The idea of pirate radio has a natural pull on dissidents of the west. The desire to address a mass audience immediately is understandable. When one looks at each argument, each visible piece of the system, it seems to work, to exist at all, only because it rests on some different part. It seems far easier to destroy the complete structure than to unravel it piece by piece. Like Rupert Pupkin of the film, The King Of Comedy, challenging capitalism's monopoly on the means of creating fame might appear as a way to change all life.
Although today pirate TV seems to be virtually impossible, The King Of Comedy does present a half pathetic, half interesting picture of an attack on the spectacle's monopoly on appearance. The problem is that beyond the idea of shattering capital's hall of mirrors, things get messy. Once you take action, you become reflected in the distorted lense of "current events." After he kidnapped a late-night TV show host and replaced him on the air, Rupert Pupkin became a real celebrity himself. The system of fame protected itself by incorporating a successful invader.
"I had to regain my self-respect so I got into camouflage, the girls they love to see you shoot!"
In times when the revolutionary perspective is lacking, the spectacle can seem to be a fair referee managing a ladder of excitement; whatever is most exciting gets on top. TV now appears willing to put anything on the air that people want to watch; even ostensibly subversive dreck like The Simpsons. But this hierarchy of excitement destroys any content of images. MTV leaves "revolutionary" bands like Gang of Four admired without effect. Their song "I Love A Man in a Uniform" only spoke to the average person about why people would love men in uniforms. Only Marxist scholars would notice its discourse on popular alienation.
Generally, the alternative radio projects that are occasionally tried fail because they have nothing to say that today's controllers would be afraid to have on the air. The difference between legal alternative radio and real pirate radio (such as Radio libertaire in France, which is now legal) is small for the same reason. Like most leftist politico projects, alternative radio speaks in a voice of grim rationality out of fear of the opposite trap of becoming a novelty, a "current event." This leaves them equally trapped by the ladder of excitement but at the bottom rather than the top. They fail to generate the type of excitement that a real opposition could create. These people are putting out ostensibly subversive massages but get yawns, not even anger, from the average worker.
Even more than printed media, radio and TV must talk of everything or they talk of nothing. Pirate radio can only be subversive if it attacks the rules of society. But it can only attack those rules when it knows them. Today the rules of capitalism are invisible: an ever-present code that expresses the balance of power and despair. Those who break the legal rules, from pornographers to drug pushers to rapists to polluting multi-nationals, are some of capital's best defenders.
Those who wish to break the rules must not only understand society. They must constantly watch how it is changing and from that see what is not changing. To be successful, pirate radio must be a break from what is permitted within mass media.
Those who would create an on going production must have an on-going critical understanding of the cultural process. This would have to be a self-contained, self-motivated group and so we would not and could not give them simple directions on "how to do pirate radio." However, there are some matters of form that might be relevant.
1) While media is divided into the many houses, Rock and Roll is a key area; where the false participation is most symbolized. Rock music is also the commodity sold most often by the radio and requires relatively few instruments to simulate. Thus attacking Rock can have strategic force (this is also difficult because of Rock's self-critique; the purges of fashion. From Disco to Punk to Death Rock to Rap, any form popular one day will be hated the next).
2) In this society almost no one has a voice, almost no one says anything through the mass communication organs that constantly broadcast into peoples lives. Our production must reconstruct a balanced picture of this life. The voicelessness of people today is complimented by a false image of participation. As extra to their discussion of any "important event," The media usually finds a few average people to say average meaningless things. "Yeah, I thought the show was real good. I like listening to U2 because they make me feel happy." The voice of the negative - the power of people to critique and rearrange their lives - is missing.
We can neither have the abstract voice of authority nor the breezy patter of the star personality. We must use our own voice. The project of acting for yourself - not for a fictitious ego or for "self-fulfillment" - is so alien that simply acting for yourself attacks the entire system. For this the pirate radio people must have something to say. We cannot pretend to be the voice of the people; indeed it is better to reinforce people's awareness that they don't have a voice. We will paint the real colors of this prison's walls.
