We talked to Alice from Chumbawumba towards the end of september 2002 on Stvanice, shortly before their concert at the Music Beats Local Nazi festival. There were three of us, Alex, Slavek, and Mara. Slavek had a cola, Mara and Alex had a beer, Alice had a whiskey and coke. We sat on the floor in a dark hallway which was the quietest place to record. At first there were some rather funny difficulties with the recorder, but we managed to work them out, and here's what we recorded:
MARA: it vibrated but he missed it!(difficulties with recorder -ed.)
ALICE: Oh, never mind.
ALEX: What are you doing in Prague?
ALICE: Let's sit down.
ALEX: good idea.
ALICE: We've come to play this anti-racist festival (Music Beats Local Nazi). I've never come across an anti-racist festival which approaches from the angle of "O.k. we're gonna try to do something that's really human." Whether you agree with violence or not, it's an interesting approach. Because it brings up the problem that Nazis are real people. It's also interesting for us, we've got an anti-fascist section in our set. One of the songs ends on "I'll never rest alive until every Nazi dies," and the other one has a chorus which gives the fascist man a gunshot, which we're playing here. People think the only way you can be an anti-fascist is to be a street fighter. This image of huge young males, fighting on the street, no place for people that feel vulnerable in that position, who have different things to contribute. Being a revolutionary doesn't necessarily mean getting out in the streets. there's loads of different things you can do, whether it's pushing ideas, or doing things with friends or where you work, or setting up things in the community...
ALEX: Or having fun...
ALICE: Yeah, or having fun. Politics shouldn't just be a duty. I really like this place because its free. When I was wandering round earlier, I found a building at the end that's got settees. Oh, fantastic! I'll go sit down and chill out there later. Normally when we go to festivals, I have to watch loads of crap rock bands that are all blokes. "O.k., all right, there's a beer tent and it's horrible." Whereas this has got a political context. It's got a nice environment and loads of different cultural things going on. Quite often things that have a political context are mired in some sort of ghetto, so people think it's just punk rock. Here you have these Brazilian dancers who are gonna do an 18th century slave dance, a form of martial arts that the slaves developed as a form of resistance. You never get that at a festival in England. You'd be fighting your way through guitars.
ALEX: I've liked how people are reading the wonderful displays that are set up, and really bieng moved by them...
ALICE: Did you see the picture of the baby with the handcuffs? It's a bit disturbing isn't it?
ALEX: I haven't looked at a lot of it yet.
ALICE: There's an antifascist poster with a really tiny baby lying on its stomach with a pair of handcuffs on its back, as in "You condemn your kids to that." You look at it and think, "Christ, what's that?" You never get that at a normal festival, I find it really disturbing, but I like the fact that it's there.
ALEX: How does the relationship between Capitalism, Sexism, and Racism relate your anti-Capitalist views?
ALICE: We originally come from Birmingham, where they've just elected three Nazis to town council. The Nazis got in by exploiting peoples fears and their poverty. All the jobs moved out of Birmingham in the '70's. In the initial wave of shutdowns, Birmingham lost its industry. So it's been suffering from a heroin epidemic since the '70's. There's massive social deprivation and all the things that come with that, like incest and awful problems. The racists have said, "Well, the reason that you've got all these problems is because you're letting asylum seekers in, because we've got blacks in our town." In fact, the reason that people have got all these problems is that in the 70's capital decided that people had too much power in the workplace, you had all these wildcat strikes. They said "Ok we've got to do a turn on this," so you got Thatcherism coming in '81. The people voting for the Nazis truly believe that they're living in absolute fear wondering who's gonna burgle them next, because two miles down the road there's an asylum seeker - who they don't know, and are never gonna meet. Capitalism scapegoats somebody with no power. The Nazis pick that up for their own reasons. For the Nazis it's a way of having power in a society where they feel powerless, it's that white-trash mentality. "At least there's somebody under me."
For me the fantastic thing about the anti-globalization movement is all these diverse interests coming together and becoming a movement. The '80's were a complete mess. People got mired in single issues. You had people who were INTO animal rights and JUST into animal rights, and nothing else mattered "I don't like abortion, because I'M into animal rights, and if the animal's sacred, then the fetus...."
ALEX: Idealistically framed...
