(PLEASE NOTE: The following review was written by Paul Tarpey before Christmas having watched the 'up da ra' video. The video was put together by a fan of the group and the band had no creative imput into the finished product. The band have clarified some of the thinking behind the track in this statement. In the last two days the video has been removed from youtube - Shane)
(UPDATE 06/09 Video is back on Dailymotion)
There is a shit start to the current Rubber Bandits video ‘Up da Ra’. It is the iconic image of two republican hunger strikers in a smeared cell presenting themselves via the famous footage taken in the Maze. Others have been struck by this image in different times with their own cultural focus. Art wise in the eighties the British media painter Richard Hamilton used it as the basis for a painting positioning the act of protest as a dramatic documentation. Recently another Artist Steve Mc Queen incorporated it in his film Hunger. In this video, it is now reimagined via YouTube as material for a Limerick Rap groups track and immediately the senses are reeling as the brutal use of it to date confronts the viewer.
Rub your eyes and listen. A voice overlaid with ‘oirishy’ music seem to force these bearded and blanketed protesters into a new scenario. The video starts with the sampled voice of a guttural Republican Godfather directing a man to round up two of his best men and take down a couple of Paratroopers with guns provided in the boot of the car. The phrase ‘two of your best men’ floats over the slow pan of the blanket men in the cell and as the director edits elements of song with the video presenting his warped representation of the documentary footage.
The hunger strikers are obviously not actors and the voice over is undeniably fiction. We focus then on the generic celtic strains of the music, uniting the sound and vision as we accept that only the music aspires to reality in the context of what we are to experience. It’s a music video and within its four minutes narrative the Irish National Struggle is presented by the Bandits for all of you who don’t know the Score. The familiar drawl of the lead Bandit announces the agenda.
"Fact one. The British have oppressed the Irish for 300 years beginning with the Potato famine of 1916. Fact Two. In our weakened state the oppressors then took the ‘7’ northern counties. Fact Three. Journeying to London by Horse, Devs doomed diplomatic mission and failure to ‘punch’ the Queen in the face, results in his incarceration and death after 100 years in a british shit polished cell"
We then reach the the chorus, tying a knot in all of this with the base chant detested by Irish liberals and beloved by roundabout Loungebar patrons of a certain age and Celtic fans. 'Oh – Ah – Up - The -‘Ra. This is new territory.
Five years ago a reaction to the video of ‘Up The Ra’ would have centred firstly on the desecration of the sacred 2 minutes of footage of the men in the Maze, followed by objection to the misleading chronology of Irish History contained in the video. Section 31 was still an Irish factor before youtube was imagined and also the sacrosanct history of the struggle was not to be parodied. No comment however would have been made on the the backing track. Its signified fiddle and fluthered backround stylings have been institutionalised in so many TV adverts and dramas over the last 30 years that the ‘Wolfe’ tone of its tune is its expected. It also ‘sounds’ Irish in the way wedding djs are often asked for an ‘Irish’ set at a certain time on the night but its not the Corrs or the Divine Comedy that is being requested there. In all this no reaction will be forthcoming today apart of course from the usual celebrative commentary by the many people in Bandit world who lap up all their work.
The generation in the Bandits immediate audience never saw the War in the north with all its associated fluctuations of Republicanism unfold live on television through dour announcements by RTE news readers. The grey sombre pace of the War in the North's documentary sheen was then in contrast with the zippyness of the Dukes of Hazzard or the gloss of the grinning English Variety shows that were simultaneously beamed into the country on TV at the time of the hunger strikes. This programming clash and often constrained reporting rendered the War equivalent to a drama serial or a Cowboy film to that eras youth. Often in the censored or misrepresented absence a strident song or poem would focus things outside the Zone. Catchy tunes rhyming ‘tanks and guns’ with ‘sons’ proliferated and spread by tape once the Broadcasting constrains got round to registering troubadours as terrorists. Such was a comparative state of things.
The Bandits generation never got their heads spun working out the ambiguous double speak of Fianna Fail on‘The National Question’. Nor did they wonder why so may Northern Catholics took a break down south on July 12th each year, etc.Their parents would know of their own parents positioning in the history of it all but doubtfully would see any merit in raising it with their own children or any body born after 1989. Things for them were changing and there was relief in the issue just going away. ‘OH-AH……. Paul Mc Grath! Actually, isn't that’s a much less complicated picture of Irishness isn't it. Croke Park as well, what was all that nonsense about no soccer allowed there?. This was the consensus post Stormont when a raft of republican conceptions were decommissioned alongside the weapons. Some agendas were sidelined as well. Martin McGuinness became ‘cuddly’ and murals up north became Folk art. Books appeared with titles such as ‘How Sinn Fein turned a defeat into victory’ and we all ‘moved on’. Men who lived by the Stock hatred of the traditional enemy, propelled with all the songs and stories that accompanied their passion either became silent or very loud, depending on where you were. Limerick heard both sounds.
Exhausted decades of hands off teaching of the legacy of 1916 in secondary schools cleaned up the messy struggle in neat chapters as enough material was published for history class allowing students to appreciate Ireland's coming of age in the Robinson era. The complexities of the war vis a vis its socialist spread and consequences for the south became a lot easier to explain.
‘Fast forward to 1974’ snarls the Bandit, unfettered by the comprehensive distillation of any official notions of history he may have been bothered with in school. Now there's a bunker of attitude that has just been dug up and the mission here is to explode some of this regards new Irelands homogenised chronology. In War, Truth is always the first casualty. Listen to this at the back of the class.
