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FCKN BSTRDS

Photo by Marcel Van Schooten

Photo by Marcel Van Schooten

If this blog were a game of street hockey, FCKN BSTRDS would be the fat kid from the end of the block who showed up in full pads and started checking all the other kids into the pavement, screaming the whole time, “You want a piece of me? YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME???” They’re scary weird…intimidatingly weird. I’m not sure if people get physically hurt at a FCKN BSTRDS show, but I’m positive there’s some emotion scarring.

FCKN BSTRDS are from the Netherlands and have been around since at least the late ’90s. They’ve put out a bunch of singles, cassettes and DVDs over the years, but the best way to experience the BSTRDS is through their live shows, which are as close to total anarchy as anything we’ve seen this side of Caroliner or Crash Worship. Dressed up like giant trash monsters, they generate a wall of feedback, noise and primal screams, then run around like lunatics, dry-humping objects, audience members and each other, tossing trash everywhere, and basically reducing the performance space unlucky to have them to a rainbow-colored pig sty. It looks amazing.

The leader of these self-described “misfits from the margins of the Dutch music scene” is a guy named Peter Zincken, who’s been part of the Dutch noise scene since the ’80s. His other projects include Odal and Dr. Bibber, which you should not bother Googling because most Odal results will lead you to a German pagan black metal band (not him) and the Dutch version of the game Operation (still not him). Dude doesn’t have a big digital footprint, as the NSA spies like to say.

We did manage to find this four-minute documentary about Zincken. It’s all in Dutch, but it has some great clips of his old solo Dr. Bibber performances, which are basically the MTV Unplugged version of FCKN BSTRDS. Even minus the costumes and the feedback, he’s still more abrasive than a pair of steel wool boxer shorts.

It’s kind of pointless for me to even attempt further description of a FCKN BSTRDS show, so I’ll just let you view the carnage for yourself. Warning: May contain major dick-wagging.

You might think that such insanity would not work in the harsh light of day, but you’d be wrong. It is daylight that is no match for the awesome power of the FCKN BSTRDS. Behold:

P.S. Shout-out to readers to Blaffie and Steven for suggesting these guys.

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New Sunn O))) album now streaming on Bandcamp

Sunn O)))

Ancient forces of evil be praised! Drone metal overlords Sunn O))) released a new two-track album this week on Southern Lord Records, and we just learned that the whole thing is streaming now on Bandcamp. I’m cranking it up with my morning glass of whiskey and beet juice (good for the skin) and it’s scratching my guitar feedback itch but good.

Here’s the second track, “Invisible/Sleeper,” which starts off with what I can only assume are the gibbering voices of the damned before the doom chords kick in and the whole thing hops a slow train to Droneytown. The Sunn O))) guys recommend: “MAXIMUM VOLUME YIELDS MAXIMUM RESULTS.” They would not steer you wrong.

Sunday Shout-Out: “Bepi Crespan Presents…” on CiTR Radio

So here’s an idea Jake and I came up with after too much eggnog: On Sundays throughout 2014, we’ll be sharing some of our favorite weird things that come in non-band form: blogs, podcasts, magazines, record labels, books, films, radio shows, YouTube channels, visual artists and more. There’s just too much good weird shit out there that deserves more than the occasional retweet.

We’re kicking off this new series with one of our absolute favorites: Bepi Crespan Presents…, a weekly radio show and podcast broadcasting out of Canada on CiTR Radio (also home to legendary radio personality Nardwuar the Human Serviette). Host Bepi Crespan plays a self-described mix of “difficult music, harsh electronics, spoken word, cut-up/collage and general CRESPAN© weirdness.” He favors artists like Merzbow, Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten, Negativland and Ryoji Ikeda, but also features tons of newer bands and composers who probably don’t get airplay on any other FM radio show in the world. He remains, to the best of our knowledge, the only FM radio DJ to regularly play the twisted art-pop of TWBITW favorites Chimney Crow and Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin, and that alone makes him worthy of a hat-tip in our book.

