A Journal Of The Dark Arts
it’s okay to have a body.
In the April 2016 edition of Nylon Magazine, in an article titled “Body Talk”, artist Molly Soda speaks of when she first became self-conscious of her body at the age of 11, when the other little girls noticed she hadn’t started shaving yet. Soda speaks of “feeling uncools and wanting so badly to be part of what felt like a secret, super exclusive club that paved the path to becoming a woman.”
She goes on to say, “Shaving is such a normalized thing in Western culture and it’s deeply tied up with shame. As women, we’re taught to be ashamed of our bodies – we’re taught to compare our bodies to others. It runs deep, and you learn it at such an early age that sometimes it feels impossible to shake. I realized I had been seeing my body through the lens of what other people deemed attractive, particularly men.”
It’s a story for too familiar for far too many of us. We all have bodies, and yet we all feel this resounding insecurity over that fact. The Japanese even suffer from a culture-specific condition, known as Taijin kyofusho (対人恐怖症), roughly “fear of interpersonal relationships”, often manifesting in a paranoia of displeasing others, and a terminal self-consciousness regarding bodily functions or their appearances.
The future is shaping up to be a quite antiseptic place. It’s like everybody took the streamlined, utilitarian aesthetic futurism of Gattaca or Star Trek to heart. At times, it can seem that we are destined to live in some futuristic Alphaville, where anything “unsightly” (read, “indicative of physical incarnation”) will be pushed underground like the Morlocks or into steerage, like Snowpiercer.
We can’t help but wonder how much of it is due to Christianity/Zoroastrianism’s demonization of the flesh, and of the natural world, as mythologized in the “original sin” of Adam and Eve realizing they were naked; that they were, in fact, animals.
This sterilization can be traced through the history of electronic music, as well. First, there was the cathode ray/vacuum tube monstrosities of the earliest synthesizers, through to the mass-produced-but-still-funky machines of the ’80s and ’90s – the 303s and 606s and 909s and DX7s – into the digital abstractions of DAWs and finally, the cloud.
The trajectory can be heard in the structures themselves, as well. Early electronics had a live, jammy feel to them, a la the kosmische of Cluster, or the live synth sequencer drifting eternity of the Berlin School, not to mention the household hacking ethereality of the Radiophonic Library or the endless tiny slices of the GRM.
As time soldiered on, all the rough cuts and oddities got sanded off, until the infinite potentialities of electronic music became just so much more pop music.
I, myself, was as privy to this tendency, as much as anybody. At first, i was endlessly excited, utopian, and idealistic about both digital music-making tools, as well as the by-products of said machine code. On both fronts, i had been denied for years; i used to read countless album reviews, of music i would never hear, and imagine what it would sound like. Creatively, i could just never scrap together $100 to get some cheap electronic gear. I even went so far as to sleep on my friend’s floor for six months, as he had a small studio and practice space (R.I.P. Ryan Licht Sang. Section Z will live again!)
Like many/most, i soon became frustrated with the endless possibilities of solely digital electronic music, and its uniformity. Ironically, i used to download tons of preset packs and readymade samples, but i could never bring myself to finish anything with them – feeling like a sham.
It was a pure case of substance over style, which balked me for 8 years, and nearly drove me mad and killed me in the process.
Which brings us to the music.
You Look So Under Fed is somewhere between a free jazz freakout, a modular synth workout, a spazz rock opus, a post-industrial meltdown, all working together to comment on the societal horror of embodiment.
Under Fed begins with a light pulse, before laying into a beastly, growling bass synth and mighty breakneck breakbeat. A lazer-like synth comes in with something approaching a “melody”, like Whitehouse trying to hold a tune, before disintegrating back into the churning pulse. This ebb and flow continues – with a loping, irregular, swaying back-and-forth freneticism, as bass hits build to a Jiffy Pop climax, like Gershon Kingsley’s “Popcorn” played by a Terminator.
“Moderate Confusion” is a speak ‘n spell nightmare, paranoid robot voices and glistening feedback, detuned Coil bells and sparking, hissing electricity. A hypnotic chanting creeps in, like Rosemary’s neighbors conducting a seance with a Simon. The title track is more upbeat, panicked – a boom-bap snare and pulsing bassline meshed together to become some sort of warning signal. It’s like listening to a stressed-out nervous system, heart palpitating from too many skipped meals and diet pills. The growling lead synth has a floating, anthemic quality, in line with a lot of top shelf avant-garde hip-hop of the moment – FKA Twigs, Arca, Floating Points – that leads one to wonder what these blokes would sound like with a rapper.
“Plus Size Models (I Wanna Diet pt. 2)” is the real standout track here, drum ‘n bass does black metal. “Plus Size Models” is the sludgiest electronic music you’re going to hear this year, this side of Marshall Applewhite, that is.
Things round out with a frenetic pace with final two tracks, “Someone Has To Abandon” and “Falling Out Of My Skin”, the latter particularly pummeling, with schizoid beats, insane alien synth, and hollow bass that will make you feel strange inside yr own skin.
There’s not much known about Body Shame, so far. You Look So Under Fed is their second offering for the adventurous electronic label SDMPDX, stalwarts of Portland‘s experimental community. Both parties deserve to be applauded for such thoughtful subject matter and daring risk taking. Body Shame rescue beats, synth, and bass from the simulacrum, giving them a beating heart, a visceral, bloody, palpitating life. They imagine songs, forms, and structures as organic, evolving things, rather than cold, mechanical prisons.
The more we go looking for the ghost in the machine, the better off we’ll be. The less afraid of – and more in harmony with – the world around us, the less damage we’ll do, the more we’ll be able to empathize and understand instead of imprison and harm.
If you happen to live in Portland, and like noise music or experimental art, you have a chance to catch Body Shame Live next Sunday, 5.27.16, at Valentine’s w/ Gooo, James Curry, and 1000TrashCans!
SDMPDX have been nominated for Wilamette Week’s Best Of Portland 2016 for Best Label! They work tirelessly to support the underground experimental community here in PDX, giving voice to avant, abstract rock, roll, noise, beats and synths to a wide network of miscreants. Voting for them will do a ton for both legitimizing the noisy underground, here in Portland, but also offering more opportunities for more imaginative, exploratory, open-ended, thought-provoking music and culture, across multiple rock and electronic spectrums.
While yr there, you could cast a vote for us as well! We’ve been nominated for Best Blog!
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Tune into every Sunday night/Monday morning for Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness @ Freeform Portland! Exploring the dark side of techno, hip-hop, shoegaze, metal, psych, folk, and soundtrack. You can listen to the archives online at mixcloud.com/for3stpunk.