Mediation – noise, politics & the media

Simon Reynolds : Energy Flash (Picador 1998)
Rob Young : Harder! Faster! Louder! (The Wire, Issue 176, October 1998)
Crash! (Sleazenation, Vol 2 issue 10, November 1998)
DHR Part one (self-published newsprint ‘98)

Solidified, black on white, the story becomes a history, simplified, made to fit a convenient discourse, a discourse that is primarily journalistic and has little to do with what is actually happening in the real world (a world that postmodern media types are confident doesn’t exist).
On the one hand different things are thrown together to make a good story, regardless of veracity. Only like this it is possible that for example Reynolds is talking about gabba, then about us (Praxis/Dead By Dawn/Alien Underground) where apparently “The anarcho-crusties belong to an underground London scene in which gabba serves as the militant sound of post-Criminal Justice Act anger”, then throwing together some quotes from Alien Underground (from a review that ironically used Paul Virilio quotes) with track titles by Industrial Strength artists, only to conclude in the following paragraph that “Such imagery recalls the aestheticization of war and carnage in the manifestos of the Italian Futurists and the writings of the Freikorps.”
Even if for each single claim a case could be constructed, by throwing them together like this the limits of mere simplifications are clearly overstepped and the result is a libellous and outrageous mixing up of radical positions of the left and right, with the obnoxious and stupid assertion that everything fast and extreme is intrinsically fascistic. Is it just badly researched or just plain arrogance in the knowledge that being published by Picador and as a senior editor at Spin, he can say whatever he wants about us, because we have no voice anyway?
To deal with the complexity of the various hardcore scenes in the space of a few pages in a “definitive chronicle of rave music and dance culture” may be doomed to fail, but to read those pages have put in doubt the accuracy of the rest of the book – after all there is no conceptual, aesthetic or political connection between Gangstar Toons Industry and Leathernecks, or between Lory D. and Temper Tantrum, and there’s no connections between anything to come from us and the Italian Futurists, let alone the Freikorps – a particularly malicious connection to make considering our professed political orientation towards early German council communism, a movement that got violently suppressed by the Freikorps who thereby paved the way for fascism (what Freikorps writing is he referring to anyway?).

Another case in point is where an activist is quoted saying “We do everything illegal because it’s only outside the law that there’s any real life to be had.” It doesn’t occur to the writer that this may be an actual statement rather than a promotional one, and that he wouldn’t necessarily have to print the real name of the person making it (which he does). So while Reynolds is trying to smear us, and handing others over to the police, a curious development has happened recently in other sections of the more established media.

Every single li(f)e-style magazine had their very own Digital Hardcore feature, that in essence said the same things every time, basically the same they already said 4 years ago in Alien Underground (to my knowledge the first feature they had). The problem is that the circumstances have changed, and what was militant statements of intent have now become merely a part of a promotional media circus (even if their personal intention may still be true, it becomes corrupted, almost a parody, by the context). They themselves went from claiming to use the multiplicators/media to admitting to be working from inside the corporate system, and fighting it thus, in the spate of only a couple of years. Claiming to fight the system from within is a ridiculous position that has no thought – only money – behind it, and they know that. Paranoid about accusations of sell-out they largely cut themselves off from the underground scene they originally intended to create to the degree of trying to discourage people from releasing their own records and encourage them to send demo tapes instead, a move that betrays insecurity and fear of the power of self-organisation. When publishing their own newspaper, they missed a (last?) opportunity to set things straight, but largely opted for promotion instead: On the one hand Alec Empire is trying to convince us that the subversive strains of ‘techno’ have failed, that his (pop-)strategy is not simply parasitical, it even poisons the system by selling more and more records (?), but that he wants to destroy or share the power capitalism is ‘giving’ him. With whom? Obviously not even with the other musicians on his own label; in their slim newspaper he prints 18 photos of himself, giving no space at all to some of the best musicians on his label, e.g. Christoph de Babalon, or 16-17 whose 12” for DHR is a “debut release by new artist from Switzerland”, even though 16-17 has releases going back as far as 1984; in this promotional context everything that isn’t marketable is eradicated: the history, other lives and creativity of their own artists even, at least of those who haven’t signed full publishing contracts; there is a strict hierarchy. This is a shame, because at least at some point their radical opposition to the ‘system’ was genuine. They are rightly criticising elitism and identifying the problem of getting marginalised if opposing the system. But rather than corroding the system they are now giving it exactly what it wants: new exciting young talent to show and exploit; to prove that the media are indeed featuring ‘radical’ artists, playing along in every account. Isolated, equipped only with contracts and press clippings, they make perfect fodder for the decrepit media.

