For the first time in over a decade, Rage Against the Machine will return to their hometown of Los Angeles to play a show, joining Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band for a benefit concert protesting Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 immigration law. The show, which will take place on July 23rd at L.A.’s Hollywood Palladium, is spearheaded by Sound Strike, a coalition of artists united under Oberst and Rage frontman Zack De la Rocha’s guidance. It will be Rage’s first U.S. show in almost two years, but it won’t be their first protest gig — they memorably headlined a riot-like show outside of 2008’s Republican National Convention.
The topic of racism is of personal interest to De la Rocha, who opened up to Rolling Stone in 1999 about feeling unwelcome in his hometown of Irvine, California. Faced with bigotry, De La Rocha said, “I told myself that I would never be silent again. I would never allow myself to not respond to that type of situation — in any form, anywhere.”
De la Rocha calls Arizona’s law, which allows police to demand identification documents from anyone they suspect may be an illegal immigrant, “part of an entire state’s campaign to humiliate and to criminalize an entire population.” In a statement issued at the end of May, De La Rocha asked fellow artists, “What if we got together, signed a collective letter saying, ‘we’re not going to ride the bus,’ saying we are not going to comply. We are not going to play in Arizona.” Proceeds from the Los Angeles show will benefit two immigrants rights organizations, the Florence Project and Puente, Arizona.
Artists’ boycott of Arizona — which has seen De la Rocha and Oberst joined by Nine Inch Nails, Ben Harper, Maroon 5, Sonic Youth, Tenacious D, and more — has faced criticism. In an open letter published in The Arizona Republic, promoter Charlie Levy asserted, “By not performing in Arizona, artists are harming the very people and places that foster free speech and the open exchange of ideas that serve to counter the closed-mindedness recently displayed by the new law.” Oberst fired back, saying, “Just as you may feel the boycott is an empty gesture, I fear that if we return to business as usual (under the guise of some civic movement) that this will all devolve into the typical grandstanding that is political activism in music.”
The debate seems to have given Rage Against the Machine the spark they needed to raise their voices. As De la Rocha told Rolling Stone almost a decade ago, “That’s why I’m in this band — to give space and volume to various struggles throughout the country and the world.”