Aug 2017 11

By Blogbot

Cory Doctorow reads an excerpt from his “optimistic disaster novel” Walkaway at the Buena Vista Branch Library in Burbank, CA on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

For more on Cory and Walkaway, read our interview here.


May 2017 19

by Nicole Powers

The action in Cory Doctorow’s new novel, Walkaway, takes place in — and outside of — a dystopian society where the resistance, instead of fighting to change it, have decided to walk away from it. Plagued by inequality gone wild and the ravages of climate change, the “default” society is divided into the elite “zotta” have-everything class and the proletariat for whom — in an extreme gig economy — even an honest day’s work is a luxury.

With no hope of even getting on the first rung of success’s ladder, leaving default to occupy abandoned spaces outside of the fortified cities and create a new society based on community-forward ideals is not only the ultimate act of defiance for the disaffected, it just makes plain sense for those who see through the shared fiction that currency is the preeminent measure of value. Thus the ever-morphing domain of the walkaways attracts some of the brightest young minds who, in a post-scarcity world, can 3D print almost everything they need using discarded recyclables as raw material.

The success of the walkaway encampments challenges the capitalist foundations of default, and the resulting brain-drain brings about an even greater threat to the zottas’ position as society’s self-appointed gods. As drone-delivered bombs explode above them, the geniuses of the subterranean Walkaway U unlock the key to humanity’s Holy Grail: immortality. Having always assumed their wealth would entitle them — and them alone — to eternal life, the threat to the elites’ institutionalized deification leads to a very uncivil war. But when the path to immortality is open source — allowing anyone who cares to get their brain scanned a chance of life after meat-death — bullets and bombs can’t kill a beyond-material world whose time has come.

I caught up with bestselling sci-fi author, activist, and BoingBoing co-editor, Doctorow by phone to discuss some of Walkaway’s themes and ideas, which serve both as cautionary parables and inspiration for dealing with many of the online and meat-space existential crises we face today.

“What about walkaways?” Hubert, Etc said. “Seems to me that they’re doing something that makes a difference. No money, no pretending money matters, and they’re doing it right now.”

Nicole Powers: We both walked away from London. I left because of the poll tax and I know you left more recently because of the Tories. Obviously, the concept of Walkaway very much mirrors what you’ve done in your own life. How much were you thinking about that as you were writing the book?

Cory Doctorow: I don’t remember the exact timing, but I was either mostly done or done with Walkaway when we left London. So it wasn’t exactly that the one inspired the other very much. I think that the thing that I was mostly inspired by… well, a couple of things. One was the idea that if Atlas Shrugged and the one percenters decide they can secede from the human race, the human race might shrug back. They might say, good riddance, don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out. The thing that I hope I got at here is that, if civilization decides that you are irrelevant, that you have nothing to contribute economically, that maybe with technology and the ability to find other people who feel the same way you do, you can just decide not to petition civilization for the right to exist, but rather to strike out on your own and stake out your own place.

Maybe I was inspired by the success of Occupy in that regard. I was, more than anything, just totally amazed that Occupy lasted as long and worked as well as it did. I know that it’s fashionable now to look back on it and say, well, wasn’t that a giant waste everyone’s time. But if there’s one thing Occupy showed us, it’s that people were able to assert their right to these spaces — literally, physically, parts of their cities. And that they could assert it and they could hold it in a way, that in our very private property-centric world, it’s hard to imagine could have happened. Like, St. Paul’s Cathedral — how was it that it lasted as long as it did? That’s an amazing thing and I think that there are people who will have been radicalized by that. People who, in retrospect, will think back on that and go, you know, if that worked, what can we do next?

The walkaway net had high-speed zones, and this had been one of them, but the major hard-line links had been destroyed in the blaze and they’d dropped back to stupid meshing wireless and there was only so much electromagnetic spectrum in the universe.

NP: Walkaway very much exists in a post-net neutrality world. They’ve worked away from the World Wide Web to an extent and created their own mesh net. You talk about the mesh net a lot, and the way it’s supported via drones and blimps. I know a lot of geeks are already working on mesh nets. Do you think, given the threats to the web that we’re seeing, it’s time for activists to invest in a mesh outside of the World Wide Web?

CD: I don’t think that it needs to be outside of the World Wide Web, or even outside of the telecom companies. I think it needs to interpret them as damage and route around them. Actually, someone asked me the other day whether or not we’re going to have multiple internets. It was a similar version to this question. Are we going to have more than one internet? Are we going to separate off? Are we going to balkanize out into multiple internets?

There’s this technical element of it that works against that, where the internet is really good at tunneling protocols through each other. People who attempt to separate one network from another using things like packet filtering but leaving them electrically connected so that there’s a way for one to talk to the other one — they tend to be very surprised by how easy it is and how thoroughly they end up being reconnected. There are lots of people who try very hard to air gap networks and to build networks that are electrically separated —sometimes for very good reasons — in order to preserve data integrity, to stop randos from hacking into the MRI machine and crashing.

Inevitably — and I got this from Genevieve Bell who is an anthropologist at Intel who did a study of this — she said that inevitably those networks are cross-connected. The value of cross-connecting two networks is so high that no matter how risky it is to connect one network to another, people always end up doing it. Whether that’s the spy network that is supposed to be totally air-gapped because it’s where all your cyber weapons are, or the finance network, or the hospital network — all of those sensitive networks inevitably get reconnected to the internet by someone. You just literally walk the perimeter and you find that someone has taken a patch cable to the two patch panels in the wiring closet and cross-connected one to the other. Or they’ve brought in a DSL modem. Or they’ve brought in a USB dongle connected to a hot spot. Or something. Those networks always end up reconnected. I think that it’s probably a fool’s errant to say, well we’re going to disconnect our web from their web. I think it’s better to say, we are going to build a web that subsumes their web.

NP: In the UK, police are getting new powers to remotely disable phones, and it seems at the point where your government can switch off your phone, or spy on it, then you need a failsafe you can flip to.

