Good point, and possibly a bad choice of words on my part - I really did just mean problematic, without necessarily implying the weight of meaning that’s become attached to the word in recent years.
Specifically in terms of Fernow, as with a bunch of other noise or industrial artists, I think the way he uses provocative material (in this case terrorist-related imagery and language) but then refuses to explain or contextualise that use has become increasingly difficult to justify. Maybe in the 70s confronting society with its own filth and ugliness was a novel and shocking way to push people out of their bubbles, but now we’re bombarded by violence and terror all the time, just replicating it within an artistic context doesn’t have anything like the same impact.
I’m obviously not claiming that engaging with stuff automatically means an artist sympathises with it or anything like that, and I don’t think we should shy away from experiencing difficult or extreme things, but at time when extremism of all kinds and the far right in particular have a very real and growing power, I think artists need to engage differently with those issues.
Slapping a photo of the Fort Hood shooter on the cover of your album and then refusing to discuss it isn’t shocking or offensive, it’s just (to me at least) intellectually lazy and kind of irresponsible.
Appropriation is perhaps one way to go about it. In some ways, this is where I’m at, though I think it’s like walking a tightrope. I do think there’s value, if not necessity in art remaining somewhat cryptic, especially since the artist often doesn’t (or shouldn’t) know exactly what they’re trying to say.
I get that. There is a dippy tendency to push the envelope in this regard, though, by comparison to many, this is decidedly tame (power electronics, in particular, has this reputation). It seems that reissues of the album have excluded the photo of Nidal Hassan, but seeing such a banal photo of him on the cover in discography peppered with what would appear to be equally banal photos of Joint Chiefs or commanders of whatever sort (amongst the more menacing photos, likely of deathsquad commandos and terrorists of various stripes) I think was meant to contextualize the use of that photo in a subversive manner.
Maybe it’s the case with transgressive art that one’s always trying to strike a balance between perversive and subversive.
Mirror statement: For me, though, so much ambient stuff now is just formless effeminate swank, with some cheap profundity bolted-on to it to make up for the music’s inherent blandness - delicate soyboys as far as the eye can see.
Notice how trivial it is to make overbroad claims about an entire genre’s musicians without providing any additional insight.
What weight of meaning? The term is vacuous, having been hollowed-out from overuse. I’ve read your posts multiple times to try to parse exactly what you’re objections to Fernow are, and if I understand correctly, it’s that he leans heavily on the imagery of war, torture and suffering ‘without explanation or contextualisation’. If that’s accurate, then it begs the question: how much of his music have you listened to? Do you know where he’s coming from? In my view all of the grounds for objection (such as they are) you raise can be addressed by just listening attentively to the music and using your imagination.
Noise and power-electronics have always been challenging and uncomfortable; have never been about spoon-feeding people some comfy ideas that are immediately portable into current culture. More importantly though, most of the time the artist’s personal beliefs cannot be inspected directly, so the principle of Charity is one that should be applied whenever in doubt.
These are both good points. Maybe the explanation I feel is lacking would in fact just deaden the music, but I still feel like if the music can’t really cope with a bit of scrutiny / discussion, then that’s not a great sign either.
And yep, it’s a question of balance isn’t it, for which everyone’s going to have their own personal boundaries and sweet spots. I don’t feel like noise / PE is really doing much subverting at all currently, but if others feel differently then fair enough.
A tall order by any stretch for any sort of music or art in this day and age and even more difficult to quantify. I just happen to think that if one required anything of an artform to this effect, it would simply be that the form bore teeth. If Industrial lost its teeth somewhere along the way, perhaps it’s just due for its second set.
In any case, I see a latent potential in Industrial wholly lacking in practically every other form. Whether or not that potential is being tapped is another matter, altogether.
And you’d be 100% right, though perhaps with the added issue of replicating the language of the alt-right in the process. I assume you’re being tongue-in-cheek and obviously one person saying “cuck” on an internet forum isn’t going to cause the collapse of Western civilisation, but still.
Right, I was referring to the way in which “problematic” has become increasingly connected in online discourse to allegations of racism, sexism or abuse of one form or another, the “cancelling” of people, and so on. I wasn’t trying to directly invoke any of that, so like I say it was a bad choice of words on my part - my point was really just that (for me) Fernow’s music, the imagery and language he places around it, and the refusal to discuss the relationships between those things feels unsatisfying as a listener and ethically questionable.
A decent amount, though obviously not masses given that I’m not a huge fan overall. But like I say, I think Fernow’s actually a lot more interesting and talented than most people in this scene.
And you’re mostly right on my objections to it - I don’t find any of it dEePlY oFfEnSiVe or whatever, I just don’t think it ultimately does enough to engage with such potent subject matter.
Like, obviously I don’t think artists should be banned from making music about the War on Terror unless they submit a thesis accompanying it, but if an artist roots their work in trauma and violence inflicted on other (mostly brown-skinned) people, then I feel like that does create some kind of ethical question. If an artist’s response to that question is to be deliberately opaque and ambiguous, that’s fine, but that increases the risk that people might find their work superficial, underwhelming or counterproductive as a result.
I get that Fernow’s intention here is to critique American imperialism, and I’m sure other people find his work an insightful or compelling response to militarism or extremism, I just don’t think he really does enough to escape the feeling of dressing up in “cultural drag” (to borrow a term I saw used about Muslimgauze, who I think occupies a similar grey area to Fernow but in very different ways).
Again though, all subjective innit.
I guess this is where we fundamentally disagree, in that I don’t think noise and PE are really very challenging or uncomfortable at all, at least not currently.
