Created as a means of telling the stories of small project spaces and their origins, Swimming Pool asked each of the eight spaces to tell their story and to interpret their concept in a form that will be exhibited both online and physically at Swimming Pool.
The relationship between art and politics has always been fractious and in the case of comics it’s no different. Of course, good political comic books have been made –Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V For Vendetta springs to mind, a story that managed the rare feat of being both politically engaged and exciting –but they are rare. Indeed, when one thinks of political comics it can be all too easy to cast your mind back to books like John Smith and Jim Baikie’s hopelessly lumpen New Statesmen, with its broad and unsubtle swipes at globalisation, through the medium of a sadly conflicted superhero story.
Occupy Comics and its publisher Black Mask have set themselves the task of raising awareness and money for “Occupy related initiatives”. This in itself is laudable. The Occupy Movement has gone pretty much ignored by all the major comic companies (DC’s farcical The Movement launch last month, notwithstanding). The immediacy of the comics form allows for energetic and intelligent work to be produced relatively cheaply, unlike, say, film, where costs swiftly become prohibitive. Comics have a long history of responding to the tone of their times –be it Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s Captain America punching Hitler in the jaw, or Garth Ennis’s reflective series on Northern Ireland in the 80s, Troubled Souls. Any attempt to extend this history of engagement and reflection should be encouraged.
The list of talent compiled in this issue alone is cause for hope. Alongside the ubiquitous Alan Moore, we have Dave Mack, Molly Crabapple, Si Spurrier, Joshua Dysart and many more. Creators from both sides of the mainstream/indie divide have come together to lend their voices and talents to a good cause. What’s not to like? Well, sadly, as with a lot of efforts of this type, Occupy Comics is a disappointingly mixed bag.
The format does the creators no favours. Trying to fit this much talent into 48 pages was never going to be easy and some of the longer, more ambitious work suffers accordingly. The writers and artists only have time to make broad swipes in the direction of the themes the anthology raises and the results are generally unsatisfying. There are exceptions. It would be a hard heart that wasn’t moved by Matt Milner and Sean Von Gorman’s ‘Light’, a brief tale of Occupy’s efforts to help the people of Rockaway post-Hurricane Sandy. And some of the more iconic one or two-page images are just beautiful, with Anna Wieszczyk and David Mack really standing out in that regard. But in the end the most satisfying piece is Alan Moore’s reliably excellent essay on the history of the comics industry’s complex relationship with big business and counter-culture, ‘Buster Brown At The Barricades’. That the stand out contribution should be an essay rather than a piece of comics work, is in itself somewhat damning, but the brilliance of the essay, plus the striking qualities of some of the single image work makes Occupy Comics worth the price of admission alone. It’s just a shame that the disappointing element of an anthology called Occupy Comics should be the comics work itself. **
For anyone based in New York, Jogging‘s Soon exhibition at The Still House ends this Friday, June 14. Running since Friday, May 24, the show explores ideas of impermanence in the face of impending environmental catastrophe, with recurring motifs of water, from camo-patterned fish nailed to the wall to hydrophobic glass installations, as the collective announces, “We are potentially the first generation of people to begin making down payments on a hellacious environmental check that has long been deferred.”
In a recent interview with aqnb, Finnish artist Jaakko Pallasvuo noted the collective’s use of image as performance to give new weight to what he considers to be the poor image’s devaluation in a state of overproduction. That element of endless manufacture and the disintegration that results from it is here again reflected through some bitter humour pervading a cynical outlook in the face of an economy and consumer culture that is reaching terminal velocity and hurtling toward human extinction. See more images on the Jogging website. **
If Skrillex isn’t playing a tiny venue at London’s Shacklewell Arms, then he’s dating Ellie Goulding and including her in his soundtrack for Harmony Korine’s recent film Springbreakers. As both emblems of the rise of the underground, the sinking of the mainstream and the atomisation of everything, it’s interesting that the Superstar DJ would work on an album with the freaky Texan artist, Riff Raff, who bares a remarkable resemblance to the rapping gangster, Alien, played by James Franco in Korine’s film.