CD: Yeah. I think that this is a place where our abstractions collide with reality. Because there isn’t a way to give governments the power to switch your phone off. There’s only a way to give governments the power to reconfigure a phone to do all of the things or not do any of the things that phones can do. Once you give a government the power to reach in and run code on your phone that turns it off, that you don’t want run, you’re also giving them the power to run other arbitrary code on your phone. And not just the government, but anyone who successfully impersonates the government to your phone…

Even much more benign versions of this, like the California law that says that carriers need to be able to brick a phone if it’s reported stolen in order to reduce phone theft. That’s, I think, passed with the best of intentions, but there is no such thing as something that just allows carriers to brick phones. What that is, is it’s a way to brick phones that anyone who knows the secret can use against any phone that they want. And if we haven’t seen that exploited in the wild yet, we should expect it to be exploited in the wild soon.

“Science may be resistant to power, but it’s not immune. It’s a race: either the walkaways release immortality to the world, or the zottas install themselves as permanent god-emperors.”

NP: I watched your New York Public Library Q&A with Edward Snowden two days ago. You both spoke about immorality being used as a MacGuffin in the book. However, I read an article recently about a surgeon that successfully transplanted a head on to a rat. That same surgeon says he’s going to do that on a human within the year. Then you have Mark Zuckerberg working on his mind-reading project. We’re already heading in the direction that you describe in the book. And, if that comes to pass, there’s going to be this horrific situation where — if it’s left in the hands of the elite — the one percenters are going to get to decide who donates their body and whose brains get to live on.

CD: Ha,ha!

NP: Is this really a MacGuffin or is the idea that it’s a MacGuffin wishful thinking on your part given what’s actually going on in the real world?

CD: No, I seriously think it’s a MacGuffin. Just because Zuck thinks that he knows about neuroscience doesn’t mean that he knows about neuroscience. Dunning-Kruger is alive and well. The reason that con artists targeted successful, intelligent people is they always overestimated their ability to spot a con in domains other than the one that they knew something about. You find a stock broker and you would hook them with a horse race con because stock brokers would assume that understanding a stock market very well also made them really good at understanding horse races — and they were horribly wrong and got taken for every penny. So I wouldn’t say that Zuck’s enthusiasm is any indication of anything except his hubris.

In terms of the transplantation of a rat head, we can’t interrogate the rat to know whether or not that was a successful operation, right? We have only external factors to evaluate the quality of the experimental outcome. It may be that, if you could talk to the rat, you’d find out that the head transplant was not nearly so successful as we thought… So in my view, anyway, it’s a very metaphorical thing.

Where it does touch with reality is in what James Hughes calls ‘transhumanism.’ He wrote a very good book about this called Citizen Cyborg that’s more generally about the ways that technologies give us longer lives of higher quality, and how the uneven distribution of technology in that domain — where that inequality is a function of economic inequality — that it magnifies economic inequality very, very terribly.

Jim, in particular, is worried and interested about the way that maybe we might alter our germplasm, which does seem to me to be well within reach. I mean, we have parts of our genome that at least there’s burgeoning consensus if they’re expressed in certain ways, they probably only do bad things and not good things. And we can, in theory, eliminate those parts of our genome from fertilized zygotes, at least in vitro. So it may be that there are people who are wealthy enough to have IVF and to have CRISPR surgery on the IVF before implantation whose germplasm is permanently altered to remove things that are potentially very harmful. That to me feels like something that it is a little bit like speciation. So if there’s a thing in Walkaway that resonates with you, the place where I would say you should be taking that resonance and trying to apply it to the real-world is not in the hypothetical life extension technologies, but in very non-hypothetical and very real stuff that we’re doing right now.

NP: I see it in the vote that was taken yesterday in which the House passed the American Healthcare Act. That’s very much saying, these people have a right to live because they have money, and these people don’t because they don’t.

CD: Yeah. I think that’s absolutely right.

“Of course I’m talking about economists! I think you have to be a mathematician to appreciate how full of shit economists are, how astrological their equations are. No offense to your egalitarian soul, but you lack the training to understand how deeply bogus those neat equations are.”

NP: Continuing on with the theme of the delusions of grand people, like Zuckerberg… I loved the line in your book where you talk about how economics is the astrology of math, and how it’s often just used to justify terrible things. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

CD: This is actually a thing that mainstream economists have observed and that Thomas Piketty delves into at some length in Capital in the Twenty-First Century. That economics exists in a marketplace in which the fitness factor that gets you funded, and gets you pricey consultation gigs and makes your life very good, is not being accurate but saying things that make rich people happy — because they give politicians reasons to make rich people richer.

NP: The fallacy of trickle-down economics, etc.

CD: Right. I mean, basically, governments that do things that benefit the donor class at the expense of everyone else need to be able to explain why they shouldn’t be sent to the guillotines. And the way that they explain it is by having very articulate and respected economists describe why it’s better for you and me that our interests are not being served by the government.

NP: I just love that you even float that idea… because economics is considered a hallowed science by so many.

CD: I’ve written more than one book about heterodox economics. I wrote For The Win and it got a very good write-up in The Financial Times. I hope that this will also get thought well of in those circles. I think that the idea that laissez-faire market orthodoxy is overly simplistic, doesn’t accord with realities, is observed and so on. It is actually a pretty mainstream idea within economics — it’s just not a mainstream idea within the economists who are incredibly well paid.

One of the B&B’s game-changing tools was “lovedaresnot” … The core idea was that radical or difficult ideas were held back by the thought that no one else had them. That fear of isolation led people to stay “in the closet” about their ideas, making them the “love that dares not speak its name.” So lovedaresnot (shortened to “Dare Snot”) gave you a way to find out if anyone else felt the same, without forcing you to out yourself.

Anyone could put a question — a Snot Dare — up, like “Do you think we should turf that sexist asshole?” People who secretly agreed signed the question with a one-time key that they didn’t have to reveal unless a pre-specified number of votes were on the record. Then the system broadcast a message telling signers to come back with their signing keys and de-anonymize themselves, escrowing the results until a critical mass of signers had de-cloaked. Quick as you could say “I am Spartacus,” a consensus plopped out of the system.

NP: You have a wonderful description of a post-Occupy form of consensus, which is very appealing to me. Politics and the media can often combine to produce a society where the vocal minority rule. I think that’s very much what we saw in the last election cycle, where there was a silent majority that was scared to voice opinions. As a woman, this can be especially frustrating when making an argument in mixed company where there’s always going to be people that are able to shout louder. So I liked the concept of lovedaresnot. Can you explain a little about that idea and where it came from?