BepiCrespan

Crespan broadcasts his show every Sunday morning from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. on CiTR; if you live in the Vancouver area, you can find him at 101.9 FM, and if you live anywhere else, you can livestream his show on CiTR.ca. Past shows are posted in podcast form on the Bepi Crespan Presents… website. So next time you’re in need of a heavy dose of avant-garde noise, give one of his shows a spin. You’re pretty much guaranteed to discover something you’ve never heard before, which is more than we can say for 99.9% of terrestrial radio anymore.

Sly & The Family Drone

Photo swiped from ATTN:Magazine

Photo swiped from ATTN:Magazine

Like a mono outbreak on prom night, democracy has struck again here Weird Band HQ, and a new Weird Band of the Week has infested our tender, nubile pages. Did that last sentence totally creep you out? Well, this band might, too.  Meet Sly & The Family Drone, a British crew whose only resemblance to Sly & The Family Stone is that their leader has spent at least a few years living in a van. Possibly. Or not. What do you want from us, research?

Led by a gentleman called (duh) Sly, S&TFD started out in 2010 or thereabouts as a drums and tape effects noise ensemble, sort of a cross between Crash Worship, Wolf Eyes, Whitehouse and that sound my old Gorilla amp used to make when I would get really stoned and just drag my Mexicaster fretboard back and forth across the face of it for hours. They’ve released some studio recordings, including an EP that just came out this past month called Unnecessary Woe, which is the only kind of woe in a world that has bourbon and bands that sound like Crash Worship.

But they’re best known for their live shows, which involve a shit-ton of drums and lots of shirtless dudes crawling around manipulating effects pedals and oscillators and audience members banging on cymbals and just the kind of general, participatory mayhem that makes any good live show more than the sum of its racket. They also sometimes throw some harmonica in there, just to give it a little of that homeless-guy-busking-at-the-bus-station pizzazz. You probably have to be there to fully appreciate the whole thing, but here’s a video clip, anyway. Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch all 51 minutes to get to the weird stuff. It gets weird right out of the gate.

Best line from their official bio: “There is no place for guitars within this band.” It’s about time someone took a stand against all these fucking guitars! Goddamn things are everywhere.

Here’s a track from Unnecessary Woe called “Grey Meat,” which like their live shows was totally improvised. I’m pretty sure you can dance to this one, or at least break stuff.

So congrats on winning our Weird Band Poll, S&TFD! Hopefully this catapults you to enough fame and fortune that you can come wreck some drum kits here in America.

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P.S. After we join our fellow Americans in stuffing our faces with turkey and trampling fellow shoppers in a stampede for the new iPads, we’re taking a little vacation time. But don’t worry, this break will be much shorter than our last one. We’ll be back with more weird bands in a couple weeks. Y’all try to stay out of trouble till then, OK?

Nurse With Wound

nursewithwound

This week we’re adding another band to the Weird List that many of you have been clamoring for: Steven Stapleton’s venerable experimental/industrial/sound collage project, Nurse With Wound. For over three decades, Stapleton and his many collaborators have been producing some of the creepiest (and, on occasion, funniest) music ever to come out of the U.K.—which, considering the Brits also gave us such influential noise mongers as Throbbing Gristle and Current 93, is saying something.

From their very first album, recorded live as a trio in 1978, NWW announced themselves as something completely different. Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella was a jarring mix of squiggly electronics, prog/psych guitar freakouts, primal howls and ominous, ambient noise. Though originally released in a run of just 500 copies, it made quite a splash in the emerging London industrial scene—and not only because of its BDSM cover art.

One of the more interesting aspects of Chance Meeting was the inclusion of the now-legendary Nurse With Wound List, an eclectic, expansive catalog of the band’s many influences, from Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire to Stockhausen and Tangerine Dream—though most of the name-checks were far more obscure than those. A handful of bands on our own Weird List appear, including American rock primitivists Cromagnon and French avant-garde accordionist Ghedalia Tazartes. But overall, I have to admit: When you do a blog like ours, reading through the NWW List is a humbling experience. Clearly we’ve got some catching up to do.

