Some ideas are so simple, it's amazing they've not been tried before. Last year a massive online campaign got a huge rush of noise into the Christmas number one spot, with Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing In The Name'. How about this year we fill that position with silence? John Cage's silent piece '4'33''', to be precise. That's what Eddy is hoping to help to do, and in the process raise some serious money for charity.
This time last year, Tracy Morter, a photographer, Xfm listener and mother from Essex, had a stroke of inspiration. The idea was to sabotage Simon Cowell's assumption that his 'X-Factor' winner would automatically get Christmas number one, and to replace that inevitably turgid piece of pop at the top of the festive chart with something that meant a lot to people who truly love music.
The campaign became legendary, and proof that 'the underground', when galvanized through a great idea, could beat 'the mainstream'. It's a warming thought, and together we did it last Christmas, when Rage Against The Machine topped the chart.
Fast forward to the start of October this year, a week before Charlie from Ou Est Le Swimming Pool's incredible wake, Chazzstock, and I was speaking on Facebook with my esteemed colleague Nathan J Whitey, from the band Whitey. We were marvelling at the beautifully Dadaist idea that somebody on Facebook had conjured up: Cage Against The Machine for Christmas number one. Aside from the obviously brilliant rhyme, the idea was to encourage people to buy one of the most famous creations of John Cage - the genius avante garde, American, composer - '4'33"', and effectively beat 'X-Factor' with copyrighted silence.
If you're unaware of this piece, it involves an orchestra being silent for four minutes and 33 seconds, leaving the audience to absorb the sounds around them and appreciate them in a way they have never done before. The idea is powerful. Think of a one minute silence and how emotive that can be.
Of course, the pure schadenfreude of beating Cowell with 'nothing' is exquisite, and got Nathan and me chatting about the possiblities - this simple idea turned out to be rather inspiring! What if we were to organise a cover version of '4'33"' especially for this campaign, we wondered? What about a Band Aid-style cover where we get a stack of notable musicians, may-be a few celebrity rock stars to contribute a little silence, which we blend together into one all-star version of the track?
A couple of days earlier, when I'd first seen the Cage Against The Machine page, I'd started tweeting about it. Within a day or two, my colleagues like Hadouken! and Does It Offend You, Yeah? were tweeting about it too. Then before we knew it, the page had swelled from having 18,000 members to almost 40,000! It's now climbing slowly but steadily.
While having my public conversation with Nathan, it occurred to me that whenever Cage's piece drops, and you're supposed to appreciate the sounds around you, that one in ten people in the UK - including me, Adam F, Rocky from X-Press 2, and countless others - would only be able to hear their own tinnitus. Because, as I keep saying, sufferers of this awful condition will NEVER HEAR SILENCE AGAIN.
A week later it was Chazzstock at Koko, a very emotional night. In the course of meeting up with Joe Hutchinson from Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, who was organising that event, I had discovered that the biggest killer of young people in this country is what killed Charlie - suicide following depression. I also learned that, of those young people who commit suicide, three times more are male. (Read my full piece on that subject here). Again, it occured to me that, for those who suffer like Charlie did, enforced silence may also be a painful experience.
Joe had, through this painful process, discovered and become a board member of CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), a charity directly involved with addressing this terrible issue. I soon discovered that they have something in common with the BTA (British Tinnitus Association) of which I'm ambassador: funding. Or rather, under-funding.
The sad fact is that people fall into what I call 'The Charity Trap': If you're walking down the street and you are faced with a cute puppy, or somebody going out of their mind with tinnitus, who would you give your pocketful of change to? If you were faced with a dewy-eyed, chubby cheeked little urchin with their hand out, or a miserable looking teenager, whose palm would you cross with silver? It's obvious. 99 times out of 100, the cute one gets it, the cuddy one, the fluffy one, the one with the cutest face.
Children's charities are well funded compared to ones like CALM and The BTA. Animal charities get fantastic contributions from individuals and companies alike. But CALM and The BTA are unsexy, unfluffy, and therefore unloved. They are the ugly little puppy at the back of the Battersea Dogs Home cage that gets ignored by every pair of eyes, except the clever old lady, who really thinks about which one is most in need of help. The BTA can barely fund one phoneline 24 hours a day to deal with tinnitus sufferers at the end of their tether. We don't even know what tinnitus is, so cannot find a cure, because there is no money from government, business or individuals, to speak of, for research.