CD: It’s one of the many ways in which we use networks to break the collective action problem, which is one of the great old problems of our species — figuring out how to work together when we need a lot of people together to make something happen. And when having any less than the threshold for action means that everyone ends up wasting their time or worse. It can be very, very hard to organize those. It’s actually a thing laissez-faire economists spend a lot of time worrying about. They worry about free riders because that’s the situation in which free-riding is really dangerous; it can convince all of the people, who might otherwise pitch in and help reach the threshold, to just not bother.

In some ways, it’s an extension of what we’ve seen happen with Kickstarter and crowdfunding projects which are all about trying to figure out how to overcome these deadlocks… Bruce Schneier originally proposed something called the Street Performer Protocol, which draws its inspiration from the practices of some street performers of doing an act for free. They might play a bunch of songs or they might be a juggler and they’ll do a bunch of juggling, then, when they get to the end of the act, they say, all right, I have a finale, and you’ve seen what I have on offer, so the finale is going to be amazing. They’ll talk it up and they’ll say, I’ll do the finale once there’s $50 in my hat. I don’t care who puts the $50 in the hat, and I don’t care who watches afterwards, but until there’s $50 in the hat, the show does not go on. You sometimes get this with NPR fundraisers too, we don’t do anything until there’s X dollars.

The Street Performer Protocol, historically when people have tried to make it into a web thing for say a musician to put out a new album, the way that it’s worked is you have some escrow authority, a third-party, a platform who takes all the money for the musician and holds on to it, and when the musician delivers the album, then they get the money. That way, they don’t just do a runner with it. The thing that Kickstarter did that was amazing was they said musicians have a hard time making albums unless they have the money in the first place. They don’t have access to credit that would allow them to make the album, deliver the album, and then collect the money from all the backers and use it to pay back the creditors who loaned them the money to keep going in the studio. If they had access to that credit, they wouldn’t need the crowdfunder… So Kickstarter was like, what if we just made a thing where sometimes people get ripped off or disappointed. They give the money to the musician, the musician goes into the studio, comes out six months later and says, you know what, I tried, no, there’s no record, sorry. If you did that, you would enable all the musicians who could produce an album but for the lack of capital to produce something — and they would be the majority… They would swamp the disappointment effect that arose from the musicians who just never came out of the studio with anything viable or just spent it all on beer or whatever. And it turned out they were right.

Now you have people trying versions of Kickstarter where they are removing one thing at a time to see what the minimum viable crowdfunder is. You have Indiegogo, where you get the money even if you don’t reach the threshold… You have GoFundMe, where you don’t have to set a threshold. It’s just an open platform. People are trying to see how much you can omit before you cease to have a viable crowdfunding platform… It’s like a game of Jenga for behavioral economics, where you see how much you can remove before it all falls over.

Daresnot, this idea that you can have a cryptographically secret place where you cast votes and, until the vote reaches the threshold, the votes are never disclosed — no one knows how it’s going, but once it reaches the threshold, then all of a sudden some action is triggered — is really just a metaphorical way of talking about these other collective action beaters and where they might go.

I’ve talked for years about something I call the Magnificent Seven Business Model. In the Magnificent Seven, you have a village that every year the bandits ride into and take all their stuff. One year they decide instead of paying the bandits, they will go and hire mercenaries to kill the bandits, because they only have to pay the mercenaries once where they have to pay the bandits every year.

In the world of patent and copyright trolling, you have things like the “Happy Birthday” people who charge you a license fee that’s less than it would cost you to fight the copyright claim for the song “Happy Birthday” — even though you’re pretty sure that if you did fight the copyright claim, you would win. Collectively, all the people paying license fees to the “Happy Birthday” copyright trolls were paying much more than it would cost to litigate the copyright, but individually they weren’t. So you could imagine a thing where you said, once 1,000 other people promise not to pay any more money to the “Happy Birthday” people, then I won’t either and we will all divert our funds to pay a lawyer to defend anyone who gets sued by the “Happy Birthday” people — once we reach that critical threshold.

That actually would probably work. It could fight a lot of trolling business models. We could fight patent trolling business models and it’d be really interesting. The more people you had who were in the pool, the more desperate the trolls would be to find new people to shore up their revenues, the more aggressive their claims would be, the more people would find the pool and join it, and eventually they’d drive themselves out of business. The harder they push, the harder the pushback would be.

NP: That sounds like a business model and a platform that needs to happen.

CD: If I were a class action lawyer with a little extra money looking to create a platform, I would make that platform as a way of drumming up business. Because the other thing that it does is once you invalidate the copyright, then you get a class action to sue them for falsely asserting it.

The people who use this place decided they would rather be robbed than surveilled. Stuff is just stuff, but being recorded all the time is creepy. As for lockers, you’re free to put some in, but I don’t think they’d last. Once you’ve got lockers, you’re implicitly saying that anything that’s not in a locker is ‘unprotected’—”

“Which it was,” Etcetera pointed out.

“Yeah,” she said. “That’s a perfectly valid point. But you won’t win the argument with it.”

NP: You and Snowden talked about a full-Orwell future, which we’re very much hurtling towards… What I love with your novels is that you’re actually creating a demand elasticity for crypto and privacy rights to fight that. People come to your novels because they’re great stories, but leave with a greater understanding of the need for crypto and privacy.

CD: At the very least, I hope I’m helping people think through some of the more abstract elements of why this stuff matters. A lot of public health problems involve very abstract harms that are a long time in the future. This is one of the problems of climate change, understanding climate change and really viscerally feeling the risks associated with it. It’s a difficult enterprise because climate change is a long way off and the explanation for it, and the specifics of it, are extremely technical. That’s been one of the problems we’ve had in doing something about climate change. And climate oriented science fiction, like the stuff Kim Stanley Robinson is writing, that does yeoman service because it helps us understand, in a very visceral way, what’s going on with climate change and what the problems are. It helps us live through it in advance. That is definitely one of the things fiction can do.

