Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Some vague ramblings about the commodity of truth in art

In my opinion the two most important aspects of musical development of the last fifty years were John Cage and Discharge. And certainly guitar and volume based bands that have no connection on at least some level to Discharge, Hell Hammer or Autopsy usually hold little to no interest for me. Bands influenced by Sabbath is a little less cut and dry for me...

Beyond these, on a cultural level the two musical currents of the last fifteen (ish) years that have resonated the most with me are Riot Grrl (the worst genre name since Power Violence) and Black Metal; both of which polarised (and still do) a lot of people.

In both genres intent became more important than proficiency, proficiency being often consigned to a lower rung on the ladder of importance.

Both genres were (past tense intended) about the acknowledgement of being a part of something larger. Of course Black Metal's aims were usually more obscure, but that was always an important facet of distinguishing outsiders and intellectual interlopers from the core who "got it". And some of the less political aspects of Riot Grrl were also arguably similar in intent.

Anyway, this lead in is just that; a lead in. I have no desire to attempt a comparitive study of two only superficially similar and largely impossible to correlate cultural strands. I'll leave that to some boring post-grad and i'm sure the book version of the thesis is just around the corner. I'll no doubt ultimately shelve it alongside some of the more recent stunningly bland books about noise that have been published.

This weekend i was in Montreal (yes, American readers, that's where some of them speak French), Teenage Jesus and the Jerks entertained me on friday night and Blasphemy formed the centre of my saturday night escapade down the path of drunken revelry.

Lydia Lunch falls into a group of people along with Boyd Rice, Throbbing Gristle, Robert Anton Wilson, Jello Biafra, Oliver Fox and Anton LaVey that quickly and dramatically reshaped my teenage interests and thought processes. Of course more than a few of the above now irritate me to varying degrees, but they were good access points to other perspectives.

Like anyone at the frontier of some cultural plague, from Ragnar Redbeard to Tim Yohannan to Dwid Hellion, Lunch's legacy has a lot to answer for. And that legacy can be summed up as 'endless boring pricks bending over, spreading their gaping anuses and commanding you to stare into their honesty'.

For every Emilio Cubeiro there's twenty Elizabeth Wirzel's and something like two hundred and fifty seven Netto's Henry Rollins.

Though in all honesty i don't know if i should be blaming Lunch or Annie Sprinkle for the Stare at my Ugly Truth untertainment cult.

So, after suffering through one and a half (i liked half of one set) rotten self professed weird and strange bands whose weirdness and strangeness was their major selling point (bar camel toe and shit haircuts). Teenage Jesus and the Jerks played and they were really good, hell, far far better than my relatively low expectations were (i felt time may have completely passed them by).

The mosh pit was inexplicable and the well placed boot to the face of one would be stage diver glorious.

For a woman who's made her name in spoken word there was a lack of on stage banter and the set was pretty short. THIS IS A GOOD THING. God damn i hate almost anyone that thinks i should listen to them for more than twenty minutes (generally it's ten) unless it's Godflesh before 1992 (in my all time top five shows ever), Hijokaidan (ditto), Bastard Noise or the upcoming Autopsy one off i promised myself i'd go to despite swearing off MDF after playing there earlier this year.

Oh yeah, and unlike Throbbing Gristle in Chicago back in May there was a welcome lack of middle aged bank managers desperate to prove to the world how much more of a transcendental experience than anyone else they were having. Fuck, i wish i'd secretly filmed some of those wankers, eyes glazed over in rapt nostalgia which is essentially the lowest form of emotional connection, as sarcasm is to wit and Christianity is to Divinity.

Basically it was still relevant (and didn't need a Burning Man overhaul a la TG), unpretenious and far heavier than any number of riffless amplifier bands the youth seem to dig these days. Just a great performance.


Much is made of Black Metal's tendency towards the Kvlt and the True at the expense of the False (and occasionally the Posers).

As mentioned briefly above, initially this was a great way to ward off outsiders. The scene was small and insular enough to have its largely unwritten rules and a structure akin to a magical order intact (initiates, probationers, adepts, illuminates etc etc etc). But it got too big, its uncommerical edge became it's suprise selling point.

Point in case when i saw Mayhem recently i was amazed at how insanely awful they were, not just terrible sound and poor performance on such a huge stage to large audience, but also just how utterly unforgiving and listener unfriendly the music was. Clearly this is a band who have triumphed somehow in managing to sell what many would assume to be unsellable. And on a personal note i've enjoyed every Mayhem studio recording immensely (bar A Grand Declaration of War which is laughable) .

