Ordinary People Doing Remarkable Things: Part 2 – Joey Steel and Filthy Phill | Dispatches from the Underground

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In February 2011, the first Dispatches from the Underground podcast, recorded by Joey Steel and Filthy Phill, started with the following statement: “There will always be an underground, that’s why we are getting the fuck down, get critical, think, reflect, go deeper past the surface underneath to the underground. [...] Dispatches from the Underground is a celebration of the ‘do-it-yourself-culture’, DIY, if you don’t like what is out there, do it better; do it yourself.” Each episode is a brilliant mix of news stories, politics, music, incoherent and coherent rants (Joey) and inappropriate yet hilarious jokes (Phill). This week Joey and Phill, who have been friends since 2009, are recording their 150th episode. So it is about time to ask these two ordinary people who are doing a truly remarkable thing, some questions about their project, reflect on past episodes and discuss future ideas:

When did you two decide to team up and ‘do it yourself’?

Phill: We played together in a band called Joey Steel and the Attitude Adjusters, a Motown punk band, and although we already knew each other, it was at this time that we established a real working relationship. We recognized in each other that we were reliable, passionate and dedicated people. Joey was the one who presented the idea to work together on something. Actually the way Joey approached me was: “Okay lets figure out how we are going to take over the world”.

Joey: Originally when we got together I realized that Phill and I both really care about people. And we both like it when people say what they think. We want people to treat each other well and do good things. And be informed about other good things that are going on. It sounds very general now, but we basically wanted to do something to make the world a better place.

Phill: After that realization, we sat down with a note book a few times, trying to figure out different things that we might be good at and stuff we can do and other people can’t. At a certain point we even tried to reinvent Facebook and Myspace.

But you went for a podcast, why?

Phill: This was something we eventually settled on. Before Dispatches from the Underground I had a podcast for a while, called Transmission without Permission, that may or may not still be up on Myspace. So this format was something I already had experience in. I knew the technical aspects of recording and how to make an episode available online. Making a podcast doesn’t require any credentials or a lot of equipment and since a career in established radio was, for us, next to impossible, we felt that a podcast was the next best thing to get your voice heard.

Speaking of established radio, is Dispatches from the Underground inspired by a particular radio show/host, or did you want to offer a complete alternative?

Joey: I am a one trick pony. I wanted to get radical politics out there and I wanted to provoke people to think. I saw and still see culture and music – the underground – as liberated space where one can express ideas. We are a punk podcast and there aren’t many people around who are doing a similar thing, no one is doing ‘talk’, doing thought provoking things within the context of underground music. When you go to punk shows, it is all about music, but there is so much more than that. Obviously I love the music, that is where my heart is, but my body is all involved in the culture of the music. I wanted to translate the topics of the lyrics into talk. There is no one out there talking about what punk really is beyond music. It gets lost outside of the scene. We try to capture what punk should be about outside of the music, which is radical, provocative and community driven.

The podcast mixes punk and politics. Were you politically active before you started Dispatches?

Joey: I did politics for a long time. Back in Ohio where I am from, I was involved in union work and environmental activism. I got more radical after 9/11. Eventually I got down with the Revolutionary Communist Party; for five years I went out on the streets, sold communist newspapers and went up to people and talk about politics. The party eventually moved me out to New York (2004), before throwing me out because they didn’t appreciate my opinions. I felt that we didn’t do enough culture work, I saw a community out there and was wondering why we weren’t involved in it. They didn’t think it was a priority nor did they feel it was correct to get involved. I for example was not allowed to be in a band. I didn’t agree with these party policies and the first thing I did when I was thrown out, was join a band.

Phill: I wasn’t politically active on a street level before we started the podcast. Joey introduced me to this world of gatherings and marches. I watched politics from the sidelines, but overall never got actively involved. I’ve always been pretty disenfranchised with the system.

Seven months after your first episode, Occupy Wall Street started. Suddenly a movement was born. You reported on the events. How involved were you?