3) Capital radio is based on property rights, the rights to songs, images, sounds, etc. In this context, the fundamental subversive act is to destroy these rights by copyright violation, libel and violation of broadcast rules in general (saying "fuck" on the air etc.). The pirate nature of the broadcast would allow the broadcast to be outside the world of the commodity. Like a school room riot supersedes the question of education, we must escape any question of entertainment.
4) Hate Radio will only be effective if it doesn't apology. It can't make the statements "this is a new form of music that needs sponsorship," "these are artists at work," "this is an important sociological phenomenon" etc. It would be natural that such an effort could have the appearance (and the cohesion) of a musical group, an artistic movement or other specialized categories. This can be escaped by not allowing "live" performances, personal appearances or other similar rehashes and by not ascribing any originality to the efforts. (There will, in fact, be no originality to these efforts, since they only put into effect the programs of many avante garde movements. Their merit will be extending these possibilities to describe a new world and not compromising with the old world; attacking all culture explicitly instead with your fingers crossed.)
5) The boundaries of entertainment would be violated. The most spectacular forms of radio would be attacked and superseded; Music (top forty); talk and news radio formats would be combined with their most gruesome aspects amplified and analyzed exactly. It would neither be purely objective commentary or purely subjective entertainment. Music collages and "annotated" music would be used along with recordings of existing talk shows [both would interrupted with commentary, both musical and political]. "Deadheads" and the pseudo-counter-culture they represent can be attacked while playing tape loops of the Grateful Dead's best known hits. All trends can be openly insulted in the same way.
The most advance tendencies of this time, of anything past the sixties, have shown themselves lucid about the dead-end that rock and roll has gotten to. From scratching in rap to art rock sampling, the end of music is the standard story. (The form of this activity is naturally most similar to rap music, the music of oppressed black youths. The difference would be a refusal to be integrated back into culture.)
The ideal set-up would be transmitting live but this might take more resource. In practical terms, the creation of the pirate radio program might have two parts.
A. The creation of tapes to be played; this would require some high quality mixing devices, microphones, music and sound effect tapes, etc., and several singers/writer/researchers to add monologue. The organizers of the event could not allow any specialized functions to arise and so each person would be some-what responsible for music, equipment and text, since it would all be integrated together as a non-artistic whole.
B. The broadcasting of the tapes. This would involve a pirate transmitter or gaining control, legally or illegally, of an existing transmitter. This activity would be best separated from the production of tapes, since producing the tapes would not involve breaking any laws (since copy right violation is only a crime if the tapes are sold).
"Let me go wild, like a blister in the sun"
The essence of great art is lucidity. When asked if the art of his time would be considered at the level of previous high art, Andy Warhol said simply "no." High culture cultivates lucidity about the over-all condition of living but today it is lucidly aware of a mediocre world. The vacuous lucidity of today's culture understands life but does nothing. It shows us the poverty of this life so as to do nothing.
"Let me go wild, big hands I know you're the one"
Today, there is still a background awareness that Rock and Roll, as mass produced product, is musically inferior to previous forms of popular music. The music of a decadent age, it came from a streamlining of country blues, jazz and boogie woogie, stolen from black musicians by white promoters and eventually recycled to everyone. The drum beats of rock have been honed until they fit perfectly the TV program and factory-bell rhythm of this society. Rock fits George Orwell's description of "Hate Song" in 1984; a song with no real melody, just a marching beat that carries the listener along. But since the impoverishment of normal life is most easily expressed by Rock's Format, Rock and Roll is still the only form of music that has stayed alive culturally today.
We live in decadent times. Decadent means decaying or decayed. The decay of this society is finally visible in every aspect of life, from our declining standard of living to MTV to the exploding space shuttle. Society is losing it's ability to hold together.
The downward spiral of decadence is dangerous since it threaten the end of all society even all life but hopeful since it gives us the chance to build a new life and a new society.
