As the band announce a huge set of reunion shows in 2020, we’re taking a look back at the 1993 performance from Rage Against The Machine of their iconic song ‘Killing In The Name’ on Channel 4’s The Word. It’s a cherishable moment where irreverent British TV meets the startling power of America’s Gen-X saviours.
Around the same time Rage Against The Machine were quickly becoming one of America’s hottest talents. Channeling their heavy rock style, mixed with the beginnings of nu-metal their self-titled debut album would reach triple platinum just a few short years after their first ever gig. We look back at this exciting time for the band when they performed on UK TV for the first time and blow away a generation. They were lucky to have landed on The Word.
The Word was a seminal moment in youth culture during the ’90s. A Channel 4 exploit, designed to capture the rising viewership of Generation X, The Word acted as a conductor not only for bored teens desperate to have their brains filled with ultimately irreverent po-mo guff but also as the proving ground for the growing musical landscape that surrounded it. From Nirvana to Oasis, The Word hosted some of the music’s zeitgeist moments.
Designed to engage with a new and emerging youth movement who, though jaded by MTV, still refused to believe anything that didn’t come through the small screen. The show was hosted by radio personality and all-round shit-smirker Terry Christian and only really got moving when it was moved from a 6 pm slot to a new late-night slot on Friday nights. It allowed the show to truly flourish and their guests to do pretty much whatever they wanted. They had big plans.
The magazine format of the show allowed for interviews, live music, features and even game shows. The new flexible late-night format meant that guests could do just about anything to be controversial. There was also an ‘I’ll do anything to be on television’ section called “The Hopefuls” in which people ate worms, bathed in maggots, licked the sweat off fat people, intimately kissed old people, and did generally repulsive things in order to get featured on the programme. It also allowed bands like Rage Against The Machine let loose and express themselves they best they could.
The footage of this ’93 episode begins as Mark Lamaar, a much-beloved host of the show, introduces Rage with a warning to the audience at home. Well, sort of. What he actually does, with a glistening head of hair, is put his middle finger to the screen and tell the viewers to “swivel” if they’re easily offended. All the while sitting across from the eccentric championship winning boxer, Chris Eubank. You can’t beat ’90s television.
The 1993 performance is notable, not just for its hindsight hilarity, nor because it remains one of the few times that RATM were allowed to perform the song on TV. But because the crowd, a young and hopeful lot, were bouncing and moshing like you’d expect to see at one of their actual gigs. They turn the studio into a sweating, heaving crucible of bubbling energy.
It builds the track to new heights, helped along by some awesome editing, until the crescendo moment of that now-iconic line, “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” with which Zach De La Roche disappears into the audience. The intensity of the performance is then heightened further as it’s delivered from the belly of the crowd with De La Rocha now sharing the mic with a multitude of empowered rockstars.
It’s an incredible watch, not only to simply enjoy but to see a band at the beginning of their journey, a journey that continues today.