The Cult Is Dead: The Alt-Right and Black Metal

After Charlottesville I would love to think, even for the second, that the end has begun for twenty-first century Fascism. I’d like to think that after an attempted mass murder, teenage boys whose critical faculties have been destroyed by South Park, who make up the bulk of what we call the Alt-Right, would desert. No such luck. The Alt-Right is an identity first, a political project a very distant second, and identities don’t go down easy.

Even if this isn’t the beginning of the end, there’s historical precedent that suggests that it may be the end of the beginning in another group of angry, sad, young, white men who took nerd culture and nationalism far too seriously: The Norwegian Black Metal scene centered around the Helvete record store in Oslo, a group of musicians and hangers-on who sometimes, perhaps ironically, referred to themselves as the ‘Black Circle.’

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The Silver Age of Television

It’s hard to really get excited about shows as brilliant as American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale. Both are impeccably designed, beautifully shot and brought to life by incredibly talented actors. The former hews closer to the Gonzo end of prestige TV; the violence is more comic than tragic, the nudity is frequent, the camera corkscrews through scenes as if to say ‘this is television, it’s artificial, and I can do what the fuck I want.’ The latter’s violence is more tragic than comic, the nudity is less frequent (but has to be there, because we’re grown-ups after all) and the camera stays still, standing in awe of Elizabeth Moss’s performance.

It’s possible to watch both without feeling anything in particular, and come Monday morning neither are topics of discussion around the figurative water cooler, where we once pondered Lost before realising, embarrassed, that we’d been had.

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Aphex Twin – Cheetah

Nobody is quite as big an asshole as Richard D. James. In real life, yes, he is fairly brusque, but musically he falls just short of maddening eclecticism, into a not-very-sweet spot where every record has listeners screaming “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US!?!” at his anonymous SoundCloud account.

Cheetah is named for an obscure British synthesizer maker, whose ms800 model features prominently throughout the first four songs, followed by the Cirklon hardware sequencer. Yes, this is him showing off both his knowledge of and prowess with a variety of vintage electronic instruments. He can use the Cheetah’s breathy wavetable synthesis to make songs like “Cheetah 7b,” which sounds like tropical house with a concussion, and the Cirklon to make “Cirklon 3” and “Cirklon 1,” Kraftwerk gone free jazz. That the song titles are filenames just furthers my suspicion that he’s fucking with us, but subtly.

Yes, Cheetah is better than most electronic music releases, but as with any Aphex Twin release there’s always going to be the nagging question of just what we’re hearing. Is Cheetah a joke or an experiment? Is it postmodern or sincere? Do we dance to it or contemplate it? Only Richard D. James knows.

Adult Books – Running From The Blows

Adult Books put out an album on Lolipop Records, this one’s on Burger Records and let’s just get this out of the way now: they’re cooler than you. Everybody they know is cooler than you. Their life is one long photo ‘essay’ from one of those magazines that are 90 per cent ads for clothing brands you’ve never heard of.

But damn if, on the evidence of this album, they’re not charming. Their sound is roughly power pop, mostly garage rock, somewhat post-punk, a little surfy in places, there’s synths and holy shit if the songwriting isn’t just there, right where you want it to be. There are a lot of West Coast bands at the centre of the venn diagram created by AB’s genre reference points, and a fair few of them are on Burger Records, and the only thing I can say to make you pick up this and not the grimier together PANGEA, the surfier Guantanamo Baywatch or the party-er Dirty Few is that the songs here just work better. If this was still the kind of musical culture that could make The Lemonheads the biggest indie rock band on the planet then on the strength of the song “Suburban Girlfriend” alone these guys would be huge.

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Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

A ghost is haunting the 17th and likely final album by James Newell Osterberg, Jr. The ghost of Osterberg’s friend, producer and collaborator David Robert Jones. From the bifurcated city of Berlin they cut a swath through 20th-century rock and roll, becoming the quintessential rock stars, living harder than anyone could and still recording songs as universally beloved as “The Passenger,” “Lust for Life” and “Nightclubbing.” With The Stooges, Pop took up the mantle of filth-encrusted rock ’n’ roll laid down by the Sonics and straight up invented punk rock. Decades later musicians are still picking up instruments because they want to be one of the two: feral, primitive Iggy Pop or mercurial, post-human David Bowie.

The former left on January 10th of this year, gifting the world the album Blackstar, recorded in secret as he was dying of cancer. While it was no Alladin Sane or Low, having Bowie’s spectral hand on your shoulder as the man who has been so many people and lived so many lives grapples with his mortality does something to the listener.

