VIOLENCE’s cassette release reviewed

12 February 2013

Type ‘VIOLENCE’ into a search engine and you’ll find all manner of human brutality. But when it comes to the Maryland, USA artist of the same name and disposition, you might have better luck with the stylised V†L£//:CE, V†LENCE or VILENCE to find any information on this specific mode of audio cruelty.

In fact, the Baltimore artist applies a powerful aggression inspired by those juke, metal, goth et al. influences that have yielded a sea of fledgling sound abusers in recent years worldwide –an influence most explicitly felt in his 2011 LP release Apophenia through online label Aural Sects. But for his most recent cassette release, Reptile/Hand Me Downs From Heaven, out early March on French label Steak AU Zoo, there’s less gratuitous carnage and more a prolonged undertone of menace that keeps things interesting.

Opening with a persistent minimal beat that sounds like an isolated mechanical heartbeat, ‘when my heart was dark and cold’ crawls along a brooding emptiness that comes across, less as a tender metaphor and more a discomfiting anatomical cross section of human life at its barren core. Often urgent repetitive keyboard samples call to mind the cultural zeitgeist of digital darkness, according to Gatekeeper, Bodyguard and Fatima Al Qadiri, while some consciously outmoded samples hark back even further to the nihilistic era of 80s New Romanticism.

In fact, one of VIOLENCE’s many monikers is Robert Smith, which, with a namesake in The Cure front man, is as hard to believe as ‘Palmtrees Caprisun Citrusblast’. The latter becoming not only an absurd reference to the balmy weather of a west coast vibe with an east coast complexion but part of the haunting theme of ‘hiding in plain sight’, as an artist that is near impossible to find on the internet among unrelated search results and option-key dependent song titles like Apophenia’s ‘V†L£//:CE – BRITNEY_T34R§ (THE TRÅG¡PØÇÅL¥P§£ ØV BR¡TN3¥_T34R§)’.

The pixel haze dissipates a little around Reptile/Hand Me Downs From Heaven, which limits itself to the Roman Alphabet but there’s still the surreal, Dadaist approach to meaning(lessness), which the online media mind scramble has no doubt contributed to. There are the requisite typos of a world raised on computer keyboards with ‘sumtiems’ -a contorted hip hop interpretation led by a crushing bass line and the emotionless appeal of “who will love me now?” -as well as the disrespect for spelling in the synthesised volley of ‘iluvu’. Then there’s no escaping the aimless articulations between seemingly disconnected ideas. How exactly could a lizard have anything to do with the divinely acquired second hand implied by the title track ‘reptile/hand me downs from heaven’? That’s except for the undeniable sample of fighter character ‘Reptile’ from Mortal Kombat; a famously bloody Nintendo game anyone growing up in the 90s will be familiar with… as well as a young inheritor, perhaps? Fans of Miami-based rapper SpaceGhostPurrp and his Raider Klan crew, could also probably relate to the retro-thrill of pre-millennial consoles for Generation Z.

Needless to say, there’s an unshakeable sense of alienation to Reptile/Hand Me Downs From Heaven, as a heavily distorted vocal moans “fuck me mama” on the aforementioned title-track while being assaulted by jagged guitar lines, a-la early 90s cop drama or repetitious 8-bit video game scores. Things are looking bleak in our modern dystopia right now and VIOLENCE is making art from the chaos.

VIOLENCE’s Reptile/Hand Me Downs From Heaven is out on Steak AU Zooin March, 2013.

  share news item

CTM & transmediale Festivals reviewed

7 February 2013

Now that the apocalypse has passed, the time has come to figure out where we’re headed. That’s certainly the sense one gets when juxtaposing last year’s The End-themed Unsound Festival in Krakow with CTM’s The Golden Age in Berlin. Oddly, where the contrasting programme titles imply doom and hopelessness, progress and innovation respectively, they both share a common thread in that they appear to be communicating in opposites. That’s why the overriding themes of CTM and its corresponding art and culture-centred counterpart, transmediale, concentrate on deep self-assessment, re-evaluation and a look to an exhilarating and sometimes frightening future –all with the benefit of hindsight.

