Archive for September, 2009


Taqwacore: I Slam To Islam

Video Link to Taqwacore: The Birth Of Punk Islam (2009 Trailer)

“Oh, but I was,” I think a bit smugly to myself when I see promo material for the film “You Weren’t There“, which documents the Chicago punk rock scene of the 1980s. I don’t mind a little pride in that; as the title suggests, it took a certain iconoclasm and fearlessness to reach out to the leading-edge music and culture that was so marginalized and derided at the time. And reaching out is what it was – virtually none of it appeared on TV, and with no passive social networking or digital pipe into the home, nothing sat and waited for me to download it. Punk rock was a small and moving target and I had to hit it by following my ears.

I think of this when I watch (digitally and passively) the trailer for the 2009 film Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam. In it, a group of young American Muslims with guitars, drums, amps and mikes use them in a familiar, noisy and joyous way to distance themselves from the mainstream of their own culture.

Similar perhaps to the 80s, but with notable differences. In that time, I was less explicit about cultural identity shift than I was about the pursuit of loud awesome sounds and art. But the movement the clip details is a very different beast. These punks are Muslim punks. Their art and personas are of their faith – and as such are both willingly defined by and reviled by the customs and faith of Islam.

That makes it hard to draw a comparison to Chicago ’82, because when it came to organized religion, none of it played a role in the scene or bands, short of religion’s place upon the menu of rejected bourgeois mores that went hand in hand with subcultural spelunking. But that class distinction is lost on the Taqwacore adherents (the word Taqwa, more or less means “fear and love of the divine”) whose religious determination is real, if treated with far less reverence than it probably ever has in all of Islam.

For a band, this has special ramifications. Under many readings of the Koran, musical instruments themselves aren’t even acceptable, which leads to encounters such as this one between a Taqwacore band and a devout Muslim. The discussion builds my respect for what these guys are doing, because I know that faced with the same, I would leave such insane, retrograde nonsense behind in a heartbeat, not try to change it.

While it might seem uncharitable, I’m going to lament one more thing: the homogeneity in the music on the trailer clip. Even at its most doctrinaire and boring, Chicago’s 1980s hardcore music could count on its great stylistic distance from preceding and mainstream music to distinguish itself. Not so with Taqwacore – or at least with the band named the Kominas. While I am unexpectedly happy to not yet hear a drum machine in this genre, to my ear the music suffers from the players’ iPods being filled with thousands of hours of instructions on how to be punk. I hope this aspect evolves, and expect it will. If it doesn’t, something sinister in the disappointment will get me wondering if guitars, bass and drums specifically have simply done what they can do in this world and need to be retired as tools of distinction. If you’re going to reject orthodoxy, start at Guitar Center.

Between the Taqwacore scene’s problems taking shit from the various established institutions it chooses to associate with and its struggle to add to rather than take from the world’s repository of music and style, it’s obviously not easy to be part of. That much, I can surely identify with.

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RW370 Mailbag: PigeonNet Part 2


Gwendolyn and Secily, The Pigeon Sisters from Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. Just because.

Attracted by a cooing noise on my windowsill, I noticed a pigeon had arrived today.  Upon close examination, I found the little guy had a SD card attached to his foot.  Someone had sent me a message via Pigeon Net! I popped the card into my USB cardreader to find this message:

Hi Rob,

I enjoyed your post about IPoAC. It’s interesting that even in an age of
supposedly blindingly fast internet connections the sneakernet remains the
absolutely most efficient data transfer method. I thought you’d also enjoy
our video about the story:

In theory, even in areas with perfectly good broadband a carrier pigeon
would still be far faster, with a carrying capacity of over a terabyte.
I’d never even thought of that before I saw this story, but that poses
some interesting solutions for people looking for alternative methods of
file sharing.

All the best,

Community at Newsy


Truth To Power: Daniel Ellsberg Documentary Opens This Week

ellsberg-poster.thumbnail2On October 1, 1969, Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, RAND corporation consultant to Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon found in his offices 7,000 pages marked Top Secret exposing a vast program of US government lies surrounding the Vietnam war. The report showed that without disclosure, the war had expanded to carpet bombing of Laos and Cambodia, that US combat troops had been sent by Lyndon Johnson independent of any consultation with advisors, that John Kennedy had actively sought to overthrow South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.

Ellsberg delivered proof of these and numerous other US foreign policy atrocities to the editorial offices of the New York Times. The Times 1971 publishing of the Pentagon Papers had a decisive effect on the ending of the Vietnam War and forever put to bed the idea that the US foreign policy establishment acts according to the will and with the assent of the people of the United States.

