The Horn Players are Down to Play the Rock Music Too

Brass Against the Machine is the latest horn section-fronted band to tackle big, loud rock ‘n roll


You know what Friday, you have some snow called for, the Internet is a hot mess of net neutrality talk and tax talk and God knows what else and I only have a mere morsel of my Christmas shopping done. You’re really going to make me earn this one, aren’t you? You always do.

Thankfully I’ll have some help getting through thanks to the eye-catching, unlikely combination of a big ol’ horn section and Rage Against the Machine covers. I know, took me a second to process that unique pairing as well. Of course a second later I was checking out their take on the Rage classic “Killing in the Name” and I was sold.

But who are these people that have brought together two of my favorite things: powerful horn sections and the music of Rage Against the Machine? It’s Brass Against the Machine, a 9-piece brass band from the friendly confines of New York City who not just cover Rage, but Living Colour, Kendrick Lamar and Public Enemy. The Kendrick and Public Enemy covers must be live show exclusives, though. All that is featured on Spotify are Rage covers and “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour.

I’m not going to say that these versions are the best thing I’ve ever heard, but they’re definitely a lot of fun. They match the sound and fury of the originals and perform admirably in their showing of respect to one of the most influential bands of the last twenty years. I like that brass players have fully embraced the stomping power of their instruments, that they can be used for more than just funk or jazz. I saw this band Bonerama this summer and despite having somewhat of an unfortunate name, the band, which is fronted by three dudes playing the trombone, rocked harder than a regular old rock band. The band’s version of “The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin is especially juicy.

The idea of brass-led bands tackling classic rock songs is an idea that has really started to gain some momentum in the past few years. Besides Bonerama and Brass Against the Machine, there’s Brownout, an eight-piece latin-inspired group, who have released two albums of Black Sabbath covers. There’s also Jazz Against the Machine, who cover everyone from Rage to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana to Stone Temple Pilots, albeit with a more of a jazz, groove-dripping sound, not as assaulting as what Brass Against the Machine is doing.

A few years ago, it was bass players who were starting to get pushed out of the rock game, as duos like the White Stripes, the Black Keys among others, started making waves minus the assistance of someone holding down the low end. It was a minor tragedy, bass players would survive, but it was also somewhat alarming. It was also a sign of a shift underneath the feet of rock purists. Things were changing, the old way of doing things was becoming just that, the old way.

Now the horn players are getting involved, no longer content to sit back and play jazz standards or dole out tight funk tags. They want in on the rock action too. It’s just best to step aside and make room, gin up some of that inclusive spirit that is time-honored tradition in music.

Friday is still going to be a chore, but possibly less of one with a multi-person horn section jamming out to “Bulls on Parade.”

Now, what the hell do I get my wife this year for Christmas?





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