“Revolution In The Head”: Provocative L.A. band Rage Against The Machine & the “Art Of Protest”

By on July 27, 2018

You’ve probably noticed the words “revolution” and “protest” being used a lot more lately, and for good reason, so we thought we’d take a look back at Revolution in the Head: Rage Against the Machine & The Art of Protest, Alec Lindsell‘s 2010 documentary about the provocative L.A.-based rap-metal band and their longtime association with the American protest movement.

Watch this fascinating, slightly NSFW film — which features graphic language, and brief shots from the band’s naked protest in 1993 — on Night Flight Plus.

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Lindsell — who has also directed The Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy and Lou, 1971-1973 and The Who, the Mods and the Quadrophenia Connection, and produced & edited Depeche Mode: The Dark Progression and provided camerawork on Brian Eno, 1971-1977: The Man Who Fell to Earth, all four of which you’ll also find Night Flight Plus — goes all the way back to the formation of Rage Against the Machine in Los Angeles, CA, in 1991, tracking the band through their explosive debut, Rage Against the Machine (1992) and two more subsequent studio albums, Evil Empire (1996), and The Battle of Los Angeles (1999).

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Revolution in the Head: Rage Against the Machine & The Art of Protest shows us how they fit right in with other 20th Century recording artists who have all spoken out on behalf of, and drawn attention to, the world’s marginalized, downtrodden and oppressed, people like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and John Lennon.

The doc also talks about more recent bands and artists who have had a more direct impact on Rage’s rap-metal sound, like Minor Threat, Public Enemy, Bad Brains, the Clash, Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen.

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This 106-minute documentary features rare Rage Against the Machine footage, news clips, location shoots, seldom-seen videos and photos and much more.

There are also interview segments with renowned Rage producer and engineer Garth Richardson; Rage biographer Colin Devenish; their live sound engineer Dave “Rat” Levine, and record company executive Michael Goldstone, who signed the band to their recording deal with Epic Records; folk protest singer & author Jerry Silverman; ex-Rolling Stone and Blender editor Joe Levy; OC Weekly writer Gustavo Arellano; and T.V. Reed, a professor of American Studies and English at Washington State University.

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Read more about Revolution in the Head: Rage Against the Machine & The Art of Protest below.

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Considering what’s been happening to/in our country lately, watching Revolution in the Head: Rage Against the Machine & The Art of Protest is a little like looking back at ancient artifacts from 21st Century American history.

Nevertheless it’s good to look back and learn just how important protest has been, in all the forms it has taken, and how it affected this one particular revolutionary Los Angeles hip-hop-influenced metal band.

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One of the examples of the band’s excellent use of protest was their now infamous naked performance in Philadelphia, during the Lollapalooza ’93 tour.

As you can see, the band members took a stand against the Parents Music Recourse Center’s censorship of music by standing naked during 25-minutes of feedback with duct tape over their mouths and the letters PMRC on their chests.

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The film also shows how Rage Against the Machine also once shut down Wall Street for one afternoon while making their notorious “Sleep Now in the Fire” video with director Michael Moore, who famously isn’t afraid to get right up in the faces of civic leaders and challenge their authority.

Much of the focus here is on the political and social background of singer/activist Zack de la Rocha and guitarist/activist Tom Morello.

They talk about how they faced racist attitudes during their youth, growing up with Hispanic and mixed race background in suburban America.

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There’s a lot of discussion about the band reforming during the run-up to the then-recent 2008 presidential election., and the link between their progressive, socially conscious and proactive political points-of-view and the galvanized grassroots-style political action movement behind then-candidate Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

The documentary also provides additional background on the creation of some of Rage Against the Machine’s songs, including “Testify,” which asserted that the Democrat and Republican political parties and the two presidential candidates of that era, Bush and Gore, were essentially the same.

The band performed live outside the Democratic National Convention of 2000 in Los Angeles.

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We also learn a little about “People of the Sun,” celebrating the Zapitista movement of the Native Indians of Mexico.

In 2000, Zack de la Rocha, who is half-Mexican, told Juice that he made several trips to the largely Indian state of Chiapas, Mexico, in order to show support for the Zapatista-rebels who were spearheading a peasant revolt.

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“That really remained in my heart, because I also feel Mexican,” he told Mexican paper Reforma. “That’s why I’m interested in spreading those ideas through art, because music has the power to cross borders, to break military sieges and to establish real dialogue. Our purpose in sympathizing with the Zapatistas is to help spark that dialogue.”

Another Rage song, “Bulls On Parade,” lyrically delved into the big business of war and how companies like private military company Blackwater were contracted by the Bush administration during America’s war in Iraq.

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Revolution In The Head also explores the band’s documented conflicts, disputes and constant internal battles — rooted in lead singer La Rocha’s disagreements with Morello and the other members of the band — circumstances which eventually broke them up.

Watch Revolution in the Head: Rage Against the Machine & The Art of Protest on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.