The Current, the Coil, and the Nurse

Once upon a time there was a group of performance artists called COUM, who transformed into a band called Throbbing Gristle, who crafted a thing called “industrial music” out of the toxic sludge of mid-1970s Britain’s malaise. Eventually, that band broke up, and two of its members – Genesis P-Orridge and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson – went on to form Psychic TV, a new band with an associated chaos magick occult movement called Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth. Important contributors to both the first two Psychic TV albums (Force the Hand of Chance and Dreams Less Sweet) and the early propaganda and doctrines of TOPI included John Balance, a Throbbing Gristle fan who’d begun a relationship with Sleazy which would last the rest of his life, and David Tibet, an eccentric young man who was in the middle of a serious Aleister Crowley phase.

Meanwhile, gentle-natured music nerd and big time Krautrock fan Steven Stapleton had formed – and soon became the sole consistent member of – Nurse With Wound, whose surrealist experiments with sound tended to be lumped in with the “industrial” movement because Throbbing Gristle was the only thing which anyone felt able to compare it with.

Tensions arose within Psychic TV – with Sleazy, Balance, and Tibet all dropping out and establishing new projects. Sleazy and Balance would form the core of electronic industrial pioneers Coil; David Tibet would start producing nightmare soundscapes with a rotating cast of collaborators under the overall project name of Current 93. Befriending David Tibet, Stapleton soon became Current 93’s in-house producer, a position he’d hold more or less consistently for the next quarter of a century or so, and Stapleton, Tibet, Sleazy, and Balance would spend much of their future careers trading ideas with each other.

Eventually, all three projects would in their own way start expressing a strange and deeply non-traditional take on old-style pastoralism. David Tibet eventually reconfigured Current 93 as one of the most important exponents of what you could call “weird folk” of the latter 20th/early 21st Century, with musical partners such as Douglas Pearce from the controversial Death In June and, ultimately replacing Douglas, Current 93 superfan Michael Cashmore aiding him in producing some of the most delicately melancholy music ever produced. Coil would move to Weston-Super-Mare and start producing a more prog-oriented brand of “lunar music” as a counterpoint to the harsh “solar music” of their early career. Stapleton would move with his partner Diana Rogerson, who’d hit the industrial scene as part of the BDSM-themed performance art unit Fistfuck, to establish a family artistic commune in the west of Ireland, creating strange sculptures deep in the rural wilderness even as he continues to produce nightmare industrial soundscapes.

And through their various musical releases, the bands in question have produced a musical expression of rural and urban Englands which are very different from the sanitised take on the land that the authorities would have been comfortable with – what author David Keenan calls England’s Hidden Reverse.

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Lords of Chaos, Friends of Tyranny

With its movie adaptation finally releasing (to lukewarm reviews), it’s a good time to take a look at Lords of Chaos. This is the book which in many ways solidified the myths surrounding the Norwegian black metal scene of the early 1990s.

Not that it necessarily took much to do that. It was more or less inevitable that the Norwegian wave of black metal in the early 1990s would cast a long shadow. Along with a creative explosion which set a new bar for extreme metal, it was also a scene built around a volatile set of key personalities who, so intent on outdoing each other in establishing an “evil” reputation, ended up resorting to increasingly extreme acts.

There are few things messier than a pissing contest that’s gone out of control, and what happened in the 1990s black metal scene is no exception to that. Dead, lead singer of Mayhem (the band at the forefront of the new wave of black metal) performed on a stage decorated with severed pig’s heads, buried his clothes so that they’d smell like the grave, and engaged in alarming acts of self-harm onstage. Eventually he shot himself to death in the band’s communal house; band leader Euronymous, the scene’s major ringleader, took photos of the scene which eventually got used as the cover to a quasi-official Mayhem bootleg, Dawn of the Blackhearts. Picking up on previous waves of extreme metal’s embrace of Satanism, Norse heathenism, and general aggressive anti-Christianity, multiple members of the scene took to burning churches – including beautiful historic stave churches. Varg Vikernes used a photo of a burned church as the cover of the Burzum EP Aske, and was closely involved in many of the burnings. Faust, drummer of Emperor, callously murdered Magne Andreasson, supposedly not out of any sort of homophobic motive but simply for the sake of venting aggression.

