Last year saw a musical Christmas miracle in the form of an organic, grass-roots movement that toppled the multi-million-pound star-making machine of X Factor with an anti-establishment anthem that declared “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me”.
For four consecutive years Simon Cowell’s progeny had taken the coveted Christmas number one slot. But in 2009 a Facebook-lead campaign captured the hearts and minds of the nation quite like no effort before it, and brought ‘Killing In The Name’, a 17-year-old song by Rage Against The Machine, to the top of the charts, and relegated X Factor winner Joe McElderry by a margin of around 500,000 sales to 450,000.
Rage Against The Machine – who in June this year up-held their pledge to play a free gig for their fans in London – declared it a “huge victory for fans of real music”.
And a movement was born.
This year, no less than four ‘alternative’ tracks were vying for the Christmas number one.
There was the ‘Surfin Bird’ one (made famous to the current generation by an episode of Family Guy); the Corey Taylor (of Slipknot and Stone Sour-fame) ‘X-M@$’ one, Biffy Clyro’s ‘Many Of Horror’ (covered by this year’s X Factor winner Matt Cardle and retitled ‘When We Collide’), and the one we supported, ‘Cage Against The Machine’.
‘Cage Against The Machine’ is the codename for the re-recording and release of the avant-garde composer John Cage’s classic 1952 piece, entitled ’4’33″‘. The track is, in fact, four minutes and thirty three seconds of musicians playing a rest – in essence, silence.
And we were not the only music fans supporting the ‘Cage’ campaign – for it was a group of more than 40 contemporary artists who were involved in the track’s re-recording, in hope of making this Christmas a silent night.
The featured artists include: The Kooks, Enter Shikari, UNKLE, Orbital, Billy Bragg, Imogen Heap, Dan Le Sac, Reverend Jon McClure, Crystal Fighters, Mr Hudson, Fyfe Dangerfield (Guillemots), Gallows, Viv Albertine (The Slits), Polly Styrene (X-Ray Specs), Pete Doherty, Heaven 17, The Big Pink, Coldcut, Does It Offend You Yeah?, Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, Suggs, Bo Ningen, Tallulah, TEETH, Napoleon IIIrd, Bishi, Alice Russell, Judy Tzuke, Penguin Prison, Aeroplane and John Foxx.
As ever, Facebook was used as a rallying point for supporters of the campaign – and denouncers of Cowell and manufactured pop – who were urged to ‘like’ this page: www.facebook.com/cageagainstthemachine
Money generated from sales of the ‘Cage Against The Machine’ single was pledged to five different charities, chosen with John Cage’s interests in mind: The British Tinnitus Association, Campaign Against Living Miserably, Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, Youth Music, and Sound and Music.
Come Sunday, December 19th, it wasn’t quite the triumph of 2009, but people power and protest did make an impact in the 2010 Christmas charts.
At the end of the most important Top 40 countdown of the year, Simon Cowell’s X Factor single had regained the top spot – for the fifth time in six years – with Matt Cardle’s ‘When We Collide’ victorious.
But three ‘anti-X Factor’ campaigns did chart in respectable positions.
The Family Guy-inspired ‘Surfin Bird’, by The Trashmen, finished highest, coming it in at Number 3, with 70,000 sales (to Cardle’s 439,000).
Biffy Clyro fans rallied to get the band’s original track, ‘Many Of Horror’, in at number eight.
Meanwhile, ‘Cage Against The Machine’ managed to chart at number 21 with nearly 16,000 sales.
Admittedly it wasn’t quite the success the Facebook group of 93,000+ Cage supporters predicted, but organisers conceded: “Something interesting happened in popular culture – money for charity was raised, a joke was had. Sounds like a victory to me.”