I feel like the central conceit of quite a lot of noise music - “here’s something shocking, nasty and extreme, I’m going to make you uncomfortable and force you to confront it” - hasn’t really progressed since Throbbing Gristle. It’s also become kind of redundant given that mainstream culture is now absolutely saturated with violent, extreme imagery and ideology.
For me, noise’s approach of just replicating or reflecting that shocking material or states of mind, and then refusing to discuss them beyond that, has ceased to be radical and instead is now just kind of gratuitous. Which is presumably why it also continues to attract people for whom the gratuitous nastiness is exactly the point.
I spent a good while in the noise and PE/industrial scenes in various capacities… What always interested me above all else was the sound, and also some element of emotional outburst/catharsis. There are plenty of artists who make what could be considered sonically/ideologically very extreme work that are free of shitty politics. Some people are interested in scummy stuff, but I think for a large majority it is a copycat situation. It is expected or almost like a marketing tool for your no name tape- put a sketchy looking icon on it, or a dead body, or whatever. While I was never that into TG I think at the time their use or groups like SPK of a lot of imagery was an attempt to hold a mirror up to society - a bit of a “oh, you think we are sick, but you are the ones who do this and this and this, we just found these images but you are the ones who created these situations or allowed these things to happen”. I think that concept both got lost and became ineffective very quickly. Merzbow’s early use of pornography was similar- comparing sound and music to trash, porn, thus the label name Lowest Music & Arts.
Over time I grew incredibly tired of these lame antagonistic tactics (antagonizing WHO? - nobody else will see this shit other than the other people who go out of their way to find your 20 copy cassette). While touring I did meet some very nice people, but also found a lot of people were about as uninteresting in person as this type of tactic is in art, pub bore weekend fascists, but also a lot of people who were very serious about their far right political/social views and who were rather scary to be around. Hint- if someone bases their work around lots of scummy or “edgy” or racist or whatever things, do not be the least bit surprised to find them revolting as humans. Give me an album like Pulse Demon, or work by Aube or Bastard Noise that is actually interesting to LISTEN to over some crypto-fascist bullshit. If the work relies primarily on imagery/iconography the sound usually isn’t all that interesting.
A quick note on this: Most people can’t fully grasp how they relate to atrocity and tragedy or the allure of war and violence or, most of all, their emotional distance from any of it (to include those who feel deeply impassioned by it). Sometimes words, especially prose, will fall dreadfully short, particularly for those unaccustomed to wielding words in such a way. Music has always been among the best ways to fill gaps of this sort.
I think it’s always been far easier for most to accept the finer feelings than the grimier and grittier side of expression, but I do agree that cheap provocations fall flat in the modern age (even when they’re sure to rile people up, but to what end?). I think, though, that there’s plenty to gain from people who are honest in there craft and motif, even if they don’t seem to fully understand what they are doing, and even if we cannot decipher a purpose in it.
I think especially post-2016, the time for ambiguous imagery in noise flirting with fascism is over and should have been over for a long time. I’ve been losing this argument for decades now though. The appeal of noise to some is “anything goes” and they lean into it. It does often feel like an ugly reinforcement of the status quo instead of anything transgressive.
My current HN project is named Hypertrophy because body building is a rich angle to mine when creating art about power, political & otherwise, and especially about the aesthetiicization of power, and, while I don’t intend to make polemic art with this project, my (far-left-for-an-American) politics are out in the open to anyone who reads my twitter feed.
As other have noted, I think this comes down to a question of what is actually transgressive. To my mind, terrorist/violent imagery is the least transgressive thing that can be done in noise/extreme music because that’s what everyone does and it’s very much played out. Here’s an example of what, imo, true transgression in extreme music looks like (a black metal musician using an idyllic selfie for an album cover):
David Keenan’s book England’s Hidden Reverse may be of interest to posters in this thread. Although primarily concerned with the Coil / Current 93 / Nurse With Wound axis, it does touch regularly on the post-TG British noise scene of the time (e.g. Whitehouse and associated acts). Noise was never much of an interest of mine back in my youth, but you’d inevitably get to know the characters through collaborations, fanzines and so on. Many of them just seem tiresome now (and many did then), but the book is an excellent read.
Not half bad actually, I listened to the whole thing.
Dont mind this style when its at a nice low volume home listening type situ and there no piercing high frequencies for extended periods. Played at a loud as heck gig and im making a beeline for the exit
Added that to my reading list. I used to listen a bit to neofolk like Current93 and Death in June with some interest, though I do agree that it gets tiresome. I have found Brave Mysteries to be among the best sources of music still carrying that banner today.
I decided TG had provided all the noise I really needed, so it wasn’t an avenue I pursued beyond dipping into Merzbow here and there just out of curiosity. The whole power electronics scene seemed off to me at the time, and the book doesn’t do much to change that. I used to hoover up stuff from our local alternative bookshop, which led me to a couple of Peter Sotos interviews / pieces (via Loompanics). I knew he was a Whitehouse collaborator and decided it really wasn’t something I needed to learn more about…
Of course noise encompasses a whole lot more than that, as I did come to appreciate.
I was speaking about neofolk, actually. You mentioned Current 93, which may share a tiny bit of genetic material with Industrial (but probably more with postpunk), but it’s about the farthest thing from Power Electronics. Death in June did cause a bit of a stir, but neofolk doesn’t tend to be so unsettling as Industrial, generally. Brave Mysteries doesn’t put out any Power Electronics that I’m aware of.