Cellphones were a strange and alien technology in 1999, with an adoption rate of less than 45%. Talking loudly on your mysterio-techno device provoked annoyance, distrust, and hostility — or a Top 20 hit single.
Ian Aitch reported that weird development for GettingIt.com in 1999. The British acid house movement spawned a band called KLF whose rogue provacateur Jimmy Cauty later sampled the ubiquitous ring-tone with a British comedian/musician (and sometime Pink Floyd contributor) named Guy Pratt. They morphed the cellphone jangle into a disturbingly catchy dance track — though according to Wikipedia BBC 1 radio then refused to play it. It was that annoying.
The British are insane, of course - or, they recognize that pop music is essentially a disposable glitz that should be dismissed, de-constructed, re-constructed, and mocked. (The sample-happy track competed with a rival song sampling the Hamster Dance called — what else? — Cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia.) But then pumped up cellphone bashers decided it wasn't just a song; it was a movement.
"We have been looking for a fiendish project to get our teeth into for the past six months," they confided maliciously on their web site. It tells the tale of stealing two human-sized cellphone costumes from the filming of the song's music video. "After an evening of heavy drinking a plan was hatched and all concerned decided that this was a cause worth fighting for."
In guerilla movies that are reactionary, subversive, and gloriously futile, we see our heroes — dressed in giant cellphone costumes — surprising British cellphone users by snatching their phones out of their hands. Then stomping the cellphones to bits on the sidewalk. And then running.
And what did the record company think, when their music video's costumes turned up in online cellphone-smashing videos? "They have not recognised our existence," the tribal pranksters at PhoneBashing.com complain. But — graciously — they added that "We have decided to link to them even though they don't explain the true meaning of the song. Not one mention of how shit mobile phones are." This hastily-constructed knock-off web page included a link to the song's official site run by some combination of Virgin Records/EMI. "Very corporate," the cellphone-bashers chide. "All bells and whistles."
But before you cheer, you might want to check the registration for the cellphone-basher's own web site. Its administrative contact is EMI limited, and the site is administered by virginmusic.com. This site knocking the corporate suits at Virgin Records is in fact owned, run, and incorporated by Virgin Records.
This lends an aura of calculation to the enterprise — but it can't be fully assessed without witnessing one last spectacle. Described as the site's "mission statement" (on a web page named kill.html), it shows an unidentified spokesman for this unique moment in time trying frantically to convey human debasement - theirs, ours, or society's at large. Whether it was underground pranksters, a desperate record company, or just the magical spirit of cellphone-bashers past — they've captured their rage in a powerful five-second clip.
A manic man in a cell phone costume and white ski mask shouts "KILL MOBILE PHONES! KILL MOBILE PHONES!"