Joey: We got thrown into it. We just went there the first week because we knew it was the place where ‘the underground’ was. We had already interviewed Anonymous before occupy Wall Street started.

Phill: My Anonymous contact was at Zuccotti Park and Joey thought it was a good idea to go down there, with our portable recorder. We wanted to interview people and see what was really happening. I had never been to a protest before, it was my first experience. I was kind of shocked by the whole thing and it wasn’t even a very large crowd. If I hadn’t had Joey with me I don’t think I would have gone, because it was so foreign to me. I remember standing next to the general assembly, they were having their meeting, and there were people wiggling their fingers and holding their hands up, and doing these weird hand signs. I had no idea what was going on. I had to ask Joey what all of this meant. So then I found out, that rather than talking over each other, when you agree you wiggle your fingers. I feel that the protest culture can be quite intimidating. I got engaged in the protest, went on my first march, banging on pots and pans. Every day after work, I would buy a case of water bottles, candy and hand sanitizer for the protesters. And hang out. It turned out to be a special thing. I took my girlfriend (now wife) there, on a march, which was her first march too. It got us more involved. We were arrested on the Brooklyn bridge with another 700 people. I felt part of something huge and awesome and incredible.

Many protesters felt that things at Zuccotti Park rapidly changed for the worse and left the movement, did you too feel there was a turning point?

Phill: I remember exactly when things changed. After being arrested, I proposed to my girlfriend right in front of the general assembly on Wall Street, using the people’s mic. A week later we went back to hang out and as we were sitting there in the park, we noticed that there were more people begging for donations and people selling shirts than people protesting. That was the moment that I thought, Occupy Wall is turning into something else. It was also a fashion and when there were more donation buckets than protesters, we stopped reporting on it. And what it became was definitely not for me.

Joey: I was a little cynical when I first went down the park. I just thought it was good idea to publicize it and get down there before it was over, because I didn’t know how long it was going to last. But it took off and it reminded me of the fact that things can change quickly. I would have never bet in a million fucking years, there would be a mass organization that criticized capitalism, albeit indirectly, that would speak to people in the way Occupy did. It reminded me how people think and act, and reminded me all that can and does change.

The Occupy movement might have died down, but you guys are still going strong. You just recorded your 150th episode and have a steady group of listeners. What is the secret of your success?

Phill: In a word? I’ll say Failure. We talk about it and really get down underneath it on our 150th episode which people can find on iTunes or on our website http://www.dispatchesfromtheunderground.com/ Joey and I are very different people, but in the podcast and the music we make, we are the change we want to see in the world. That was the main push behind our successful Kickstarter campaign.

Biographies

As front man of World War IX, drummer for The Will, New Damage, Joey Steel and the Attitude Adjusters and a (community college) award winning writer, Filthy Phill is a jack off of all trades. After a short time plying his full of repertoire of wiener/fart jokes and awkward social skills in the NYC stand up comedy circuit he shifted his focus to joining forces with Joey Steel, unleashing Dispatches from the Underground to an unsuspecting populous. Filthy Phill never lets a lack of talent, material, experience, knowledge or appreciative crowd deter him from writing, performing or saying obscene and enlightening things into a microphone. In this, he found a true comrade in Joey Steel.

Joey Steel is an unrelenting-fire breathing-hardcore troublemaker. A veteran of the radical left, he has been arrested over two dozen times struggling against the pigs and for justice-world wide. As the front man for All Torn Up!, Joey Steel and the Attitude Adjusters (hardcore covers of Motown hits), and The Will (HC/ Thrash) he unleashes his brand of liberating punk terror. But through all Joey does he remains committed to being a conscious, impatient, and untraditional communist with sights set on breaking the capitalist stranglehold on our culture and thoughts. Love it or hate it, Joey Steel will make you THINK HARDER about it. The shit eating grin he punches on your smirking (and reflective) face is free of charge. When he is not screaming in a mic organizing shows and political discussions, Joey Steel spends time educating children as a NYC teacher.

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