Like life imitating fiction and vice versa, things go pretty meta when you consider James Franco’s “performance art” piece, playing a character called ‘Franco’ in General Hospital in 2009 (because he’s an artist, don’t you know). And that’s not mentioning the fact that RiFF RaFF performed with ginger teen rapper Kitty Pryde on ‘Orion’s Belt’ the latter of whom also has a song ‘$krillionaire (feat Travie McCoy)’ where she says “why you fuckin’ wanna undercut me like I’m Skrillex hair” and a tumblr that features an avatar of the mega dubstep producer for a cursor. Are we reading too much into this? Probably but that’s the internet for you. **
Getting to an easy $50,000 in a matter of hours, the band, that make music using Nintendo and Gameboy consoles petitioned their fans to help them make their self-funded 22-track album Endless Fantasy into a multi-platform project. Releasing the album to their supporters for download on May 14, members promised t-shirts, games, personalised tracks, even a van full of ghosts if they wanted it in return for crowd-sourced funding. Now with 7,253 backers and $277,399 to play with, they’ve sure got their work cut out for them. Watch this space. **
It is really quite amazing how good experimental electronic outfit Black Dice could make their unhinged and asynchronous noise sound. Even more amazing is this cover for core member Eric Copeland‘s latest solo LP, Joke in the Hole.
Out on DFA on July 17, the New York resident presents what could be (almost) quite a literal interpretation of its title for the dirty minded, with a g-stringed derriere and V-sign cartoon hand behind it. That’s as close as Copeland’s come to revealing what the album is actually going to sound like so far but you can see the track listing and listen to a suitably wonky track from Limbo, released on Underwater Peoples last year, below. **
4. Flushing Meats
5. Babes In The Woods
6. Bobby Strong
7. Shoo Rah
8. Cheap Treat
9. Kash Donation
10. Little Tit
11. New Leather Boogie
LA’s trans-disciplinary, artist-run exhibition space, Concord, is looking for expressions of interest in working with a handful of Australian (and one Finnish) artists who will be taking over the space between late June and July.
Proposals will be accepted up until June 5 for involvement in their Utopia Project, along with a possible residency. They don’t offer much in the manner of a brief around ‘utopian idealism and dystopian realism in collaboration and cohabitation’ but encourage applicants to be as creative with the theme as possible and with collectives like The Eternal Internet Brotherhood and Transmuteo in our mystical midst, they’re surely not alone in their pursuit of hi-def fantasy. See the Concord website for more information. **
From South London’s vibrant art community in Peckham to the global art world of Venice’s 55th Biennale, Palazzo Peckham will be launching American Medium Network from their current location in the Italian island’s Castello district, May 28.
Featuring artists from across the globe, including Jon Rafman, Andrew Norman Wilson, Ed Fornieles and Jasper Spicero, the event will launch in physical space with a performance by MSHR and DJ set from Hannah Perry, while the network will feature new episodes and programs throughout the year. That includes transdisciplinary art and talk show Clump TV, hosted by NYC performer and artist Colin Self, KK/OK, created by Jake Dibeler and Mia Ardito and I, Decay, hosted by Ann Hirsch. See the American Medium Network website for more details.**
Rather than just cherry pick the most exciting elements of Balkan music for their own exciting Eastern-sounding oeurve, New Mexico duo A Hawk & a Hacksaw are also helping promote their influences. They’ll be releasing Bahriye Çiftetellisi by Turkish clarinet maestro Cüneyt Sepetçi and his Orchestra Dolapdere on LM Dupli-cation, June 25.
Following up last month’s You Have Already Gone to the Other World, begun as a live soundtrack to Soviet film director, Sergei Paradjanov, Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost have quite a palate and Sepetçi is just another great example.**
From Friend Fracker to Constant Update, Dabit and Giphnosis, the focus of yesterday’s sold out Rhizome ‘Seven on Seven’ conference was on social media and its power for both good and evil. Simulating what they define as the “data dread” of media bombardment, Fatima Al Qadiri and Dalton Caldwell simulate the anxiety and overload of Constant Update, while Paul Pfeiffer and Alex Chung harnessed the mesmerising powers and bizarre juxtapositions of gif-sharing culture with Giphnosis.
