Keith Kahn Harris

professionally curious, communally engaged

Metal jew

Musical futurology

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The ever excellent Souciant webzine has a fascinating article on the future of hardcore by Oliver Sheppard. Sheppard reuminates on how music today is dominated by nostalgia and revivals. Against this backdrop he attempts to imagine future scenarios for the development of hardcore:

As far as the current backwards-looking trend of music goes, I’ve always felt that if there was a Hell, at least one of its circles would consist of an eternal “80s night.” Having said that, there are a few trajectories I can see punk rediscovering to move ahead. As far as pop music goes, I don’t have a dog in that fight. No one can predict the direction that that will take. (Justin Bieber or Katy Perry?) But hardcore punk? Here are some scenarios:

1. Industrial punk

Do you remember Pailhead and Lard? What happened to bands like that? I don’t mean 90s industrial metal like Fear Factory or Chemlab or Gravity Kills. I mean full-bore, no-holds-barred, aggressive, fast, political, industrial hardcore punk. In the late 1980s this seemed like a possible and viable way to go forward, hence why people like Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra, and others (temporarily) signed up. Optimum Wound Profile notably seemed eager to plow ahead in this direction (see Tranqhead from Optimum Wound Profile’s Lowest Common Denominator LP on Roadrunner, a Crass-ish, yet accessible, industrial punk release weirdly ignored while the mainstream music press was masturbating over Nine Inch Nails.)

Remember Nausea’s Cybergod? Christdriver and Titwrench also made some compelling lo-fi, hi-tech industrial thrashcore songs. Neurosis and even the Swans (“I Am the Sun”) seemed primed to go in this direction, too, until a lot of them went off into “post-rock” territory. Wire’s Read and Burn, Killing Joke’s ’90s material, and the 2005 PESD POLITIKAREPOIZONEKURVAE LP, on Prank Records, also remind us of the potential left laying at rest in this under-explored niche of music. It’s sonic territory that remains to be fleshed out, but is full of promise.

2. Modern Post-Hardcore

Bands like Kim Phuc and The Conversions are doing a new kind of update on 90s post-hardcore that has taken into account the dark, d-beat experience of the past decade. Check out the 2011 Copsucker LP by Kim Phuc, a band that contains ex-members of Aus Rotten. It sounds like 90s post-hardcore – and, yet, it doesn’t. Iceage also tread this terrain brilliantly. Kim Phuc’s Animal Mother/Local Round-up is as good a song from the hardcore scene of 2011 as I’ve heard.

3. Acoustic Neofolk?

This might seem counter-intuitive, but given the “MTV unplugged” nature of bands like Ian MacKaye’s The Evens – described as “post-post-hardcore” by some writers – it might not be that far of a stretch. Death in June are as popular as ever even though the act consists of the singer (Douglas P.) merely strumming an acoustic guitar, sitting on a bar stool – albeit in WWII camouflag garb. Zounds’ Steve Lake made a similar “stripped to the acoustic basics” concert tour recently. And bands like Sonne Hagal, Rome, and Darkwood are basically coming on stage with acoustic guitars, kettle drums, and a Joy Division-esque appearance, claiming roots with punk bands in the past. Coffeeshop postpunk? The Evens would never say they are neofolk, but what is the current interest in back-to-basics, guitar-driven melodic music – yet in the context of punk or alt-underground – indicative of? Billy Bragg has been there all along.

4. Post-Black Metal

Bands like Hateful Abandon, Lifelover, Bone Awl, and the newer Darkthrone releases have been combining a kind of dark postpunk with 90s black metal and garage music. Witness the recent Darkthrone cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “love in a Void,” for better or worse. The Lost Sounds’ Memphis is Dead 1999 LP on Empty Records could be seen as a precursor of this particular cocktail of postpunk, deathrock, and black metal. (See Satan Bought Me and other tracks off that Lost Sounds release:.) Acephalix from San Francisco and Tyrant from Sweden have taken their cues from Hellhammer and Darkthrone but are also mindful of influences from Naked Raygun and the Wipers, too.

The cross-pollination between postpunk, hardcore, and black metal is an especially interesting area of current music germination, and it remains to be seen what can be wrought from this fertile cultural matrix. Circle of Ouroborous have recently pulled off some incredibly dreary, melancholic tracks that simultaneously recall Joy Division and Darkthrone. (See their Demon in Iron, something that sounds like it could be a 1979 Joy Division demo if Ian Curtis had just listened to Burzum.)

I don’t know how accurate Sheppard’s predictions will prove. What I’m interested in is how his article suggests that music critics attempt a kind of futurology. It seems to me that, given the unstoppable flood of music that the internet revolution has unleashed and given the increasing tendency for musical genres to feed on themselves, that musical futurology is going to become an increasingly important ‘discipline’. In fact I would go further and suggest that we shouldn’t content ourselves with predicting the future, we should attempt to shape it by suggesting new kinds of possibilities. Maybe a future role for critics could be to set challenges for musicians to follow. So, to take a challenge at random, what would metal look like if it abandoned distorted guitars and tritones?

Of course, musicians are usually resistant to critics telling them what to do? Still, I want to explore this idea in the future. I will be giving a keynote at a metal conference in Ohio in 2013 and I talk more about musical futurology then.


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