Demdike Stare/Exael/Eli Keszler/Mary Jane Leach/Maarja Nuut & Ruum/Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement
“The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up”
It is said that it is easier to imagine the end of civilisation than to imagine the end of capitalist surrealism. As a boy from 1962, I have a genetic predisposition that dictates that I find it easier to imagine the end of civilisation than imagine my own demise. Whether the thief finally arrives dressed in a post-ironic ‘armageddon’ t-shirt in the dead of night, or holding a BBC microphone in broad daylight, only my faith in the quantum indestructibility of eternal energy can save me now.
As the sinister pantomime otherwise known as 2018 limps into panto season, only one man can truly define where we are at. And we may find ourselves creating our own freedom, with the weight of Raoul Martinez‘s accidental birth restrictions draped around our auras. As techno-scientific progress and pseudo-intellectual critical thinking slug it out in the ring according to Byung-Chul Han‘s psychopolitical rules of combat, the propensity of a nominal elite to believe in their own omnipresence matches the arrogance of their puppeteers on the seafront of effrontery.
We live in times where we are told repeatedly by the MSM that anything is possible: populating Mars; automation and the end of surplus labour value; AI ascendency; continued economic growth and prosperity. Yet, as Slavoj Zizek expounds in his latest masterwork, ‘Like A Thief In Broad Daylight’ (Penguin), it is no longer possible for the fiscal elite to fund hospitals, schools, social care or end homelessness. In 2019, the real revolutionary act will be to redefine what is possible. We are drowning in empty freedoms. We are overdosing on unfreedom.
Zizek spoke recently to The Economist in promotion of ‘Like A Thief In Broad Daylight’. In line with trakMARX editor Guy Debord‘s position on plagiarism, we though it fitting to partially reproduce that interview here without express permission:
The Economist: What do you mean by “the era of post-humanity”? What characterises it?
Slavoj Zizek: It is not primarily the automatisation and robotisation of the production process but much more the expanding role of science, machines and digital media in social control and regulation. The detailed registration of all our acts and habits enables the digital machine to know ourselves, even our psyche, better than we know ourselves. In this way, social control no longer needs to be exerted in the old “totalitarian” mode, through open domination—we are already manipulated and regulated when we act freely, just following our needs and desires.
But there is another feature which justifies the term “post-humanity”: the prospect of the direct link between our brain and the digital network. When this happens, we lose the basic distance which makes us human, the distance between external reality and our inner life where we can “think what we want.” With my thoughts, I can directly intervene in reality—but the machine also directly knows what I think. In the last years of his life, Stephen Hawking experimented with a technology to communicate with the world—his brain was connected to a computer, so that his thoughts could choose words and form sentences, which were then relayed to a voice synthesizer to be spoken aloud. Fredric Jameson noted that, today, it is much more easy to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. This sarcastic insight is today becoming reality: it looks that, in some new form, capitalism will effectively survive the end, not of the world, but of humanity.
The Economist: Brexit and the rise of populist politicians seem to show that voters want to be protected from the harder edges of globalisation. So, back to Jameson’s thought, is it still easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of the free-market consensus associated with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan?
Mr Zizek: As with fascism, I think that populism is simply a new way to imagine capitalism without its harder edges; a capitalism without its socially disruptive effects. Populism is one of today’s two opiums of the people: one is the people, and the other is opium itself. Chemistry (in its scientific version) is becoming part of us: large aspects of our lives are characterised by the management of our emotions by drugs, from everyday use of sleeping pills and antidepressants to hard narcotics. We are not just controlled by impenetrable social powers, our very emotions are “outsourced” to chemical stimulation. What remains of the passionate public engagement in the West is mostly the populist hatred, and this brings us to the other second opium of the people, the people itself, the fuzzy populist dream destined to obfuscate our own antagonisms.
The Economist: In 1968, Jacques Lacan told student protesters in Paris that “what you aspire to as revolutionaries is a new master. You will get one.” Does the appeal of populists and so-called strong-men reflect a desire for authority that liberal democracy can’t provide?
Mr Zizek: Yes, but in a way different from the one that Lacan had in mind in his pessimist reading of the 1968 turmoil. For Lacan, the consequence of 1968 was the decline of the old (directly authoritarian) figure of the master and the rise of a new master figure, than of the expert—what Lacan baptised the “university discourse.” Just think about how today economic measures are justified—not as an expression of political will and positive social vision but as a consequence of neutral knowledge: it has to be done, this is how markets work.
