Cage Against The Machine: Are They Right Or Is It Spite?

06/01/2011 16:26 | Updated 22 May 2015

There are times, when my two year old and one year old have been running rings round me all day, when I'd honestly pay good money for a few minutes of silence. Well, from today, we can all actually pay good money to download a four minute, 33 second recording of nothing.

This year's serious bid to prevent X Factor winner Matt Cardle from netting the Christmas number 1 slot is Cage Against the Machine – a collaboration between musicians including Pete Doherty, Billy Bragg, the Kooks, Imogen Heap and Orbital. They all met in a studio on December 6th, got miked up, placed instruments in hands, and then recorded themselves not playing, not singing and generally trying to stay still.

The result is the re-release of 4'33" – an avant garde track composed by John Cage in 1952, which was hailed as a masterpiece. Back then, his intention was to illustrate that 'music' can be anything: the sound of muffled coughs, musicians shifting in their seats, even – suddenly perceptible in the near silence – your own blood pumping through your ears.

It was art then but is it art now? Or just a spiteful attempt to prevent a hugely successful businessman from sticking a cherry on top of his big fat Christmas cake?

I can understand the ire of genuine, creative musicians who fought their way to stardom, whose creative genius eventually saw them on the road to success, via endless gigs in draughty garages. I can see that they're sick of seeing manufactured pop acts scoop all the cash and all the glory. But I'm a little fascinated by the bandwagon. At last count before submitting this article, Cage Against the Machine had 80,766 fans on Facebook, and the general feeling of hatred towards one Mr Cowell on the groups's wall is toxic. Someone's even gone to the trouble of creating an illustration of him holding a sign that reads 'evil empire' and below: 'F*ck you. I won't buy what you sell me'.

But the creator of said work doesn't have to buy what Simon's selling does he? He's just pissed off that so many people will do. And now, in protest, he's going to go and buy a recording of almost nothing. It's quite funny, but a bit sad at the same time. Who's sillier? The thousands of people who buy a track by a singer (rather than artist) they've been enjoying watching on TV for the last – dear god, it seems like forever – several (million?) weeks, or the thousands of people who buy a recording of nothing at all?

The pop charts have been controlled by record labels for a long time, that's really nothing new. But our Simon, with his impossibly thick black hair, impossibly shiny white teeth and amazingly successful TV programme, just does it so very visibly. The format for X Factor is a somewhat brilliant one (for him). It is franchised to 28 other countries, so it rakes him in a lot of money. That makes him a clever man. It it also makes him a man that people just love to hate.

Given that the majority of Cage Against the Machine's fans are probably not aspiring musicians, perhaps whole thing is just indicative of a growing boredom of the X Factor – and its astounding ability to score number 1s (until last year, it had had the Christmas top spot since 2004). Having dominated winter Saturdays for the last seven years, I for one would like something new to be a saddo about at the weekend. That aside, if Cage Against the Machine (which by the way is donating all proceeds to charity) has its way and 4'33" snaffles the top spot, radio stations will be obliged to play this four and a half minute near silence over and over again. That, actually, I'm quite looking forward to, just because it will be so very odd.

I wonder what next year's anti-X factor battle cry will be. Perhaps 100,000 people will go and buy a recording called: A one year old screaming and a two year old screaming while smashing the crap out of a toy kitchen!

Or perhaps they'll draw the line at that.

By: Pip Jones


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