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Sunday Herald (December 2001)

Before September 11th, Slipknot had been revelling in their status as the most outrageous band on the planet. Best known for their freakish masks and matching boiler suits, the nine piece metal band from Des Moins, Iowa, were intent on trashing every taboo going. Their stageshow saw them urinate on each other and “throw poop” and, in their calmer moments, set each other alight. A fan in Wolverhampton was hospitalised after DJ Sid Wilson leapt from a thirty foot balcony, and the band members regularly broke bones and snapped tendons. Their motto was “people=shit”, with good reason.

Now, though, the landscape has changed. Artists like Marilyn Manson and Eminem who once traded on being anti-establishment have fallen curiously silent, while one rap group hastily scrapped their album artwork which depicted them blowing up the World Trade Centre. As for Slipknot themselves, who until recently described themselves as “musical terrorists”, the tone is earnest and responsible. The attack was “horrific”, President Bush has “done a really good job vocally and visually”, the band’s mood is one of “pleasant hesitation”.

All of which begs the question: if it’s no longer appropriate for a band to be anti-social and shocking have Slipknot suddenly become redundant? Sitting in his hotel room in Las Vegas, singer Corey Taylor thinks not. “We were never really anti-American,” he argues. “We are still anti the music industry, anti-businessman, anti soulless dealer. That’s the kind of people we are. Obviously I love my country or I wouldn’t live here. That’s just hypocritical bullshit. But I think it surprises people that we might have some national pride.”

But what about using the term “musical terrorists”? How does he defend that now? “It’s the context. Obviously I’m not going to do anything that atrocious. But at the same time, we’re assaulting everything that the world, that the music industry holds sacred. We’re tearing down the sacred cows, the old ways. Nothing’s set in stone. Nothing is permanent. This band won’t last forever. But it’s the stubbornness to change that really pisses me off the most.”

Even if Slipknot’s crusade has been against big business rather than humanity itself, they’ve used some morally dubious methods to make their points. The band’s latest black boiler suits are worn with a red armband that’s uncomfortably reminiscent of Nazi imagery. Wasn’t this a dangerous concept to toy with, even before September 11th?

“No, not really,” replies Taylor. “You’ve got to remember that the Nazis stole it from someone else. The civil rights movement in the sixties wore red armbands. The Navaho Indians used red armbands to assign stature. It’s all relative. The way we used it was in defiance of everything that’s going on in music today. And nobody has a problem with them because we don’t come off as racists.”

But what do the armbands signify?

“It means we’re stepping it up to a higher level. The coveralls may have unified us before but now we’re going to war. With the industry. Especially now. They’re banning music all over the place in America and it’s pathetic. Yes, I understand that September 11th was a fucking tragedy and my heart still feels for the families that have had to feel the loss, but you’re banning music that should be helping. They banned ‘Stairway To Heaven’. That’s the most played song in radio history. How do you ban ‘Stairway To Heaven’? I don’t understand that.”

Percussionist Joey Jordison puts it in simpler terms. “It’s a badge, that’s all it is. We’re not even close to being Nazis. One of my best friends is Jewish. So are our managers.”

Even so, drummer Shawn Crahan once announced that “If Hilter walked in here today, I’d buy him a soda.” How do the band explain that statement?

“Shawn’s brain thinks so fast he doesn’t give enough information for people to understand what the hell he’s saying,” says Taylor. “What he was saying was, I give everyone a chance. He was saying Hitler might have been the nicest guy in the world but look what happened. I back him on that. It’s the way he said it I have a problem with. I don’t think that anybody would have bought that lunatic a soda. I sure as fuck wouldn’t have. I would have shot him in the face.”

Taylor’s anger points to the way forward for Slipknot. Rapper and producer Dr Dre has already announced that he’s working on a track entitled “Kill Bin Laden” and Taylor argues that Slipknot can provide a channel for the nation’s rage. “If I wasn’t 28, I’d sign up right now,” he declares. “Because it’s not right. And they have to be shown it’s not right. They’re going to find out we’re not a flabby fucking country. We trim the fat and we fucking kick ass. There is no other solution than armed conflict. And I’d never thought in my life I’d ever say that.”

