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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: gratte.txt

Interview with Grandmaster Ratte' of cDc




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======================== "The name speaks for itself!" ========================

                          Interviews & Interrogations

                           http://surf.to/damage_inc
                            damage_inc@disinfo.net
===============================================================================

[Previously published in the Damage, INC. Newsletter Issue #19]

Grandmaster Ratte' (cDc) is in the spotlight.  Obviously, Cult of the Dead Cow
is a very well known, revered, respected, influential group in the scene.  Since
1984, they've been doing nothing short of kickin' fuckin' ass.  With the longest
running e-zine, a diverse group of members and a wide assortment of releases,
along with media saturation, cDc stands apart from all the rest.  More than just
being high profile, their members have made a huge impact and countless valuable
contributions.  Bow to the Cow.

I'm eternally grateful that he has agreed to be interviewed for the Damage, INC.
Newsletter.  His insight into the scene is immeasurable and comments invaluable.
But enough with the pre-interview hype, adulation and near awe struck admiration
of cDc.  In this interview, we explore everything from the group dynamic of cDc
to other topics such as Hacktivism, etc.  Just read the damn interview and enjoy
it without dropping your jaw so much that your keyboard becomes covered in thick
saliva.  This interview was conducted towards the end of December, 2000, and it
commences right here...


Alias: Grandmaster Ratte'
Group(s):cDc communications
Country: US of A

Description: SWM, 30, 2 legs, non-smoker, active, fit, enjoys knitting and cats.
Seeks baby seal for (c)lubbin'.

Music: minor key stuff with a catchy melody, all styles

Movies: sitting way down close to the screen to get my money's worth of
spectacle

Books: non-fiction

Email: gratte@cultdeadcow.com
IRC: gratte
Usenet: alt.fan.cult-dead-cow
URL(s): www.cultdeadcow.com

<B> - Since no introductions are necessary, I'll just jump right into the
real interview questions.  How has cDc managed to stay together, evolve and
be so productive throughout the years?  Many other groups have disappeared,
dissolved and basically weren't able to adapt and keep evolving.  I realize
that cDc is fundamentally different, but, it's still an amazing feat to last
so very long.  And the fact the group is still growing and expanding its domain
is also impressive.  So, the question is, what's the driving force behind the
group?  What's responsible for it continuing to grow and thrive?  And how are
you able to maintain such dedication and diligence?

-----

Well, cDc resulted from a name change to an earlier group called Pan-Galactic
Entropy that I had started in '83, '84 in Lubbock, Texas (806).  We were the
local BBS scene kids, mostly in junior high, and the majority of us were running
our own boards... on Apple II's,  Texas Instruments 99/4a's and Atari 800's.
Lubbock is a weird little college town in the middle of cotton field country.
There's sort of a clique of the offspring of the Texas Tech University
professors and the students who tend to find each other and huddle together in
the midst of tumbleweeds and pickup trucks with gun racks.  So that was us.
A lot of other computer underground things came from that unlikely place.  In
the '80s there were two major h/p BBS's there before ours, and GwD and F.U.C.K.
(now Attrition.org) started there; all revolving around the university.

Enough background, now I'll answer the question...

In 1986, I came up with the cDc name and Franken Gibe joined.  Gibe's a really
sharp visionary type, and we would talk endlessly about the hacker/BBS scene and
what we didn't like about it, and what we wanted to do with our own group
differently.  So the two of us really put together the whole 'concept' that's
been driving everything since.  Fortunately, the concept is  very broad and
inclusive and says basically, "The technology is not the point - it's just
a means to something else."  That right there put us 180 degrees apart from
every hacker group before and it still trips up most people I think in the
'scene' - they fall in love with the gadgetry itself and don't see that's just
a dead end.

Until it's too late and they're burned out from a small idea that can't grow.
So our mission is to use these crazy communications tools to figure out
something else.

When we started, it was about using the free long-distance phone calls, and now
it's on the 'net.  No difference.