The decadence of today's society is like the decay of the proverbial horse cart. Built with each part as strong as the other, it worked perfectly for decades until one day it fell into dust. This society is attacked on every side by the savings and loan crisis, the green house effect, wars, strikes around the world etc.. It remains barely strong enough to survive each crisis. Often its very decay serves as its best defense. By making everything human smaller and smaller, it can eliminate any threats of rebellion.
This society has become decadent through not using the potential for human life that it brings into existence. From television amnesia to environmental destruction to the national debt, it is palpable that capitalism only continues today by destroying it's chance for a future. The age of quantitative exploitation is near its end. Since humanity cannot grow, it decays.
Rock is a technology where decadence appears directly. Rock is a fusion of social interaction and mechanical reproduction. The rock star manipulates the cultural idioms to create an all encompassing moment. The physically of rock important. The possibility of liberation to the moment is closest in physical motion; in dance, exercise or making love...
Rock and Roll is old news (it's here to stay). More than forty years after the inauguration of the society of the spectacle, the changes have gone from qualitative to quantitative. Society does not become more stupid, instead it just creates more stupidities. Thus the only recent wrinkle on Rock is Classic Rock, the rock of repetition.
Now that each moment, "from the sixties to the eighties," is perfected, all that is possible is an art of juxtaposing these moments. It is not a matter of bad or good music. Rock is a pendulum where all social relations are balanced. The musicians are overwhelmed by the project facing them; their skill no longer matters. Rock leverages the entire society. As Jim Morison sensed, the rock performer regains the power of the shaman. He or she knits passion and reason together in the tune.
This means also that the most powerful spirits lurch within rock. Escaping them requires an exact understanding of the rock and roll system. Tribal dancers sway to a deafening and repetitive beat coming from a stage hundreds of feet away. The master of ceremonies, if a man, strikes all the poses required by the culture's masculinity rituals, if a woman, she evokes all self-victimizing images required of femininity.
Rock is at the forefront of decadence precisely because it opens up the most possibilities. There are a fantastic number of possibilities in a communications system that broadcasts one person's spontaneous reactions to millions. But this is exactly where rock is trapped by the weight of universal resignation (see "Hate Radio" , pg 16).
Rock brings us together for a special moment but only as atomized lump. Lodged between drunkenness and despair, rock is a perfect subjective map of today's foreshortened mental landscape. It perfects the moment by dispensing with any thought about our. Naturally everyone has a few special songs that symbolize the special times of their youth/golden years/etc..
"Get up, Get up, Stay on the scene, like a sex machine"
The ability of almost anyone to play rock merely reinforces the people's ability to participate in society's debasement. Rock Gods like Bruce Springsteen stand above this crowd by perfectly expressing the most common, mediocre feelings of seventeen year old New Jersey boys.
Working and partying are two poles of today's alienation. Alcohol relaxes defensive reflexes and merges normally repressed impulses with the conscious mind. Sufficient drunkenness creates a unity the allows a person to act the part of the self-aware subject. But this awareness is equally vacuous. The natural impulse of drunks is vandalize. But they could just as well attack a neighbor for an imagined insult as attack real enemies like an old school or their boss.
The subjective futility of drinking on Friday compliments the objective futility of working 40 hours a week. The drunkenness of off-hours lays bare the nihilism that is the logic of this society.
The end of ostensibly rational arguments and the beginning of news as entertainment began forty years ago (when ABC combined its news and entertainment departments, it was only recognizing that both already were the same). False youth is the eternal agent of pseudo change against the present dull order. Teacher don't you fill me up with your rules, cause everybody knows smoking ain't allowed in school.
"Rational" dialogue today merely implies that the speaker is connected to the "party of order" of today. Pirate radio must a conscious break-through in terms of people being heard. We propose a form of radio that will really threaten the present system, named "Hate Radio," It will reverse and play with the forms of non-communication that exist today.