So after two full weeks of recovering old files, pulling all-nighters on the phone with our hosting service, and with a whole lot of help from Nate from Vegan Corner & Matt Mitchell of InteractiveOne our databases have been restored, and we are well on our way to website that far-exceeds the reach of our last setup.
Our web presence will consist of three parts; one part to catalog projects that we are currently working on or have succeeded with, a second section will provide you insight into our PR work by importing an RSS feed of our recent press releases, the last will be a newsfeed that we will slowly start opening to activist guest bloggers who want to share their work & opinions with the world.
We will continue with our 50/50 benefit prints through Merchdirect, and will be publishing a once yearly journal with writings and art from some of the world’s most influential revolutionaries.
We welcome you to join us in this process. If you are interested in contributing to our newsfeed, journal, or current projects feel free to send a writing sample to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Uganda Skateboard Union in Kitintale Uganda has whittled itself out a little place in the hearts of us here at Sparrow. If you are able to, please consider buying one of these t-shirts we made to support their beautiful program that embodies solidarity and hope.
One year ago Cassi Amanda Gibson visited their handmade skatepark and emailed us photos. Since then the kids of the skateboard union and Jackson Mubiru, the union’s founder, have consistently inspired us and everyone else who we shared their story with.
To say that skateboarding will put an end to a 20 year long civil conflict would be naive, but the principals exercised by the Uganda Skateboard Union have, and will continue to change lives for the better. In a region where international non-profits and NGO’s providing aid are often viewed with skepticism, or viewed as parental, these youth have created their own social epicenter where their positivity and creativity is infectious.
Their numbers are growing exponentially every day, and with the growing numbers, gear and resources are being run through faster then they can arrive in the region. Sparrow was stoked to team up with Sky High Skateshop, Special Sauce, Supreme, and Boundless NYC in helping provide the Union with over 100 pairs of brand new skate shoes, dozens of new decks, trucks, clothes, books & magazines. The kids were stoked too. Cassi and her sister Nicolette returned to Kampala twice over the course of the year to bring the kids more supplies and to film a short video for https://sparrowmedia.net. The kids are also pretty good at getting their own press, like this photo feature on BBC.com and most recently this video feature on CNN.com
With their growing numbers their dreams are growing too…
The kids hope to expand their park and build an adjacent school. In a country where publicly subsidized schooling ends at age 12 and only the most fortunate can further their education, this kids are taking their DIY approach one step further with a plan to build a solar powered learning center as part of the programming offered through the union. This will cost them $13,800 (US Dollars) to build and outfit with books & five computers. The Sparrow Project has made these shirts to support the dreams of the Uganda Skateboard Union, when you purchase one %50 of the proceeds will go directly to the Uganda Skateboard Union. The kids in Kitintale live the very essence of solidarity, we tried to capture a piece of that and put it on a shirt.
Long Island says, “NO TO LNG!” With little public review a group of investors proposed the construction of an artificial island 13 miles south of Long Beach that would import and re-gas foreign Liquid Natural Gas (LNG.) The plan is bad for our environment, it poses a threat to our coastal security, and has a laundry list of negative social & economic impacts. Nassau County legislator Dave Denenberg, Claudia Borecky chair to Denenberg’s Anti-LNG Taskforce, Marvin Weiss, and Andy Stepanian of the Sparrow Media Project will present an overview of the proposal, list it’s environmental and social impacts, and will highlight what we as Long Islanders can do to stop it before it is built.
While overseas on tour with The Urgency this spring, I revisited 15 or so of the larger cities in the UK and Ireland. Regretfully, I can’t say I was reborn. Though I love Manchester, parts of London, Edinburgh and a few other damp and dismal distractions in the region, for the most part the UK is “a bit shit”, to be honest. Culture and cuisine are always interesting, new people are always entertaining, but I promise I that any less-than impressed judgment I make is based on much time and many cities, much socializing and many historical tours and much booze and many moons.
I can however offer credit to the big island and its neighbors in one very overlooked category, the support for live music. Kids climbing from the walls and media outlets covering everything from the mega artists that sell out Wembley Stadium, to the shrimps that happen to impress them, music is widely appreciate and followed (though outdated, most of us Statesiders would argue). Coming from what my peers and I would like to consider one of the more influential (though now completely dead) underground music scenes of recent history and working in the Music Industry for the better part of the last 8 years, I have to admit that I am at best, completely jaded when entering into anything from a music based conversation to a music faced venue. All that being said, for me to be excited about a show takes a lot.
