I've been in enough riots to know.
I've been to a bunch of riots all around Europe. I've been charged by German cops, gassed by Greek police, and kettled by London's Met. I've been chased by thugs, fascists, and communists. I also like music videos and rappers, so while I'm not uniquely qualified, I think I am qualified to review the new Kanye, Jay-Z riot video for "No Church in the Wild."
It's directed by our old mate Romain Gavras. He's the dude who made M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls" earlier this year, and as such, has made the two most talked-about clips of 2012 so far.
Anyway, this video is basically a long, fuck-off riot in an unspecified European city. Paris? Milan? Warsaw? Athens? It would be amazing if it was Athens - home of the endless bloody brawl.
It kicks off with a kid launching a Molotov at some coppers.
When these drop in real life, it's the way the fire spreads that's really insidious. It quickly creeps along all surfaces like a wave. In Athens, while we were filming Teenage Riot: Athens for our sister site VICE.com, photographer and riot-obsessive, Henry Langston took this picture of a guy who'd been unable to get out of the way.
What's even more scary than these, though, are the explosions you get from gas bombs. That's when people fill water bottles with gas and wrap firecrackers around them. The sound is fuuucking freaky, if you watch Teenage Riot: Athens, the fight scenes are peppered with that noise. Anyway…
Throughout the video, classical sculptures look down at the violence. Perhaps this is designed to imbue contemporary protesters with a historic significance and legitimacy, but in central London, while we were making the original Teenage Riot movie about the student protests, every sculpture was defaced rather than venerated. I guess that's because when you're about 16, high on bus-stop fumes and listening to Tempa T, putting a silly hat on Churchill is lulz.
The crowd is a little more awesome than any riot crowd I've seen. Fewer crusties than Berlin and fewer old men than Athens. I guess the "coolest" rioters I ever saw were at the mental London riots last summer. After dark, when we were shooting Hackney: Systems Overload, every street corner was full of lil' brehs with masks on, looking like some kind of multicultural Black Panthers styled by Nike. Strong look.
In real life, there's gonna be a policeman filming this guy's face and he'll be dawn-raided in about 48 hours :(
This is the kind of position Henry Langston gets in to take photos. I'm usually a couple of furlongs back, freaking out.
Horses are fucking terrifying. In Berlin once we got charged by some and Barbara, from VICE Germany, had to be pulled over a fence by some crusties and into an abandoned train station so that she wouldn't be crushed. That suuucked. They also brought 'em out in London for the student protests, how no-one got brained by them galloping through us is beyond me. On a side-note, the Berlin protest was also notable for a limo taking a wrong turn and having to be escorted through hundreds of anti-capitalist rioters...awk.
Cops in Greece do this thing where they move as a unit, then open up and a guy - like this guy above - runs out and sprays concentrated tear gas all over everyone. Tear gas is fucking awful. Back in Athens, me and Elektra Kotsoni from VICE, were chased across the main square by mental communists with sticks. We got crushed against a wall with hundreds of other people and then the cops gassed us. We all went blind and were coughing up chunks. For weeks after, all our clothes were toxic.
Some anarchists told us that a Greek kid got blinded by one of these flash-bombs a few months ago.
The choke hold is pretty big in police circles.
Oh, memories. I remember when this happened on my road in Hackney.
Henry got the best pictures of that fight anyone from any media channel got. You can see them here, we had to write this blog in my flat, drinking horrible rum I got sent free because all the shops were too busy being looted to sell beer.
These fences actually act as a magnet for trouble. All the cops stand on one side and all the rioters shake it from the other. Eventually it opens and everyone gets their heads smashed.
Never seen an axe. That would make me fucking shit myself. [UPDATE: Henry just told me he saw an axe in Camden during the summer riots. He confirms that he shat himself.]
Back in the summer, I remember getting a call from Henry who had gone to photo riots in Camden at about midnight, saying that the car he was in had been charged and that they'd had to speed through the crowd of mad kids. I guess they wanted to do this.
This is pretty badass.
In any fight like this I've seen, it happens in waves. Individuals charge forwards, then back off, the police run in unison, then back off. Only occasionally do you get a real crush of cops versus plebs - like when the students tried to break into King Charles Street and the police told them to sod off (using truncheons).
The police in this video have a strange mix of equipment and defensive apparel. It's a mixture of the most badass and aesthetically authoritarian equipment: American tear gas launchers, green Greek/Chilean riot overalls, ballistic SWAT shields mixed with British tall shields, Greek separation fences and German water cannons.
The rioters top all that though, because they have a fucking elephant.
I guess, since Romain is Greek, the video was probably inspired by the Greek protests, but his old Justice video for "Stress" suggests he's also spent enough time in France to have been inspired by the Parisian banlieue violence of 2005. I think this is a great video. A wise old feminist who's name escapes me once said something like: "The job of the artist is to make revolution seem like the attractive option." This certainly does that.