“It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime,” Zack de la Rocha famously sang on Rage Against The Machine’s incendiary 1999 single Guerrilla Radio, and for the Los Angeles firebrands, that ‘somewhere’ was the campus of California State University in Northridge and the ‘sometime’ was October 23, 1991, the date of the quartet’s first ever public performance.
For context, the band’s self-titled 12-track demo tape wasn’t released until December 1991 (with their game-changing debut album emerging some 11 months later), and so box-fresh are the Californian band here, that their signature anthem Killing In The Name, performed as the opening track of their 52 minute set, doesn’t even have lyrics yet. That’s right, Zack de la Rocha had yet to scream, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!’ at the world at large, if you can imagine such a thing…
The hero of the hour here, the four men on stage notwithstanding, is the chap in the purple shirt who careers into view approximately 19 minutes and 30 seconds into this priceless footage, following the band’s ferocious debut of Bullet In The Head. While most of the uni students adopt a studied ‘too cool for school’ indifference to seeing one of the greatest bands of the decade throwing down right in front of their eyes on the college quadrant, this chap hurls himself wholeheartedly into the action, even pulling off a few rudimentary breakdance moves in his one man mosh pit as Zack de la Rocha works himself into a righteous frenzy. Sir, whoever you are, and wherever you might be now, we salute you.
Rage officially released the footage of their first ever public performance in November 2012 on Rage Against The Machine XX, the 20th anniversary deluxe box set edition of the album.
In his new book, Tom Morello: Whatever It Takes, due for publication on October 27, RATM’s guitarist reveals that the band actually played a house party in California before venturing to Northridge for this first public show.
“The first time we ever played a show was at a house party in Huntington Beach,” he notes. “Someone’s parents were out of town and the first song we ever played was Take the Power Back. We were all amped up and playing at twice the speed and when the beat dropped, there was this huge swirling pit happening in the living room and people were destroying armoires and whatnot.”
“We were off to the races,” he continued. “I remember practicing in a garage in Irvine back then and let me say, the Irvine P.D. may not have a lot to tend to in a city like Irvine, but the first time they heard a high-hat, they responded in about 45 seconds. Well-armed and ready to shutdown that high-hat.”