Thoughts on the presentation of rebellion in the artwork of (Post-)Rave records.
On the basis of two drawings I´m going to show the conception of rebellion in record artworks from 1994 and 2003. Based on that I draw conclusions about political ideas as a criticism of ideology. The drawings were part of the artwork of the album „Music for the Jilted Generation“ by The Prodigy and „Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You“ by Kid606. Because the latter is a caricature of the first one it´s possible to spot the commonalities and differences.
The Prodigy: The Rebel as a model for identification
Picture 1 is printed in the inlay of the second album of The Prodigy – „Music for the Jilted Generation“ (XL-Recordings) released in 1994. It´s a remittance work, done by graphic artist Les Edwards. He wrote this about the work on his website: “Painted for the album by the Prodigy and closely art directed by the band to illustrate their philosophy.” (lesedwards.com)
The picture has to be seen in front of the historical background of the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act which criminalised free techno festivals in Great Britain in 1994.
It is subdivided into two parts alongside an abyss. The left side is drawn in dark colors: a cold blue in various shades and mostly black. In contrast to this the horizon is drawn in red whose intensity declines to the middle of the picture. In the background there is the silhouette of a city. You can see over-dimensional, smoking chimneys of industrial factories. In front of them are fundamentally smaller residential buildings. Firstoff at the abyss there is already a huge line of riot police. And more of them are jumping out of transport vehicles and run to the abyss. One police officer is talking through a megaphone, another one is raising his truncheon in a threatening way.
The right part of the abyss is drawn in a different coloring: bright, shining, forceful colors dominate. The sky is blue, yellow and white, the sun seems to rise at this moment. This part is bright with daylight while it is night-time at the other side. In the background there is a green meadow with a party happening on it. There are two giant speakers with a crowd of people in front of them. Some people are loosely standing in front of the crowd, most of the people seem to dance. Their faces are abandoned from the left part of the picture and the danger; nobody seems to take notice that the police which is marching up. Between the people there are also vans, one of them is an old VW-model.
Prominently in the foreground of the picture there is a huge figure which attracts the attention of the viewer. It´s a man, aged somewhere in his middle or late 20s, who holds a machete in his left hand. The sun is rising slowly behind his head. The shine is silhouetting him against the horizon and gives him the luminescent aura of a nimbus. He is threatening the police with an attempt to cut the rope of the bridge that connects both sides of the abyss, the only connection. His gesture communicates: He´s a rebel and embodies the male outlaw. He has long, curly, brown hair and is wearing a simple, blue T-Shirt, cut trousers and clumsy boots. His middle finger is pointing in the direction of the other side of the abyss: “Fuck the police.” His body language is deprecating but his gesture is threatening. He is looking for a verbal confrontation and is protecting the dancing crowd behind his back.
The rebel impersonates elements of the classical hero who defends the innocent (and defenceless) people against the dark machinations of the ultimate evil. In this case the peaceful party community has to be protected from the police. The crowd isn´t defending itself, but needs the rebel as some sort of watchdog and bouncer.
The intention of the party community is pretty clear: one wants to party – but the police are disrupting this. Here one seems to find an exit-strategy to escape society and its constraints: hedonistic consumption. The negative attributes of capitalist collectivisation are seen as factories (individual deprivation caused by work; pollution of the environment) and police (repression) are seen exclusively externally, while the individual is seen as autonomous from it on the green meadow outside the city.
Where do the sound systems come from, who is constructing cars and how are motors operated? Posing all those questions would disturb the idyll. Because some answers would be that speakers are manufactured in China, that cars have to be refueled with petrol from the Middle East and that ecstacy is synthesised in complex chemical procedures. This would show that the idea of autarky (as independent production) is a chimera. The rebel particularly wants to forget, especially through his clothes, that he has something to do with capitalist society. Autonomy is suggested as an outside position. The tattered clothes are supposed to represent resistance which produces with all these contradictions an all the more pathetic impression. The paradox that one doesn´t realise anything different than bourgeois values is getting ignored.
With this picture The Prodigy are taking a stand in the conflict of ravers versus the police during those days. At the same time this statement is used to market a rebellious attitude. The picture is part of the artwork of a record – which is of course a commodity . The teenage (and male) consumer ought to identify himself with the presented rebellion. With the help of the artwork a certain image of The Prodigy is established: They should be seen as anti-stars, who define themselves through refusal and opposition (see Jacke 2003, p. 284).
In 1994 it was probably an innovation that a (commercially successful) dance-project coquetted with the classical image of the maladjusted rock star. Symptomatically, the fact is that the picture is drawn by a designer for Heavy Metal-covers. With the benefit of hindsight this seems to be the regression of electronic music to strategies of the rock business. Instead of the faceless-presence of the anonymous DJ and the dancers The Prodigy used the model of the identifiable and inflated rock star.