By 1981, founding NWW members John Fothergill and the excellently named Heeman Pathak had left the group, leaving Stapleton to forge ahead as a solo act. Enlisting the help of a live drummer and his friend J.G. Thirlwell of Foetus, Stapleton recorded an album called Insect and Individual Silenced that he himself has since dismissed as “terrible.” Then, after a collaboration with power electronics pioneers Whitehouse (a very bleak and atmospheric record called The 150 Murderous Passions, released with the liner note, “This record may be played at any speed”), Stapleton hit his stride with 1982′s Homotopy to Marie, the album he has since referred to as the first “real” NWW release. Full of tape manipulations and dread, Homotopy became the blueprint for what remains Nurse With Wound’s signature style: abstract, slow-moving, cinematic, occasionally abrasive and even more occasionally terrifying. Depending on your disposition, it’s either music that should only be listened to in the dark—or it’s music you should never listen to in the dark.

As weird as eerie noise epics like “The Schmürz (Unsullied by Suckling)” can get, what really makes Steven Stapleton a world-class weirdo are his twisted and often hilarious spins on mainstream music and pop culture. Take, for example, 1985′s The Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion, an early experiment in sampling, NWW-style. Yes, that’s really the cover art on the YouTube clip. And yes, this track really is called “You Walrus Hurt the One You Love.”

Over the decades, Stapleton has released more than 40 albums and countless collaborations (with everyone from Current 93 to Sun 0))) to Stereolab), singles, EPs and compilation tracks, all exhaustively cataloged on the Nurse With Wound website and much of it now available via Bandcamp. More recently, he’s brought back a touring version of the band, with a rotating supporting cast that includes longtime collaborators Colin Potter and Diana Rogerson (Stapleton’s wife) along with newer cohorts like sound collage artists Matt Waldron and Andrew Liles.

It would be asinine to try to summarize a career like Stapleton’s with a single video—all the more so because he hasn’t released any “official” Nurse With Wound music videos. (A few short films have used NWW music, including this one, but they’re not music videos in any traditional sense.) But this fan-made clip for the 2008 track “The Bottom Feeder,” using the stop-motion art of Czech filmmaker Jiří Barta, actually does a pretty great job of encapsulating all that is spooky and brilliant about Nurse With Wound’s best work.

Links:

Butthole Surfers

Butthole Surfers

You know that long hiatus we just took? It gave Jake and me some much-needed time to do a little soul searching. I reconnected with my inner child, Jake reconnected with his inner hippie, and we both reconnected with our punk-rock roots. Okay, Jake reconnected with his punk-rock roots; I broke out my old Pink Floyd records. But somehow, both of those things led us back to another classic weird band we’ve neglected for far too long: the Butthole Surfers.

From about 1985 to 1989, the Butthole Surfers had one of the craziest live shows of any band on the planet. Their lead singer, the eternally manic Gibby Haynes, wore dresses and played squealing saxophone riffs and shouted lyrics into a megaphone. Next to him stood an upside-down cymbal filled with lighter fluid; he would set it—and often, his hand—on fire. Guitarist Paul Leary writhed around the stage like a man possessed. Two identical-looking drummers played standing up, sometimes in perfect unison and sometimes it utter cacophony. Kathleen Lynch, the band’s infamous “naked dancer,” struck spastic poses in time to a strobe light, covered in lurid body paint. Behind the band, overlapping 16-millmeter films layered disturbing and incongruous images atop one another, like a graphic penis reconstruction medical video and, according to one account, “people with Down’s syndrome dancing in top hats and tails.” The whole thing was designed to freak the shit out of the audience, and it usually worked. Here, for example, is drummer Teresa Taylor, aka Teresa Nervosa, describing the Surfers’ shows circa 1985 (from this excellent oral history of the band):

Gibby in those days would take condoms filled with colored dye and put those in his pants so that at some point they would burst and it would look very bloody. He would change clothes onstage during the set a lot.  Then he went and bought the first vocal effect and that was a big deal. We had strobe lights, $10 strobe lights, and then we bought a 16-millimeter projector, because we started to make more money. Everything was invested back into the band, so we could have a better show, better sound. Later we got another projector and showed two 16-millimeter films overlapping. The full-on shows would make people puke and scream and run out, that kind of thing. It was what we’d always wanted.

