Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2010 Part 3: The Problem with Power Violence (and two records from last year that i liked)

First world problems man...

OK, last one was noise, this one is power violence (and one grindcore record because it fits), next one is black metal.

There is no working definition of what power violence does or does not entail. Part of the problem is that many people believe that power violence is a definitive essence that can be easily found lurking within whatever audio murk is being examined. This means that whatever band/ record we're talking about is magickally moved from the set marked "bands that are not definitively power violence" to the set marked "bands that are definitively power violence".

A few years ago in interviews i started trying to side step the whole "what is power violence anyway?" questions (cuz, you know Eric Wood publicly proclaimed Endless Blockade were power violence and no one else was, thus making me an expert on the topic). I suggested that if we changed the language and asked who was influenced by power violence, rather than who was or was not definitively power violence then we wouldn't need to see the same endlessly boring e-fights about whether or not HSMP should be considered a sacred text in the Power Violence Canon or not.

I think power violence is something that can be defined, i just usually can't be bothered with the discussion that inevitably comes with it.

So who is having this conversation about what is or isn't power violence?

Well, mostly it seems to be people that are either pretty young or people who are excessively flippant (and who wouldn't be excessively flippant at this point?)

This is fine, but when people under 20/ newcomers are the only voices represented then shit gets skewed pretty quickly.

DIY culture is a living tradition, thus in the same way that i absolutely resist the notion that boring old gits like Stephen Blush (or me) get to define the debate on hardcore i also resist the notion that only the very young get to discuss something that's been around for a while now.

So what the hell is power violence anyway? Well, just because it usually can't be specifically named doesn't mean it isn't something tangible. Pick five people who are into black metal and ask them to define it and i'm sure most of them couldn't give you a clear answer. And what are similarities between Psuedogod, Burzum and Hate Forest? And by the same measure what are the differences? Because all three are black metal bands and all three sound utterly different.

Being able to pinpoint exactly what power violence sounds like is not really the issue because i would argue that it isn't a sound. I would argue that power violence is not a genre in and of itself but an offshoot of hardcore (and most certainly not grindcore). If anything it's a set of tools to compose music still very much within the framework of hardcore punk, but one that produces some different outcomes.

To my mind power violence parodies hardcore. When i say parody i don't mean the word pastiche, which a lot of people confuse for parody. I use the word in the same spirit as Bakhtin when he examined the notion of the carnival and the grotesque in his book Rabelais and his World. It is a purposeful distortion of another form to make a new point in the terms already laid out by the thing being parodied.

It's hardcore squared, hardcore on steroids etc etc. When hardcore uses a breakdown in power violence we exaggerate that point dramatically. The breakdowns are slower and it's a more jarring contrast. When hardcore uses short and fast song structures that don't follow traditional musical patterns in power violence we exaggerate those. Our songs are faster and shorter, our transitions are less predictable, our focal points are radically different, we use false build ups, we introduce riffs and discard them instantly without returning to them.

We fuck with the program but we're still definitely very much part of the program; if it moves too far away from hardcore then it stops being power violence (though it can still be influenced by power violence) and becomes something else entirely.

Take Mind Eraser, though they've mutated considerably over the years they write to the basic structure of hardcore but with the content replaced, making it something else, though still undoubtedly hardcore. Hatred Surge do a similar thing.

Iron Lung are all about the focus on repetition in terms of short, concise songs, and a massive expansion on the idea of punctuation and the pause in music. The repetition is very much there, but so fleeting and so shortened it flies past at break neck speed without becoming about lengthening the song. It's the idea of early Swans being attached to the speed of DRI and Koro. Songs are defined not in terms of melody and structure but where the pauses are, where the drums temporarily shift tempo before kicking back in.

Blockade towards the end was about taking the implied noise and dissonance of hardcore punk and really pushing it to breaking points at key moments. I was also starting to get really into the practice of shifting time signatures within sections of songs so a simple six bar pattern became something different. The denial of expectations that a lot of power violence represents has become predictable and codified (variations on the formula of two bar blast as punctuation, four bar break down, two bar blast, two bar breakdown, four bar blast to finish), so i was trying to keep to that spirit. Column of Heaven is largely founded on this song writing practice so far.

What does any of this have to do with 2010?

