Interview with @coptunes, 2019

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionSend by emailSend by email

July 1, 2019

Late in 2018, an anonymous Twitter account called @coptunes appeared, promising to post a song each day about cops. Needless to say, I was interested! Six months in, with more than 180 songs posted—#coptunes they call them—this account has proven impressive in its depth of knowledge of obscure and not-so-obscure music, as well as in its uncompromising abolitionist approach to policing. I've learned about new music from @coptunes, and I've also appreciated how many shit-fi tracks they've posted.

I got in touch with the folks behind the account to find out more. Here's an interview conducted by e-mail. I encourage you to follow @coptunes.

S-F: Why did you start @coptunes?
CT: A combination of boredom and the thrill of the challenge, enlivened by our anger at the fucking pigs. Anyone who’s been collecting punk records or listening to punk and hardcore closely for a long time can rattle off a list of songs about cops. We used to make mixtapes on the theme. But now the combination of Discogs, YouTube, and other digital platforms makes it possible to gather unimaginable heaps of information. A simple search for a word like “police” or “cops” turns up songs we never knew. Still, a lot of the #coptunes we feature were ones already in rotation on our turntables even before we began the research process, which is still ongoing. 
Although we are fairly knowledgeable about multiple genres, @coptunes mostly features punk because that is the genre most likely to have songs about cops and because that is the genre we know best. Learning more about rap while working on @coptunes has been fun, but discovering songs by artists we never knew or in genres we haven’t appreciated before has been the most exciting part. There are a number of lists of #coptunes already online that we’ve drawn upon, but we believe @coptunes will supersede all of those lists in its comprehensiveness (particularly for 70s/80s punk and hardcore). We also have tried to post tracks by contemporary bands and occasionally add other tweets on either police or music news.
S-F: How does @coptunes work?
CT: We have a running list of #coptunes. When we started generating the list, we quickly knew we had enough material to cover more than half a year, but 365 songs is a lot of songs. So we’ve continued to do research all the time. We also have received a number of contributions from fans, some of which we already knew and some of which we did not yet know. That has been edifying. 
We try to track down decent artwork to accompany each tweet, as well as to gather relevant information, lyrics, etc. It’s not always easy, and one of the chief impediments to posting some true obscurities has been simply that we can’t find the tracks online. We haven’t yet posted any tracks that aren’t available on YouTube/Bandcamp/etc., but maybe we’ll make a wish list of ultra-obscure #coptunes someday. 
In terms of scheduling, we’ve tried to post certain tracks on important and relevant dates. On the one-year anniversary of Stephon Clark’s murder by police in Sacramento, we posted the amazing track “I Am Stephon Clark” by Kunta, Bornstunna 3G, and Noni Blanco. During the whole week of the fortieth anniversary of the police killing of Blair Peach at an anti-fascist demonstration in Lewisham, England, we featured songs about him (see here, for example). Some weeks we post relatively random songs side by side; at other times, we collect songs on a theme or within a given country. We’re still experimenting with the best way to distribute #coptunes, while avoiding too much rigidity or predictability.
S-F: I gotta say that I appreciate the shit-fi #coptunes you’ve posted, like Suburban Filth, The Accused, The Decay, etc. What are your five favorite #coptunes?
CT: We’ll mention tracks that we’ve already posted. Many of our favorites are still yet to come later in the year. Honestly, there are so many cool #coptunes we had a hard time choosing just these five. 
  1. AK-47 “The Badge Means You Suck”: What can be said? It’s just so good. We knew this track but were pleased to read about this on Shit-Fi a few years back. 
  2. Toddy Tee “Batter Ram”: What an amazing track! You can just feel the urgency as the Black and Latino people of Los Angeles were trying to come to grips with the insanity of the LAPD’s tank knocking down their doors every day in the 1980s.
  3. Slaughter and the Dogs “Quick Joey Small”: We hadn’t actually heard the original of this before we started doing research, which we featured as well. The original is good, but this version is incredible. 
  4. Sewer Zombies “Too Many Police”: This one is truly shit-fi, so we’ll include it on a list for you. We promise we listen to it frequently.
  5. Fancy Rosy “Punk Police”: We first heard this track on a compilation of pseudo-punk tracks. Listening to it you can’t help but be transported to a place you’ve definitely never been but really want to visit. 
We have to also mention the track “Police Car” by the Deviants/Larry Wallis. When we posted the long version from the Deviants live LP from 1984, one of our favorite #coptunes, we had a funny Twitter exchange with Wayne Kramer about it. He played on the LP but didn’t remember it at all, which sounds about right given how many drugs he must’ve been on at the time. We sent him a photo of the LP sleeve with his picture on it to jog his memory.
S-F: What music have you discovered while working on @coptunes?
CT: A lot! Our language capabilities do limit us. We can learn how to say “cop” or “police” in other languages and then search for those, but we’ve also learned a few cool slang terms for police like “pitufo” in Mexico City or “poulet” in France. Searching for tracks that use slang we don’t know obviously would be impossible. So we keep trying to learn more terms. 
It turns out there are many tracks in other languages that we already knew but didn’t realize were #coptunes, like Eppu Normaali’s “Poliisi Pamputttaa Taas.” Our friends and correspondents around the world have helped. It’s remarkable how many different countries we have featured, from Brazil to Mexico, Spain to Norway, and we have many more to come. These songs are testimony to shared experience of police abuse, violence, and repression that transcends borders and language barriers. In one way, that’s really cool. In another, it’s totally fucked up.
On April 1st, we planned to post the ridiculous pro-police song by Dropkick Murphys. It’s almost bad enough to ruin April Fool’s. But then we got to thinking that we ought to dig for some tracks actually recorded by police. We’ve sprinkled few throughout the feed, like Cops Ltd. We decided to dedicate the week after April 1st to tracks by African police bands from Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopia. There are a lot that are just uninteresting marches, but we also found some pretty incredible Afro-beat and rock-oriented tracks. We hate the pigs, but sometimes a good song is a good song.
S-F: What do you hope is the response?
CT: We’ve been pleased with the response, both when our followers like and retweet our tweets and when we get messages from them. We’d love more followers, of course. This is Twitter after all.
More generally, we’d love for somebody to do some kind of analysis of what the amount and breadth of #coptunes tells us. In so many countries, for so many years, among so many different types of people, there have been negative experiences with cops that have inspired songs. What does this tell you about policing? In a way, you already know everything you need to know about policing, but maybe these songs do tell you something new.
We hope that even after 2019 is over and @coptunes goes on hiatus, this feed will continue to serve as an archive of sorts both for music fans and for people more generally interested in a critique of police. 
Thanks for your support. Fuck 12. ACAB.