Hitting a more pragmatic note, Harper Reed and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer offered some relief through the random Facebook friend deletion app for the over-acquainted with Friend Fracker, while assistance came in dollars signs from Matthew Ritchie and Billy Chasen with their charity website, Dabit, that “gives back” by randomly allocating 50% of all donations to one donor. It’s an inclusive attitude that bore Cameron Martin and Tara Tiger Brown’s real-time crowdsourced learning with 3DHelper. Meanwhile, Jeremy Bailey and Julie Uhrmann stole the show by transferring the inherent narcissism exposed by social media into creating a new form of self-presentation, while illness and conflicting visions saw Jill Magid and Dennis Crowley come up with not very much at all.**
The annual communion of artists, writers and curators, begun last year on the mythical Greek island of Anafi, unifies the “creative offline and metaphysical online” and this year channels the Aztecs in its holistic approach to artistic disciplines and concepts. Where Darst’s animated 3D models in Earth.Art. were introduced into natural landscapes, Inversions takes that footage and reconfigures it into new models, to be projected onto surfaces in the surrealist gardens of Las Pozas. **
Announced as a “transformative journey”, Transmuteo‘s two long suites for the self-titled debut, are yet another plunge into the holographic dimensions of the cybernetic dolphinarium. Belgium’s Aguirre Records, from whom this LP emerges, utilise shades of blue, 3D crystals and marine life as their emblems. On the surface, Transmuteo’s recording is not vastly different from the rest of the catalogue and, while the inspiration of popular New Age and Internet archaeology is slowly evaporating, its still an intriguing formula. Transmuteo proves that there is yet more to be conveyed through those means.
It’s easy to find echoes of the 1990s in the album aesthetic: Nintendo game Caesars Palace, early Future Sound of London or Humanoid videos, and self-help/re-birthing handbooks. Such outdated reference points could easily be disregarded as a prank by web-savvy designers, poking fun at the shortcomings of past technologies but a second glance reveals the content as surprisingly up-to-date. Web design today involves more innovative, higher resolution graphics and 3D rendering, but computers, magical thinking and the cult of success still go hand-in-hand, exactly as they did two decades ago. Browsing through the Internet, I often come across banners advertising the joys of the spa experience, ‘soul healing’, discovering past lives, personality boosts, brainwave synchronisation and many other traces of the esoteric mind-set in contemporary life. I have a lot of fondness for electronic musicians interested in digital folklore, exploring phenomena that thrive on the fringes of popular culture. There is an obvious satirical edge to what they do but, equally, an amount of insight and reflection. In the case of Transmuteo, the exploratory nature of this project also makes it an interesting proposition from a musical point of view, not merely another net-art exercise in style.
The record opens with repetitive, softly spoken affirmations, mantras for financial success, and meditative bliss. Almost unnoticeably, pastiche eventually morphs into an ambient soundscape with the vague echo of a techno beat, the occasional improvised whirlpool and uneasy tones. There is a dark current running through the two long, slowly evolving, multi-layered tracks, and enough unexpected turns to take them beyond the soothing pleasantries of classic New Age. The undertow of tension emerges into focus periodically – an odd hum, a darker, deeper tone –making Transmuteo stylistically closer to the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never over Dolphins Into The Future. Many releases, labelled, ‘vaporwave’ specialise in gliding across the surface, while practising the art of digital sound collage. Transmuteo offers a more expansive take, oriented towards traditional ambient textures while hinting to neighbouring genres, allowing for an escape route once the vaporwave reservoir runs dry.
Transmuteo’s self-titled LP is out now on Aguirre Records.
Contemporary art network ArtSlant has announced its first annual <ERROR 415> Award in New Media, with submissions open as of yesterday, April 10. The award exhibition will happen on Friday, May 17 in somewhere, where the best submissions will be projected on the wall of the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco and, for those of us on another continent, viewable online at ArtSlant.com.
Named after the HTTP response status code for an unsupported media type, <ERROR 415> aims to support those new media practices still not fully accepted by the art world. The awards are looking for moving image and computer-generated new media art that is “representative of the experimental, critical and interrogative nature of this burgeoning medium”, while aqnb favourites Anthony Antonellis and Nick Briz are among the jurors for the event. See the ArtSlant website for more details.**
San Francisco-based producer Chris Dexter doesn’t always like to make things easy for our search engines. That’s not least for calling his project oOoOO but now he’s released a hauntingly beautiful track, ‘Stay Here’, featuring vocals by the entirely unsearchable M.L. on his new label and autocorrect nightmare Nihjgt Feelings.
