YACHT releases anti-surveillance manifesto ‘Party at the NSA’

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Silver Lake-based band YACHT recorded “Party at the NSA” to benefit the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

L.A.’s electro-pop outfit YACHT teamed up with L.A.-based comedian Marc Maron to protest the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs the old fashioned way — with a protest song. “Party at the NSA” is a pay-what-you-want download. According to the band, all profits will be donated to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit digital rights group.

Band members Claire Evans and Jona Bechtolt joined KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis to discuss their new song.

You can listen to their new song here:

In true cyber-punk fashion, the band built a website for the song featuring a specialized font called ZXX designed by a former NSA contractor. It’s a typeface that’s supposedly unreadable by text scanning software (all the random font permutations confuse artificial intelligence programs).

I reached Electronic Frontier Foundation spokesman Dave Maass by phone this morning after the site went live and Maron tweeted out the link. “We are totally stoked on this,” said Maass. “It’s a further indication that people care about this, and not just conspiracy theorists. It’s musicians, it’s youth, it’s comedians.”

Maass said it was hard to tell whether this was the first Snowden-inspired fundraiser on EFF’s behalf. “We don’t always know when people are fundraising for us.”

Polls show the issue of digital privacy resonates more with a younger generation of Internet users (18-29 year-olds) so an online music fundraiser seems fitting.

“Everyone involved, from the credit card processing company to the mastering engineer, has donated their time,” YACHT singer (and, full disclosure, a friend of mine) Claire Evans said.


If you’re wondering where Maron comes in, skip ahead to 2:25 for the squelching guitar solo. “I’m a huge supporter of the EFF,” Maron said in an e-mail. “I worked with them recently helping to raise money and awareness of the patent troll issue.” The comedian, most known for his WTF podcast (formerly broadcast on KCRW 89.9), can shred on six strings. “I have no idea why they asked me to play guitar on the track. I’m only good at one thing on the guitar. It just so happens it was exactly the thing they needed.”

The song takes aim at what they call a “far-reaching and unaccountable domestic spying program.” The main riff sounds a lot like electro duo Suicide took the classic Elvis Costello song “Pump It Up” and sped it up. They lyrics veer cynical and cheeky. Think Julian Assange meets the Ramone’s “I Wanna Be Sedated.”

Did you read my mail again?
How do you find the time?
I lost my signal yesterday,
But it was never mine.

P-P-P-Party at the NSA,
Twenty, twenty, twenty-four hours a day!

“Party at the NSA” may be the first local iteration, but other online musicians have taken inspiration from the leaks about PRISM and other NSA data collection programs.  San Francisco can claim Brooks Rocco’s “Tinfoil in Every Hat (Hey Hey, NSA),” which, according to the Huffington Post, he wrote while riding his bicycle the day after Snowden’s first round of revelations hit the media back in May. In June, Puerto Rico’s Calle 13 and it’s outspoken lead singer “Residente” announced a collaboration with WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange to write a song about media manipulation and censorship.

There are other NSA-themed spoofs and send-ups. But with about 15,000 Twitter followers, YACHT may be the kind of band that can spur social media chatter. The challenge, of course, may be getting listeners to actually pay for the download.