If Blackstar was the ultimate rock star forging for himself a life after death then Post Pop Depression is that same figure living a death in life, having outlasted his “usefulness” (Pop’s term, from an interview with Rolling Stone). The title itself is all you need to know about the content: what happens to Iggy Pop after Iggy Pop?

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Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate

Milo Goes to College, the first and best record by Manhattan Beach, California’s Descendents, is rightly considered a classic. The longest song is a stately two minutes and fourteen seconds, a result of the band’s well-documented caffeine addiction. The caricature of singer Milo Aukerman on the cover is as iconic as Mick Jagger’s blood-red lips. The lyrical themes are hardcore staples: parents, society, and fake punks, but there was something there that was unmistakably pop.

The word is used today to describe music for the most casual of listeners, engineered for maximum performance by super-producers, built for the widest possible appeal within the thirteen to thirty demographic. Saying that Milo Goes to College is pop isn’t to say that it shares DNA with Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman – it doesn’t. Pop isn’t in the music as much as it’s in the band’s intent: the decision that everybody can listen, that nobody is excluded. Punk had always been pop, but Milo defined Pop Punk.

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Where is Donald Trump?

The following article was printed in Life magazine, September 18, 2011. It is used here with the author’s permission.

Where is Donald Trump? It is the question, it seems, that nobody is asking. Since disappearing from the public eye in 1974 he has quietly built a fortune without putting in one day of work. He has, some believe, travelled the world, mastered a dozen languages and many more philosophies. He has argued with Derrida and meditated with the Dalai Lama, built schools in Nepal and may have prevented civil war in Sudan. His influence may be why Americans can afford a whole host of vital pharmaceuticals, why New Yorkers still have affordable housing. All without the world ever once seeing his face and with few knowing his name.

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How Do We Fix Bigots?

The wars for the rights of women, people of color, LBGQT persons and many others that raged throughout the twentieth century were won in the same sense that the Iraq war was won. That is, nobody directly affected by these conflicts, on either side, really considers them over. Every so often there will be another bomb in a marketplace, a suicide attack on a checkpoint: abortion laws in Oklahoma, bathroom laws in North Dakota, Gamergate, Sad Puppies. Like Iraq, we have mostly toppled the legal basis that kept a oppressive regime in power only to see it replaced by chaos and the rise of what could potentially be something worse: Fascist anti-immigrant gangs in the U.K, the Golden Dawn in Greece, Trump in the U.S., the ‘alt-right’ online.

The struggles for social justice in the twentieth century did one thing particularly well: they made bigotry, at least in it’s overt burning-cross-on-the-lawn form, the de-facto mark of evil in our culture. Voldemort was a racist, the Empire and First Order are clearly modeled on Nazis, so were the Daleks, COBRA, HYDRA and too many more to count. We cheered for Django watching a slaver die and Rey powering up a lightsaber. We’ve been so effective at equating hatred and evil that the KKK is trying to rebrand itself as an organization that, shucks, just loves white people so, so much. So effective that the alt-right throws around ‘fascist’ as an insult as much as they do ‘SJW’ or ‘cuck’ (well, not cuck- those guys have some issues to work through.) People who don’t want anyone but straight white men to be able to have the right to artistic expression or representation are recasting themselves as champions of free speech.

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The Nu Metal Years Part Two: The Guantanamo Diaries

Bands didn’t exactly make it out to rural Dorset much. Until a local dry ski slope started putting on all-ages punk shows, the only band I could see play live was The Wurzels. Then Follow The Leader came out – I was big into KoRn already, but this, it had cover art by Todd McFarlane and Fred Durst was on it (I was young, okay?). It was more polished than Life Is Peachy and the hooks dug in deeper. I managed to persuade my dad to drive me and three friends to London to see KoRn play Wembley Arena, and this was a big deal. I knew what concerts were in abstract, but a production of this magnitude, played in front of 12,500 people who were mostly like me, was a huge thing for me. And there were girls – goth chicks, punks my age with dreadlocks, not the rosy-cheeked farmer’s daughters and tightly-wound girls from the estate that I had known back home. I mean, obviously I didn’t talk to them, but I at least knew that they existed. We were far to the back and right, watching everything at an awkward angle, but the seething mass in the mosh pit was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

So the first band I ever saw live turned out to be P.O.D, KoRn’s support act, a Christian nu-metal band known mostly for that once-ubiquitous ‘Alive’ song but still plugging away four albums later. And that’s something I can never live down.

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