 The outcome is one of confusion and a feeling of helplessness; if not in the physical impossibility of attending all the discussions, workshops, exhibitions and performances taking place on either side of the river Spree, then in reflecting the same sense of information overload that every voracious human-cum-digital-data-processor experiences on a regular basis. Apart from the distinction between the music-related projects and everything else, there’s a practical, though significant division made between the two worlds of transmediale and CTM. Where the privileged position of the art of transmediale is centred at the Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt (The House of World Cultures) in Berlin’s political heart of Mitte, music is relegated to where it belongs; on the vibrant cultural fringe of cheap real estate and free artistic expression around the south-eastern regions of Neukölln and Kreuzberg.

Exhibition Imaging with Machine Processes. The Generative Art of Sonia Landy Sheridan. Image courtesy of transmediale.
Imaging with Machine Processes: The Generative Art of Sonia Landy Sheridan. Image courtesy of transmediale.

That blurred distinction between art and economics is a recurrent theme in discussion on either side of the dual festival circuit. Steve Warwick, of looping sensory experiment Heatsick, attests to eschewing his fine art background in favour of the freedom and spontaneity of live music performance. Sonia Landy Sheridan, the proto-psychedelic generative artist pioneering in machine processes also actively avoided the restrictions of a gallery career, while doctoral candidate Holly Herndon takes her scholarly experiments in embodied laptop performance and vocal processing to the famous Berghain instead of a sound lab. Even artist and academic Terre Thaemlitz, famous for releasing a 32+ hour long album Soulnessless on mp3, expresses a similar sentiment in conversation with Electronic Beats editor Max Dax. Hers though is a far more cynical reason for choosing music as an outlet for her investigations in identity politics, describing the medium as “a petri dish of all that I hate about society”.

Thaemlitz’ candid statement, “hopeless. Doomed. Everything is shit. No hope,” is a feeling seemingly shared by author and political and cultural theorist, Mark Fisher. He applies his anti-capitalist ideals to a call to reject ‘hope’ as mere distraction, in favour of mobilisation against the evils of neoliberalism, while loosely relating that to his belief that there is nothing truly new in music anymore. That’s an idea that is both reinforced and destroyed by Oxford PhD candidate in Musicology Adam Harper in his dissection of a new online music phenomenon, known as ‘vaporwave’, with the likes of James Ferraro, Fatima Al Qadiri and Gatekeeper at the helm. For Harper, these artists’ simultaneous rejoice and implicit critique of corporate culture echoes the “technofuck buzz” of Nick Land’s Machinic Desire and display some, but not all, of the characteristics of a contemporary philosophy of Accelerationism.

Equally exhilarating and disturbing as Harper’s Virtual Plaza is an examination of the so-called ‘ruling classes’ of the new world order. Artist Andrew Norman Wilson exposes the problematic caste system of the Google Empire in Workers Leaving the Googleplex, as well as the parallels with Aldous Huxley’s dystopian fiction, Brave New World. Digital activist Marcel Mars, on the other hand, takes a more practical approach to his privately held anarchist ideals, by revealing the digital infrastructure of those major informational monopolies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and eBay (GFAeB). He encourages active engagement and public investment in free open source software, in striving toward an economic and political balance.

Incidentally, keeping off Google search results is a constant battle for poet and ubuweb founder Kenneth Goldsmith, who encourages crowdsourcing as a vehicle for positive change in response to criticism that his archive of avant garde educational resources lacks diversity. His desire to collect and classify comes with the surplus of information available through the internet, which is why his advice is that every one of us should take on the role of archivist as a result and above all, “don’t trust the cloud”. Goldsmith even notes that since the dawn of file-sharing sites like Napster, the way media is filed and displayed has changed the way we all interact with it, shifting the connections and articulations between genres, ideas and artists.

So, now that the end is passed and the future can begin, it’s recontextusalisation, redefinition and making sense that is the goal for all of us. Festivals like CTM and transmediale are trying to do just that.

 CTM runs in various venues in Berlin, Germany annually.


  share news item