This week, the documentary film “The Most Dangerous Man In America” will hit screens, telling Ellsberg’s story.   A whistleblower whose speaking truth to power cost him his career and possibly saved as many lives as his earlier work took in enabling the carpet bombing, he is a rare figure deserving of study and support.  Particularly now, at a time when the climate for intellectuals who take democracy seriously is so unfavorable.  Former RAND consultant and neo-conservative-cum-Wilsonian Francis Fukuyama illustrates that climate best when he frets about the role of the intellectual in the corridors of power. Despite being a chastised former cheerleader for the Iraq war – a war built upon lies endorsed by institutional intellectuals –  Fukuyma recently invoked Ellsberg as a negative example.  Some people just prefer intellectuals to be handmaidens to the institution:

I myself worked for more than ten years at the RAND Corporation, the original “think tank” satirized in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove that did contract research for the U.S. Air Force and Defense Department. Obviously, one cannot be a free thinker in a place like that (Daniel Ellsberg tried to be and he was fired), and that is one of the reasons that I eventually left to go to a university. But overall, I believe that a democracy is better off having intellectuals pay systematic attention to policy issues, even if it is occasionally corrupting. Having to deal not with ideal solutions but with the real world of power and politics is a good discipline for an intellectual. There is a fine line between being realistic and selling one’s soul, and in the case of the Iraq war many neoconservatives got so preoccupied with policy advocacy that they blinded themselves to reality. But it’s not clear that virtue necessarily lies on the side of intellectuals who think they are simply being honest.

It may not be clear to you, Francis,  but it’s clear to me, and to millions.


If Having A Favorite Condom Commercial Is Wrong, I Don’t Want To Be Right

More than once I was asked today where the screaming kid in my song “Sugar Sugar Sugar Sugar” came from. It comes from my favorite tv commercial for birth control, courtesy of a French company. So check out the clip and wonder no further while you marvel at the French advertising community’s freedom to appeal to pedophobia. Formidable’!

I can’t help but notice that if Trojan were to try selling rubbers that way in this country, tens of millions of pants suits from Maine to Baja would be involuntarily soiled in an unstoppable wave of maternal rage.

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Presenting Allende: Sugar Sugar Sugar Sugar

allende-sugar1Uh oh.  He’s making noise again.

John Kezdy, a politically conservative State’s Attorney and friend of mine who happens to sing for Chicago punk legends  The Effigies is kind of responsible for choosing Allende as the name of my solo recording persona.  I was kicking around various names a few months ago around the time I went to see the boys play a gig and  John made the mistake of asking me what I’d name the solo stuff.  I couldn’t help but pick a moniker I knew would get his goat: Allende.

Indeed, the roll of the eyes I got from John was magnificent and satisfying.  Say Allende to any educated conservative and they will likely imagine Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist President of Chile who was killed in a US-backed corporatist military coup in 1973.  Sure, I had Salvador in mind, but the capper was the knowledge that the word in Spanish means “from the other side”.  Coooooool.

Allende is myself, computers, guitars, and other noisemaking implements.  All I do is reflect a world I never made, kind of like Howard The Duck.  The hard drives are bulging with bits; more is on the way.

…and not just from Allende, either.  I’ve been rehearsing with Tony Jones (16 Tons) and Mike Greenlees (Tar) for a few months now and we’re beginning to sound like a presentable rock band.


Modern Toilet: Because In Taiwan, Yesterday’s Toilet-Themed Restaurants Are Passe

2eator2peeTo eat or to pee?  How many times have we been faced with this conundrum?  Too many to count, undoubtedly.  How long must we labor under this dogma?  Isn’t it about time someone cast aside this false choice to proudly declare we choose both?

In Taiwan, they’re way ahead of you.  Launched in 2004, Modern Toilet restaurants have proven a smash hit, allowing expansions from humble beginnings as an ice cream specialty shop to a island-spanning network of lavatorial-themed establishments.

(Tip of the seat to guerrilla camera phone prowess of Electrical Audio forum member ktone.)


Racetrack Babies Survive The High Deny

rtb15That’s what I call my Myspace attitude: high deny.  The vast majority of bands or musicians that approach me on Myspace aren’t that good, or any good at all – so I deny the vast majority of their requests to be added to my network.   This sea of crap has bothered me about Myspace (and music) forever.  I don’t want to encourage them, and I very much don’t want them hanging around in my network, dragging down the general aesthetic.

I’ve never understood the empty exercise of adding all comers to a social network merely to build “reach”.  Reach to whom?  On Myspace, it’s to a whole lot of terrible bands. “Quantity has a quality all its own”?  Do you know who said that?  Josef fucking Stalin, that’s who.