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Apocalypse Culture

No book provides a more complete one-stop summation of the Feral House publishing company’s ethos than Apocalypse Culture: criminality, avant-garde art, dark musical subcultures, fetishes which range from the unusual-but-consensual to the taboo-and-definitely-not-consensual, extreme politics of all stripes, secret societies, conspiracy theories and cultural meditations all sit cheek-by-jowl in this collection of essays edited by the late Adam Parfrey, founder of Feral House itself.

For Parfrey, it was all about freedom of speech and giving a platform to anyone, no matter how offensive or controversial – if anything, the controversy helped. As Eric Bischoff coined the phrase, “controversy creates cash”, and it’s notable that Feral House’s boom period in the 1990s coincided with an era in which this was never more true. Parfrey’s decisions about what to publish would occasionally spark controversy; Feral House got a tidal wave of condemnation when it put out The Gates of Janus, a meditation on serial killers by Ian Brady, and Parfrey’s pre-Feral publishing venture, Amok Press, put out an English translation of Michael, a novel by Joseph Goebbels.

Apocalypse Culture doesn’t quite include any full articles by authors on Goebbels or Boyd’s level (though Parfrey does quote Hitler at one point), but the material here is pretty extreme. That said, whilst Parfrey himself seems to have particular obsessions and points of focus, at the same time the sheer range of extremist opinion offered here is incredible. You wouldn’t expect many of the authors in here to see eye-to-eye on much, except perhaps a certain disregard both for societal norms (as they existed in the late 1980s/early 1990s) and the centre ground which tends to reinforce them. Indeed, the title of the book comes from Parfrey’s contention that the centre cannot hold, and an apocalypse of bizarre and aberrant behaviours is just around the corner.

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“They’re Rereleasing It… and Then They’re Going To Rerelease Me… OH MY GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWD!”

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The story is well-known, Troll 2 having been skewered on bad movie websites since the early days of the Internet. The Watts family – father Michael (George Hardy), mother Diana (Margo Prey), older teen daughter Holly (Connie McFarland) and preteen son Joshua (Michael Stephenson) – have had a rough time of it, what with Grandpa Seth (Robert Ormsby) having died six months ago and Joshua regularly seeing vivid visions of Seth delivering bizarre warnings about goblins.

These warnings come thicker and faster as the Watts family embark on a holiday trip to Nilbog, a tiny rural town that happens to be the home of a gang of goblins with a remarkable knack for disguising themselves as human beings but absolutely no subtlety when it comes to coming up with town names. (Joshua only figures out the Nilbog/Goblin thing after seeing the town’s name reflected in a mirror, because ultimately he’s just not that clever a kid.) The goblins are strict vegetarians, but also love murder and anthropophagy, so they have a fun little compromise: before they kill people, they feed them an evil potion concealed in ordinary food which transmutes unsuspecting humans into vegetable matter.

There’s a wildcard factor provided by Holly’s loser boyfriend Elliot (Jason Wright) and his loser friends Arnold (Darren Ewing), Drew (Jason Steadman), and Brent (David McConnell) coming along in their RV in the vague hopes of getting laid – but they’re made short work of by the goblins and their leader, the gothy druid Creedence Leonore Gielgud (Deborah Reed). Will the Watts family be able to summon Grandpa Seth back from the dead in a necromantic seance to help out in the final conflict? Will Seth and Joshua be able to destroy the “Stonehenge Stone” which gives Gielgud her powers? And what power lies within Joshua’s special double-decker bologna sandwich?

Continue reading ““They’re Rereleasing It… and Then They’re Going To Rerelease Me… OH MY GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWD!””

Jim Jarmusch Via Germany, Part 2

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

In the previous article in this miniseries, I covered (through the medium of a Germany-exclusive blu-ray boxed set) Jarmusch’s early career up to Dead Man. That movie benefitted in part from an excellent country-industrial soundtrack by Neil Young, so it’s only fitting that Jarmusch would return the favour with a project focused on Young himself…

Year of the Horse

This is a documentary about Neil Young and Crazy Horse which isn’t entirely of Jarmusch’s own making; specifically, it mixes footage shot by Jarmusch on Crazy Horse’s 1996 tour with backstage footage from Neil Young’s archives from 1986 and 1976, to offer a glimpse of the musicians in three different decades. In principle, this should be an exciting prospect, because that happens to catch three very important but distinct periods in the group’s career. (It’s important to remember that Crazy Horse isn’t so much Neil Young’s backing band as it is an independent entity that Neil Young happens to play with regularly – they have made Neil-less releases, and on the documentary Neil introduces himself as the “guitarist with Crazy Horse” rather than the band leader or a solo artist or anything like that.)