One of the most gratifying things in my life these years is that I frequently meet adults who read Little Brother as kids, and they have gone into computer science, information security, entrepreneurship, and public policy as a result. They are like my botnet, right? They are people whose practice in this technical trade that’s very important, and that is really dominated by money, and they bring into their practice non-financial considerations about ethics. And that’s really important.

Engineering and ethics have always had an important relationship to one another. Where engineering and ethics have become too far divorced, we’ve had really ghastly things. Engineers made every weapon of mass destruction. Engineers made all of the great killing machines. Engineers provided the data processing that allowed every modern genocidal system to run. So engineering ethics often arises as a reaction to these awful outcomes where we create situations where engineers look at themselves in the mirror and realize that their profession, which they got into for the technical challenges or to make the world a better place, has become an existential threat to the species. That it has become a way to allow people to magnify their worse impulses to the great detriment of many, many, many millions of people — sometimes with mass graves to boot. So getting people involved and inspired to think about the ethical dimension of technology, and then to do something about it, is a very gratifying thing indeed.

“What’s a ‘covered dish’ person?”

“Oh. If there’s a disaster, do you go over to your neighbor’s house with: a) a covered dish or b) a shotgun? It’s game theory. If you believe your neighbor is coming over with a shotgun, you’d be an idiot to pick a); if she believes the same thing about you, you can bet she’s not going to choose a) either. The way to get to a) is to do a) even if you think your neighbor will pick b). Sometimes she’ll point her gun at you and tell you to get off her land, but if she was only holding the gun because she thought you’d have one, then she’ll put on the safety and you can have a potluck.”

NP: A lot of the systems that governments have in place depend on a government seeing the population as an adversarial force. In Walkaway, you introduced this idea of ‘covered dish people.’ We’ve seen in real life that when disasters happen — be it 9/11 or a hurricane — that the vast majority of people are covered dish people. Yet, we’re still functioning with a government that doesn’t even believe that the covered dish mentality can exist. How do we change the way we fundamentally run things so that we’re actually running things for the benefit of the 99% covered dish people, rather than the 1% that would shoot you for a casserole?

CD: This is a collective action problem again. I think that what kind of person you are is partly temperamental. There’s some people who think more about an alliance to a wider polity, and some people who are more inclined to think about their allegiance to the people around them and to draw the border much closer to home. But, with few exceptions, I don’t think anyone is born an absolute. I think what happens is that our social system causes one or the other to emerge from us in the same way that our personal circumstances cause either our resilient, understanding self or our temper-prone, angry self to rise to the surface. You know that when you’re tired and grumpy, and maybe you had a glass of wine, you’re more likely to snap than when you are well rested and happy, then you can roll with the punches.

I think that we have built a system that encourages people to be tired and grumpy, to let their worst selves come to the fore. Building a system where your best self can come to the fore involves, in part, figuring out how to overcome the people who benefit from this worst system. This market doctrine system where the very rich have everything accrued to them and where the economists that they pay to give them intellectual cover explain that being greedy is the best way to organize a society.

Figuring out how to break that deadlock is going to involve doing things like small money fundraising and political activism of the sort that we’ve seen actually since the Trump election. You know, the collapse of the first round of the Obamacare repeal, and whatever is going to happen as a result of this one, that’s an example of exactly how people who don’t have the same amount of money but who have the support from networks and the ability to organize themselves to work collectively can outmaneuver these big top-down, very wealthy systems of power.

Walkaway is available now via Tor Publishing. For more on Cory Doctorow visit

Related Posts
SG Interview: Cory Doctorow — Homeland
SG Interview: Cory Doctorow — Homeland Part 2
Excerpt From Rapture of The Nerds
SG Interview: Cory Doctorow — On Little And Big Brother

This interview has been edited for length and clarity, and is published here under Creative Commons License 4.0. It may be reposted freely with attribution to the author, Nicole Powers, and this notice.

May 2017 08

by Nicole Powers

For the past three years, writer, standup comic, and former SuicideGirls’ political correspondent Dave Anthony (aka SG member FearTheReaper of Asshole Fuckface Roundup fame) has been educating his friend and fellow comic Gareth Reynolds — and an increasingly large audience — on some amazing historical characters and events your teacher somehow omitted to tell you about in class. Turns out there’s a lot of epically awesome history that didn’t make the official curriculum.

Dave and Gareth’s podcast, The Dollop, was first launched in April, 2014. The premise is simple: Each episode, Dave, a strange history junkie, regales Gareth with a spectacularly stupid yet true story from America’s past, and Gareth reacts with appropriate (and inappropriate!) shock, awe, and witticisms. The Dollop formula was an instant hit, and three years on it’s been perfectly condensed into a book, The United States of Absurdity. Illustrated by James Fosdike, with a forward by Patton Oswalt, the book features 29 stories found down the back of history’s dirty, messy, and rather sticky sofa.

Some of the stuff Dave uncovers is just plain hilarious, while other inglorious passages from our past vividly illustrate how things a lot of the best minds at the time thought were top notch and the bee’s knees, were in fact — with the benefit of hindsight and a little perspective — indisputably batshit crazy. (Performing lobotomies through the eye socket with an ice pick, using electroshock therapy as an anesthetic, and “curing” a president with a fever by relieving him of 7.9 pints of blood, for example.) And there’s the rub. The Dollop isn’t just enlightening in terms of mood and history, it also subtly edifies us on the fact that many of today’s newsworthy episodes, with the benefit of time and distance, will similarly seem obviously and utterly insane — if we survive long enough to see them in the rear view mirror!

SuicideGirls caught up with Dave to find out more about what we’ve been missing in the 8 years since his funny-as-fuck sociopolitical musings graced our site thrice weekly. Read the full interview on

The United States of Absurdity will be available where all good books are sold on May 09, 2017. You can find The Dollop on iTunes, Podbean, Podbay, Soundcloud, and Libsyn . If you like what you hear, please support Dave and Gareth’s hilarious history project on Patreon.

Mar 2017 07

by Nicole Powers

When French electronic composer and musician Jean-Michel Jarre first released Oxygene into the world, over 40 years ago, it was like a breath of fresh air. The album’s infectious melodies and counter melodies — though circuit based — ebbed, flowed and swelled in an elemental and organic way, creating a space-age symphony so lush and teaming with life that it almost single-handedly propelled electronic music from the experimental arena into the mainstream. Jarre was able to use this platform to launch a series of events in cities around the globe on a scale so large they broke numerous world records for attendance. More than concerts, these spectacular happenings combined state-of-the art production and performance technology with unique geographical backdrops, which served as a canvas for Jarre’s audiovisual wizardry.