‘Sean South of Garryown starved a dog in his back yard for 17 years. Him and that dog sailed over to England in a ship made of Coffins’. He trained that dog to make shit of the queen and punch her into the Jaw…as a symbol, ( pronounced ‘Simm-ble’) but he was caught in the carpark of Buckingham palace. He was jailed for 100 years and starved to death….like so many before him.’
We are just over a minute into the track and you are either in or staying outside. The Images accompanying the video as a whole are downloaded and untreated clips of Irish Republican activity from the 20s to the 90s. These are organised along the lines seen in unreconstructed republican websites and aesthetically following the timbre of al jazeera broadcast jihad sites. Familiar images. The Tricolour merges into riot scenes in Derry. The special branch brutalise marchers. Balaclaved checkpoints look official. A repeated tapestry unfurls as the same images reocurr edited to the beat. A reassuring yet uncomfortable marshalling of fact co-opted by the videos director.
This process of piling the same image on image denies the viewer the expected documentary concept of an unfolding truth and circumscribed by an appropriate voice-over tone. As we watch we realise we struggle with the falsehoods. Did Dev and Sean South really die that way? Punching the Queen in the mouth, perhaps that’s not a metaphor.Was every cell wallpapered in shit ? if so surely that would negate the shock value of the protests. Why didn’t we pay attention in History class? We are halfway through the video and still struggling with the conceit. Beneath the surface graphics, stock footage and strident delivery there now seethes a subversive surrealism. Focus. Catching up with the speech / lyrics we chase a scattergun of sentences. Condoms full of explosives and a righteous sword of Hash have been deployed. The venerated language of the struggle, banjo plucked in hundreds of rebel songs is beginning to sound like a mangled cassette in its compelling sound of impending destruction. A locked shit smeared opel corsa boot is were the Queen finally meets her fate, thus releasing the Irish from bondage and finally wrapping up the songs traditional narrative conclusion. Phillip k Dick explored similar territory in his his novel ‘The man in the high castle' where a imagining of the second world explored a scenario in which the axis powers won and a gap in time allowed the resistance fighting space to orientate the overthrow of evil.
In the final part of the video the Bandits configure and locate their exercise in a contemporary space. In traditional Rebel songs this ending tends to follow a path of longing. Four green fields, Roisin Dubh, Only our rivers run free etc. The open ended finish in these songs alludes to the continuing struggle as a given and is often embroidered with a wistful longing borrowed from immigrant laments. Often in these songs the two types of ballads were interchangeable and new interpretations followed a solid, carefully confident there would still be a market as there was never an end in sight for the war. Section 31 made this market sloppy. The Wolfe Tones and a small amount of similar groups consolidated the sing along battle hymm on a banjo for the lounge bar from the 70s onwards, reveling in their banned from RTE status. There arose then the curious fact of entertainment being provided by a band employed to make a crowd feel good with a repertoire of songs based on the continuing narrative of a struggle that would never end. The Bandits allude to this stasis with a line following on from the earlier death fantasy featuring the head of the English throne with the line
'if the queen ever came to this country, id chase her with dogshit on the end of a golf stick.’
Its 2008. What if all you knew of the War was posturing by your mad uncle after a few pints. He rambles from a given set, lacking definitive texts by Professor Joe Lee and Roy Foster in his library of Andy mc Nab and playstation. The narrative is further mutated by your third cousin who did time for storing rifles for a wannabe drug gang. In this imagining what would you discuss with your buds? How would you formulate or express a dramatic but messed up nationalist agenda for yourself in present tense. The beat under the track repeats. The narrator changes tone slightly, referencing the traditional coda of the rebel songs.
‘And for all the patroits who died before in the Irish wars? I know you're up in heaven smokin a Joint with Tupac and Bob Marley…CHALK IT DOWWNN.Yaah!’
This Video exercise comes to its end. The jaw dropping beginning, the confusion blindsiding the re positioning of the text in a Hiphop format, the localising of the end. Now we accept the basis of the exercise , the Hip Hop conclusion. Hip hop being the original urban voice of the late 20th century and more familiar to the Bandits audience than a confusing explanation of the war from their parents . The formatting of the simulacrum of Irish history through an oral tradition in the current market place registers as a failure. Examples such as Christy Moore's exercises are buried under a slew of limited edition cds and disregarded nostalgia meshed with the sniggering that followed the break up of the Wolfe Tones. Left over sounds listened to by old rebel followers fading in their own image in depreciating Lounge bars, oldsters talking about the retrospective clunkyness of Marxman and the timeless viciousness of the Scary Eire project.
Into this gap the Rubber Bandits speak for a generation who never had it cut and dried with the then glamour or the gun and the celtic mist .They reflect the vibrancy of their own youth, nostalgic for the days of gun clappers like Biggie, Tupac, combined with the articulate impact of that American white guy in the trackie pants who was produced by Dre. All of this marinated and eventually got served up with a burst of energy that created ‘Up the Ra’ This is the skitzo mix tackled in this video. Estate detrius. Shout outs at the end of the track ‘Kickin it straight, Limerick G funk Style ! (with the addendum ‘hes in the ‘RA’ to be said after these names).
Robert de Niro
Yer Man outta Da Vinci Code
What is the significance of this motley crew of compressed media. Nothing. The final underlining chant, ‘The Rubber Bandits ARE the IRA’ cleans the slate for all future commentary. In the book ‘An Idiots guide to Irish History we read that the Romans chose not to Invade Ireland as we were deemed to be unsuitable for their programme. A scribe for Caesar at the time wrote ‘The Irish think it decent to eat their own parents’.
Chalk it down.