There’s something incredibly draining about calling people out on their bulls***. It’s probably why people don’t do it very often. It’s probably why I find it very draining when I hear other people do it, and end up unfollowing left-wing ranters on Twitter. Listening to other people’s anger just makes me want to curl up and go to sleep, and not in a happy way. That said, I was energised and refreshed when Ad-ver-sary + Antigen Shift donated part of their set at Festival Kinetik 5.0 to call out fellow performers Nachtmahr and Combichrist on their particularly evil, offensive brand of bulls***.
You might not have heard of any of those bands, and that’s probably a good thing. I only know of them because people around me still listen to “industrial” bands that bear little resemblance even to the music I was into back in the 90s. All I know of Nachtmahr is what I’ve heard about their treatment of other bands – the inspiration for the latter part of my “don’t be dicks” post a few days back. It seems it goes further than that: the band are fully fledged neo-Nazis! I’d previously dismissed Combichrist as simply being crap, but they also turn out to be viciously sexist.
My views on equality no more make me a feminist than I am a member of the Black Panthers just because I don’t hold any weird belief that all races aren’t equal. I don’t like being labelled because then you get lumped in with people you don’t necessarily agree with – the same reason why bands hate genre tags because now “industrial” doesn’t just mean “crap” – it is now synonymous with actively evil bands.
Yes, the word “evil” is reactionary, but if you dress up as Hitler and beat women in your video, you’re going to get that kind of reaction. We’re not talking Laibach here, where a band plays with fascist imagery to make an anti-fascist statement – Nachtmahr, at least, genuinely hold fascist beliefs. Worse still, those insidious beliefs appear to be spreading. It was enough to spark a protest by a blog dedicated to weeding out neo-Nazi movements in music, which unfortunately tarnished the resolutely anti-fascist Amebix with that brush. It was certainly enough to make Ad-ver-sary’s Jairus Khan take action, as he explains in this interview for I Die: You Die:
It was when I got booked to play Kinetik, and I found out that I was scheduled to open for Nachtmahr and Combichrist. Given how strongly I feel about the way they do what they do, I didn’t think I could just get up there and play and pretend as though I wasn’t going to be followed by these two acts that I’ve openly criticized. I actually considered just cancelling my performance, and being done with it. I don’t want to be associated with what they do, and I don’t want to be a support act for them, even in a festival setting. But I took some time to think about it, and at some point I was listening to Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death and thought, “What would Jello Biafra do?” He’d use the stage time to tell people why he’s pissed off.
[…] We hope people think about their music, we hope that when an artist like Combichrist, Nachtmahr, or whoever else uses that kind of imagery, that regardless of whether the artists involved are great guys or not, they’re normalizing violence, they’re normalizing the marginalization of women.
Nick, presumably another member of the band, said, “They’re making something that should be completely unacceptable cool and aesthetically pleasing and that’s irresponsible. Because they’re directly in a position to influence.”
Interestingly, Combichrist’s Andy LaPlegua responded in the same article, claiming that he had written the lyrics from a character’s (rather than from his own) point of view. That’s fairly prevalent in music – I don’t think anyone believes Nick Cave goes around murdering people – but when you’re writing problematic content you do have to make it extremely clear in interviews that the views are not your own. Put that disclaimer in: “the views expressed by the lyrics are not necessarily the views of the artist”, because worse than having your audience believe you’re a complete dick is the danger of normalising those attitudes and making people think it’s OK.
“It’s kind of like, if you start doing something for art or for a storyline and suddenly people take this seriously, they actually think that’s how they should behave, you know, they think ‘Oh, we gotta go drink and fight and f*** and get some sluts’, you know, it’s bulls*** … I meet people all the time who take these things seriously. And you step back and go like, ‘this is not what I intended, never what I intended.'”
He then lost my sympathy by comparing himself to KMFDM (blamed for the Columbine killings) – while the latter were openly, defiantly anti-fascist both in interviews and in their lyrics, someone coming into Combichrist wouldn’t so easily see where Andy’s own sympathies lie. Even if you’re working within a horror-character, as so many bands do, it’s a very dangerous path to tread and explicitly so when there’s a general trend towards fans genuinely holding neo-Nazi views.