Well, rather than say "this record peels paint from doors and makes you feel like your face just got raped by a gang of PCP addled Vikings that just arrived through a rift in the space time continuum that this record fucking caused dude!" I figured i would define what power violence is to me, and a lot of people will undoubtedly call bullshit on my ideas, and from there talk about two bands that in 2010 encapsulated these ideas.

SFN - Itching 7"

I love this band. When i say "these kids fucking get it" what i'm really trying to say is that i perceive in their sound the formula i talk about above. They validate my own experiences and opinions, which is probably how most of us respond to art on a certain level.

I think i first met them in Wisconsin in 2006 when Blockade and Iron Lung were touring together. There's definitely a "mid-west, mid-week power violence curse" when you're on tour and i figured this might well be another one of those occasions where some whacky bullshitters with some half baked sub-Spazz riffs would be on the show. But no these four (as they were at the time) kids (Graeme must have been all of 16) were completely amazing and totally destroyed my negative mindset as soon as they started. Four years later and they finally released their first record! The demo 7" doesn't count. In a time where massive productivity is the key to getting your name out SFN spent years recording demos (i think i have them all) and refining the same set of songs endlessly. And fuck it's paid off for them. Ideally they've got over that stage of ultra slow writing and they'll give the world a full length sometime within the next 18 months.

I love power violence, but most power violence records i hear do absolutely nothing for me. This 7" reminded me of why i continue to mine this aesthetic.

Defeatist - Sixth Extinction CD

Not a power violence band by any stretch of the imagination, but i feel they apply the ideas of parodying structure and content to the grindcore genre in the same way that the good power violence bands do.

Defeatist are great in a subtle way. Initially they were one of those bands i would've said "fucking crush you with a clown car filled with mutant Orcs screaming about the end of the human race!" You know, that whole this-record-is-brutal thing without saying much else.

But listening to this CD and the Sharp Blade Sinks Deep Into Dull Minds discography CD (which i think i prefer slightly) fairly intently one day (which is something i don't do enough of these days) i picked up on a lot more things than i had first heard.

There's an interesting use of time signature going on and there's some cool shifting accents, that like Iron Lung define the form of the song rather than melody. But it's subtle, almost like how you notice how loud your refrigerator is when it stops making a sound. Yeah, apparently i've just decided that comparing music to consumer goods is a good thing.

Like Klaus Dinger of Neu's Motorik beat, to fully understand the section you're listening to you have to put it in the context of the part that immediately proceeded it and the part that follows it.

But it's also scream-like-a-banshee-guitars-that-sound-like-atlantis-sinking-drums-that-sound-like-a-boeing-taking-off brutal as well.

New age grindcore; tough as nails with a sensitive underbelly. Not really, i'm becoming self-conscious of how fucking ridiculous it is to talk too much about music.

Anyway, there's another two that would be in my definitive 2010 best of list.


WillH said...

This is probably what I'm going to link to the next time somebody tries to tell me that His Hero is Gone or Dystopia is Power Violence.

Anonymous said...

hey andy,i heard somewhere theres like limited edition 50# of the wadge split,but couldnt find any info on it,is it true or just rumors?

Survivalist said...

i destroyed all the limited sleeves RSR sent me and asked them to respect my wishes and destroy their copies as well.

I consider that version the Wadge edition and don't recognise it as a Blockade release with that sleeve. I assume he kept his 10/ 15 copies

Anonymous said...

I agree with 'Sharp Blade...' being slightly superior to 'Sixth Extinction', it sounds a bit more unpolished and filthy, especially the drum sound.

Can you recommend some more albums that display the qualities you described in the post?

These Seans said...

I had a similar experience with Defeatist. I've had the pleasure of seeing them live more times than I can count (this record made my 2010 list as well) but it I gained a whole new level of appreiciation for them when I really paid attention to their records. You said it better, mainly I just though "Wow! They are actually doing some cool shit here!"

Anonymous said...

not that this is related in anyway, but I checked out that album on your tumblr Andy - Reaper Subconscious Guide and holy shit, this album is incredible..I imagine that being somewhere in your definitive top 10.

Survivalist said...

hell yeah, absolutely. Fuck knows what goes on inside the mind of Woe J Reaper. Love all his stuff.

satanjugend said...

i bought a wadge split of rsr with limited tour covers about a month ago, copy 37/50, so they didnt destroy them...