Sometimes it takes the OG punks to come back to show us how it’s done. Seminal political hardcore act Racetraitor re-formed in 2016, prompted in part by the protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the police murder of Michael Brown, and have been active ever since. That racialized police violence prompted Racetraitor to return should come as no surprise – the band’s politics and activism have always been inseparable from their music, an intersectional anti-fascist, anti-capitalist outlook that they were just as happy to deliver on stage, in the streets or in their day jobs.
Following on from 2017’s Invisible Battles Against Invisible Fortresses EP, Racetraitor released their second full length LP, 2042, last year, winning new fans eager to hear music that kicked back against the nihilistic, neo-fascist politics of post-Trump USA. Not only that, Racetraitor have made full use of social media to speak out against immigrant detention, white supremacy and misogyny on their Facebook page, where you’re more likely to find them talking radical politics or shouting out other bands than pushing their own music. If you ever wanted proof that not all reunions are cynical exercises in cashing in, look no further than Racetraitor. We were lucky enough to catch up with the band to talk politics, police violence, activism and Rust Belt hardcore – the full interview is contained in Issue 5.
One of the things that Racetraitor has always been very vocal about is holding the punk and hardcore scenes to account for preaching progressive, inclusive politics, but all too rarely practising them. In the last 20-25 years have you seen any progress in traditionally white cis-het male scenes becoming more diverse in terms of the agency afforded to women, people of colour, latinx, LGBQT people etc.? What work do you consider there is left to do to move away from performatively progressive politics in punk and to move to a genuinely intersectional model of inclusion and activism?
Mani Mostofi [vocals]: I think inclusion of and power to people from marginalised backgrounds is improving partly because PoC, LGBTQ folks, and women in the scene are pushing their way to the front and partly because of an overall recognition that these voices are important. In this sense cool things are happening; from the PoC-led Break Free Fest in Philly, to Hate5six videography, to various queer punk labels and collectives – to all of the new bands featuring women, PoC, queer people and so on. Punk used to have a lot of that at the start, but many of those people got pushed aside.
But to be honest, our band has always tried to steer away from the politics of the scene. That’s not our fight. Others take that on and do a great job. For us, how we are organising and fighting for a new power alignment outside the scene is the focus and that has always been our focus.
Punk, hardcore, and metal can be inward looking and self-obsessed at times. So we have always aimed at getting people to look outward and into activism beyond their music subculture. In doing that, we have stressed from the beginning that white kids have a responsibility to listen to the voices of people of colour, particularly black, brown, and native peoples. And representatives of oppressed communities must always be in a position of power in any social movement. That’s not an easy thing to do but it should be all our working policies. That doesn’t mean someone is correct just because of their identity, but subverting power dynamics and diffusing power is part of the practice.
Chicago PD has become notorious for a huge number of racist extrajudicial murders and human rights violations. What are your personal experiences and perspectives regarding policing in your native city and the US?
Brent Decker [bass]: Without going into too much detail, I have personally seen the Chicago PD set people up to ensure they got long sentences, ruin careers, ruin personal lives, and derail various movements and organisations in Chicago. It’s terrifying. But really the Chicago PD are just operating exactly how they have been designed to operate. The countless cases of torture, political assasinations, racist murders and corruption have come to light somewhat in the past few years, but it almost doesn’t matter in terms of overall policy. The PD and the tactics of suppression are at the centre of all city and state policies. They are the tool used by the neoliberal ruling class of this city (and country), I think it is a mistake to put the agency on the police alone. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be resisted or not held accountable for their actions, but when we think about the Laquan McDonald case – the cop who killed him is in prison, but the police superintendent, the mayor, the district attorney’s office, and the governor all faced zero real consequences. Their wealth, power and ability to generate income was not touched at all. That’s not even to mention the financial power structures. There is an excellent book called Chicago On The Make: Power And Inequality In A Modern City by Andrew J. Diamond that I highly recommend to understand our fucked up city.
Daniel Binaei [guitar]: The hyper-segregation of Chicago is hard to conceptualise, even to those of us in the city. To get any sense of it, it usually needs to be very intentional to go outside of our set routines and communities. There are, in many ways, totally different realities of what the police and other state institutions are and who they serve. The police behave very differently and are seen very differently in poor communities and communities of colour. Through work and activism I have seen this and been educated about this reality. Visiting political prisoners, going into prisons, it gives you a different sense of how these institutions of oppression exist. It’s extremely unsettling.
Anarchism is an incredibly broad church, what’s your personal position on anarchism? What are your specific beliefs on anarchism, and how does it inform your vision for better systems of governance and a better world?
MM: I’m not sure we are an anarchist band per se. I’m not even sure if we would all call ourselves anarchists. But some of us certainly do.
I personally call myself an anarchist, not in a specific ideological track but as a broad philosophical approach away from domination and towards cooperative, egalitarian and democratic practices. And it is a really broadly defined struggle against all forms of domination that appeals to me whether racial, national, class-based, sex-based, or related to gender identity, sexual orientation, the environment, animal rights etc. Anarchist analysis is the closest to being able to challenge all abuses of power and work towards distribution of power. My activism has never been within the traditional anarchist movement but I tend to like to work with exciting communities.
Lots of us in the band gravitated at one point in our early ‘20s to anti-colonial brands of socialism, but ones that adopted centrist, party-based approaches. We learned the hard way of those movements are always always doomed to fall into authoritarianism and abuse. When everything can be justified for the revolution, the revolution is already dead. So anti-authoritarianism and basic respect for civil liberties became pretty important to me and essential to anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggle.
Andy Hurley [drums]: I would agree with Mani here. I am an anarchist, but not of a specific tendency. To me, anarchism is adaptive to the context. My critique, personally, of things lines up with a primal anarchist critique of civilisation as a whole. I think autonomous, grassroots organising, decolonisation struggles and dismantling white supremacy are crucial to get out of this capitalist/civilised hellscape.
BD: I know for me, I’m definitely equally influenced by sufi mysticism and anarchism. Not sure what you call that… but both land in similar space with regards to liberation from all forms of dominance and oppression.
DB: I’m often now looking at politics through the lens of how we relate to each other as humans. Systems are the product of human beings, and how we behave within them. Any system can and will be corrupted by what is within us. So what I like about anarchism, and am drawn to, is it is striving to create a society where we are aware of the dangers of power. And I think as human beings we have to be extremely aware of the dangers of power and how we exercise it, not just in systems but also interpersonally. I believe some sort of practice of introspection and connecting to/reflecting on the larger reality of creation is useful towards this end. I believe both inner and outer work is important for all of us, as the inner and outer realities are interconnected and feed one another.
For the full, extended interview with the Racetraitor crew, touching on police violence, Rust Belt hardcore and white privilege, pick up a copy of Issue 5 of the Astral Noize print magazine.
Words: Andrew Day