Happily, a ton of video from this era exists on YouTube—much of it lifted from Blind Eye Sees All, a concert film the band shot in Detroit in 1985, but plenty of clips from later years, as well (which is a good thing, because Lynch didn’t add her naked dancing to the band’s spectacle until 1986). Less happily, the quality of most of these videos is shitty, and even under the best of circumstances, an ’80s B-hole Surfers show was almost impossible to film. This is one of the better clips we could find and you still really can’t see anything until 40 second into it:

I’ve somehow neglected to mention the music up to this point, which is stupid because the music was generally every bit as crazy as the stage show. Early on, the Surfers were part of the punk scene, and their live performances definitely owed a debt to the Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys. But in the studio, they were on their own trip from day one. Here, for example, is a track off their first full-length album, 1984′s Psychic… Powerless… Another Man’s Sac, which owes as much to The Residents or Captain Beefheart as it does to hardcore punk:

Back in ’84, Gibby Haynes achieved his distorted, menacing vocals mostly just by singing by through a megaphone or a toilet paper roll, but over the years he added various electronic effects, until he finally had an entire rack of processors that came be known as “Gibbytronix.” You can’t actually see Gibby in this 1991 video, but you can hear Gibbytronix in full effect:

Over the course of the ’90s, the Surfers devolved into a tamer, “alternative rock” incarnation of their former selves. Kurt Cobain name-checked them as an influence (he and Courtney Love met at a Butthole Surfers show), which helped the band land a major-label deal at Capitol Records in 1992. They even got John Paul fucking Jones (yes, the Led Zeppelin guy) to produce their first record for Capitol, the intriguingly titled but disappointingly polished Independent Worm Saloon. By the time they scored their biggest hit, 1996′s “Pepper,” they were starting to sound kinda like Weezer. But hey, if aging psychedelic noise punks can’t cash out in America, what hope is there for the rest of us? And to their credit, they still play the old weird shit to this day, albeit as a stripped-down four piece with fewer visual effects and naked dancers.

I’ve really only scratched the surface of all that was weird about the Butthole Surfers; if I wanted to, I could go on all night. In their early days, they changed the band name for every show: Ashtray Babyheads, the Right to Eat Fred Astaire’s Asshole, the Dick Gas Five. Their classic 1988 album Hairway to Steven was released with cartoons for each song in place of titles. Fans later deciphered the song titles based on live set lists; the song represented by a rabbit dancing on top of a dead fish turned out to be called “Julio Iglesias.”

But instead of cataloging their every bit of chicanery, I’ll just leave you with a short 1988 film called Bar-B-Que Movie, which starred all six then-members of the band (Gibby, Leary, bassist Jeff Pinkus, drummers King Coffey and Teresa Nervosa, and dancer Kathleen Lynch) and was directed by, of all people, Alex Winter, the actor best known as the not-Keanu guy from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s a spoof of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and…well, just fucking watch it, OK? You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll never look at your cast-iron frying pan the same way again. There’s a full-on recreation of the Surfers’ stage show about seven minutes in. Enjoy.

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Lucrate Milk

Lucrate Milk

Artwork lifted from a rare live cassette featured on this site

This week’s weird band was one of many we’re still sifting through from an aptly named reader called Sick Nick. Thanks for all the suggestions, Nick! Clearly, you’re a sick man, indeed.

Lucrate Milk was a French punk/No Wave band active from about 1979 to 1984. They’re often compared to other bands of the era like The Slits and X-Ray Spex, mostly because they featured a saxophone and aggro female vocals. But their twisted, dadaist take on punk rock was really like nothing else before or since.

