song formed the centerpiece of the aforementioned eponymous 1993 debut album. The album was a revolutionary hybrid of hip-hop rhythms with monster riffing. The album made them come across as one seriously angry group of young men raging against all sorts of injustice, most noted being the American White influenced capitalist system (the "machine" for which they had rage - that same "machine" that was selling their records incidentally). Their winning formula was a good mix of funk with anger in tracks like Bullet In The Head, Bombtrack and Know Your Enemy; tracks showing why they were winning over the copycats. The anger and political dissent experienced on the tracks was so convincing probably because of the influence of Morello whose father was a member of the Mau Mau (Kenyan Guerrillas who fought against British occupation), and his Uncle, Jomo Kenyatta, who was imprisoned but later became that county's President. La Rocha's father, on the other hand, was a noted L.A. muralist and political activist.

After the debut, Rage Against the Machine appeared on the soundtrack for the film Higher Learning with the song Year of tha Boomerang. An early version of Tire Me also appeared in the subsequent movie. They also re-recorded the song Darkness from their original demo for the soundtrack of the movie The Crow, while No Shelter appeared on the Godzilla movie soundtrack.

Their infamous live shows were now available to the public, one most noted incident was the group's Philadelphia show where they walked on stage buck naked with "PMRC" scrawled across their chests. Other sold out events would commence until 1996 when their next effort was launched.

1996's Evil Empire, the next effort, was less impressive by lacking the focus of its forefather, although it still hit US #1 (4 UK) and triple platinum. The cover art also failed to meet the previous' expectations of the first which featured a Buddhist Monk setting himself on fire to protest the Vietnam War. Nonetheless they were an apparent smash at that year's Reading Festival by almost upstaging the headliners The Prodigy. This was also the same time that saw Timmy C. change his name to Y.tim.K.

The song Bulls on Parade was performed on the television show Saturday Night Live in April 1996. Their planned two-song performance was cut to one song when the band attempted to hang inverted American flags from their amplifiers as "a sign of distress or great danger"; a protest against having Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes as guest host on the program that night. That track, however, received heavy rotation on college and heavy metal radio shows - heavy rotation to the point of annoyance!

In 1997, the band opened for U2 on their PopMart Tour, for which all of Rage Against the Machine's share went to support social organizations.

In 1999 Rage Against the Machine played at the Woodstock '99 concert.

After a brief visit to the camp of electro-punks Essex for collaboration with Morello on their No Man Army track, Rage Against the Machine got working on the next album. It would be Guerrilla Radio, Mic Check and New Millennium Homes that highlighted their third effort The Battle of Los Angeles (1999). The album immediately went to 1 in the US but only 23 in the UK. For a change, the follow-up Renegades (2000), did not take their usual three years to complete; the change in plan was due more to the album's contents that featured only covers of other act's works. The album, not surprisingly, struggled on the charts in comparison to its predecessors making only 14 in the US (71 UK).

On January 26, 2000, an altercation during filming of the video for the track Sleep Now in the Fire, directed by Michael Moore, caused the doors of the New York Stock Exchange to be closed and the band to be escorted from the site by security after band members attempted to gain entry into the exchange.

On September 7, 2000, the band attended the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, and performed Testify. After the Best Rock Video award was given to Limp Bizkit, instead, Commerford climbed onto the scaffolding of the set. Commerford and his bodyguard were sentenced to a night in jail, while De la Rocha reportedly quietly left the awards after the stunt.

The band was rumored to have broken up several times during their career but it was made official in the fall of 2000 when vocalist De La Rocha left the group, citing a breakdown of communication among the band members, reportedly telling reporters the band would argue over everything and anything, even "fist fights over whether our T-shirts should be mauve or camouflaged! It was ridiculous." Even though the remaining three had committed to continue, as the focal point of the group, his departure left the status of the band in question. The remaining three members would close up the shop then reform with ex-Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell in a new band, Audioslave (formerly Civilian). The first single from this new act, Cochise, was released in November 2002, with a self-titled debut album following to positive reviews. Compared to Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave's music was mostly apolitical, with few touching on political issues.

The band's next album, Renegades (2000), was a collection of covers of artists that went platinum a month later. It had been released after the band's split. It was followed by 2003's live album Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, an edited recording of the band's final concerts on September 12 and 13, 2000, at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the controversial 2001 Clear Channel Memorandum contained a long list of what the memo termed "lyrically questionable" songs for the radio. The list included all of Rage Against the Machine's songs.

Morello began his own solo career in 2003, playing political acoustic folk music at open-mic nights and various clubs under the alias The Nightwatchman, as an outlet for his political views while playing apolitical music with Audioslave.

De la Rocha had been working on a solo album collaboration with DJ Shadow, Company Flow, Roni Size and The Roots' Questlove, but dropped the project in favor of working with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor.

During their split, members of the band had been offered large sums of money to reunite for concerts and tours, and had turned the offers down until 2008 when, voluntarily, Morello and de la Rocha reunited onstage to perform a brief acoustic set at a Coalition of Immokalee Workers rally in downtown Chicago. Various live performances would emerge but, despite rumors of a new album, none would come. The band split again in 2011.

In 2020 Rage Against the Machine would truly announce a real unification tour named the Public Service Announcement Tour, their first full tour in 20 years, the last being for their third album The Battle of Los Angeles.

Although Rage Against the Machine was nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility in 2017 as well as in 2018, 2019, and 2021, all the bids failed. On November 3, 2023, in the final year of eligibility, they were finally inducted. While all four members were inducted, Morello was the only one to attend the ceremony.

On January 3, 2024, Wilk confirmed the third breakup of Rage Against the Machine, explaining that, "while there has been some communication" between himself and the remaining band members, they "will not be touring or playing live again."

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Rage Against the Machine in 2007. From left to right: Tim Commerford, Zack de la Rocha, Brad Wilk and Tom Morello.
Photo by: Penner
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

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