In this picture the rebel represents the star. The consumer of records by The Prodigy is thought to be the classical teenage fan who understands the rebel as a image of identification: a male archetype with a full-blooded figure. Reality had to adapt itself to the ideal. The Prodigy in 1994 had 4 members until their second record they faced the problem of not having a clear band structure with a frontman. Later they tried with „Firestarter“ (1996) to present Keith Flint as a classical frontman.
Before that time dance music sold mainly in the charts with styled female dancers and G-rated eroticism. The Prodigy, as a non-casted project, changed that and introduced the image of the authentic rock-rebel, who talks as a representative of a “jilted generation”.
The potentially rebellious statement is becoming harmless. Disaffection with society is exploited as a resource and is transformed into “spectacular disgust” (Debord 2006, §59) and reduced to non-offensive subcultural protest. One only wants to dance peacefully but the police prevent this so one feels deserted by official politics. Rebellion yes – but please, everybody: buy a record of the band after the show.
The would-be subversion isn´t against capitalist society, but is rather a strategy to make one product unmistakable against competing offers (see Behrens 1996). Politics is aesthetically presented as advertisement; the played rebellion is pure appearance. Politics serves the sale of the music-commodity. This follows the pattern of the spectacular production of pictures: “The part of the world, the picture-world, seems to be the total world of reality, the appearance dominates the Being” (BBZN 2005, p.62). This fraud functions through the ideology of immediacy, that declares social relations as quasi natural facts. Music-commodities seem to be outside the dominance of trade and get their trade value from the simulation of standing outside totality (see Adorno 1986 GS14, p.25). The rebellious gesture of The Prodigy hides this by trying to be authentic when in fact all they do is conserve capitalist exchange conditions.
Kid606: The Tiger´s ironic Post-Rave-Laptop-Attitude
The second picture was drawn in 2003 for the artwork of the double LP „Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You“ (Ipecac/ Tigerbeat6) by Kid606. Graphic artist Joel Trussell produced a caricature of the first picture by Les Edwards. The basic composition of the picture is maintained but the style of drawing differs. It is a comic strip and satirises the pseudo-realism of Les Edwards.
The confrontation of the two amorphous social groups of police and ravers is left out in this illustration. This has historical reasons. The conflict between the police and visitors of festivals in the early 1990s in Great Britain seems to be irrelevant to the US-resident Miguel Trost Depedro aka Kid606 one decade later. He also distances himself from the subcultural term “scene”. Where The Prodigy refer to the “Underground” as a subcultural project , the message of Kid606 is in two titles on his releases: “Down/ done with the scene“.
This is reflected in the picture of the artwork: the tendency here is an emphasis away from the collective towards the individual. On the left side there are only three creatures which remind one slightly of the tasmanian devil from “Looney Tunes” and which seem to explode each moment in wild rage. On the right side there is only one male and one female dancer.
Instead of the rebel there is a tiger drawn (the mascot of the label Tigerbeat6) that wears a Kid606-T-Shirt. The tiger itself is the corporate logo of the record company and also has the corporate logo of the musician “Kid 606” on his shirt. There is no association with the classical rockstar-figure given to the observer in contrast to the first picture. Would a star wear a T-Shirt with his own name on it? That would be tautological. The tiger isn´t presented elevated to be the rock-rebel of The Prodigy. He´s responding to the rage of the creatures on the left side with ironic reserve. While the rebel is ferocious, serious and authoritative in his relationship to the other side, the gesture of tiger is still a “fuck you” but his facial expression makes it much gentler (and nonchalant) suggesting “I don´t give a fuck.”
The tiger takes up a bigger part of the picture compared to the rebel, but at the same time he seems to be less dominant. The attention of the viewer is directed to the dancers in the background. The relationship isn´t the absolute heightened star versus amorphous mass but Post-Rave-Laptop-Star Kid606 as the “cool guy” saving the party. He delivers music-commodities for the hedonistic consumption of the individuals, the hot and hip stuff people dance to.
His posture is directed to the dancers. His tail is hanging over the abyss and his foot is only one small step away from falling – but this doesn´t seem to cause any concern. He´s the embodiment of laxness with a mischievous smile and appears with the hinted moves of his arms and legs to be like a dancer. Also the role of the audience has changed. Instead of being only a pure mass, they´ve been given a face and gender and erotic heterosexual love is denoted through dance. The dancing people are much more in the center of attention in contrast to The Prodigy. At the same time the tiger appears to be less separated from the dancers because he is standing on the meadow with them.