In practical terms, you stay together through... stubbornness?  cDc is my main
creative outlet, I _have_ to do this.  For a group to survive, I think it has to
have passion about what it's doing, 'cause there's not much else to sustain it -
no salaries or concrete payoffs.  The most rewarding thing about it is the sense
of accomplishment when you've done some work you know is good, and the feedback
you hopefully get from people who dig your stuff.

The trick is to keep it fresh and interesting for the people involved, which
means change and growth if you're determined to stick with your plan.  It's
inevitable.  As Woody Allen said, "Ninety percent of success is just showing
up."  So show up, put in work, keep doing it, and there ya go.

People come and go from cDc.  There have been 50 or so members over the years,
and we tend to have an active lineup of around 20 people at any given time.
Currently, some of the people have been in since the mid '80s and some around a
year, and they're all still bringing different things to the table.
The concept of cDc includes a change of roster... the concept has to be bigger
than any of the people.  Individuals are flighty, they change and their lives go
this way and that and a group has to accommodate that reality or it can't work.
As long as there are people willing to do the necessary grunt work, things'll
hum along fine.

-----

<B> - Hacktivism is one of the topics that I simply couldn't ignore during
the course of this interview.  So let's get into it.  In your opinion, what's
the importance of Hacktivism as it stands right now?  And, do you think it'll
be even more important in the future?  Will it be more of a potent tool to
get political messages across?  What are you views on it as a means of
protesting and enacting change?

I'd say right now, Hacktivism is a bubbling idea.  It's still in the pot, and a
lot of people are standing around the stove rubbing their hands, waiting to dig
in.  We've got a "subsidiary" now called Hacktivismo that OXblood Ruffin is
stirring up... they're all hot-shit coders and are working on practical human
rights apps that will make Hacktivism a more concrete force.

Hacktivism is about finding a political, real world end to these tech means...
which is exactly the same as the cDc concept.  So it's another way to spread our
idea about what the point to all this is.  Yes, I think it will be very
important in the near future.  I think a lot of people are and many, many more
will be picking up the flag and running with it.  It's something to care about
and fight for and I'm proud to be involved.

-----

<B> - Since cDc is producing and releasing audio now, and you mentioned to me
that you've been really into it for 10 years or so now... I thought it'd be
prudent to ask what the plans are.  How big is cDc gonna get into audio and
what types of projects are in the works?

Yeah, I've been playing bass and guitar and yelling in zillions of noisy bands
since I was 16.  Then I got into hip-hop and dance production in '90 with an
Amiga and a little keyboard and a 4-track.  Franken Gibe and I started a punk
club with partners who had a skateboard park in a warehouse and we put on lots
of shows for a few years.  Some raves, too.  Then xxxclusive and I put together
a lil' ol' recording studio in a few different places and we did tons of demo
production, mostly southern gangsta hip-hop and punk rock.

We're gonna be very into audio, at least as much as we've been into text files.
The first MP3 we put out was in mid '97, and now we've got the bandwidth to
really do things right.  The plan is to target the music scene specifically with
our audio and do lots of stuff with the guys running Shoutcast sites.  So we'll
plug along with our telecom, no-budget way of doing things and then a few years
later the old conventional scene maybe will notice what we've been up to.  That
seems to be the way it goes.

-----

<B> - cDc is infamous for its media relations.  By that, I simply mean, the
group is very well known in media circles, and utilizes the mass media as an
outlet.  In fact, in my view, you're masters at it.  My question is, how was
this relationship with the media formed and achieved?  Who is responsible for
forging these media relations?  And how important is the media aspect to cDc?

In school in the late '80s I wrote a paper about "electronic publishing" and
how important I thought it would be and the professor said it was a ridiculous
idea.  Ha.  In college, I got a degree in telecommunications - which means radio
and TV stuff.  I also had classes in journalism, public relations, marketing,
advertising, and media law.  So I was in all these classes learning about
dealing with the media, and I thought, "Well, we've got a magazine, sort of, so
why not act like it?"  I was just using standard media relations tactics in a
new environment.  I'd scour every magazine I could find for email addresses
(this was way before dot com mania and e-i-e-i-o-everything) of "movers and
shakers" and send them press releases about our stuff.