Since severing his long-time relationship with NYC based label Tri Angle, Dexter has been slowly moving away from his associations with the much-maligned ‘witchhouse’ tag, to develop a sound, mired in ambience and a gender-bending autotune, entirely his own. And that’s just in time for his full-length debut, Without Your Love, due June 24.**
Florida rapper Dominique Young Unique challenges aqnb favourite Zebra Katzto a contest on who can say ‘bitch’ the most in a single song. The latter’s ‘Ima Bitch’ probably wins but there’s certainly a mean beat to Young’s latest single, aptly-titled ”Mmmmmm (Bad Ass)’. It’s the first we’ve heard since she signed to Sony Music UK and another rich yield from her long time working relationship with UK Yo!Majesty producer, David Alexander.
Presenting those famous staccato lyrics over more devastating beats, her 2010 release ‘Show My Ass‘ presented, not only a similar preoccupation with posteriors, but led to her laying vocals over a track by Mad Decent trap artist Branko. Hopefully we’ll see a proper release soon. **
“I’m as in control as I am out of control.” Pete Swansonis one of that modern set of electronic artists moving from a root in punk and noise to disrupt the existing codes and systems in electronica. Container, Vatican Shadow and Andy Stott have all been lumped in with the contemporary notion of ‘deconstructed techno’, where they eulogise a past peak of underground hedonism, born in the squats of Berlin and grown into a mainstay of the mainstream, with the likes of Skrillex and David Guetta at its monstrous head.
The yield of Daniel Lopatin’s Softwarelabel –opening up its sound from the ambient drone of Oneohtrix Point Never and glitchy nu-disco of Airbird –Swanson prefers the term “repurposed noise” for his bodily onslaught of unwieldy hardware constructions producing loosely assembled club compositions. Whatever you call it, Swanson’s is a journey from the United States’ northwest, where he spent his formative years immersed in hardcore and punk, based in Riot Grrrl centre Portland, Oregon. Eventually though, he moved on from what he felt were the antiquated aesthetics of power violence and grindcore to Yellow Swans, an experimental noise duo with Gabriel Saloman, that aimed to break the mould of both punk and electronic music before disbanding in 2008.
Since then, Swanson has released a handful of cassettes and LPs, as well as 2012’s well-received album, Man with Potential. With that one being based on the imagined narrative of him “acting as a janitor after a rave”, this year’s Punk Authority EP, on the other hand, is loosely centred around the fictional character of Zed McGlunk, the nihilistic and anarchistic gang leader in comedy film Police Academy 2.Hence, the cover image of Swanson covered head-to-toe in graffiti, re-enacting the humiliation of Captain Pete Lassard, spray-painted by the violent posse, while inverting that very narrative by being representative of both the punk and its victim. That’s because, to Swanson, counterculture is an oxymoron and there mostly to be messed with.
aqnb: What were your formative experiences with electronic music?
PS: A lot of the people I talk to went clubs and raves when they were young. But that really wasn’t going on very much where I was growing up, so my exposure to it was in my bedroom listening to records. I never was into DJ stuff either, so I would put on a record and listen to it the whole way through [laughs]. I’ve talked to other people about that and it’s not really the way that they experience that culture.
aqnb: I suppose that’s the most punk way to approach anything. Picking up guitars they couldn’t play.
PS: [laughs] Right, exactly. The best punk records are like that first Slits record, where it’s just like boom-box recordings of them playing in their living room in ’75. They don’t’ know what they’re doing but it’s just awesome because the energy is super cool. You’ll hear that on punk records but you’ll also hear that on early musique concrète records, or early techno records. It’s that sound of inspiration and discovery; not having this established framework that you’re trying to work with. You’re building something new and you’re making it.
aqnb: In the same way that punk was challenging the status quo by taking these rock n roll archetypes and messing with them, like the guitar, do you think the fact you’re working in electronics is equally relevant in this technological era?
PS: The technology that I’m using is actually really antiquated. Although there’s a complex play on both gesture and execution and aesthetics, I think that what I’m doing with electronics is actually very basic. It’s very simple stuff that people were doing back in the 60s, in terms of sequencing and the technical aspect of things. It also exists in this context that was born in 90s electronic dance culture but also this very basement, underground noise scene that’s maybe more contemporary. It’s sort of this odd, awkward meshing of cultural references that are important to me, personally. It’s this really awkward set of gestures, where people don’t necessarily know how things fit.
