Taking its cue from one of cinema's most memorable monologues, this taster from The Chemical Brothers' ninth studio album is a rousing rave rant that uses a sentiment that has touched a nerve with audiences for more than 40 years: "I'm mad as hell. I ain't gonna take it no mo'".
MAH starts with wailing African chants backed by a slow kick drum, dissolving gradually into supercilious, mocking laughter as the beat grows in volume. But that cynical laughter is cut short by the loop that gives the track its cryptic title. It's tempting to read this intro as an indomitable black fist silencing cackling white oppressors. The accompanying video has those abiding words spoken by a masked, bare-chested figure, like a grotesque king from some ancient history play.
This is the moment that begins the rise of the underdog.
The 1976 film that gives MAH its name is also the story of an underdog, but one with a futile conclusion. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's classic movie drama, Network, was a horrifying indictment of an uncaring media manipulating its talent and its audience alike to perpetuate a soulless, plastic consumer culture. William Holden stars as Max Schumacher, a washed-up TV anchorman whose downward spiral of disillusionment leads him to announce on air to a bloodthirsty world that his final act as a television personality will be to commit suicide live on air.
In a floundering, deranged speech, Schumacher despairs at the state of the world. "There's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do," he says. "There's no end to it". And yet, compelled to do something, anything, he contrives to mobilize the nation in an outcry of dissatisfaction.
"I don’t want you to riot," Schumacher exhorts the people of America, live on air. "I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to write your congressman. Because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the defence budget and the Russians and crime in the street. All I know is first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say: 'I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more. I’m a human being, goddamnit. My life has value.' So I want you to get up now. I want you to get out of your chairs and go to the window. Right now. I want you to go to the window, Open it, and stick your head out and yell. I want you to yell: 'I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!'”
Network is a film about cynicism and our complicity - all of us - in a system that sells us a cycle of fear and compliance to keep us from questioning whether the world is right or wrong. In particular, Network savagely satirises a news media - represented in the film by Faye Dunaway as Schumacher's Machiavellian colleague Diana Christensen - that feeds us frightening stories which characterise our streets as dangerous and our foreign neighbours as enemies, encouraging us to lock ourselves away every evening to consume more television in the safety of our ever-more-costly homes.
Cinephiles will immediately recognise that the sample from MAH is not Peter Finch. This particular "I ain't gonna take it no mo'" has an unmistakably soul-funk sound and it was lifted from the disco track Mad As Hell on El Coco's 1977 album Cocomotion, a sample which also appeared on Kraak & Smaak's Ain't Gonna Take It No More in 2004.
It's easy to say that Schumacher's speech is as true today as it was in 1976, but logically that should lead us to conclude that the the world is not as fightening as it might seem and it never was. City streets haven't been seized by drug lords toting machine guns. The global economy has crashed multiple times since the 70s, but it recovers. The countryside hasn't become a dustbowl. Terrorists are not lurking in every corner and war is occasionally interrupted by periods of peace. The irony of Schumacher's "mad as hell" speech is that he has fallen for, and been destroyed by, the propaganda machine he works for. As a conduit for fear-mongering, he himself has become so fearful that he cannot face the future.
In 2019, being mad as hell does not have to mean giving up on the future, conceding that the system has won. In 2019, the resistance is not futile.
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About the curator: Jon Ewing
After graduating from the University of Keele in England with a degree in Politics and American Studies, Jon worked as editor of a music and entertainment magazine before spending several years as a freelance writer and, with the advent of the internet, a website designer, developer and consultant. He lives in Reading, home to one of the world's most famous and long-running music festivals, which he has attended every year since 1992.
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A high-speed combination of punk chorus and ska verse, Mustard Plug's singalong Unite and Fight is just one of a sensational 28 tracks on the Ska Against Racism album compiled by Bad Time Records in 2020 to raise funds for non-profit organisations working to improve education, opportunity and justice for black people in the USA and beyond. With a barrelling momentum and a repudiation of violent action, this uplifting song is a call to arms for those of us committed to disarmament.