Just recall how the experts in Brussels acted in negotiations with Greece’s Syriza government during the euro crisis in 2014: no debate, this has to be done. I think that today’s populism reacts to the fact that experts are not really masters, that their expertise doesn’t work—again, just remember how the 2008 financial meltdown caught the experts unprepared. Against the background of this fiasco, the traditional authoritarian master is making a comeback, even if it is a clown. Whatever Trump is, he is not an expert.
The Economist: Do you want a new master?
Mr Zizek: Surprisingly, YES, I do want it. But what kind of master? We usually see a master as someone who exerts domination, but there is another, more authentic, sense of a master. A true master is not an agent of discipline and prohibition, his message is not “You cannot!”, nor “You have to…!”, but a releasing “You can!”—what? Do the impossible, ie, what appears impossible within the coordinates of the existing constellation. And today, this means something very precise: you can think beyond capitalism and liberal democracy as the ultimate framework of our lives.
A master is a vanishing mediator who gives you back to yourself, who delivers you to the abyss of your freedom. When we listen to a true leader, we discover what we want (or, rather, what we “always-already” wanted without knowing it). A master is needed because we cannot accede to our freedom directly—for to gain this access, we have to be pushed from outside, since our “natural state” is one of inert hedonism; of what Alain Badiou called the “human animal.”
The underlying paradox here is that the more we live as “free individuals with no master,” the more we are effectively non-free, caught within the existing frame of possibilities. We have to be pushed or disturbed into freedom by a master.
The Economist: You have argued for the “occupation” of the digital grid, but how can ordinary people hold big tech firms to account if only a tiny fraction of us are capable of comprehending an algorithm?
Mr Zizek: True, we—the majority—don’t understand the details of algorithms, but we can easily understand how we are controlled by the digital grid. Moreover, I don’t think the experts themselves fully understand how the digital grid really works, plus those who exploit their knowledge also do not know the technical details.
Do you think that when Steve Bannon mobilised Cambridge Analytica, he understood the algorithmic details of its work? Or take ecology: to grasp global warming and the ozone hole, you need science which most of us don’t understand, but we nonetheless can fight against the prospect of ecological catastrophe.
There are risks of manipulation here, of course, but we have to accept them. We have to abandon the naïve faith in the spontaneous wisdom of everyday people as a guideline of our acts. That’s the paradox of our era: our most ordinary daily lives are regulated by scientific knowledge, and the dangers of this (often invisible) regulation can be fought only by a different knowledge, not by New Age wisdoms and common sense.
I first encountered Demdike Stare back in 2012, with ‘Elemental’ (Modern Love), but my head was awash with punk fury back then, and the experience passed me by. They sat there stubbornly on my hard drive during the ensuing years, however, and with each further tentative exposure, I became more intrigued. It wasn’t until the arrival of Testpressing #7’s ‘Rathe’ (Modern Love) in 2015, that I truly fell head-over-heels. With the release of ‘Wonderland’ (Modern Love) in 2016, that mild infatuation became full-blown obsession. Informed by the work of recent signings to their own DDS label, Equiknoxx, ‘Wonderland’ got down and dirty with digital dancehall: ragged ragga-jungle, dubbed-out synthesis, 808-patterned overload, spiral loops, bouncing breakbeats, and snapping grooves. ‘Wonderland’ hiccuped, stumbled, and flipped. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. ‘Wonderland’ had arrived: music for haunted dancehalls. Over the course of the last two years, Demdike Stare, Modern Love and DDS Records have become central to my ever-expanding vinyl collection: broadening my horizons, expanding my parameters. Alongside the aforementioned Equiknoxx, DDS have since gifted me Shinichi Atobe, Conjoint, Orior and Robert Akai Aubery Lowe. Whilst Modern Love has brought me Lucy Railton, Turinn, G.H. and Andy Stott. Without the Demdikes, I’d not have found Move D‘s ‘Kunststoff’ (Ava). The Demdike era has been influential, to say the least.
It was with a mixture of surprise and acute expectation, then, that I approached ‘Passion’ (Modern Love), Demdike Stare’s out-of-the-blue 9-track double album, as it landed last week. With no preliminary fanfare, no pre-release hype, the arrival of this floor-filling pedigree filly caught me on the hop. It’s not been far from the turntable since, though, and first impressions are that it’s more strident than ‘Wonderland': pedal pressed closer to the metal; windows of abandon wide open; all caution thrown wildly to the wind. In a year crammed full of essentials, it’s most definitely a contender. From the stuttering oscillation of the opening ‘New Fakes’, to the atmospheric divisional joy of the closing ‘Dilation’, DS explore the nooks and crannies of sound system culture with a frenetic wantonness. ‘At It Again’ sets the pace, a furious maelstrom of radiotelegraphy. ‘Spitting Brass’ fills those dancehall bassbins with solid aural gold. ‘You People Are Fucked’, a mashed up killer, the record’s most memorable bass line, in and out in under three minutes. Fucked up pop music, in a dancehall style.