Relating to the media is very important for cDc for two reason.  One, because
mass media is how you spread a message  - advertising costs money, but public
relations work is free.  Two, because in the context of what we do, issuing
press releases and fielding interviews and such is freakin' hilarious.  And so,
the more the better.  We catch flack from a few humorless gimps in the hacker
world who don't get it, but the press aren't the enemy.  They're just cats doing
their job and most of 'em are cool folks.  They want a hook, they want "riveting
drama", 'scool.  You hang out with a reporter at a restaurant, they pay for your
food, you tell 'em a story.  If it's not you, they'll just go find some other
car wreck to look at.

Different people in the group field different kinds of questions, so between us
we can cover things pretty well.

-----

<B> - On a similar note, cDc has always been excellent at promoting itself
within the scene, and even outside of it.  The group is well known for its
unmistakable style and flash.  And so, relating to this, how do you put
together the shows you put on at the various hacker cons the group attends?

We use a lot of antihero imagery to wrap up an essentially positive message -
most people figure it out but a few knuckle-draggers don't get it.  That's ok,
they don't have to.  We do these things because it's fun to scheme and plot and
use these techniques in this context; we're playing around.  We're not making
money and we're not trying to trick anybody.  The attitude is that we definitely
want everybody in on the fun, ya know.  The only market we're interested in is
hearts and minds, and the point will be more clear as our agenda emerges over
time.

We plan for the shows we do in email mostly.  Then as the time draws near, a lot
of work goes into getting lights and sound working right (sometimes) and
whatever printed materials we're giving out to press, throwing to the crowd,
etc.  We have to put the recorded audio together on a CD, and maybe there'll be
some video.  Which is a nightmare with video projectors and such. Of course
you've gotta have some sort of show concept, and you have to script out who's
saying what and when.  Then you've got costumes to put together, and props and
figuring out how to get all your junk to the location.  When you see the stage,
you have to figure out staging: how you come in, where you stand, who does what
where.  How the lights are going to work.  The audio cues.  At H2K we had a
theater group doing a play and so I had to meet with them several times for
script-writing and rehearsals.  They did a great job.

We also did three musical numbers, and so the people involved with that had to
know how the songs went and what they were supposed to be doing.  It's a whole
big fat ton of work to put on those shows and they cost quite a bit of money to
do.  We don't get paid for them either, so we hope to make some of the money
back with t-shirt sales.

-----

<B> - Judging by their writing, quotes in articles and interviews, each member
of cDc seems to have a very distinct style, unique personalities and interests.
It's a group of real individuals, which is very cool.  And you keep it fresh,
by adding members, expanding, constantly getting into new things, etc.
The group as a whole seems to have its own culture, at least that's how many
outside observers view it.  More than just a generic hacker culture.  Can you
rant a a little on cDc culture, and give us an idea of what some of the basic
ethics and ideals of the group are?  Is there anything that isn't permitted
within the "boundaries" of cDc and all that the name encompasses?

Yeah, everyone in cDc is definitely their own person and we want them to project
their characters as much as possible.  We have an internal culture of
communicating on a personal level with each other, in most cases for many years.
Before everyone had Internet email, cDc communicated through a private message
board on the Demon Roach BBS.  Then that switched over by the early '90s to an
Internet mailing list we're all on.  We talk about intimate details of our
lives, know embarrassing things about each other, etc.  There are cliques within
the group, but for the most part we're all fairly close friends.  I guess you
could say the culture sort of comes from knowing that this isn't a regular
hacker group, it's not supposed to be, and that we're pushing for something
else.  Finding something else is the culture of the group.  That's what keeps it
fresh and interesting for us.  Being in cDc is like being in a band, or a gang,
or both.  But it's a new definition without the traditional boundaries.  It's
much better.  It's an ideal, a lifestyle.  The ideal is to be this renaissance
person, mad ninja skills in all aspects of life, enlightened, uber-el33t, etc.
So maybe you're really a bit lamer than all that superstar stuff, but ya know,
at least you can inspire your own damn ass.  And that's pretty cool.