So how has this all affected the way Slipknot works and is seen as a social force? “I think we’re still basically what we were. We go out and rock for the kids. We take their minds off everything. We give them shelter for a little while. Four or five hours. And they need it right now. I have one rule at shows, you will have as much fun as you want and no one is going to stop you. The shows have been really good. I mean considering. A lot of parents are really weird right now. Audiences all over the country have dried up.”

The key to understanding Slipknot’s continued relevance lies in the phrase “people=shit”. While casual observers have taken the slogan to mean that the band promote nihilism and misanthropy, Taylor argues that the opposite is true.

“People do equal shit. We live and we die. Our soul may leave, but our body decays and becomes part of the ground. We’re all made of the same matter and people who think they’re above everybody else are just bigger piles of shit. The song’s saying you’re not better than me, I’m no better than you, so you can fuck off.”

Such is Taylor’s hatred for inequality that he recently labelled Kurt Cobain “a snob” because he thought he was better than his fans. For Slipknot, it’s all about finding a common ground through anger and disgust. So “people=shit” isn’t a negative statement after all.

“No, not at all. See? Another misunderstanding. So many people want to take us at face value. If you’re going to try and understand the band, you have to get to know that and anybody who doesn’t do that is just an ignorant fuck.”

So it’s actually a liberating statement rather than a damning one.

“Exactly, exactly.”

The further you delve into Slipknot, the more complex the band turn out to be. On the surface, they’re a simple proposition: rebellion plus outrage equals catharsis. But their use of numbers instead of names (up until recently Taylor was simply known as number eight) and boiler suits rather than flashy rock clothes points to a subversion of the ego that’s miles away from simple shock rock. As for the horror masks, Taylor says they wore them so people couldn’t concentrate on their appearance. They also help the band get inside the music.

“We started wearing the masks so we could become even more in tune with what we were playing, we could throw ourselves harder into the music,” Taylor explains. “We could be completely unconscious of who we are as people outside of this and become another note, another bug in the construct.”

It’s Jordison who provides the most startling insight into the Slipknot psyche, however. Mulling over the concept that Slipknot’s fans are using them to make a protest against commercial pop and slick MTV culture, he makes three interesting points. One: “An establishment constantly force feeding kids ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ isn’t encouraging them to think.” Two: “Music should be an educational tool.” And three: “Instead of watching TV, read a book. Instead of driving a car, ride a bike.”

In a genre where the height of self expression is Fred Durst squealing “give me something to break”, that’s almost a hippy ethic.

“Not a hippy ethic,” ponders Jordison, “it’s more being physical and being true to yourself. There’s a lot of things that make people lazy in today’s society. I don’t even know what TV shows are on. I haven’t watched TV in so long. I put my energy into creating music. And people can do that no matter what they’re doing. They can be a civil engineer, they can be anything. Something that promotes a purpose.”

Whether a band who trade in anger and aggression and flirt with warlike terms and fascistic imagery can truly be a “positive force” is a matter of opinion, but there’s no denying that Slipknot are a constantly challenging entity. For Taylor and Jordison, it’s all about making a stand and asking questions. And as long as the listener asks questions, even if the question is “what kind of sane individual would listen to this bloody racket?”, their work is done.

“We inspire free thinking. Individuality. Not bowing down. Not being a fucking sheep. We’re not trying to get everyone on our side, we’re just trying to open up a certain opinion or a fucking reaction.”

So where next for Slipknot? Can the band only make a truly shocking impact now if one of them dies on stage?

“I don’t know,” frowns Taylor, finally. “It’s weird man. I think about this a lot. In the end, I think we’re going to keep what we’ve got because the music is really good. Nobody died in Maiden but they’re one of the baddest bands ever. Nobody’s died in Sabbath yet. We’ll see man. The future is really really fucking distant right now. I’m living one day at a time.”

Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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