In terms of claiming electronic instruments like punks reclaimed guitar, I’m not necessarily seeing it so much. It’s not so much an act of revolt as the use of guitar or DIY culture was back in the late 70s, early 80s, where it seems like a very explicit rejection of stadium rock or whatever.
aqnb: Do you think that, with so many artists going along a similar creative route as you, deconstructing and challenging existing frameworks within both techno and punk music, it’s reflective of a wider social issue? Of frustration, often surfacing in destructive ways, as a response to a floundering political and economic system?
PS: It’s an interesting idea. If you look at the news in the US you see that young American College graduates don’t really have… there’s incredible unemployment. I’ve never gone through a time where I’ve had to move back in with my parents, or not had a job, but a lot of younger people, who frankly are my peers in this musical underground, are in a position where they don’t really have a lot of the same opportunities that their parents had. I think that’s a very real thing because even though they are educated and they’ve done all the right things, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for them.
aqnb: So you represent Zed, the nihilistic, anarcho-punk from Police Academy 2 on Punk Authority.
PS: [laughs] Yeah, but I’m also the Commissioner. We all embody all of these positive and negative systems and I think a lot of the values that we place in subculture, and in larger culture, a lot of the value that we place on gestures or systems that we’ve established, are completely arbitrary. I’m just trying to take those things that I think are most appealing and have the most potential for exploration.
aqnb: Speaking of these arbitrary signifiers, the imagery reminds me a bit of Berlin, where everything is covered in graffiti. It’s almost like this centre of two stagnant counter-cultural sets: punk and techno.
PS: Yeah but also you have the Berlin Wall there, which was toppled. You have this really incredible symbol of people breaking out and people being able to move beyond those boundaries, in a very real way, much more, than people doing weird techno [laughs].
aqnb: Do you think that rigidity and oppression is a necessary precondition for creativity?
PS: I think that there has to be a foil… well… [laughs]
aqnb: I’m not asking if you advocate Soviet Communism…
PS: No, no, no. On a cultural level there needs to be a foil. It’s valuable because it’s something that provides contrast to what you do.
aqnb: That makes me think of the paradox of social justice. As a social worker, you wouldn’t have a job if there wasn’t injustice but there’d be more injustice if you weren’t there to do it but then, that’s just life.
PS: Right, yeah. And you have to take a pragmatic stance, as opposed to an idealistic one. At least, that’s generally how I choose to operate. I think, generally, punk tends to function in more idealistic ways. My response to becoming disillusioned with punk was to actually get involved by doing social work and working with homeless people and things like that. That’s the manifestation of the positive side of those politics for me.
I don’t think that subculture can necessarily improve the situation of oppressed and marginalised people, as well as individuals taking charge and being directly involved can. Just taking the time to be with people who are in compromised positions and who have difficulties.
aqnb: That’s what struck me, knowing that you work in mental health, because you could be an idealist and focus on the fact that those social problems wouldn’t exist, if not for the system they exist in.
PS: Yeah. You can zoom out really far and say ‘yeah, we have this rigidly structured society that alienates people’. There are the people who we have determined to have mental illness, or people who do not share the same consensus reality that we all have, and a lot of them aren’t entirely able to function within the rigid structures that we have established. But some people, with treatment, can actually function, in a way that’s less painful for them, within those rigid structures that the rest of us live in. That really is the goal of the work that I do.
aqnb: You could either sit around and complain about it or you could try to minimise the negative effects of that arbitrary system on the people that are marginalised by it.
PS: That comes back to that ‘idealism versus pragmatism’ thing. I tend to be a lot more pragmatic and I’m just trying to live my life as well as I can [laughs]. I’m trying to affect people directly, in a positive, constructive way and I don’t necessarily get that sort of fulfilment from doing music. I love music, it’s a passion of mine and it’s something I’ve been doing most of my life but I don’t feel like I ever know if I’m ever affecting people positively. Not on a serious, measurable scale.
aqnb: You could say ‘music helped me’ but maybe it just made it worse.
PS: Yeah, I know a lot of people who struggle because of their love of music [laughs]. There are times when I have that. It’s just how things are. **
Pete Swanson’s Punk Authority is out now Software.