Having sold over 80 million albums worldwide over his near half-century career, Jarre continues to be a vital creative force. He released a mammoth double album project, Electronica 1 and Electronica 2, on October 16, 2015 and May 6, 2016, respectively — the first installment of which was nominated for a grammy this year in the “Best Dance/Electronic Album” category. The tour de force work features collaborations with a wide range of artists that have both served as a source of inspiration to Jarre and have been inspired by him in turn. Notable names include Tangerine Dream, The Orb, Gary Numan, Laurie Anderson, Vince Clarke, Cyndi Lauper, The Pet Shop Boys, Peaches, Little Boots, Moby, Primal Scream, and Air, among others. However, one name among the 30 collaborators very much stands out from the rest, that of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden whom Jarre recorded and filmed in Russia, where the former US intelligence contractor resides in enforced exile.

Following the release of Electronica 1 and 2, to mark the 40th anniversary of Oxygene, Jarre unleashed a third installment on December 2, 2016. Oxygene 3 is Jarre’s nineteenth studio album and a worthy successor to the original work, which paid homage to our mothership — Mother Earth (Oxygene 2 having been released in 1997, 20 years after the original). Continuing his unique live legacy, and again underscoring his passion and concern for the environment, Jarre has another large-scale event planned in April on the majestic mount of Masada near The Dead Sea in Israel. Though Jarre is determined that his music, as always, will take center stage, he also hopes the concert will raise awareness for the dire ecological challenges facing the region. Jarre is then set to embark on his first ever North American tour the following month. The 9-date foray will mark his first performances in the US since Rendez-vous Houston, an event staged against the city’s skyline in association with NASA in 1986 that attracted a crowd of 1.3 million people, earning Jarre an entry in The Guinness Book of Records.

I caught up with Jarre in Los Angeles to talk about the new music, the motivation behind it, his upcoming live performances, and his intriguing meeting in Moscow with Snowden. Having been nominated for a Grammy, Jarre was in town for the preceding week of festivities. Before meeting him one-on-one for this interview at a Beverly Hills hotel, I was fortunate enough to find myself in the audience for a panel Jarre had assembled on February 9 at The Record Parlor in Hollywood to discuss his Grammy-nominated work. The event featured a jaw-dropping lineup of Electronica 1 and 2 collaborators — Hans Zimmer, Gary Numan, Moby, Little Boots, and Julia Holter — and was moderated by DJ and musicologist Nic Harcourt.

Nicole Powers: It was such an honor to see the panel you had assembled the other night at The Record Parlor.

Jean-Michel Jarre: Yeah, it was really nice. Frankly, I don’t know who got this idea, but I said it would never happen because all these artists are so busy — and then everybody came along. It made me think about how this whole project came along. I wanted to gather around me for this Electronica project people who were a source of inspiration to me. I had no idea that all these artists would be interested. Everybody said yes. I ended up with 30 collaborators. It took me five years to do this project… I divided this album into two parts… because it was too long…

NP: I wanted to pick up from where the discussion left off the other night. Right at the end, you spoke about how you admired how Moby uses his platform for activism. You also spoke about how Oxygene was inspired by your thoughts on the environment. And you spoke about your mother [France Pejot], and how, even though most people associate you with your father [film composer Maurice Jarre], you’ve been very inspired by your mother’s activism… What words of advice and inspiration did she give you? What seeped in as you were growing up?

JMJ: If she was here, listening to us at the moment, she would say I was not an activist necessarily. She was not looking at herself like this… An activist is actually somebody who is following his or her convictions, socially and politically in the Greek sense of the word… You are living in the community and within this community you must try to find the most balanced way of living together and respecting justice and equality and freedom. It starts with very basic feelings, basic ideas. It’s what my mom was. She went into the French Resistance just because she couldn’t accept that… suddenly you were occupied by people who, on top of being just your enemy, waging a war, where carrying ideals which were absolutely a monstrosity — the Nazis.

I’ve been raised with this woman being very tolerant, lots of humor, very funny. She didn’t consider herself a heroine. But she’s been a real heroine. She was caught three times by the Nazis. She escaped three times — even the last time when she went into a concentration camp. The last time, it was obviously the toughest one because the Germans were losing… When they were retreating the German army took prisoners more or less like hostages through Germany, trying to escape from the allied forces. She escaped then, at that moment, into a forest like you see in a movie, going back from Berlin to Paris on the top of a train where if you fell asleep you would have your head chopped off by the tunnels. She had to do this for 1,500 kilometers…

Because my parents split up when I was 5 years old, unfortunately, I missed out on my relationship with my father. My father went to Hollywood and I grew up in Europe. I hardly saw him all of my life. We never had conflicts… It’s probably better to have an open conflict with your dad than nothing, because actually you have somebody to rebel against. The black hole or the absence is the most difficult thing, in my opinion, to cope with as a human being. We never even succeeded in talking about music during his lifetime. My mom played both roles, but she wasn’t too intrusive like a mom can be with a son when the father is not around. She’s been really an extraordinary woman. She gave me, I think, the right values that I try to transmit to my own children.

NP: The groundbreaking album that brought you to worldwide prominence, Oxygene, was inspired by your thoughts on the environment… You’ve recently released a third installment. It’s probably more important than ever that people have an awareness for, and an understanding of, the custodianship of the environment. What were you trying to say with the first album all those years ago, and what are you trying to say now with the third?

JMJ: Actually, I always considered, and still now more than ever, that our role as artists is not to transform our stage into a political platform. To say, save the Amazon, save the penguins, save the whales — I always feel a bit uncomfortable with this. But, through our music, through our lyrics, through our art forms, sharing convictions is something that has always been important to me. This is the reason why I think that Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize is absolutely relevant, because it’s a very good example of somebody protesting… He invented the protest songs concept in folk music, but he was doing this through his art, through his lyrics, through his songs. I think this is very important.

