Rock in Opposition. In opposition to what?? Stormy Six and Henry Cow made it fairly clear: the music industry and the pressures of compromise over art. Univers Zero quietly agreed, the Samlas kept the music moving and improvised their way along, while Etron Fou had a good laugh and helped along...
Henry Cow who, together with their manager Nick Hobbs, decided to bring together five bands representing as many European nations. The focus of this congress was a concert entitled "Rock in Opposition," with the subsequent intention of touring together and furthering the individual band's creative interests.
From the pamphlet given all attendees at the "Rock In Opposition" Concert, Sunday March 12, 1978, New London Theater, written by Chris Cutler:
It is curious perhaps that the first R.I.O. festival should be held in Britain- least interested & least likely for such an event. Yet it was partially a result of British apathy that these 5 groups were drawn together- Henry Cow, virtual exiles from their own country for 5 years drew the bulk of their rapport & sustenance from Europe where audiences & organisers alike showed interest & generosity. They listened. In these slightly more nourishing environments we met committed & extraordinary musicians engaged in the same struggle as we in their own countries, & relations once established grew & spread across borders (it was through the Samlas that we first played in Sweden, the Stormy Six helped us a great deal in Italy & we brought Etron Fou to England last year & then to Italy, etc.)
With the International organisation of the music industry (who couldn't care less about culture, only money) the International organization, the pooling of knowledge, resources & contacts amongst 'uncommercial' rock musicians was inevitable. R.I.O. finally coalesced the strengthening links, beginning overtly with this festival.
It was not easy to organise this 'tour' nor to bring these 4 bands to England, nor to finance the whole 'uncommercial' venture - even with £1000 from the Arts Council (for which we are grateful) everyone will lose a little this time. But what is crucial is that this event has occurred at all & makes all future events possible, even simple: there is no longer that mythical bubble to burst!
We thank you for coming. We think you will see that there is plenty going on everywhere, & this is only a tiny fragment..
National broders do not matter any more. The struggle is between classes & ideologies & not nations. Organised culture industries creating pap & jamming it down everybody; throats have a vested interest in stifling all opposition. Preventing groups from working has been effective - until we start to organise our own work- buying up musicians & then putting the screws on has been a good second line of defence... but when they refuse to be bought?
How will an industry which can CREATE nothing survive when it can't steal anything any more... or will they steal our brains altogether instead?
I doubt it!
Well here we are.1
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Rock in Opposition (RIO) is that, as a movement, its existence was short lived, and in that short span it maintained little cohesive direction beyond a strong desire between five bands from as many European nations to assist each other in their endeavours. Yet today Rock in Opposition remains one of the reference points that many listeners, musicians, and distributors use to describe a cooperative approach to making and distributing an eclectic type of music. A music that is difficult to pigeonhole, which embraces progressive rock, improvisation, folk forms and often extreme experimentation, drawing source from the musics of many cultures, and utilizing modern techniques and technologies.
Rock in Opposition began formally on March 12, 1978 as a concert in the New London Theatre, England that brought together the English band Henry Cow, the Swedish band Samla Mammas Manna, the Italian band Stormy Six, the French band Etron Fou Leloublan and the Belgian band Univers Zero. Though well received and spawning a number of smaller concert tours through Europe, RIO was never fully exploited, foundering as soon as it began amidst financial loss and media indifference.
The five bands met at Sunrise Studio in Switzerland in December of the same year, attempting to formalize what Rock in Opposition actually meant, and adding the bands Art Bears, Art Zoyd and Aqsak Maboul to their roster. Amidst many disagreements between the bands on the purpose and meaning of RIO a charter was drafted and plans were made to continue touring together and to create a yearbook documenting their movement. Sadly these formalized events never occurred, and after organising three more festivals, cooperative record distributions and concerts and tours for its individual members, RIO quietly dissolved.
Yet in their wake arose many new bands considering themselves "RIO" in nature, and a number of labels and distribution networks began using the name to identify the type of music that these artists create. Many of the artists in the original RIO roster continue working together on projects related to their original bands, and these projects have fostered connections and relationships with other musicians that has grown to create a massive family tree. Most likely these networks and projects would have developed regardless of the phrase "Rock In Opposition", but the name has become an umbrella to help identify and solidify the growing movement for the listener and musician alike.
I have also put together a page of the factual history of Rock In Opposition.