Filastine battles political philistines


Muti Music
Released April 3, 2012

Genre-bending musician Filastine says he has taken so much flak for being political in his music that these days he tries to be a little more innovative in getting his message across.

"Honestly I've taken so many slaps, so much negative reinforcement, from the music industry for being too political that now I'm extremely careful to keep the politics more to the video and graphic elements, plus a few collages," says the Los Angeles-born artist, who has just released his third critically-acclaimed album, £OOT.

"The lyrics — in English, Bahasa and Japanese on this album — are always political, but — hopefully — poetic enough to not overbear the listener."

In his latest video clip, "Colony Collapse", the globetrotting musician sits in a Jakarta rubbish dump, beating out a rhythm on scrap metal. Javanese singer Nova stands over him, beautifying the surroundings with her lilting vocals.

"We filmed at sites of ecological friction," says Filastine. "This included a gas drilling disaster, some floods zones, traffic jams and those rubbish dumps you mention ... although Bantar Gebang is more like a rubbish city for its size and human population."

Filastine is used to turning trash into treasure, having spent years eating out of skips. He has also had music released by CrimethInc, the anarchist collective who published Evasion, the gripping memoir of a freewheeling “freegan” that might be thought to resemble Filastine.

"Hell yes, that was a standard means of survival for a few years of my life," he says. "Nowadays I'm too short on time to do that kind of deep foraging."

His time is now taken up foraging for sounds from every corner of the globe. The migratory musician mixes up a whole alphabet of genres from afrobeat and bhangra to yodelling and zef.

Australian Aboriginal rapper Wire MC appeared on his last album and Filastine is constantly touring, playing about 100 gigs a year with a stage show performed from a disused shopping trolley.

"The equipment for performing is two heavy suitcases," he says. "Electronics, drums, a projector, and other kit.

“This is the maximum one person can carry, so my personal stuff can't be more than an extra change of clothes and a handful of toilet articles, the total of which usually fits in a plastic grocery bag."

Considering Filastine's ecological bent, fans might assume his toiletries don't stretch to toilet paper, which much of the global South shuns for plain water.

Journalist Elizabeth Royte notes in her book Wasteland Garbage Land that toilet paper is particularly environmentally unfriendly due not only to the type of wood and bleach used in its production, but also the processes to remove it from sewage.

"I'm a bourgeois pig in this regard," mocks Filastine. "After many travels in south Asia and other lands where the left hand and bucket of water is the local crack-cleaning method, I'm not convinced.

"My policy is the same as the use of any other manufactured stuff: use the absolute minimum, but still use it. I do scrimp on all other paper products, but keep on using a few squares of toilet paper to wipe the bum."

The musician is now based firmly in toilet-tissue territory — Barcelona — and is naturally well aware that Spain is politically up shit creek. So why did he move there?

"Scale, Barcelona is compact; language, I only speak English and Spanish well; location, it's on the Mediterranean and connected by train, sea, and air to Europe and north Africa.

"Barcelona has a tremendous problem with tourism, it can turn any place into a Disney caricature of itself. Despite this, the city still has a soul, at least in some barrios. Currents of the anarchist and radical character of the city have survived since the 1930s.

"It's been a very exciting year to be in Spain. Nearly everybody in the country realises the game is rigged against us, the political class is corrupt and self-serving, and the people have shaken off years of complacency to confront the situation.

"In the short term we are worse off than ever, as the right, with the Popular Party, took power due to the massive abstention of the left. But one popular expression of the movement is 'we go slowly because we are going far'.

"There is an understanding that we are looking for profound changes that might take a generation to achieve, not just a quick election victory."

Filastine has been in politics for the long haul, having played a part in the Battle in Seattle in 1999. His enduring memory of that event is "descending into the downtown with the Infernal Noise Brigade marching band at 7am and seeing that we, the protesters, had already taken over the city centre".

"We marched with impunity through a Starbucks and a few other corporate shops as the employees panicked and closed those shops on our exit," he says. "Shortly after the police started in with the clouds of tear gas and hails of rubber bullets, but they never once regained control of the financial district — protesters owned it until voluntarily disbanding the blockades at sundown.

"I've never had a feeling of inverted power like that until the recent movement of Indignados ['The Outraged'] in Spain."

Surprisingly, he does not have a bad word to say about the 2007 film Battle in Seattle, which was criticised by CrimethInc.

"It's the perfect film for normal folks like my family to see and get a rough idea of what it was all about, because they sure as hell aren't going to read a book or watch a documentary," he says.

"I know people who saw it as an in-flight movie! It doesn't get any more accessible."

Filastine also weaves accessible elements into his highbrow sounds. "Lost Records" on £00T sounds so much like rapper Tinie Tempah's recent British chart-topper "Pass Out" — albeit drip-fed into a multicultural blender — that it could only be a case of coincidence, not copying.

Filastine admits as much when GLW sends him a link to that hit

"First time I've seen or heard it," he says. "Which at 40 million views must place me in a minority on planet Earth.

"I can't say that I'm not part of the feedback loop between the underground and pop culture. The west coast US bass music anthems have been blowing up these bubbling bass synth lines, and I've got one leg in that world, I've toured with [US bass-heavy artist] Bassnectar and am releasing this album on [urban futurist label] Muti Music.

“This track is definitely influenced by the time spent with those cats.

"Pop stars just cherry pick production ideas that circulate in the incubator of more underground club music. They loot from us, we loot from them. £00T all around."

The artwork for £00T also borrows, typically, from all over. It appears to be a simple image of an anarchist-activist on a banknote, yet it is as multi-layered as Filastine's music.

"£00T is collaged from 250 layers, including many obsolete currencies and some new inventions," he says. "Much of the background is the pre-euro Greek note, the drachma. The woman is meant to be an anonymous in this case, but she is a Spanish friend, based on a photograph we took in order to generate the etching."

But despite his assurance that his politics mainly appears in his artwork and videos these days, £00T also addresses climate change directly in the song "May I Interrupt".

"It's a comment on the larger paradigm that led to climate change," says Filastine, who has been lauded by music critics as fickle as trendier-than-thou tastemakers Pitchfork. "Nature as commodity, the triumph of business values, technology fetishism, our alienation and total disrespect for the biosphere."

Yet he has no qualms about revisiting the highest-polluting Western country per capita.

"When I'm in Oz people always tell me with deep shame how terrible the politics are down there, but all I meet are conscious progressive types," he says.

"This is the kind of bubble that can happen on a tour, because the only peeps who invite an artist like me are usually already on the same wavelength. Maybe there is a bigger 'real' Australian reality out there full of racist redneck climate-sceptic types, but I've not had the displeasure of meeting that Australia.

"There is talk of a Muti Music Oz tour in November. Fingers crossed."


Thanks for mentioning my book, but it's Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, not Wasteland. (See Also, I don't think I single out toilet paper as being particularly heinous, though paper-making in general, from virgin fibers, is heavily polluting and energy intensive. (If you use toilet paper, use TP made of recycled content!) Paper breaks down readily in wastewater treatment plants, which are jammed full of microbes that eat that stuff up. (Sure, this process generates methane, but advanced plants capture that gas and use it to make energy.)

Thanks for the amendment Elizabeth and sorry for getting the title wrong. I discussed the toilet paper issue with Green Left co-editor Simon Butler when he read the article, because he also points out in his book Too Many People? (See: that most waste is industrial, not personal. I mentioned to him that, in the conclusion of your book, you say the same thing about most waste - er sorry, garbage - being industrial. Cheers - Mat Ward


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