A copper-bottomed absolute belter flew in this month, in the shape of another double album, this time Eli Keszler‘s ‘Stadium’ (Shelter Press). Having spotted this one coming a mile off, thanks to Shelter Press bunging the clear wax edition up for preorder on their Bandcamp page, my internal hype machine had been working overtime, deep within my psyche. I was hopped up on ambition for these sides, long before they landed. I’d heard a couple of tracks, watched Keszler’s career blossom (oPN/Daniel Lopatin, Lauren Halo) with interest, and I’d decided I was going to dive into this one from the top board, weeks before the postman finally knocked. Sitting somewhere between Conjoint‘s ‘Earprints’ (DDS) and Jan Jelinek‘s ‘Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records’ (Faitiche), ‘Stadium’ looks set to trouble the scorers as we head into list season. Recorded in response to Keszler’s moving of his home from South Brooklyn to Manhattan, ‘Stadium’ could be seen as a reflection on the psychogeographical, environmental and sociological aspects of change. Relaxed yet urgent, complexed yet schematic, this is avant-jazz outsiderdom striving for inclusivity.
Hot on the metaphorical heels of the recent ‘blisss’ compilation and Pontiac Streator & Ulla Straus’ stupendous ‘Chat’ 12″, West Mineral hit pay dirt, once again, with this essential debut long player for the label from Exael. ‘Collex’ (West Mineral) builds on the promise of 2016’s ‘Miche’ (Lillerne Tape Club) cassette, mutating somewhere between the Berlin-infused dub of Chain Reaction Records and the constantly deconstructing fallout from ground-zero Chicago techno. ‘Collex’ sounds like it could have been both written and recorded by AI, it feels that ahead of the game. Metal machine music for a compromised human world.
Meanwhile, back at planet Modern Love, four pieces for flute and voice composed between 1985-2018 comprise Mary Jane Leach‘s ‘(f)lute songs’ (Modern Love). A contributing member of NYC’s avant-garde community since the 1970s; an active member of DownTown Ensemble, MJL has worked in her time with luminaries such as Arthur Russell, Ellen Fullman, Peter Zummo, Philip Corner and Arnold Dreyblatt. Following the release of ‘Pipe Dreams’ (Blume Editions) in 2017, MJL’s star has risen accordingly here in the UK, and Modern Love have duly embarked on their second avant-classical outing of the year with ‘(f)lute songs’. Featuring Italian flutist Manuel Zurria (Alter Ego), alongside treated vocals, it’s genuinely impossible throughout to discern which is which. The four pieces here combine in a 37-minute suite that takes the listener on a journey of somnambulistic reverie, equally stunning in emotional depth to that of Sarah Davachi‘s ‘Gave In Rest’ (Ba Da Bing): “Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt” – Kant
“The presiding spirit of ‘Muunduja’ (shifter) is a state of being between states, the warping of time’s arrow using sound”. Estonian duo Maarja Nuut & Ruum’s debut is a spectacular triumph, forging the gaping chasm between traditional folk music and electroacoustic expression. ‘Muunduja’ (130701) takes its time to establish its plateau within the psyche, but once there it resolutely refuses to relinquish its position. A record to be heard without and felt within, ‘Muunduja’ is a riot of competing textures and timbres. Affluent in its resources, expectant with promise, Maarja Nuut & Ruum conjure the spirits of their ancestors to forge future soundscapes of glitchy reverence.
Recorded back in the winter of 2017, this new vinyl edition of ‘Red Ants Genesis’ (Hospital Productions) sees Low Jack & Equiknoxx join Dominick Fernow’s Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement on this remixed riot of collaboration frenzy. With Phillippe Hallais, Gavsborg and Time Cow joining him at the controls, Fernow joins that loop of dread artists connected to me by their association with Demdike Stare, and, having previously been largely unmoved by much of Fernow’s work as RSE, ‘Red Ants Genesis’ has been somewhat of a revelation. Dark ambience in a dancehall style, the deeply dubbed sonic tar of these recordings coats the lungs, challenging one’s tympanic membranes to rupture.