Thomas from Nachtmahr’s response was outright chilling. He told IDYD:
“The more flack you get, the more successful you are in a way. There’s people who don’t want you where you are, because you’re not sticking to their rules they made. Industrial being focused on punk is about breaking the rules and widening boundaries. […] I’m not a political person as an artist. I think politics [should] have nothing to do with music. Politics are something everyone has to do in private.
“Again, I really want to exclude the fascist thing, it’s militaristic. There is no kind of uniform we use that would not be used by any other army in the world. As an Austrian, an Austrian patriot … every American is allowed to be a patriot, Germans aren’t allowed to be that. I’m an Austrian and a patriot, and I can’t be a [Nazi] by definition. Fascist Germany, the Third Reich brought a lot of s*** on us. If you’re an Austrian patriot you believe in your country, and the roots of our country are in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is far beyond everything Germany has ever been and ever will be. This heritage has been taken from us by the shadow of the German Third Reich, and therefore every patriotic Austrian cannot be a fascist or a Nazi. [*When we contacted Thomas for some clarity on this quote he wished to make it clear that this statement is in reference to National Socialist German belief not accepting Austria as an independent nation, but a part of Germany. – ed*] That’s a very valid point I want to make because it insults me as an Austrian patriot to be called a Nazi.”
Oh, geez – sorry we got your particular brand of fascism wrong!
I’m very glad that Ad-ver-sary and Antigen Shift made their presentation. Regardless of the rather pathetic responses, Ad-ver-sary’s actions are the ones in keeping with the original “spirit” of industrial music – of being shocking and confrontational to effect change for good and challenge injustice. You wouldn’t catch Skinny Puppy dressing up like Hitler and punching girls. What would “pandrogynous” Genesis Breyer P-Orridge make of all that!
Ad-ver-sary posted on their Facebook page regarding the Confederate Flag t-shirt:
I don’t know the company and I don’t know anything about the people who make it, and that’s part of the point. It doesn’t matter if the shirt was made by a racist or a SHARP, if it’s being worn by a bigot or a saint. When you do things as an artist you are sending a message divorced from the context and character it was produced in. Some people genuinely think I did this for a stunt, or to sell records, or whatever. That’s the risk I undertook by doing this video. I knew it was a risk, and I’ve done everything I can to try to make the context absolutely clear to people, but there are people who are insulted by what I did because they think I’m insulting artists they love for a publicity stunt — and their feelings are perfectly valid. Insulting people is a risk of producing protest art, and I assumed that risk when I made the video.
I can’t assume that people who might be inclined to think this is a stunt will know that I’ve been fighting the use of racist symbols for years. I can’t assume that people who might think I’m calling for censorship will know that I’ve gotten in a lot of fights with other anti-racist activists because I don’t support laws which outlaw hate speech.
And when you wear a shirt with a confederate flag on it, you can’t assume people are going to be able to see the words on it. You can’t assume that people will have any idea who produced the shirt. You can’t assume that people know anything about you. You, as an artist, need to be aware that your art and image is going to be received not in the context that you produced it, but in the context that the audience takes it in.
That’s the point. It doesn’t matter if you’re a racist when you wear a confederate shirt, what matters is the context that you’re giving the audience. The context Andy gave in the photo was Asian girls in handcuffs, and he’s responsible for the negative impact that has on his audience, in exactly the same way that I’m responsible for the impact my video has on people who think that I’m just doing a stunt.
When I say that we should demand better, I’m not just talking about better imagery, better music, better t-shirts — I’m talking about better critical thinking, better exploration of symbols and aesthetic, better relationship with the people in your audience that you run the risk of alienating.
I introduced myself and spoke to Andy after we both played, and he told me he didn’t mean anything racially charged in the photo, and I said the same thing to him that I’m saying to you: It doesn’t matter what you meant, what matters is that you think about the impact your actions will have on people who don’t have the context that you do.
That’s what I want out of all of this. I don’t want Andy to be broke and homeless, I don’t want people to stop going to shows. I want us — all of us, artists and audience alike — to demand better from our community.
Back in my day, the idea of bands having to take a stand against racism and sexism in “industrial” music would have been hilarious. Even though it’s been many years since I had any interest in any “industrial” bands, it’s good to know that there are people out there willing to shout out when they see something amiss. I don’t go to these clubs or watch these bands, but I know people who do, and I’d hate to see them either get drawn into holding unsavoury views or feel forced to leave a scene they love because it’s become intolerable.
So, good on you, Ad-ver-sary + Antigen Shift. I hope that people pay attention to you.