I know all too well what high deny means in terms of conventional social networking mores.  It means I’m doing it wrong. It means I’m keeping the size of my network smaller than it could be, which is allegedly a bad thing.

On other networks than Myspace, I have some sympathy for that point of view, and don’t set the bar quite as high (although I do set it by refusing to add people willy-nilly in any case.)  But on Myspace, I feel very comfortable in knowing that if someone takes the time to browse around San Andreas Fault or Sirs Myspace pages, (the former of which I capped at 200 friends years ago) the time will be spent checking out something I or my partner curated – a collection of decisions based primarily on musical aesthetics. The curatorial feature of Myspace is thrown away by most in the mad dash to have a lot of meaningless adds and “reach”, but I revel in it instead.

Take tonight: I went through some three dozen add requests at the Myspace page for Sirs.  Of these, I added only one – Racetrack Babies from Denmark.  They’ve got something – call it a weird meanness.  Or a mean weirdness. Either way,  I really like “I Carry The Zero” and “Void” and I’m proud to know them, proud to add them.  Salut Racetrack Babies!

I like the Babies enough that I don’t even mind that to get to them, I needed to brave dozens of lousy attempts at corporate pop, braying, boring hip-hop, unnecessary metal more formal than a cotillion ball, godawful uptempo eyeliner emo rock, inessential twee dabblings, execrable dad rock, and whatever other terrible flavors the plummeting price of recording equipment and the first world’s expanding pool of free time could assault my ears with.

Social networking norms say I’m supposed to add these people and build my network – but my standards insist on high deny.


Also Schlock Zarathustra

The #1 trafficked post here at RW370 is Jump (In Pitch)!, the 2007 Van Halen performance with the magnificent accidental tuning that turned the banal 80s arena-rocker “Jump” into a greatly improved, groaning, atonal horrorshow.

In that spirit is today’s YT clip courtesy of pal Eugene Archibald. An unnamed student orchestra* (grade schoolers by the sound of it) magnificently renders Gustav Mahler’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (aka the theme to 2001: A Space Oddysey) into no less than my next cellphone ringtone.

UPDATE: Friend to RW370, archivist melophile (meloholic, really) Andy Lester has referenced his collection and successfully identified the performers as the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Apologies to the imaginary 6th graders I had in mind.  For more Sinfonia, check out this clip.

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Lifestyles Of The White And Suggestible

Bless you, Max Blumenthal.  Order his book Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party for a clear insight into what exactly has fed, nurtured, and unleashed the stupid. Jaw-dropping previews at this September 4th Democracy Now interview.

EDIT: A brave soul accompanied by a phalanx of Capitol Campus Police counter-demonstrates:


Public Service Through Servers: Government 2.0 Summit

Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project
Image by MeetTheCrazies via Flickr

This weekend, two crowds flocked to the nation’s capital, both with government on their minds.  One group was marked by ludicrous notions of persecution scrawled upon misspelled signs, inchoate anger and a raft of complaints culled from Fox News and AM hate radio.   The second group was composed of people whose careers depend upon being able to spell, discern, engineer and generally make sense of a world filled with people who noisily belong to the other group.  The second group were the new technocrats and they came to speak and hear about the newest applications of technology to the dirty, ugly, frustrating job of Government. Away from the screaming,  Government 2.0 Summit had convened.

Boiled down, Government 2.0’s central argument is over the notion of government conceived as a platform, a visualization that takes the organizing principles of operating systems supporting applications and in brief, applies them to civics. The view propounded by O’Reilly himself, is being challenged by some, and the arguments are fascinating.

Government is a heartbreaking mess that invites comparisons to privately developed systems such as computing platforms mainly due to the commonly large numbers of people and institutions that both serve.  And that is where serious parallels should end; civic, social and technical engineering techniques each can be oriented toward naked campaigns of domination and centralization to the direct detriment of the public interest.  This is generally how business interests apply the technocratic mindset.  While it may be that government might learn technocratic chops from that dominant camp, it will never (as a separate institution charged with public interest) acquire the same goals nor therefore commit a fraction of the crime.  This is exactly why the operational and philosophical synthesis of government and business must be resisted as aggressively as possible; I look forward to more research into the overlap of the two, starting with watching what happened at the conference where the nerds of each camp congregated among the crazies.

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rob [at] warmowski [dot] com

@warmowski on twitter

Rob’s Bands

Rob Warmowski entry at Chicago Punk Database
1984-89: Defoliants
1991-94: Buzzmuscle
2001-05: San Andreas Fault
2008- : Sirs
2008- : Allende

Rob at Huffington Post

September 2009