For Oxygene, it was the same thing. I had this idea that, for me, electronic music was linked with the outdoors and space. Not necessarily outer-space. Lots of people link my music to science fiction and outer-space, which is fine, but when I did it I remember that I was more interested in thinking about landscapes, the vital space around us, the environment, rather than outer-space. Also, I always considered, electronic music should be performed outdoors. It’s the reason why I did lots of concerts outdoors, which I’m continuing to do. Also, it was very [much a precursor] to rave, to all these outdoor festivals these days — it’s linked almost with the DNA of electronic music.

To the question of environment, when I started Oxygene, at the time it was created, nobody was interested in the environment. We were considered neo-hippies and dreamers. It’s extraordinary to see that 30, 40 years later, in every political program from extreme left to extreme right, everybody is conscious about the environment — so we won in a sense.

The idea with Oxygene was to, through the music, through the graphics, through the cover, express this idea of a link with the environment. The fact that music is like oxygen and we have to take care of our environment — as we have to take care of music. I would say that — and this is another conversation — today I think intellectual property, the fact that we need to respect the value of music, is exactly the same thing as 40 years ago when we said we have to respect the environment. It’s exactly the same thing.

And talking about activism, I’m President of CISAC, which is a huge international confederation for authors and creators. For people like you and me, and all creators — photographers, filmmakers, writers, musicians, and of course, authors… It’s not a niche, this problem. In every family — I’m not talking about our generation but for the future — you have kids dreaming of becoming a photographer, a writer, a filmmaker, a musician, and he or she will probably have to abandon his or her dream because of the fact that they couldn’t make a decent living with that.

NP: Right. Everyone wants everything for free, whether you’re a photographer, writer, or musician.

JMJ: Exactly… The value of authors and creation is in danger, exactly like the Amazonian Forest. It’s exactly the same thing. That was my point.

NP: With the Electronica albums, it’s lovely to hear you taking ownership of a genre that you had a huge part in creating. One of the tracks that obviously sticks out from all the others, and this goes back to activism, isn’t a collaboration with musician or a singer, but he’s an incredibly important human being, Edward Snowden… How did the Snowden collaboration come about?

JMJ: One of the recurring themes of Electronica is this idea of this ambiguous relationship we have towards technology. On one side, we have the world in our pocket through our smart phones. On the other side, we know that we are spied on… The whole project revolves around that. The song that we did with Laurie Anderson is about this idea that lots of people are touching their smart phone more than their own partner… With Cyndi Lauper, we touched on this idea of love in the time of Tinder. And with Massive Attack, with this track called “Watching You” on the first one, it’s all about the CCTV cameras.

While I was doing this I first heard, like everybody else, about Edward Snowden. He reminded me about my mom with the idea that, again, when a country is generating ideas and actions that may harm your community, some of us have to stand up against this and try to resist. Not to harm the country, the reverse, it’s to improve your country… Snowden is a modern hero to me because he did that, he risked his life just to improve his country.

Some people in this country have the tendency to forget that this country has been founded on an act of resistance, which was considered an act of treason by the King. And every social progress in life — the abolition of slavery, abolition of prohibition, the right of votes for women, for minorities — it’s always been done against the law, against the power of that time. And what Edward Snowden is doing is actually that. He’s pointing out something that’s very dangerous for privacy and for our own identity. That’s the reason why I said he has a role in this project. I had no idea if he would accept, but then I went through The Guardian and contacted him through his lawyer, Ben Wizner…

We had our first contact in my studio through a video screen… Suddenly, boom, one moment Edward appeared. I must say that I met a fantastic young man. Lots of humor. A very honest guy. A strong guy with lots of integrity, in love with his country. I explained my project to him. He’s a big fan of electronic music. He said, yes, I would be honored to do it, but I’m an engineer… We decided that I should go to Moscow to meet with him and then I went there.

It was like a spy movie a little bit because it was quite difficult to organize everything. We spent three or four hours together where I recorded him and filmed him… We decided what this track should actually convey… What the track should be… We decided exactly the pace and the concept. We chose the title of the track — “Exit” — together… We said it should be quite a speedy techno track symbolizing this mad quest for big data that everybody has and also this mad hunt that the three biggest, most important organizations in the world — NSA, CIA and FBI — are driving against one single individual young man.

I recorded him and filmed him. His role in the track is actually, there’s a long breakdown in the middle of it where he just speaks. We took just three or four sentences on the reason why he did what he did… Why film him? Because during every concert during this tour, he is there. This track is one of the big moments of the concert — absolutely! His face, the talking head’s very strong in the middle of this crazy track, which is very, very strong visually also. It’s a very big, very important moment.

NP: Since you recorded the track we’ve had a regime change here and there’s talk of Russia trading him in as a gift to Trump. So I love the fact that you’re going to be touring America with this Snowden piece being very much the pièce de résistance of your show. It’s a very important thing to do at a very important time, especially for Snowden with his life on the line.

JMJ: I totally agree. When I started and I got the idea, I didn’t even know that Oliver Stone was preparing his movie more or less at the same time. I considered from day one how important it was for the world, for America also. And since the new election, I think it’s even more important, as you say, very truly because it’s totally crazy what’s going on in the world… Not only in America, but same in the UK with Brexit, the same in France. Next May there’s a big risk that Marine Le Pen, the extreme right leader, could win the election. Everybody says, no, no, no, it’s not going to happen, but we said exactly the same thing about Brexit. No, no, no, it’s not going to happen. We said the exactly the same thing about the [US] election. No, no, no, it’s not going to happen — and it’s happening. What does it mean, all this? It means there is a massive rejection of a lot of people that we have to respect, we have to listen to, absolutely rejecting the political elite.

In big cities all over the Western world… for the next 30, 40 years, lots of people have been abandoned, in a sense. Democracy has not been able to solve this. We have really to invent a new political system. The political system in which we grew up — all of us — is not working anymore. We have to find something different, something else. And, in a sense, if we want to see something positive in Donald Trump’s election, it’s because he’s so crazy that everybody realized, Okay, wait a minute, whether we are American or not, we have to think seriously about the reasons why we are in this situation.