Kid 606 doesn´t present himself as a rock star who stands beyond the audience but as an involved fan-star. In contrast to 1994, in the meantime another type of marketing has been established: the laptop-artist as the anti-star, who presents his own celebrity status ironically and also presents himself as a active listener of the music. He has to show his connectivity both with the music and the other fans. His success is based first of all on knowledge about current trends and on motivation – and most of all through connectivity with the audience. The strategy here is: Being one of them; that ordinary rave kid from next door.
On the bridge the tiger functions also in another way. He is the bouncer who blocks with his machete the way of the angry creatures from the other side. Are they so enraged because they can´t get in? Adversity doesn´t arise in this scene from the State but from uninvited party guests. Liberated dancing proves to be an illusion. In the picture of The Prodigy and in reality in 1994 in Great Britain parties had to be protected from the force of the state. But today the individuals seem to know that living together without authority is not possible without execution of power. In London there are security-companies at every squat party to keep the crack gangs out, which previously found ideal victims in ravers on ketamine . The idea that a party could be something else than regular capitalist business is vanishing in the second picture. The dancers are naked but still the social relationship is immanent to them like the impression of the clothes on their skin. The idea of free parties has become a leisure-prison, where the organisers have to imitate the State (or is it: execute some of his functions?) to keep the hedonistic consumption going. The project of rebellion has been buried and the management of society is kept alive by individual subjects through their own responsibility.
The End: Production – Consumption – Hedonism
Surprisingly in both pictures the sphere of production is presented, albeit as a negative reference. The subjects have the diffuse idea that wage labour means exploitations of individuals. Is this already an uprising tendency in the people, a cry against the repression of the creative power as John Holloway puts it? In both pictures labour is illustrated as Fordist factory work, the individuals distance themselves from it and are physically seperated from it. They escape into the leisure activities of (Post-)Fordism .
There seem to exist no deprivation caused by labour, only the free acting out of drives (according to psychoanalysis) with relish. But this movement of flight is happening inside the totality of capitalism. Leisure is the essential counterpart to labour and entertainment offers produced by the cultural-industry adjust the subject for totality: “Amusement is extension of labour under late capitalism.” (Horkheimer/ Adorno 1986, GS3)
In hedonistic consumption happiness is searched for in the sphere of leisure, which seems to exist far away from the austerity production offers. Left is pain, right is fun – that´s the view of the hedonists resulting in an escape to the amusements leisure offers. This follows exactly the logic which is forced upon the proletarianized people and without any reflection that social totality includes both spheres.
The individual can function in its free time “freely” as a commodity- and money-monad under the premises of the equal and free trade. Hedonism affirms this “character-mask of commodity-shaped collectivisation” (Gruber/ Ofenbauer 2000), the only form the subject can exist as in capitalism. The party doesn´t exist uncoupled from the social connection of dazzlement. Like other offers of the cultural industry it simulates happiness, and makes sure that society generates the “always-the-same”: the production and consumption of commodities. This fetishised social relationship appear in the cultural sphere as immediate, as redeemed from their conditions of constitution. But neither commodities are immediate nor is the demand for them. The spectacular needs are already the basis of the fraud in the bourgeois society – and not their fulfilment. Hedonism is the affirmative ideology in (post-)fordist capitalism trying to realise the pursuit of happiness via joyful consumption.
Who is serving the drinks? Who is building up the sound system? By the concealment of those basic questions the commodity “party” seems to generate itself as if an invisible hand is behind it. For this reason the right sides of both pictures allow to look not only to ideological views but also effects of exploitation: The indivdual under the rule of the commodity is reduced to an appendix of technology. It is only a supernumerary in the production of speakers, cars and services to be sold while he is hardly needed any more for their production.
But this fact could be a reason to hope for a change. The human labour force is being dispensed within the industrial sector through rationalisation as much as possible. So both pictures can be read as a promise for a liberated society. Material production could be done mostly by machines while humans idly pass their days. The development of the forces of production and the technological possibilties are potentials (not more, not less) for the emancipation of mankind.
That is why this positive reference to technology is the element which has to be singled out in both pictures. Neither sound systems nor cars are condemned as technology here nor is the green meadow outside the city literarily seen as a “natural” counterpart to society. The idea of romantic transfiguration of nature combined with anti-civilization resentment can´t be found here. Exactly here lies the utopia memorialized in the pictures: Utilization of technology without deprivation, material wealth without suffering, happiness without work.
Where bourgois hedonism seems to offer an exit-strategy through the realisation of happiness, individuals don´t want anything else than the existing order. The hedonistic strategy of searching for luck and freedom in the sphere of leisure and culture is essential to criticise (Horkheimer/ Adorno) and to abandon (Debord). This could be realised in a society where human needs are the end in itself of production.
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The described pictures in full color and a German version of this article can found under http://unkultur.olifani.de/?p=26