In 2009 a lot of the Scandinavian bands might as well be Led Zeppelin (fuck Led Zep) and a lot of the Americans are for all intents and purposes idea-free punk rockers trying to liberate themselves from punk but without any real idea of what to replace it with. As confused and as useless as what appears to be a current trend for people describing themselves as 'spiritual atheists', only with bad drumming and tinny guitars.

When the only real value a scene seems to (superficially) have amounts to being true to the unholy spirit of Black Metal a mass cop out occurs and we have an inversion of meaning on a level with Britney Spears singing about love and devotion.

In general it's the one's who don't get it that become obsessed with truth and falsehood, their own insecurities around both their personal motivations and their tenuous grip on what they hold in high regard are vomited forth endlessly. People just keep yelling "False!" like some Antichrist Tourettes War Command Fallen Angel of Truth because that way they'll never have to hear anyone elses criticism or be alone with their own terrifying thoughts for a minute.

Let's face it, almost every worthless False has a project that sounds "exactly like Ildjarn (dude)" these days. The commodity of being True is being sold back to us by the False en masse.

And to my mind the real problem with never getting past endless what's True and what's False is that they've become such arbitrary and comical terms. Which means that bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and the unimaginably rubbish Krallice get a free ride because barely anyone can muster up any criticism beyond a sheep like sour grapes bleat of "false black metal". Or worse, any one that can muster up a half decent critique is easily dismissed as yet another stupid Tr00 Kvlt Black Metal moron.

Which brings me to Blasphemy.

In the last four years the amount of redirection towards Blasphemy (and to a slightly lesser extent Von and Beherit) has grown massively. As people search for truer and truer alibis to their own sense of self worth they fall back on these guys.

And with good reason; Blasphemy pretty much broke the mold on every self-conscious nerdy metal jack off that made you laugh whenever they spoke of their 'warrior spirit'. No one else was really like Basphemy before and really, there won't ever be another band like them again.

Proclaiming themselves Satanic Black Metal Skinheads (a seriously bold move) twenty years ago they synthesised youth cultures in the most honest and quite frankly genuinely terrifying ways imaginable.

Satanic Skinheads? That was a weird fucking proposition, sometimes easy to forget how out there that was at the time.

And of course they're inadvertantly responsible for so much dreadful music masquerading as 'True Black Metal'. A simple scan of the sub-sub genre they're responsible for reveals that little is needed to fool a lot of people.

Chris Moyenesque cover, song titles more pathologically obsessed with Christ than most Christians and a whole bizarre mish mash of incongruous imagery liberally lifted from the western occult tradition. Throw some inverted crosses with some Enochian script and maybe a key of Solomon or two and Black Winds is your uncle. No need to add any actual substance to it.

It's more disingenuous than Cradle of Filth and it's being sold as 'real' and Kvlt. The reality is that it's frequently a passing lip service to theistic Satanism with occult clip art profusely splashed all over the cover. And don't forget your five bullet belts Young Warrior.

Which is not to say that it's all bad, Diocletian are doing something genuinely interesting with the style and i love the utterly neanderthal approach of Proclamation.

But really all underground cultures suffer this contraction of thought being sold back to people as either pushing the envelope or guarding the tradition. And like i said, most of it (in any underground culture) is largely dishonest and an inversion of the actual principles that they profess to embody.

In any case, the Blasphemy show. There were far less posers yelling about reality like some kind of Satanic Hip Hop all stars than i had anticipated. I think art witch Diamanda Galas performing the same night probably split that vote. Better being seen as cultured than intentionally cultureless if the occasion calls for an either/ or in some peoples mind i guess.

So Blasphemy, way too quiet to instantly endear me to them, but writing this on the train home two days later i'm struck with a lasting sense of how powerful a spectacle it was on a primal level.

Blasphemy were exactly what a gang (as in GANG) of 40 year old Christ hating coke dealers would look like; intimidating mother fuckers without even having to do anything 'intimidating'. In my line of work i meet a lot of people, a lot of them talk big, but in general the really mental ones don't need to do a damn thing; they just exude 'don't fuck with me' and are usually very friendly. But you know they could kill you in a heartbeat and wouldn't loose any sleep over it.

(this is a version of a larger piece that may one day eventually make it in to the print zine i've been threatening to do for a few months now)


The Rita - Skate/ Snorkel
Drowned - Aerth (these guys need to release more)
Black Sabbath - Peel Sessions
Cro Mags - Age of Quarrel
Kito - the Long Player


Psychogeography - Will Self
Cinema Purgatory 2 - Rick Tremble
Magic and the Qabalah - W E Butler