And to go back to what we were saying, obviously, it’s never been so important to do this North American tour for me involving Edward Snowden’s piece. For Edward Snowden, obviously, but beyond Edward Snowden, for all the whistleblowers. We need whistleblowers, and WikiLeaks… Even if we don’t agree about what they do, all these people are trying to help everybody to open their eyes… to the people watching us… to try to get the truth between all the information we have through the media, which is constantly twisted and deformed. I think it’s very, very important.

More than ever, we need to protect people such as Edward Snowden, because they symbolize the philosophical models for the youth… These figures, such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and some others, have to be protected and have to be promoted, their ideas. It’s very important for the American people to understand these people love America. They are fighting and they are risking their lives for their country, to improve their country.

Something incredible that Edward told me… I said, you realize you’re risking your life? He said, yes, but I’m a solider. My grandfather was a solider, my father was a solider, and I went into the CIA and the special forces because I believed and wanted to promote the values of my country. And, the more I was involved in what I was doing, the more I was concerned that I was betraying my country because I was doing exactly the reverse. So I know that I’m risking my life. I know that maybe I’ll be killed or I’ll be in jail forever. But, if it happens, somebody else behind me will do the same. And so, I have to do it. He was talking exactly like a solider. Like a hero during the war. It’s exactly the same thing.

NP: Like a member of the resistance. Like your mother.

JMJ: Exactly. That’s the reason why I’ve been so touched.

NP: You have a unique platform with the big shows that you do. I know you’ve got one coming up in Israel and another coming up in Norway with Stephen Hawking.

JMJ: Yes.

NP: Presumably, they’re going to have very different themes?

JMJ: Yes… These two are pretty different. One is close to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea, going back to environment, is a very important ecosystem — like the North Pole or the Amazonian Forest — for the balance of the planet. And the Dead Sea is losing 1.2 meters per year.

NP: Wow!

JMJ: It means that one arm of the Dead Sea between the Israeli border and the Jordanian border, in 12 years from now, you will be able to walk [across it]… It’s a very complicated situation… Lots of people in the region are using the water of the Jordan River, using the source of the Dead Sea for their own use. Because of the demographics, there are more and more people using it. Also, you have this wild exploitation of the products of the Dead Sea for anti-aging…

This project is all about attracting and improving the awareness of the problems of this region. I’ve been a UN ambassador for the environment for UNESCO for 25 years and this is also under the label of UNESCO… Obviously, before everything, this is a concert in an extraordinary place… Masada is kind of like Ayers Rock. It’s a big rock where Herod as king built his fortress and very advanced technologically 3,000 years ago. It’s a fantastic place. The whole panorama is like playing on the moon. And because it’s 900 below sea level, it’s the only place where you have 10 percent more oxygen than the rest of the planet. So playing excerpts of Oxygene over there is quite fun.

NP: The audience members are going to get 10 percent more oxygen with their Oxygene.

JMJ: Yes… Then the project Starmus in the Northern part of Norway is linked with Stephen Hawking… It’s a seminar of astrophysicists for three, four days, and they invited me to do a concert over there. It’s going to be about black holes. Apparently, I should receive the Stephen Hawking award for innovation, then we’re going to have a Q&A and do it with Stephen Hawking on stage. Then the concert will happen. It’s going to be quite surreal and quite fun. I’ve been a big, big fan of Stephen Hawking for years. I think that if I had not done music, I would’ve tried to become an astrophysicist, or an architect maybe. But I choose music and I do this because I can’t do anything else.

NP: I love that you’re doing something within the scientific realm at this time, because there’s never been such a war on knowledge, and a war on science in particular.

JMJ: Absolutely.

NP: You’ve got the Trump Administration talking about wiping EPA data off websites and stuff.

JMJ: Exactly. And, you know, this is another form of resistance, to pay tribute to research and development. To pay tribute and give a platform, through entertainment, to people who are really the future of the planet. All these intellectuals and scientists, that a lot of people such as Donald Trump and lots of others have a tendency to push to the side, to say the least.

NP: It does seem that you’re becoming a little bit more vocal about the motivations behind your music… Is that the case?

JMJ: I think that it’s important to integrate the message, the conviction within an artist’s performance. For instance, doing something with Snowden in America in a concert, I think it’s probably more important than giving my opinion on my Twitter or on my social media… At the end of the day, who cares about the opinion of an artist? I don’t care about the fact that Picasso would prefer cheesecake or apple tart. I care about what he’s telling me through his painting. I feel it’s more important to promote convictions and messages through concerts, through music, through albums, because I think that is the moment where you touch people through their heart, through their emotions, and not only through their intellect… If you’re touched by an image, by sound, by music, I think this is probably stronger.

NP: Final question, because I can see we have to wrap this up. I’m a great believer in putting thoughts out into the universe because often, by doing so, they will happen if you just allow the universe to do its thing. So I want you to put a thought out into the universe about a person you’d like to perform with that you haven’t already or a place where you’d like to do a concert that you haven’t yet.

JMJ: There’s so many places… I have a strong link with Asia but, for instance, I’ve never really been to India. I would really like to go to India. And my dear friend, Arthur C. Clarke, always told me, you know, you should do a concert in space. I said, Arthur, be serious, in space? …You have no sound, because by definition you have no air so its total silence. If we talk in space, it would be like this [mimes silent talking]. So he said, yeah, but I’m sure you’ll find a way.

We had this fantastic project, it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest concert in America, in Houston that I did a few years ago for the 25th anniversary of NASA. One astronaut was supposed to play in the weightlessness of space, Ron McNair, live from space with me on stage. Everything was ready and then the Challenger [explosion] happened, so it was a real tragedy. I wanted to stop everything and the astronauts and people from NASA told me, no, no, you have to do this concert as a tribute to the astronauts… So this is something that I always kept in mind that I would like to create, in one way or another, a link with space somehow.

I’ve been linked with space totally out of my control. I did this big concert in Moscow where I had the Mir space station cosmonauts live during the concert. It was in the days when the Mir space station was really in danger. We didn’t know if they could get back. It was quite dramatic. What really moved me so much was we had this live link and they were listening to my music. They took my music before taking off and they were listening to my music in space… You have this great 2001 shot of the earth with my music on it… All of those kind of things, obviously, are really dreams come true…

NP: Maybe when you’re next in LA, you’ll have to have a meeting with JPL in Pasadena to see if they can make something happen.