On the other hand The Wire presented us with a particularly cynical piece of recuperation in its October 98 issue, where “a bloody revolution is about to overthrow the dominance of spineless electronic music. An invisible international network of extreme musicians are cutting new channels for their digital discharge” with a front page story titled HARDER! FASTER! LOUDER! Indeed we learn of “unimaginably savage white noise torrents”, and the “strength and abrasiveness of … terror assaults”.
Since hack Rob Young knows or assumes that his readers don’t know better he can claim that V/VM’s first two EPs “went over everyone’s head”, and quote them saying “Everything extreme. The more extreme the better.” Everyone who actually heard those records knows that that’s ridiculous, and none of the acts described in the article release anything remotely deserving the descriptions above. The reason this is curious is that there are plenty of releases that would… that there are a number of producers and labels out there that have been releasing extreme music for years, music that has been played on free party sound systems, squat raves and underground clubs and continues to thrive.
Are journalists these days just not doing their research anymore? Is it that it would be too embarrassing to admit that there had been all these things happening for years without them noticing? Or do they know that as would-be high priests of the spectacular system they need virgins -”their first ever photo shoot”! – people who are prepared to have their picture taken, who are prepared to function in a way the culture industry wants them…
They will always find those people, but usually they’re not associated with cultural or even political subversion. Now however journalists are starting to season their elaborations with out-of-context quotes from situationists and (strangely?) recuperating “revolution” as a means to sell their papers. The logic behind this is easy – there is a strong subversive strain in electronic dance music, and it’s their job to stop it by re-incorporating it into the spectacular system. They are “surprised and worried” (to quote Vaneigem, not quite as out of context as Rob Young does:) “Not without reason; after all, their skin is at stake.”
In this article the mixing up of libertarian communism (e.g. Vaneigem) and fascist Futurism (e.g. Wyndham Lewis) is practised with the usual mixture of stupidity and malicious intent, and ideological channel-hopping can lead from Debord and Vaneigem to “the fundamentalist impulse; where zeal takes on a dictatorial, dogmatic flavour” within one paragraph. One “mercenary” is quoted as saying: “The only thing I really see us opposing is apathy.”
The ideological mess becomes complete: Apparently Diskono are “Defying you to consume their ‘product’ and not feel guilty” (just like cigarette manufacturers?), they are “modern-day ‘bombardiers’” (whoever blew up Oklahoma City had a problem with apathy), and with “tired of the old hegemony that demands avant garde artists deny the existence of popular culture”, a bit of anti-Frankfurt School banality is thrown into the mixture that just explained Vaneigem as calling “for revolution to rescue artistic creativity from the morally corrupting influence of commerce”.

Using situationist slogans to further their careers in the spectacle (in this instance in the magazine Sleazenation, Nov.1998) is also a duo called CRASH! (standing for Creating Resistance Against Society’s Haemorroids), made up of a former iD-art director and a Modern Review columnist; the result is predictably revolutionary “from the inside” – of the style press! An almost random assortment of quotes from Vaneigem, Debord, Lukacs and Marx, with a page saying I LIKE YOU in big letters in between and culminating in their slogan “COMMUTERS UNITE! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR BUS PASS”, they “wanted to spend money on the project and make it look slick”, but “get away from that horrible style over content thing”; their social comment is expressed: “What’s bad is being exploited, and putting up with it.” It’s remarkable that a bit of criticism about alienation can pose as radical politics these days, I’m sure the style magazine audiences have been burning bus passes ever since; it’s all pretty va-cunt.

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