Pilfers photo by Bryan Kremkau, Skapunkphotos.com, used with permission
The song “Next Generation” first appeared on the 1998 self-titled self-released Pilfers album, listed simply as “Generation.” The chorus is a call to action: “Time to awake, get up and fight, fight for mankind, life for the cause.” The first verse recounts humanity’s attacks on itself. Verse two reminds us of our rights and responsibilities while holding us accountable for that which happens around us:
But if you turn a blind eye, You’re just as guilty as the culprits.
The innocent are sure to die, so rise up against injustice.
17 years later, the band produces a music video for the song. The video juxtaposes footage of America during segregation with footage from recent Black Lives Matter protests; it contains footage of the 1991 beating of Rodney King as well as the 2014 murder of Eric Garner. It’s both powerful and heartbreaking. This was the first time I’d really paid attention to the lyrics of the song, guilty as usual of blindly singing along with the chorus until now.
In the wake of rallies and protests both locally and across the country, I was happy to hear an artist speak out against racism and police brutality in the wake of no indictment grand jury decisions in the Brown and Garner murders. The ska scene has always preached unity (from Desmond Dekker to Operation Ivy) and gave birth to the Ska Against Racism tour, an attempt in the 90s to return to the political roots of the two-tone era. Where are the voices now? I was grateful and inspired to see local punk/ska band Stray Bullets post an article on their Facebook page decrying police brutality and they continue to defend their position as commenters argued with them. Boston punk band Trophy Lungs both spoke out and organized a compilation to benefit Black Lives Matter. When Pilfers posted this video, I was once again moved.
I reached out to Pilfers vocalist Coolie Ranx to ask him what prompted the video. He said he was so moved by what he was seeing on TV, “The massive movement of all Color shades of America coming together to protest.” It occurred to him that this was reflected in one of his songs. He continued about the state of affairs in this country:
Coolie Ranx: I have prayed for some real change to happen in this great country that we live in. It has all the markings of paradise, but within the system there are some serious flaws; old cogs that haven’t been oiled in years or even inspected that now need to be swapped out cause they aren’t functioning properly.
Jacob Wake Up: Why did you choose to pair the footage with “Next Generation?”
CR: I thought it necessary for us (the ska, punk, and hardcore scene) to show our solidarity and our outrage for human lives not being valued. “Next Generation” was the perfect song of the times that conveyed it. Let me shout-out Mark Parris of Cine Enigma who put the footage together!
JWU: Why do you think so few artists have spoken out against police brutality or systemic racism? (or, if you have noticed others who have, can you point them out and speak to that?)
CR: Well, I know there are bands out there that do care and have said something. I can’t say I know of them but perhaps after the interview we can see if more of them come out and say something. Foundation bands have always spoken out against injustice always. I come from that school, that everyday is not a party. I’m not hating but I know there is a time a place for everything.
I honestly don’t think these matters make it to the radar of some acts. It’s not popular or it’s not something to further their goals of being famous or making money. There are so many distractions, and there is repeated coverage over the years depicting anyone that comes face-to-face with, or anyone that has conflict with law enforcement, as automatically demonized and criminalized so we can become desensitized even to murder caught on video.
Coolie Ranx photo by Bryan Kremkau, Skapunkphotos.com, used with permission
JWU: What do you think the role of musicians and artists is in social movements and social reform?
CR: In my opinion it’s our duty as an artist to effect social change and comment on it with the gift of talents we’ve been given. I come from a school that had artists, and from them I have learned my responsibility as an artist. What’s troubling to me is that we have far to many acts and not enough artists. Balance would be nice. Be vocal! “Stay Vocal” Shout-out Alex Eaves.
JWU:Was there any disagreement within the band about how to react?
CR: We Pilfers are pretty much on the same page when it comes to the basic human rights. Even if our politics play out differently, we are united with the value of life and injustice on a whole.
To be honest I just went ahead and did it without consulting anyone. I’m pretty sure my band supports me as we wouldn’t have written and recorded the song over 18 years ago. Oh gosh has it been that long…
JWU: Anything else you’d like to mention about the video, about the movement, or about anything else on your mind you wish I’d asked about?
CR: I don’t think we in the ska scene should forget the reasons why and how the ska scene came about in the first place. It was events like these that we see widespread across the country and across the world that shaped the Two Tone movement.
I believe we all have prejudice I think it’s absurd to think otherwise. We’ve been taught it in life and handed down by parents, from personal experiences and the media alike. Having said that, what I see is rebellion and resistance against that which we’ve been programmed to believe as true and no longer makes sense. Especially when you see all those videos of every shade color of Americans getting the shit kicked out of them or being killed by the hands of some adrenaline junky. Then getting off with no punishment. People are saying enough is enough!
I have to say I am extremely pleased by the movement and those who have taken part in it across the nation. To see my dream visualized and realized in the “Next Generation” song and video tells you of the power of the word. I also want to add no one wants to see cops killed or murdered like what we saw in NY. We want change, but not people going to war in the streets. We want respect for all!
Well said. May the next generation learn from our mistakes and fix what we did not.
I thank Coolie Ranx for his willingness to share his thoughts with us and for using his art as a platform for change. Fans will be excited to learn that Pilfers have returned to the studio to record a new album to be released this year. The band’s next gig is an album release party on March 14 at The Wick in Brooklyn. The date is also an opportunity to celebrate Coolie’s birthday! This record will be their first full release since 1999’s Chawalaleng and the 2012 single “Easy Man.” Pilfers last appeared in Boston in January 2013. Let’s hope there’s a tour in support of this new record! Pilfers’ self-titled record can be streamed and bought digitally from Underground Communique records and on vinyl from Asbestos Records.
Coolie also told us he’ll be releasing a solo full length record due out later this year. For this record, he collaborated with “Computer” Paul Henton who’s worked with everyone from Jimmy Cliff to Shabba Ranks.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
All photos are used with permission courtesy of Bryan Kremkau, Skapunkphotos.com. Watch a Pilfers soundcheck as part of his Before The Concert series.