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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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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The Nu-Metal Years Part One: Are You Ready?

The easy thing to do here would be to try to redeem Nu-Metal.

To try and convince myself and then you, dear reader, that, I don’t know, System of a Down’s albumToxicity sounds as good now that I’m thirty as it did when I was sixteen, when I’ve heard everything from Isis to Sunn 0))), Revenge and The Body since. Maybe to situate it within the long history of heavy music, finding in Mudvayne’s second album, The End of All Things to Come, the DNA of Metallica, Death, Black Sabbath, Alice fucking Cooper, Richard fucking goddam Wagner. Perhaps I’m going to tell you to ignore KoRn and Linking Park – the real genius of Nu Metal is in Nothingface, Chevelle, Dope, Guano Apes.

But look, Nu Metal really was a garbage fire. There are a handful of Deftones songs that are quite enjoyable and that really is it. Song for song, it loses out to drug-fucked Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Yearshair rock, which, if nothing else, can be enjoyed ironically. Try playing Motley Crüe’s ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ and Limp Bizkit’s ‘Nookie’ back to back in public and note the reaction.

However, there is a generation, and I’m a part of it, that found heavy music through Nu Metal and circled back to find the records we missed at the time: Acid Bath’s When The Kite String Pops or Sabbat’s Fetishism. The first band I saw live? KoRn. In fact, not even KoRn, but their support band P.O.D. Various bands may have been your way in: Marilyn Manson during a tween-goth phase, Slipknot if you were late to the party, Hed P.E if… well, nobody liked Hed P.E, but my point stands: in the late nineties and early two-thousands, if you were mostly white and male, if sports and girls weren’t an option for your ectomorphic frame, but you still had too much testosterone for Tori Amos, then you were probably into Nu Metal.

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Kraftwerk Ralf Hutter

Return of the Robots: Electro-pop pioneers Kraftwerk back on der Autobahn

CALGARY — His band may be as influential, if not more influential than the Beatles, but Ralf Hütter is characteristically modest about his ambitions for Kraftwerk. Along with Florian Schneider, Hütter formed the German electronic act and despite its staggering significance he says, “We just wanted to hear our music.”

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Chapman Brothers Hell

Art So Brutal It Had to Burn: The Hellscapes of Jake and Dinos Chapman

There wasn’t a whole lot of good art coming out of the UK in the nineties. The landscape was dominated by the YBAs – the Young British Artists, mostly graduates of the posh Goldsmiths college, all of them very comfortable with self-promotion and massive quantities of cocaine. Some of the art they made was striking, some of it was at bestmemorable, but real capital-A art was thin on the ground – unless it was being made by Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Born in Hastings, the same grimy seaside town as Aleister Crowley, since 1991 the Chapman Brothers have bought and defaced original Francisco Goya prints, they have cast 69-ing sex dolls in bronze, they have fused genitalia to the noses of children’s mannequins, they have exhibited authentic watercolors by one Adolf Hitler of Munich, Bavaria, covered in asinine hippie symbols. They’ve been called provocateurs, accused of having nothing to offer beyond cock-noses and a weird fetish for Ronald McDonald and his friends, and they’ve been labelled ‘anti-enlightenment.’ That is, they’re against the two-hundred year-old intellectual movement that has meant that being burnt as a witch and leeches being used for medicinal purposes isn’t much of a concern any more.

 

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Twin Shadow

R’n’B outsider Twin Shadow aims for stadium success

CALGARY — There are things you ‘simply don’t do’ when you have unlimited artistic freedom. You don’t put yourself on your album covers because it’s all about the music. You don’t put too much of yourself in the lyrics and you hand-wave away questions about them by saying that they’re “up for interpretation.” You don’t, for the love of God and everything holy, go and work with Urban Outfitters or voice an imaginary DJ in a Grand Theft Auto game. You don’t collaborate with Levi’s Jeans, remix Lady Gaga or license your music to New York Fashion Week runway shows. You don’t contribute the standout track of your new album to a schmaltzy teen romance movie (Paper Towns, starring Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff, is in theatres now). You’re an artist, you’re free to do anything those anonymous Internet commentators and record company committees approve of.

Nobody told Twin Shadow, a.k.a. George Lewis Jr., these unspoken “rules,” or perhaps he doesn’t give a proverbial shit because he is an artist. He slips between the worlds of indie and pop so effortlessly he’s carved out a unique, difficult place for himself in modern music. It feels strange to refer to somebody as clearly on the inside of popular culture as Lewis as an “outsider,” even when his biker jackets and (now abandoned) Morrissey croon ‘n’ quiff scream it, but Lewis is alone. He seems to want it all, commercial success and artistic integrity, either because of an outsize ego (as his critics allege) or because he’s far enough removed to be able to ask “why can’t pop be art? Why can’t art be commercial?”

 

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Lust for Youth

Scandinavian post-punks Lust For Youth embrace pop

CALGARY — It may be the case that the fondness Northern Europeans have for electronic music is all down to the climate. Much like Canada, for half the year the weather is miserable enough to confine the population indoors, moving between heated apartment complexes to office blocks to shopping malls in boxy, efficient cars. Technology isn’t just a fact of life in Sweden, where Lust for Youth was founded; it’s what makes life possible. In the grim Northern English cities where much of what became ‘synth-pop’ (roughly speaking Lust for Youth’s genre, at least on their most recent record, 2014’s International) originated, the only good things in the lives of the members of New Order (from Manchester) or The Human League (Sheffield) were televisions, record players and later, synthesizers.

For Hannes Norrvide, for two albums the band’s sole member, the decision to avoid acoustic ‘rock’ instruments was simple.

“It’s fun to work with synthesizers and electronic instruments and see what kind of sounds you can come up with.”

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Thugs

Stranglers – India’s Thug Tribe

Nineteenth century Britain saw the beginning of the mass media at its best and worst: novelists like Charles Dickens could become household names serializing their novels, a careless journalist could nearly inspire a pogrom by linking the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders to London’s Jewish population. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ was, like today, the ethos of the popular press; and if one of the many, many groups under the British Empire’s boot-heel could be demonized in the process, then all the better.

The ‘Thugs’ of India were one such group, but they may have deserved the scorn: they are alleged to have killed anywhere between fifty thousand and two million people during a reign of terror that lasted hundreds of years. Operating all over the Indian sub-continent, the loosely organized fraternity of Hindus and Muslims were a feared and often respected ‘gang’, ‘tribe’ or ‘cult’ depending on who you asked. Operating alone or in groups, they would infiltrate caravans of traders or befriend travelers. Once they were trusted, they would strike, strangling a target with an easy to conceal garotte like a scarf or turban. The targets would be killed in remote areas, away from the rest of their group, while other Thugs would distract the larger group with music and dancing. A grave would have already been dug, so the Thugs’ targets would seem to simply disappear – eaten by wildlife or lost in the forest. By the time the disappearances became suspicious, it would be too late: the Thugs would outnumber them or could disappear with as much loot as they could carry.

 

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