-----

<B> - How has cDc changed since you first started writing and releasing issues?
I still vividly remember reading cDc's t-files from the 80s... with the early
ones including song lyrics for albums, lists, telecom terms and that sort of
thing.  The evolution of the group was so clear and apparent as each year
passed.  Was it as natural an evolution as it seemed?

We started doing text-files in '84 and over the next year or so we had amassed
quite a few.  With the name change to cDc, we started numbering the text files
to make them collectible, so you could tell if you didn't have them all.  Before
that, nobody was numbering anything.

Quite a few t-files didn't make the cut at that point, though you might still
see them floating around.  So by then we had a little 'zine with enough articles
to warrant our own subdirectory on a BBS.  The next issue was distribution, so
we made a point of making damn sure all our files got onto the biggest h/p and
text BBS's at the time.  We would recruit sysops into our efforts; for a long
time we had an organized "Factory Direct Outlet" distribution plan to
guarantee certain BBS's would carry our releases as soon as they came out.  So
we basically churned away like this, growing  gradually,  until 1993 when
Drunkfux set up our first Internet site, cypher.com.  Mindvox was also huge and
we were all over it, a telnet-able BBS in New York that everybody who was
anybody was on.  This was when the "cyperpunk" thing was happening, the last of
the big hacker-scene busts was going on, and we started doing press releases
through Internet email.  We had a _massive_ email list then, which I'd send out
manually one at a time and it took days to send out a PR.  The goal was if you
had a computer and a modem, we wanted to be in your face about cDc.  This
was when the hacker cons became more widespread... SummerCon had been going on
yearly in St. Louis with the Phrack scene, but now Defcon started and Drunkfux
had his HoHoCons ( in my opinion, the best - freakin' NUTS - cons now are
watered-down pussy shit compared to those).  So by the early '90s, the Internet
happened and we grew beyond the BBS scene and that's been the situation.  We've
been wanting deliriously to do wider media than t-files for almost ten years now
but didn't have the bandwidth to handle the kinda traffic these releases move.
I'm very excited about that stuff.  The cDc web site has been totally redone six
times now I think, and the latest is kinda cool.  It has a "content management
system" - w00.

-----

<B> - What do you think the legacy of cDc will be?  What will the group be
doing 5 or 10 years from now?  Yes, I'm basically asking you to predict the
future.  ;)

Astral travel.  Building an army of psionic warriors to battle the alien
reptilian overlords in the 4th dimension for the fate of mankind.

-----

<B> - Excluding BackOrifice and BO2K, what has cDc written or done that made
a huge impact on the scene?  (including texts, ideas, ideals, terms coined,
philosophies, etc.)  And which cDc issue stands out in your mind, and why?

I think our biggest impact has been the idea of electronic publishing, through
the e-zine, webzine, whatever.  BO is a cool app and made a lot of noise but in
the big picture, coming up with "new media" is a way bigger deal.

We're sort of in a weird position, because on one hand we're the flagbearers of
certain "old skool hacker" traditions - on the other hand, we were all
about breaking from some of that when we started.  Now the cultural enemies are
the dot com ninnies and the scared reactionaries who come following them not
realizing what they're getting into.  You can't just hide the Playboys in the
dresser and keep the scary books out of the library any more - gee, maybe you
should stop treating your kids like retards who have to be sheltered from
anything challenging, and they'll turn out better.  I'm digressing, sorry.  I
guess the influence to the hacker scene in general is the attitude that we're
here to have fun and build something cool.  In particular, there are tons of
details... I'll see quotes from us in the mission statements of groups,
unattributed.  File templates cut and pasted from ours.  Too many to think of.
Tons of times I'll be reading somebody else's etext or whatever and think
"Oh, that came from my...so and so".  References and whatnot all over the place.
It's cool, it's fine.  Everything's always built on what came before.  We were
looking at the Apple Mafia and LOD/H and figuring out what we didn't wanna do
in the early days, and now we're thinking about the Rolling Stones (in '73) and
KISS.