ALICE: Religiously framed, all about denial, all about saving somebody, when the reason to be political is to save your own life. Eastern philosophies are so fucking popular because people think "Right, there's something wrong with the world, I can't understand what it is, maybe if I chant." Instead of actually studying Western philosophy and capitalist economies to work out why life is as it is, because that's what we're living under, they read some mystic book. "The answer's gonna come from from the East." It seems mad to me. In some ways it's easier, "Well I don't actually have to move into the outside world, all I have to do is sit in front of this dresser with some beads in my hand."
MARA: Do you think that capitalism is sexist in some ways?
ALICE: I don't think Capitalism has any influence at all. I think it bends in the wind. It has to survive and carry on making a profit. So if sexism is no longer profitable, it'll abandon sexism. In the same way that the World Bank and the IMF are saying "Actually, we're quite benevolent. We'll let you not pay back some of your debts." They'll find another way to grab the money back. Capitalism does whatever it has to do to stay in power, I don't think it has an ethos. It's core ethos is that it must carry on making a profit. And if that means giving people a few rights here and there, it'll do it. But it'll take them away somewhere else. I think that it's racist and sexist as a by-product. If you're gonna exploit people, then people need to feel powerless.
MARA: That's where racism and sexism start...
ALICE: Yeah, because they need to be in a position where people think "I can't organize against working in a factory in Thailand for 16 hours a day, for 60 cents a day."
MARA: "But I can beat the shit out of a black man."
ALICE: The whole thing is that people need to be powerless. Once people start to gain power, it's like what happened to Britain in the '70's. It?s much easier to fight back when you're feeling optimistic and hopeful. In the 70's they was a real Union movement, where people had wildcat strikes, demanded less working hours, more money, and Capitalism had to adjust. The reason we have the 40 hour week isn't because Capitalism is benevolent, it's because people fought for it. The reason that we have any welfare state at all (which is going), is that people came back after the Second World War, still armed, "OK we want a land fit for heroes. We haven't got one, so we'll fucking fight for it!" Capitalism realized that every so often you've got to give out a few prizes. We make a mistake in thinking that capitalism is all powerful, in always reacting to it. I look at it as the Italian Autonomists look at it: Capital is reacting to us. It's always on the run from us, it's always in flight. That's why it's moved its factories from Shipley and Yorkshire over to Mexico, because people in Shipley and Yorkshire demanded too many rights. Now people in Mexico are making links with these people in Shipley, and that's really dangerous for Capitalism. It changes and becomes more oppressive, or less oppressive, as a reaction to us.
MARA: Do you think there's an Answer, like some people are Anarchists -
ALICE: I call myself an Anarchist, but I don't think it's that important. I've done things with some Anarchists who are so right-wing and so conservative that you're shocked. I don't think it matters what you call yourself, I think it matters what you do. Over the years, I've become suspicious of people in parties. They're never allowed free thought, which is really dangerous. As long as you've got a party line you're restricted from being truthful and having contradictions. That's a part of the problem with politics, it's much easier for people to feel pure and feel there are no contradictions. We live with loads of contradictions, and you've got to be truthful about it. Otherwise, you end up telling lies.
ALEX: The whole idea of "selling-out" is a really strange concept to me?
ALICE: It's a punk concept. I'm a forty-odd year old punk mother, because I think it's an ethos and not a style of music. When you talk about selling out, quite often people think they haven't sold out because they're living in some sort of self chosen ghetto.
ALEX: ...a shit job.
ALICE: They don't think its a shit job...
ALEX: ...or no job.
ALICE: Yeah, or no job. People don't have the option of not doing shit jobs most of the time. It's a fact of life. Especially as soon as you've got kids, then you have to provide. There's lots of ways you can fight back against capitalism. People are part of the capitalist society whether or not they do a job for it. We're enmeshed in it. You have to recognize you're part of it and at the same time stand against it. The only way you're not going to be a part of it, is to do a "Unabomber," which I think is bummer. The last thing that I want to do, is become a primitive. Technology is amoral, it's what we do with it, technology itself doesn't have a morality.
ALEX: I'm not a primitive, but...
ALICE: Look at the internet, it's got a fantastic communist strand in it. Look at free software, how people are sharing information, it's miles more successful than Microsoft, and it's free. There's a whole community there using the ethos of the Yippies. The first computer stuff was influenced by the Yippies, they worked collectively and did things for trade...
ALEX: Your talking about W.E.L.L and stuff?