Being on tour with a Welsh band is awesome. They are ball-busting, bowel-blowing descendants of amazingly interesting tribes and a families, most surnamed “Jones”, “Smith” or “Smith”. The Blackout were gracious enough to not only take us on a tour that saw 1,000+ new faces a night, but show us their home and their friends in what became one of my more favorable cities of the United Kingdom, Cardiff, Wales. After a hometown show, The Blackout took us barhopping just around the corner from the University we just played. Forgive me, but I cannot remember the name of the bar we went to. It was lit in red neon signs, very unassuming but very hip and guess what? The show was FREE!!! Real bands played there and real people came to see them. Upon walking into the cramped, crooked and loud venue, I took a non-autonomous turn for the stage, where normally my belly drives me to the bar. Setting aside for a moment what I heard, I looked toward the stage only to set my eyes on the quintessential counter-culture front man. At 6’6” and nearly 300lbs, the 3 piece’s leader was cloaked in a purple wizard’s smock, androgynously dressed in neck and arm accessories, dreadlocks and demanding an intricately delayed guitar solo out of what looked like a miniature telecaster in the hands of a giant African warlord. He was so captivating that I nearly forgot music was being played.
Once I tuned in to sonic stimulation I realized how incredible the actual music was. The other two members (Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor), both skinny, white and disheveled, were in such perfect rhythmic coordination with each other that it afforded Dave Okumu, the lead singer and guitar player, the freedom to completely exaggerate every sound and texture possible. I thought I knew a thing about guitar effects until I saw Dave make a mess.
Digressing from my drawn-out introduction, all these wonderful things lead me to the point of buying their album and sharing my thoughts about it with you.
The Invisible starts their record with s theme that runs through out the entire body of work, texture. Within 16 bars of a minor acoustic introduction, space and ambience somehow creep there way into the song. The opening song, “In Retrograde”, eventually moves into a sound-scape that would be more appropriate in the movie 300, or Gladiator, some world music battle scene, if you will.
After the less-than-comfy introduction, the band begins to showcase their song writing skills, never predictably. One who has real appreciation for how difficult it is to write a good song would admire how interesting the actual notes were built around such bizarre backing music. The songs move in and out of abstract noises and dissonant notes to a remember-able melody that may be a little dark and disturbing, but in a major key it could pass for a pop song.
I hate comparing bands to bands, but I find what The Invisible so interesting that it almost compliments them. They remind me of the choral guitar-ie feel of Prince, guitar effects of The Edge, the instrumentation of The Talking Heads, rhythm like Block Party, melodies that would make Robert Smith proud and the flavor of something a little more urban like Gnarles Barkley. Everything moves in and out of a very dance feel, while satisfying the core indie properties, innovation and deviation. The brilliance of it to me is that Dave Okumu gives off the vibe that he could have easily gone in and wrote an R&B record with Stevie Wonder, but his true passion was for something a little more interesting.
Some of my favorite tracks on the record include Passion, London Girl, and Monster’s Waltz. However, the track that makes me so glad I found this band is Baby Doll. The song is what I love most about music, the ability to fuse conventional melodies that would make anyone sing along with a Kandinsky, or a Jackson Pollock…something so bizarre that it just makes sense.
This band is not only a great album creator; they are an incredible live group. They’ve been praised by magazines as prestigious as NME in the UK and though I don’t think the US has the palette for them yet (regretfully), I really look forward to getting back over the pond and trying to catch another night with this band. It’s one of those bands that will inspire so many to follow, but maybe never be as recognized as they deserve to be. One of those bands I’ll stay up at night wishing I found them first and picked them up. One of those VERY few bands that I will listen to over and over again, finding new inflections each time I listen, like a good book.
“I want someone to sit me down and say, what the fuck was up with that?,” says Tim McIlrath, front man to Rise Against, a pop-punk outfit from Chicago. In an interview off the set of the music video shoot for “Re-Education (Through Labor)” the single off their most recent album “Appeal to Reason” (DGC/Interscope) McIlrath states that “Americans are coddled with images of non-violence,” and that, “we have a war raging in Iraq where hundreds of thousands of people are dying,” and that “this video is about not coddling Americans and letting them know that this is a reality, this is a potential reality, treat people fair because these are realities we can be looking at in our future…”
These “realities” to which he refers to are depicted in a music video montage of typical music scenesters on an atypical self-styled campaign of destruction. (Quite literally the video shows your cookie cutter hot topic set running around with and eventually detonating improvised explosive devices.)