But the most important cDc innovation: MIXED-CASE ACRONYMS!!

The cDc file that stands out the most to me is #200: "Super mega blah blah
blah."  That damn thing took like a year to put together, and I remember
finishing it up at some crazy hour of the morning just before I drove off for 7
hours to a HoHoCon.  I hadn't put out a file all year, we had been stuck at #199
forever and everyone in the group was pretty pissed off.  So I basically
couldn't show my face without that file.  I brought it on a floppy and all was
well, and I still think it's the best file I've done by far.  I've been really
happy with the concept, an elaborate Dickens parody through the eyes of a BBS
sysop.  Another file that stands out to me is the "Six Million Dollar Man -
alien conspiracy" (#253) thing.  At some hacker con, Omega and White Knight
had a handful of copies printed out and announced he had this "special
exclusive paper" and these journalist guys were LEAPING for it, yelling "Press!"
It was too funny, and something really clicked for us, seeing that.  Also, I
remember that Mormon-expose file by Krass Katt being kind of an "oh wow" moment,
along with the first time I'd seen all that UFO-Roswell-MJ12 conspiracy stuff...
Gibe and I used to sit around, freaked out, talking about all that business when
we first found it on the old UFONet boards in the late 80s.

-----

<B> - You mentioned HOPE was more interesting this year than Defcon... How
was Jello Biafra's speech?  What's your take on cons in general?

As far as cDc stuff goes, our show at HOPE last year was probably the best live
show we've ever done.  Then two weeks later at Defcon, very little went like it
was supposed to, and it was pretty disappointing.  I remember coming back to the
"Suite of the Elite" after the show just feeling down and mumbling to myself,
"It didn't work, it didn't work."  We had a lot of communications problems
within the group leading up to it and we weren't really on the same page.  And
then tons of technical glitches and general confusion led to a half-assed show.
But we learned a lot about what not to do and to not just assume things will
work out, and next year should be insane.

Jello Biafra's speech was really cool, I think it's definitely what's needed -
an outside voice  pointing towards some sort of agenda, via hacktivism and such.
I think the problem with these cons has been sort of a blase' attitude - I see a
lot of kids throwing themselves in these "Internet security consulting
companies" trying to act like some dim-witted view of what "professional" means
and not seem like they're 16 years old.  Thinking they're going to pull a L0pht
and somebody's going to throw 'em some money.  Get real, kid.  Too much
unimaginative dull thinking going on, people not seeing the big picture or
thinking about the potential here.  Enough complaining though, cons are still
great and everyone should go if possible.  It's really fun to meet people from
the pages and IRC and hang out for a weekend.

-----

<B> - Do you want to give any shout outs to anyone?

Yes, everybody who's helped us out in some way over the years.   Carried our
stuff on their system, put a sticker someplace, bought a t-shirt, sent some good
feedback, told someone about cDc, lugged stuff around at a con, wrote a story
about us.  We appreciate it very much.  We're so grateful to everyone.

-----

<B> - Thanks for doing this interview.  We really appreciate it.

Thank you, it was fun.  Happy New Year, y'all...

G. Ratte'/cDc

-----

Afterward:

To say the very least, interviewing Grandmaster Ratte' has been a real highlight
for me, and has made this issue special.  I remember reading cDc issues in
the late 80s, when I first got into BBSing and the whole text scene.  In all
honesty, I grew up reading cDc.  Their files are the biggest reason that I
got into this at all.  And, I can still vividly remember scanning while reading
the latest cDc issues.  ;)  So, massive thanks to G. Ratte' and the rest of cDc
for putting out such high quality material throughout the years.  It's amazing
how they've been able to play such a prominent role in the scene for so many
years, and still not take themselves too seriously... and keep their sense of
humour, etc.  Thanks again for giving our readers a chance to get to know you
and cDc better.  And keep sending the cDc PR our way.

To our readers, make sure you hit www.cultdeadcow.com and check it for all their
cool new stuff.  Damn straight you better!


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