The band was started by a pair of underground artists named Lombrick Laul and Tomas Huser (aka “Masto Lowcost”), who borrowed their name from their day jobs as milk delivery men. Adding a drummer named Raoul Gaboni, an American-born keyboardist named Nina Childress and, briefly, a vocalist called Helno, they began by playing various punk squats around the seedier parts of Paris and stenciling their name all over town. According to band legend, they forced one another to play their least favorite instruments—with Laul picking up the bass and Masto taking on the saxophone, which he did indeed tend to play like he was awkwardly handling a cumbersome foreign object. Presumably because it was everyone’s favorite, nobody played guitar.

Lucrate Milk live shows were noisy and highly theatrical affairs, often featuring bizarre homemade costumes and highlighted by Childress’ spastic stage presence—she took over vocal duties when Helno left pretty early on. Here’s a clip from one of their last shows in February of 1984, rescued from the dustbin of punk-rock history by the miracle that is YouTube:

Laul and Masto Lowcost designed all of the band’s graphics and videos, most of which were not music videos per se but just used as projections during the band’s live shows. Sadly, most of these are not available online, or maybe anywhere, but a few shreds of their video output still exist. In particular, there’s a 2006 DVD that was released as part of a compilation of their music, and it seems to contain a few classic Lucrate Milk clips (though we haven’t had a chance to see it) as well as newer visual interpretations of their stuff like this one. The DVD’s not widely available, but this site appears to still have it in stock.

After Lucrate Milk called it quits, Laul and Masto went on to work with another, more popular French punk band called Bérurier Noir, who were sort of a cross between Lucrate Milk, Black Flag and DEVO. Nina Childress became a successful painter, and poor ol’ Helno died of a heroin overdose after briefly fronting this band. Yeah, there was a lot of weird music in France in the ’80s.

We’ll leave you with the greatest surviving piece of Lucrate Milk eye candy, the fantastically twisted “Nepla Relou,” which sounds like The Residents and X-Ray Spex trapped under a collapsed circus tent and looks like a Troma movie directed by Johnny Rotten. Oh, and we’ll add this quote from another website, which sums up Lucrate Milk’s music better than we ever could: “It’s absurd, short, violent, brilliant and funny, like your mate puking on himself.” Yep. It’s exactly like that.

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Pan

Pan

Meet our latest Weird Band Poll winners: Pan! These guys just moved last year from sunny Los Angeles to cold, desperate Detroit, so you know they’re weirdos.

Pan’s music kinda sounds like post-economic-meltdown Detroit, too: Junky, spooky, broken down but not without its charms. John, one half of the duo, describes their music as “musique-concrete folk,” which sounds about right. There are lots of weird, ambient noises and out-of-tune guitars that sound like they’re being played with kitchen utensils. It’s not for nothing that when John told us about Pan’s music, he put the word “music” in quotation marks.

So far Pan have released just two records: a self-titled 2011 EP and a 2012 full-length called Pan 2. Both are available on Bandcamp here and here. For maximum weirdness, start with the EP, which makes me feel like I’m watching the Deliverance sodomy scene over and over again after one too many Vicodins.

John and his partner, Dithyramb, run a label called Homotown Records, which has a Facebook page but not much else.  They haven’t shot any videos for Pan or posted any Pan tunes on YouTube, but here’s a Soundcloud for a non-album track called “Dithy” that should give you an idea of why they pretty much crushed it in this month’s poll.

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Computer Jesus Refrigerator

Computer Jesus Refrigerator

Photo swiped from Coilhouse

I have to start off by thanking the guy who wrote us up on Metafilter last week, a website that apparently has the magical power to make even a half-assed music blog like ours more popular than catbeard photos. So thanks, narain! Hopefully by the time we post this, you and all the other Metafilterlings won’t have lost interest and moved on in search of…well, catbeard photos, probably. That shit is all the rage these days.