To be specific, 1976 saw Neil at the height of his creative powers (and his closest physical resemblance to Neil from The Young Ones); the previous year had seen him release the epochal albums Zuma and Tonight’s the Night, the latter of which was recorded in 1973 as a response to the death by heroin overdose of Crazy Horse lead guitarist Danny Whitten and and Bruce Berry, one of Neil’s roadies. The two albums couldn’t be more different – Tonight’s the Night is the saddest entry in Neil’s sorrowful “Ditch Trilogy” along with Time Fades Away and On the Beach – whilst Zuma found him moving beyond the trilogy with a more tonally varied release and a new lease of energy.

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Glumscribe: His Thoughts and Words

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

It’s been a big year or two for Thomas Ligotti and his acolytes. Once upon a time Ligotti was so infamous for his reclusive nature that some believed that he didn’t exist, and that his fiction was written by some other post-Lovecraftian author or committee of authors in a really, really bad mood. Now his existence is increasingly accepted, and his heartfelt objections to that very existence enjoy an increasingly high profile.

Whilst True Detective author Nic Pizzolatto mostly drew on Robert Chambers and his followers when it came to the cosmic horror references in the series to the King In Yellow and Carcosa, these tended to be rather shallow nods; you could have happily replaced them with callouts to any other entity from the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook without materially changing the action or meaning of True Detective. The same is not true of his liftings from Thomas Ligotti; if you removed Ligotti’s hardline anticosmic antinatalism from Rust Cohle, you end up with a radically different character and a radically different character arc over the course of the series. As Ligotti succinctly puts it:

A: There is no grand scheme of things.

B: If there were a grand scheme of things, the fact – the fact – that we are not equipped to perceive it, either by natural or supernatural means, is a nightmarish obscenity.

C: The very notion of a grand scheme of things is a nightmarish obscenity.

From these building blocks, Ligotti has constructed all his fiction, but his unshaking belief in these precepts means that he does not confine this stance to the pages of his stories. In recent years a trickle of nonfictional material has come out of the Ligotti camp, material which makes it simultaneously clear that Ligotti is both deadly serious, and at the same time quite personable to actually talk to.

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A One Joke Concept Down a Two Layer Show…

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

So, it was asked why we hadn’t been talking about Darkplace and it’s absolutely time that we did. It’s 10 years since the show first came out, it’s a horror-comedy classic, and it’s variously available on 4OD and YouTube so we can all enjoy its riches together. Let’s take a look at whether “dreamweaver, visionary, plus actor” Garth Marenghi’s masterwork has stood the test of time…

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

The backstory goes like this: in the 1980s, back when they were new and scrambling to pad out their schedule, Channel 4 commissioned prolific horror author Garth Marenghi and his sleazy agent Dean Learner to produce a horror series. What emerged from Garth’s imagination was Darkplace, a show revolving around a hospital built over the gates of Hell and subject to all the myriad different paranormal manifestations you might expect from such a location – manifestations which the hospital staff have to deal with. Casting himself as the heroic Dr. Rick Dagless, Garth also penned the part of hospital administrator Thornton Reed for Dean and rounded out the core cast with the suave Dr. Lucien Sanchez (Todd Rivers) and the charming psychic newcomer on the ward, Dr. Liz Asher (Madeleine Wool).

For their own reasons, Channel 4 decided that the product was not suitable for broadcast – according to Garth, it’s because the material was just too edgy and dangerous, but viewers might come to their own conclusions there. Eventually, in 2004 it was dug up from the vaults and given a limited six-episode showing, with each episode bulked out with an introductory monologue from Garth himself as well as interviews with Garth, Dean, and Todd (Madeleine Wool having gone missing presumed dead in the meantime) to deliver the ultimate fan experience.

Continue reading “A One Joke Concept Down a Two Layer Show…”