PUNK ROCK VEGAN MOVIE: MOBY’S ROCKIN’ ARGUMENT AGAINST THE STATUS QUO
A CONVERSATION WITH MOBY
Anyone around for the cusp of the millennium experienced the magnitude of tracks like “Porcelain” and “South Side” from Moby’s chart-topping album Play. He is known the world over for his electronic music, but long before he released his first atmospheric track, he fell in love with punk rock.
He was a child when he first heard a punk song. ‘I remember it so clearly. It was the summer of 1978, and I was very bored. I didn’t do sports… I’d spend my summers basically reading books and listening to the radio. I would sit with my grandfather’s old 1960s Dictaphone and tape songs with a cheap old microphone that I thought were interesting,’ he says. ‘I taped “I Fought the Law” by The Clash, and I just thought it was so cool. And then later, I was in the library reading Rolling Stone and [made the connection] “Oh, this is punk rock.”’ Just a few years later, he drove with friends to New York City to see the punk band Fear at the Mudd Club, and that was the beginning. ‘I still loved non-hardcore,’ he recalls, ‘but that was such an exciting moment, being in lower Manhattan in 1981 seeing a hardcore show.’ He and his friends would soon form the ’80s hardcore punk band Vatican Commandos.
The punk scene promotes values Moby has long held. He is an outspoken vegan and animal rights advocate, with tattoos such as “Animal Rights” on his arms, “Vegan for Life” on his neck, and the letters V (vegan) and X (straightedge) by his right eye. His 1996 album, Animal Rights, features prominent punk guitar among the ambient tracks, and each song on his 2020 album All Visible Objects raised funds for non-profits, animal rights, and human rights.
He now brings his passion and artistry to the screen via his recently released, aptly named documentary film, Punk Rock Vegan Movie. In his directorial feature debut, he seeks to raise awareness of the history and ties between the punk rock and the animal rights movement, as well as highlight the underlying ethos of the music. ‘It’s skepticism, it’s questioning,’ he says. ‘It’s identity; looking at everything in our lives, every institution… If something is bad, you reject it and replace it with something better, right?’
Moby calls on some famed friends who share his ethos. The film features interviews with Rob Zombie, Kat Von D, Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat and Fugazi) and Tim McIlRath (Rise Against), among many others. McIlRath says onscreen that it makes sense animal rights issues were going to find a home in punk music, an environment where musicians weren’t afraid to speak up. “Punk rock in itself was music that was created because it was people that felt like they weren’t represented in mainstream media, and so in order to find that home, that sanctuary, they just created something.”
The entire filming experience was overwhelmingly positive, and occasionally surprising. ‘I don’t know what your social gatherings are like with friends,’ Moby quips, ‘but for the most part, when I meet up with friends, we tend to either complain about politics, or talk about a movie, or just have lighthearted ironic banter.’ Yet when he sat down and had a focused 90-min conversation with these artists, he got to know a different side of them. ‘With a lot of these people, like Tony [Kanal] from No Doubt, Kat Von D, my friends from Cold Cave, Ray and Porcell [Youth of Today], John Joseph [Cro-Mags] — people I’ve known forever — sitting down and really letting them speak about animal rights and veganism [made me realize] just how incredibly thoughtful they can be.’ He hopes he accurately expresses this in the film, ‘as opposed to these insane lunatics stage-diving and screaming at the top of their lungs. Like, you wouldn’t go to a Cro-Mags show or Youth of Today show and assume that these are some of the most thoughtful, introspective musicians on the planet.’
Punk Rock Vegan Movie doesn’t feel overly produced, which was intentional on Moby’s part. ‘Punk rock has never benefited from [this]. The DIY aspect of using the equipment that you know how to use and using the resources that are available to you… if that’s how you make punk rock records, if that’s how you put on a punk rock show, if it’s how you make punk rock T-shirts, from my perspective it should also be how you make a punk rock movie.’ The film also has its fair share of lightheartedness, featuring Moby in conversation with Bagel the talking dog, and then again dressed as a cartoonish devil on a mock newscast. ‘It’s not just an overly serious, didactic vegan movie,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot of really ridiculous stuff that some of my friends asked me to sort of minimize, but I’m a ridiculous person, so I had to include it.’
The film mentions that veganism was very fringe back in the 1980s. When asked whether he thinks current bands or scenes are influencing social issues the way punk did back then, Moby replied that it’s a good question but a sad one. He sees a lot of this in current heavy metal and hip-hop, but much less in indie and electronic music. ‘No one ever expects electronic music to be political… I almost can’t complain about that, because it’s electronic music — for the most part, it’s sort of designed for being listened to at three o’clock in the morning.’ And while he doesn’t want to be ‘an old, complaining, whining guy,’ he is fond of the genres and finds himself disillusioned by their lack of political engagement. ‘There are, of course, those wonderful exceptions,’ Moby says. ‘I’m not saying all art and content should be activist-oriented, but every musician has a platform.’
He stresses the importance of using his public platform to effect positive change. Punk Rock Vegan Movie made its world premiere in January 2023, at the Slamdance Festival in Utah, before it was released to everyone on various online platforms for free. ‘I didn’t want to create barriers to activist content,” he says, “it just seems ridiculous. If you’ve made something where the goal is to communicate activist ideas and ideals, you don’t want to prevent people from experiencing that.’
While he has other loves in life, Moby says, ‘the only purpose I have is to work on behalf of animal rights.’