The Metafilter crowd suggested a ton of potential new Weird List fodder that Andy and I are still sifting through, but we wanted to jump right on at least one band submitted by all you highly opinionated newcomers. After much debate, we decided to go with symbioid‘s pick of glitch/noise outfit Computer Jesus Refrigerator, because we liked the name and their videos reminded me of when I used to scarf like 10 Pixy Stix all at once and spin around on the front lawn until it looked like the hedges were attacking me sideways. Yeah, I was basically the Gary Busey of my third grade class.

We don’t know a whole hell of a lot about Computer Jesus Refrigerator. They seem to be from Texas, but we’re not sure what part. This WFMU post says they’re from Austin, but their Bandcamp page is tagged San Antonio and their YouTube channel says they’re from Antarctica, which I assume is a joke but could also be an actual town in Texas for all I know. Maybe next to this one.

CJR is mostly the work of one dude named Michael Vasquez, who also goes by the name of KOKOFREAKBEAN. He likes to call his stuff “tonk honky,” which is as good a name for it as any. He plays drums, keyboards and samplers and also does all the project’s artwork, some of which is fucking amazing. He also designs the band’s costumes, which kind of look like his artwork come to life, in a very Caroliner kid’s-coloring-book-on-acid sorta way. Not sure if all CJR shows feature Vasquez on drums and another person on keyboards, but here’s a show from 2009 that does just that. I particularly like the way he yells at the audience in what sounds like a cross between Spanish, Swahili and Sullustese.

As mind-bending as that was, the videos Vasquez makes for CJR’s little 30-to-90-second bursts of glitchcore are even more extreme. Here’s our favorite.

As if all that weren’t enough, KOKOFREAKBEAN also makes disgusting little video shorts for Funny or Die. If you’re at work, don’t click that link. Guess I probably shoulda told you that in advance, huh?

Links:

Stalaggh/Gulaggh

Stalaggh

I gotta say, when it comes to dark, nihilistic bands on this blog, I was pretty sure we bottomed out with Mayhem and GG Allin & the Murder Junkies. Turns out I was wrong. Meet Gulaggh (or, if you prefer, :GULAGGH:), the band formerly known as Stalaggh, and prepare to embrace their motto, “Existence is futile.”

Stalaggh came into its futile existence around 2000, when members of the Dutch and Belgian black metal and ambient music scenes came together for the express purpose of making an album that would fill their listeners with despair. To help achieve that goal, they dispensed with the usual growling black metal singers and instead brought in mental patients. Apparently one of the non-crazy (relatively speaking) members of the band works in an insane asylum and was able to get permission to work with some of the patients, under the guise of it being primal scream therapy. Allegedly, among the many “vocalists” the band has worked with in this way is a guy who was institutionalized for killing his mother by stabbing her 30 times.

Stalaggh released three albums between 2002 and 2007: Projekt Nihil, Projekt Terror and their most notorious effort, Projekt Misanthropia If you Google Stalaggh, one of the first results is an article about Projekt Misanthropia called, “Is This The Worst Album Of All-Time?” (Answer: No. That would be Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu.) “Not to go all grandpa on you,” the author of that article declares, “but that’s not music; it’s just noise.”

Well, yes, but it’s morbidly fascinating noise nonetheless. At first, the Stalaggh backstory (as recounted in this interview) set off our bullshit detectors. Black metal dudes round up a bunch of lunatics and record them screaming at each other in an abandoned monastery chapel? That sounds too perfectly horrific to be true. Then we managed to make it through about 20 minutes of Projekt Misanthropia (you can stream the whole damn thing on YouTube) and you know what? We’re pretty sure that’s the sound of a bunch of lunatics screaming at each other. It’s so thick with human suffering and despair that it literally makes your skin crawl. The room seems to get darker the longer you let it play. People avoid eye contact with you for days after you’ve listened to it. It might be the bleakest “music” anyone’s ever recorded.

