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A Clockwork Orange

A history of pop music as a military weapon

South Korea used loudspeakers and K-pop as a weapon against their northern neighbours this week – it’s by no means the first time tunes have been used for torture

This week, North and South Korea exchanged fire, a culmination of simmering tensions that have existed for decades and North Korea’s recent landmine attacks that killed two South Korean soldiers. But it wasn’t just bullets that flew over the border, it was bangers too. The South Korean army brought loudspeakers to the frontier and blasted K-Pop tunes into North Korea in a bid to unsettle their enemy. Both G-Dragon and Girls’ Generation were deployed as sonic weaponry, evidence of how differences in culture remain, to many, truly upsetting.

In a 2006 issue of Dazed, Mark Blackstock traced a history of sonic weaponry back to WWII, although in a less conventional and more harrowing form than pop music. "A device called the Luftkanone, designed by Dr Richard Wallauscheck, combusted methane and oxygen to produce a series of shockwaves, which would be amplified by a parabolic sound mirror. Although they conducted no experiments, the Germans estimated that the pressure would kill a man in 30 to 40 seconds."

Pop music has long kept a reputation as "the work of the devil" and in recent history, military forces have toyed with the idea that playing bangers can bludgeon an enemy’s mental strength. Here, we look at the times that the work of "pop artists" has been used as a weapon.


Canadian industrial band Skinny Puppy sued the American government for $666,000 after finding out that their music was being used to torture detainees at the controversial U.S military prison in Cuba. Keyboardist Cevin Key told CTV News, "We sent them an invoice for our musical services considering they had gone ahead and used our music without our knowledge and used it as an actual weapon against somebody." A Guantanamo guard slash Skinny Puppy fan alerted the band to how their music was being used.


For many of us, hearing David Gray’s wilting ballad "Babylon" on the radio is unpleasant, but Haj Ali, being held at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, said in 2008 that he was "stripped, handcuffed and forced to listen to a looped sample of "Babylon" at a volume so high he feared that his head would burst.” Songwriter Gray was adamant that it was nothing to do with his material. "It doesn’t matter what the music is — it could be Tchaikovsky’s finest or it could be Barney the Dinosaur. It really doesn’t matter, it’s going to drive you completely nuts," he told the BBC.


Deployed by the U.S Army in 1989, this is thought of by many as the first "Rickroll" ever. During the 1989 invasion of Panama, General Noriega hid out in the Vatican Embassy in an attempt to avoid capture. Navy SEALs played the waiting game and Rickrolled Noriega – who apparently despised rock music – by blasting Astley’s "Never Gonna Give You Up" until he came out. After ten days, he surrendered and was spent fifteen years in American prisons. Other reports say that Van Halen was also used in the battle to capture Noriega.


By all accounts, Somali pirates are a fearless, heavily-armed, kidnap-centric bunch, having hijacked a number of boats over the last decade. One thing that makes your vessel immune to the threat of takeover? Britney Spears. Merchant naval officer Rachel Owens said, "Her songs were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most. These guys can't stand western culture or music, making Britney's hits perfect. As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can." Surely this must be bullshit? I could listen to Britney all day.


OK, so this one isn’t military. This wasn’t used on a battleground, but in the boxing ring. Heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson, at that point one of the scariest men in the world, used a track by London industrial noise band Coil as his entrance music to fight Mike Spinks. It’s absolutely terrifying. The camera is fixed on Spinks as the commentator says, "This heavy metal sound that you hear is Mike Tyson about to make his way in. The sound is deafening here in the arena. It’s interesting to note that Mike Tyson selected just noise for his pre-match music. Every so often you hear the clanking of chains. Everything that Tyson does is intimidating."

Tyson knocked Spinks out after 91 seconds.