Rise Against, who in recent years have developed a groundswell following have made a conscious effort not to fall into lockstep with the process of corporate grooming & imaging that most of pop-punk acts succumb to. Simply put, many of the record companies are afraid of their artists getting overtly political, especially when it involves issues that make us all feel uncomfortable. Generally, the record company opinion is to do everything not to alienate a potential buyer, because they buy your merch, your albums, go to your shows, etc. The next part goes like this… “don’t get too political, because when you do the people who don’t share your opinion will feel alienated and henceforth you will narrow your audience, you will sell less stuff, and since all we care about is money we don’t want that.” I applaud Rise Against for trying to keep the grooming to a minimum while watching their sophomore album “The Sufferer & The Witness” go gold with certification by the RIAA and while “Appeal to Reason” is creeping towards gold, debuting at #3 on the billboard charts selling 65,000 copies in its first week alone. This is an accomplishment in itself considering the internet has made it nearly impossible for an indie artist to go gold, let alone a hardcore band, and it’s even harder for a hardcore band with a political platform. But enough saccharine…
When I first saw the video, I think I regurgitated the exact phrase McIlrath hoped to evoke. Literally I think I said something like, “What? – How? – What? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?” or a derivative of such. So many things came to mind, too many to list but if I had to sum them up I was thinking…
1.) How did this get play? 2.) Is this what the kids need to see? – Maybe? 3.) Does this drip with wanton irresponsibility?
I took this question and the clip to a friend of mine, a videographer who makes campaigning tapes for unions in NYC. He laughed when he saw it and said that, “corporations love that teen angst stuff… that shit appeals to kids. They don’t expect it to go anywhere.” I guess that’s how Rise Against’s handlers, MTV, Music Choice, Fuse, and whoever else’s hand this touched saw it as well, teen angst and nothing more. To chalk it up to “teen angst and nothing more” is a sad commentary considering the state of the world today: two wars waged without public support with little to no outdate, the rate of species extinction increasing 1000-fold in the last 100 years, genocides in Gaza & Darfur (and probably a dozen similar events go under-reported,) billions of animals killed annually for human excess or vanity, the continued objectification of womyn in pop culture, and the commoditization of everything living from children in sweatshops to forests slated for sale. There are a lot of real issues to be upset about.
I think the reality of the situation falls somewhere in between, I think people are upset, and this type of content is becoming more appealing to folks as the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost. However if this video posed a true threat would the networks still agree to play it?
For those of you who know my background you are aware that I spent years in prison for being charged as an alleged “extremist activist” so perhaps I look at this topic through a biased lens. However, I do question whether or not it is responsible for bands to produce videos such as this. Sadly when one becomes a celebrity in our spectacular culture they become a spectacle, a larger than life figure, sometimes even a role model, and with the fame they inherit a heavy burden of responsibility.
The real question here is will kids feel the hype of this video and go out and follow suit?, or will they just feel the hype and shake their fists? Anyone can realize that when you employ mass destruction as a direct action tactic the chances of hurting someone are inevitable. It is my opinion that there is no moral argument for violence against people or animals, and by the tenor of his interview McIlrath seems to echo that opinion; so this is where the situation gets murky. Rise Against must consider that as their audience widens with their success the gamut of their listeners/fans is going to span all walks of life, all temperaments, various types of people, some more rational than others, and some who feel incredibly disparaged. Some listeners may be moved to act, and if they are moved to act should they be moved in a better, more sustainable direction than the imagery reflects this recent video? It is clear that there is an abundance of work that needs to be done, and we are going to need to cultivate a culture of life-long activists to address these seemingly endless problems. Wrecking shit is not always pragmatic. Not if it allows systems of oppression to stage which-hunt style grand juries, or raid homes, or scare off future activists in response to one night of wreckage. We need to plan for the long haul, and sometimes that means working on projects a lot less glamorous. Making copies, cooking food for hungry people in your community, cleaning up an old factory to make a D.I.Y. social center, this things don’t exactly meet the criteria of sexy, visually inspiring footage to make a music video from, but this is the backbone of the revolution, not an aesthetic of tattoos, angular haircuts, and burning skylines.
I don’t say this to undercut the effectiveness of direct action, but rather to say that we should be constantly critiquing (in a positive, constructive manner) ourselves, our movements, and our social scenes. In the case of this video I would have preferred to see solid examples of activism, realistic and less violent implementations of direct actions, and a more constructive approach to social change depicted in the video treatment, but alas maybe that would be too boring and the video would miss rotation…
In place of railing against Rise Against and their video for “Re-Education (through labor)” we thought it would be more constructive to invite them on here for a dialog, lets say less of an interview and more of a dialectic. Stay tuned to SparrowMedia.net for follow-ups to this. I thought it best close this out with a few links to real projects you can get involved with in your area. Take time to whittle out a long lasting sustainable niche for yourself within our larger movement, find something inside that means the world to you and take action for it. If not you, who? If not now, when?