Not content to stop there, the core members of Stalaggh (who keep their identities a closely guarded secret) formed a new band called Gulaggh in 2008. Where Stalaggh was inspired in part by, and named after, the prisoner-of-war and concentration camps of Nazi Germany, Gulaggh is more directly inspired by the Stalin-era prison camps (gulags) of Soviet Russia. Each album of a proposed Gulaggh trilogy will be named after a different Russian prison camp, and the first album in the trilogy, Vorkuta (the only one released so far), begins with a recording of a Stalin speech.

But Stalin isn’t the creepiest part of Vorkuta. The members of Stalaggh/Gulaggh have one-upped themselves by now incorporating atonally played classical instruments and, scariest of all, the shrieks and screams of women and children: 30 children from a youth mental hospital (it took them over a year to get permission to record them) and a group of what one Gulaggh member calls “damaged women,” by which he means rape victims and ex-prostitutes. The results are, frankly, fucking terrifying. We won’t subject you to the whole thing, but here’s a snippet:

Inevitably, this sort of thing begs the question: Is this “art”? Or is it just horrible, gratuitous noise? In their rare interviews, which mostly seem to be done via email, the members of Stalaggh/Gulaggh tend to sidestep these questions: “We do not like being called any form of  ‘artist’. Art is creative, we are destructive.” But I think the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. By attempting to capture the worst human emotions—fear, pain, anger, hatred, self-loathing, despair—in their rawest form, and placing them in a context that evokes humanity at its worst (the “gh” at the end of both band names stands for “global holocaust”), the mysterious folks behind these projects force listeners to confront their own dark sides with an immediacy that I’m not sure conventional music ever could. There’s some art in that, I think. Then again, they’ve also allegedly prompted at least one fan to nearly kill himself by carving :STALAGGH: into his chest with a knife—so yeah, there’s a gratuitous, sadistic quality to this stuff that certain people respond to, as well.

The thing I actually find most interesting about Stalaggh/Gulaggh is this: Nearly everyone who first hears about the projects assumes that the mentally ill vocalists were somehow abused or tortured during the recording process, or at the very least were recorded without their knowledge or against their will. Wesley, the reader who most recently suggested we check this stuff out (thanks, Wesley!), noted, “Supposedly [the vocals] were mostly recorded in the hallways of a mental institution for the criminally insane,” implying that a.) the patients were unwitting participants and b.) this is what mental institutions usually sound like.

Well, no and no. (We’re not trying to single you out, Wesley; everyone, us included, buys into rumors and false assumptions when confronted with this stuff.) “All patients who have worked with us gave their full written permission,” a band member explained in one interview. “They are not retards, but they suffer from illnesses like schizophrenia, psychosis, borderline, multiple personality syndrome etc. Some of them are a lot more intelligent than normal people.” And, in another interview: “We always tell all vocalists who participate on our projekts what :STALAGGH: is all about. Most of them agree with our ideology….Several of them called recording with us the best therapy they ever had.”

So here’s another level Stalaggh/Gulaggh operates at: It challenges our assumptions about the mentally ill. It turns out you can be filled with almost unimaginable depths of mental anguish and have enough free will to participate in a recording session in which you channel that mental anguish into…well, not music, exactly, but an aural expression of anguish. So the vocalists are not merely the hapless victims of their illness; they are band members and active participants in the Stalaggh/Gulaggh aesthetic, as much as the non-institutionalized people who initiated both projects. At least that’s what I believe. I know plenty of listeners will reject the bands’ explanations about their clinically insane members and just hear sick people being exploited. But I think the reality is more complicated, and more interesting. (Although I do have issues with describing the women on Vorkuta as “damaged.”)

Just to keep us on our toes, however, Gulaggh have announced that the next album in their Stalin-inspired trilogy, Kolyma, will not feature mental patients, at least not exclusively. It will feature vocalists who were born deaf. “Their screams are almost animal like because they have never heard their own voice,” the band explains. “The other interesting thing is that they won’t hear the screams of the others, so it will be much more chaotic.” How it could get any more chaotic than Vorkuta we’re not sure, but Gulaggh will probably find a way.

Links:

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