JMJ: Oh, yes.

NP: I’m sure you could talk to the JPL people.

JMJ: Yeah, that would be great. Yes, next time, that would be cool.

Jean-Michel Jarre will perform Live at The Dead Sea at Masada, Israel on April 6, 2017. His North American tour kicks off on May 9, 2017 in Toronto. For more info visit:

This interview has been edited for length and clarity, and is published here under Creative Commons License 4.0. It may be reposted freely with attribution to the author, Nicole Powers, and this copyright statement.

Feb 2017 22

Notorious Los Angeles Street Artist Plastic Jesus has again caused Academy Award controversy by placing a life size Oscar statue on Hollywood Blvd. Unlike the official faceless gold figurines, this one is a likeness of Kanye West — and is entitled “False Idol”!

The Kanye likeness features tightly cropped hair, neck chains, and is wearing a pair of Yeezy shoes. In previous years the British born guerrilla artist has created a cocaine snorting Oscar statue, a gold plated stripper on a pole, and a heroin injecting figure following the drug-related death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. The artist claims his street installations are to highlight issues which are going unnoticed in the glitzy world of Hollywood.

The installation appeared on the famous Boulevard on Wednesday morning, closely guarded by two burly security guards.

In a Statement on his website the artist said:

“We have built Kanye West into some kind of god-like idol, I believe he’s a genius when it comes to writing and producing but he’s human. When we build people into idols we have expectations, and if they fail to meet those expectations we crucify them. We saw this last year when Kanye was admitted to a medical facility to get treatment for stress, anxiety, and paranoia. We need to take a step back and remember our idols are only human and as such we need to give them space to err.”

Plastic Jesus had the custom figure moulded from resin specially for this year’s event by a Los Angeles based mannequin company. For this year’s Oscar installation, Plastic Jesus collaborated with another “Ginger” — the sculptor who created the naked Donald Trump figures that appeared on the streets at the end of 2016. Ginger spent four weeks carefully crafting the head and then moulding the final piece to produce an amazing likeness of the rapper.

The life size figure took about 6 weeks to produce in total but will only be on Hollywood Blvd for one day. If fans wish to see the statue in person they can see it at Plastic Jesus’ forthcoming show — Anesthesia – The Art of Oblivion — on Feb 25th at Gibson headquarters located at the former Tower Records store at 8801 Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles.

Plastic Jesus will be appearing this evening (Wednesday, February 22) on SuicideGirls Radio. Tune in from 8 til 9 PM at our state-of-the-art, all digital home on or via Facebook LIVE. For more info via:

UPDATE: SG Radio feat. Plastic Jesus

Hosts Nicole Powers and Bradley, Kylie and Wolf Suicide are joined by Plastic Jesus, who tells the ladies about his new Kanye West-inspired “Oscar” installation on Hollywood Blvd and his upcoming Sunset Strip show with collaborator Billy Morrison entitled Anesthesia – The Art of Oblivion.

Feb 2017 20

By Blogbot

This Wednesday, February 22 on SuicideGirls Radio, hosts Nicole Powers and Bradley Suicide will be joined by provocative LA street artist Plastic Jesus, who’ll be talking about his upcoming Sunset Strip show with collaborator Billy Morrison entitled Anesthesia – The Art of Oblivion.


ICYMI: Watch last night’s show feat. hosts Nicole Powers and Bradley, Kylie and Wolf Suicide with guest Plastic Jesus here or via the player below.

You can listen – and watch – SuicideGirls Radio live on Wednesday nights from 8 til 9 PM at our state-of-the-art, all digital home on or on our Facebook page via Facebook LIVE!

If you have questions for the SG Radio crew or our guests, you can call in during the live broadcast at: 1-855-TRV-inLA (1-855-878-4652)

For updates on all things SG Radio-related, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

About Plastic Jesus

Plastic Jesus is a Los Angeles based street artist that specialises in bold stencil and installation work, inspired by world news events, society, the urban environment, culture, and politics.

His critically acclaimed work combines humor, irony, criticism and unique opinion to create art that engages on many levels.

Often questioning the norms in society, Plastic Jesus confronts our compliance of culture and current affairs. The artist uses scale and contradiction as a means to highlight issues and opinions that often go unquestioned.

The aesthetic appeal of his work combined with the engagement produces an addictive mix that challenges our acceptance.

Plastic Jesus is not about revolution, he is not an anarchist but would like to see some changes around the place. His work is more about shining a small light into some of those dark corners of society.

Prior to his commitment to produce provocative street art Plastic Jesus has worked for over two decades as a photographer.

Following a VIP reception on Friday night, Anesthesia – The Art of Oblivion — featuring pieces by Plastic Jesus, Billy Morrison, and more — will open to the public at the old Tower Records store on the Sunset Strip on Saturday, February 25. The show runs from noon until 9pm. Entry is free.

For more on Plastic Jesus:

Related Posts
Plastic Jesus on SG Radio (with Padhia Avocado) — Sept, 2015
Plastic Jesus on SG Radio – June, 2015


The World’s Leading BYOB Radio Show Is Sponsored By Mangria

“As a nightly consumer of red wine, I was shocked one evening to find I had just half a glass left in the bottle. So I did what any decent alcoholic, ex-con, American would do… I went to the fridge and the liquor cabinet, then poured, mixed and measured. Thus Mangria was born.” — Adam Carolla

For more info visit Carolla Drink’s websiteFacebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Feb 2017 10

Had the honor of being in the presence of not one, but several, gods of electronic music last night. Pioneering french producer, composer, and musician Jean-Michel Jarre​ assembled a panel of five of the more than thirty collaborators on his Electronica double album project — the first edition of which, Electronica 1: The Time Machine, is in the running for a Grammy this Sunday in the “Best Dance/Electronic Album” category.

Nic Harcourt​ moderated the discussion between Jarre, Hanz zimmer​, Gary Numan, Moby​, Little Boots​, and Julia Holter​ at the intimate Americana Lounge at The Record Parlour​ in Hollywood. You can view the conversation in its entirety here or in the player below:

We’re keeping our fingers crossed for Sunday — if anyone deserves a grammy for electronic music it’s Jarre, who’s contributed so much and inspired so many.