Free Jazz Musicians Intentionally Play Terrible Music to Drown Out the Noise of a Danish Far-Right Politician

Art makes a way where politics fail. I don’t mean that in any mawkish sense. Sure, art brings people together, encourages empathy and common values. Those can be wonderful things. But they are not always necessarily social goods. Violent nationalism brings people together around common values. Psychopaths can feel empathy if they want to.

When faced with fascism, or neo-fascism, or whatever we want to call the 21st century equivalent of fascism, those who presume good faith in their opponents presume too much. Values like respect for human rights or rules of logical debate or use of force, for example, are not in play. Direct confrontation usually provokes more violence, and corresponding state repression against anti-fascists.

Creative thinkers have devised other kinds of tactics—methods for meeting spectacle with spectacle, disrupting and scattering concentrated fear and hate by use of what William S. Burroughs called “magical weapons.” Burroughs meant the phrase literally when he aimed his occult audio/visual magic at a gentrifying London coffee bar. But he used the very same ideas in his novels and manuals for overthrowing corrupt governments.

One might say something similar about the pioneers of free jazz, a product of Black Power politics expressed in music. Coltrane drew on Malcolm X when he divested himself of western musical constraints; Ornette Coleman established “harmolodic democracy” in place of Eurocentric structures. These were inherently revolutionary forms, responding to repressive times in new languages. They were not, as many people thought then, just jazz played badly.

But, as it turns out… free jazz deliberately played badly makes quite an effective rejoinder to fascism, too. So a group of Danish jazz musicians discovered when they began crashing the staged events of far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, founder of the Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party. As Vice reports:

[Paludan] is notorious for organising “demonstrations” in neighbourhoods with large immigrant populations, where he burns, throws, and stomps on Qurans behind walls of police officers. A self-proclaimed “guardian of freedom” and “light of the Danes,” Paludan considers immigrants and Islam enemies of the Danish people, as well as the country’s values, traditions and general way of life.

Does one respectfully argue with such a person? Try to breach the line of cops and knock them out? Hear out their point of view as they inspire acts of violence? Or show up “armed with trumpets, bongo drums and saxophones” and play right in his face, or at least “loudly enough to drown out his voice or draw attention away from him”?

The collective “Free Jazz Against Paludan” takes the magical weapon of Situationist free jazz public and radicalizes harmolodic democracy (done very, very obnoxiously badly on purpose, we must emphasize) for street action. “We’re fighting noise with noise,” one saxophonist and self-described “old man turned activist” says. “I’m of the opinion that rhetoric like his should not be ignored. You have to protest against it, but in a way that is not destructive and violent.” Except that it is destructive—to Paludan’s weaponized ignorance. [Paludan was recently sentenced to jail on racism and defamation.] The revolving collective of activist musicians makes this plain, stating on their Facebook page, “Anyone can join, with the exception of just him. He cannot.”

What gives them the right to exclude him! one might cry indignantly. That’s the game Paludan wants to play. “What he wants is to get beaten up by some immigrants, get some close-ups of a soap eye or a broken arm—that’d be great for him,” says protestor Jørn Tolstrup. “So this is great, because here we have an idiot who won’t shut up, and now we’ve found a way to take his foot off the pedal.” It’s creative de-escalation and redirection. And, we might say, not so much a public “cancelling” as the free expression of opposing ideas.

via Vice

Related Content:

How Ornette Coleman Freed Jazz with His Theory of Harmolodics

How William S. Burroughs Used the Cut-Up Technique to Shut Down London’s First Espresso Bar (1972)

William S. Burroughs’ Manifesto for Overthrowing a Corrupt Government with Fake News and Other Prophetic Methods: It’s Now Published for the First Time

How Music Unites Us All: Herbie Hancock & Kamasi Washington in Conversation

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

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  • Ray Colllins says:

    What a different tack than *adults* would take. Rather than debunking bad opinions, let’s literally drown them out, like today’s SJWs. What a pathetic view of humanity–like every other fascist organization/group/gov’t agency/gov’t. Real adults, like Benjamin Franklin, said we should allow and even print (he was a printer) all opinions, then allow bad ones to be exposed. Typical behavior from fascists like these jazz “artists.”

  • chris says:

    It’s a shame to see people give up on reason and persuasion and revert to cancelling through cacophony. And it’s a shame to see Open Culture amplify this approach – not very “open” if you ask me.

  • Harmon Dow says:

    So Free Jazz Against Paludan will decide what is allowed to be heard.

    Got it.

  • Des says:

    Fascists should receive no tolerance or limitless free speech. This is recognised as The Paradox of Tolerance. It is the paradox that unlimited tolerance can lead to the extinction of tolerance. When we extend tolerance to those who are openly intolerant, the tolerant end up being destroyed, and tolerance with them. Any movement that preaches intolerance and persecution must therefore be outside of the laws of tolerance. Defending tolerance and free speech requires not tolerating the intolerant.

  • chris says:

    I’m very curious on how letting a few kooks say kooky thing is going to lead to an extinction of tolerance. I’m also curious on who gets to make this judgement on what might lead to an extinction of tolerance. What are the criteria? Also, is it not fascist to silence people you disagree with?

    Sounds like a pretty easy why to rationalize silencing people you disagree with.

  • Ray Collins says:

    Exactly, Chris. These people who claim they’re “not tolerating the intolerant” are circle-arguers. AND they are the ones (naturally!) who magically have the secret knowledge of what “intolerant” persons are. Do we have proof of their genius? What test did they take to anoint themselves as final arbiters of “intolerance”? And funny how the Venn Diagrams of these people match so closely with those who are totally intolerant of those who want to be left alone to pursue their own interests without gov’t interference. LOL

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