With all this in mind, Joe and I vowed to do something special to help raise money for the two under-funded causes we were now supporting. And so my mind again returned to the Cage Against The Machine venture. Could that be used to raise money for a great cause as well as annoying 'X-Factor' bosses?
By this time our ideas for CATM spin offs had gained momentum, and moved beyond Nathan's Band Aid pisstake proposal.
What about a live performance, we thought? Performances of Cage's '4'33"' always sell out. People want to be there to experience it for themselves. Remember what I said about the groups of people we are supporting, and how four minutes and 33 seconds could be a pretty grueling experience for some of these people? Well, less so, surely, if we could experience it together as a group? And at an event raising money for our two charities.
Or, we mused, what about a remix project? Play to your strengths, as they say! Even if we recorded a new version of '4'33"' where proceeds were going to our charities, that's 79 pence per person. But what if people wanted to be more generous? Remixes, of course! What if we were to get famous remixers to remix, or cover, silence? An interesting thought no?
Then I got talking to Tinashe at the Lake Of Stars festival in Malawi about all this, and we developed that idea further still. Not remixes of silence, we thought, but reworks of ambience. Cage's piece was about what you heard during the silence, not the silence itself. What if we got producers to record the atmosphere around them - background noise, like when you get a 'pocket call' left on your voicemail - and then remix that? Might that be worth another 79p? Just in case, we got Tinashe to record 4 minutes and 33 seconds of sound from the wonderful Lake Of Stars.
But we were getting ahead of ourselves. Cage Against The Machine wasn't our idea, and we needed to hook up with the people who originally came up with this inspired project. This wasn't as easy as it sounds, but we managed to track three of them down - Dave, Julie and John - and last week we finally got round to meeting up with them.
It was clear they weren't so keen on the more celebrity-based ideas we'd come up with, and with hindsight, rightly so. Those proposals weren't really in the spirit of the project and Cage, I'm sure, would have hated them. And anyway, Chris Martin hadn't returned my call! But some sort of collaboration on a new recording of '4'33"' to be sold in aid of a selection of great charities, that they liked.
So, where are we at?
Well, the ideas are still flowing and we're all busy talking to the sorts of people we could do with having on board. The CATM guys are choosing charities to support (actually, they've thrown that open to members of the CATM group, so if you're a follower you can vote). We've been in touch with Air Studios about using their amazing live room for any recording. And I'm talking to Infectious Records about releasing what we create, while Dave, Julie and John follow up some other leads they'd already got together before our meeting.
So, things are moving along rapidly, though there is still lots to confirm. As we do so, I'll update you here and on Twitter. But for now, know this: a) It's HAPPENING! and b) It cannot succeed without your help. So get tweeting, get on Facebook, spread the word, get people onto the Cage page, press the 'Like' button, and please help us raise as much as we can for what I'm sure will be five great charities, including the two pitifully under-funded organisations both Joe and myself feel so passionate about. We can do so much good here and have a right fucking laugh at the same time.
For what it's worth, I like Simon Cowell. Well, I don't know him, but I respect him hugely. You might not like the acts he signs or records he releases, but he thinks differently and speaks honestly, and has made a very successful living out of doing so. But, despite all that, I cannot wait to see his face if his 'X-Factor' winner is beaten by, erm, nothing.
It would be a blow against mediocrity, a two fingers up at the popular music establishment, and all the mind numbing media that contribute to the dumbing down of our country: The Sun, Chris Moyles, ITV and so on. If ignorance is bliss then these are fountains of happiness. Let's show them who really has the balance of power here, if we all link up, then, like the Rage campaign, we will be unstoppable.
Tracy Morter was my first call on this, way back at the start of the month. She loved it.
So, thanks Tracy for the inspiration, Dave, Julie and John for the brilliant idea, Nathan for the spark and Joe for keeping the fire burning. Let's DO THIS!
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