ALICE: Yeah. And now you've got Richard Stallman, who's still writing computers...
ALEX: I don't know about that.
You get on the Internet and there are so many advertisements. One of my email accounts gets just shitbombed every day, with.. ALICE: Junk. (to Slavek) I think you're drinking a Whiskey and Coke.
SLAVEK: I know.
ALICE: Can I have it back, here's your coca-cola. (laughs)
ALEX: Smooth, Slavek.
ALICE: That is funny - you guzzled that!
ALEX: So, where were we...
SLAVEK: It was very good.
ALICE: You're gonna be staggering around all over!
ALEX: Do you have any questions Slavek, or any thing you wanna say?
ALEX: What about fun and the revolution, and dancing and working? How does music relate? I've learned a lot of the history you were talking about from listening to Woody Guthrie...
ALICE: The reason Woody Guthrie did what he did was the joy of doing it. He loved creating. He got to sing, which is a fantastic thing. Creative ideas and the ablility to put them down enriched his life. Woody Guthrie didn't write songs because he thought he was Jesus. People do what they do to save their own life. It's fun for me, and hedonism, not being religious, not seeing politics as another form of denial. The best reason to be political, to be involved, is that you recognize that the quality of life could be enhanced. And not just for you, but for everybody.
ALEX: There's ways of doing it structurally and there's ways of doing outside the structure...
ALICE: If people have lives that are more fulfilled and more happy, then it's a lot easier to be good to other people, isn't it?
ALEX: It seems like it should be.
ALICE: Which sounds really simple and hippyish and ridiculous, but you don't have the option of being happy if you're struggling to eat, or you're worried sick that you can't pay your bills, or working in a sweatshop, or you have a shit job. Because it?s not just sweat shops, let's not pretend that you've got to work under those sort of conditions to be incredibly unhappy. You can be incredibly unhappy with whatever you do, if you do not choose.
ALEX: Marx talked about that in his theory. I don't know that I've even read it, but I've probably been told about it... that the master also feels oppression from the relationship.
ALICE: Well it's that surplus-value thing. If you wanna go on to Marx...that idea that you've got to work and you're only paid a fraction for what you do, because the surplus value is taken off by the boss. The rest of the time that you could spend doing things for yourself is the time that the boss takes. You've already earned what you need to survive, say in six hours and the other 34 hours are his. They've been stolen. And it's not even work anymore, that's the other thing...
MARA: But if somebody doesn't have a creative thing to do in their spare time, then they won't make that time for themselves.
ALICE: Don't matter whether it's creative...
MARA: Yeah, but do something for themselves.
ALICE: But we never get the option of doing things for ourselves. When I talk about the creative life, I'm not talking about making things. I'm talking about having the choice over how you spend your time and what you do. The problem is that people do not choose. One of the choices you should have is to walk from here to Patagonia. Or to stay at home and be involved in some sort of committee. The problem is that people don't choose how to spend their time. We sell this idea of happiness that never works. So you're always thirsting for a bit more of it. I'm not particularly anti-consumer, because I'm a mad shopper. I'm anti- the way Capitalism sells you an idea of happiness, but I'm not a purist. I love style, which is part of fun I think. I love the aesthetics of things. For me, that's a creative thing as well, the aesthetics. There's so many parts of our lives that are completely ordered, where you never really get the chance to break out of some little box.
What you said about the internet - there are loads of adverts - but over the last five years, I've been in contact with more people than the fifteen years before that. Because the Internet makes it possible. The way that you e-mailed us, suddenly the world's much smaller. One day, in the space of ten minutes, I might send an e-mail to Germany, another to Italy, another to Idaho - there are all these networks. We've just done a book, and it wouldn't have been possible without the Internet. We wanted to get all these artists and activists and put them in the same space. To show that, even though you might not consider yourself to be part of this movement, we're actually all in the same movement. We just don't know each other exist. We couldn't have done that without the Internet. Obviously if you're living in a small village in India, with no computer access then obviously you're not gonna be part of it. But it isn't just young white men using the internet anymore. The Zapatistas could not have survived without sending bulletins over to the West, they fought a propaganda war via the Internet.
ALEX: ...and beautifully.
ALICE: Yeah beautifully. Sorry. Warren?
WARREN: Last minute, if you're going to continue, you need to continue after.
ALICE: OK. Do you need to continue? or do you just want to have a drink?