Monday, March 15, 2010

The Body Electric: Grindcore Gets Down With the Sound of White Noise

Like so many other grindcore tales, this begins with Napalm Death.
Specifically, it beings with “Harmony Corruption.” The song not the album. Not appearing on the album of the same name, “Harmony Corruption” is a twitchy, fried mixing board industrial chug with creepy crawly ambience that, let’s be honest, goes nowhere (they got better by Utopia Banished, honest). The closing track of a space-filler EP, most people probably just ignored the early hint of Napalm 3.0’s wider musical vistas and scratched the needle back to hear “Pride Assassin” or “Mass Appeal Madness” one more time. [Ed's note: Richard Johnson helpfully pointed out I got my discography confuzzled. "Harmony Corruption" the song appeared on the Harmony Corruption 12". Oops. The details were wrong but the substance still stands]
But that three minute bit of ambient filler presaged grind’s eventual, inevitable evolution as life got downloaded as ones and zeros and began being lived on a 13-inch screen at your local Starbucks.
You would think grindcore – the ultra-primitive bastard of hardcore punk (there, I said it) with its stubbornly simple aesthetic – would be antipodal to the cerebral, emotionless cyber-shocks of electronic music. I’m just saying I never saw a grind dude proudly sporting a keytar on stage back when I was able to make the round of shows.
But in the pursuit of extremity, the enemy of my enemy is my future collaborator and grindcore has been bedding down in an unholy alliance with electronics, birthing a raving, twitching, jabbering cacodaemon of digital proportions in the process.

I Sing the Body electric;

“Grindcore was supposed to be the end of music right?” Ryan Page, aka Body Hammer, said. “But something about the shift from tonal music to noise caused the music to sound harsher. I think it has a lot to do with how humans interpret spectral complexity.”
Jake Cregger, whose electrogrind business card reads Jesus of Nazareth, found tape loops and FX box abuse were the natural next step for a drummer with boundless musical vision but lacking the requisite skills to accomplish that using more traditional instrumentation. And grindcore’s atavism just made it a natural launch pad for those experiments, he said.
“For me (snob alert!!) grindcore in its primal stages is just human energy being released through whatever instruments are available just like rock n roll, but just a bit farther down the spectrum from AC/DC,” he said. “After a certain point it’s just raw energy and that's where grindcore lies. It's right next to the limits of jazz, and all sorts of music I am probably not even aware of. Once you're dealing with just energy in that way any shift can send it into a whole new direction. So adding electronic elements made sense to me and it took it a step in a new direction for me. It’s all just trying to cultivate or harness that energy in some way, with various tools. Hence, if you take that energy and force it through something else I think you can still make a grind record.”

The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;

Paleomusicologists a century from now looking to document Patient Zero of the electrogrind outbreak need scour no further than Agoraphobic Nosebleed. The hydra-headed, ever shifting Massachusetts by way of Northern Virginia digital devils were among the – if not the – first to fully marry grindcore and electronics on a full time basis, cooking up a murderous stew of redonkulous zillion-bpm songs that barely eclipsed “You Suffer’s” miniscule run time.
“Agoraphobic Nosebleed has gone through lots of changes in the area of its relationship with electronics and drum machines,” drum machine pioneer and ANb fifth columnist Richard Johnson said. “With albums like Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope and Altered States of America, we had lots of noise passages and some ‘blipcore’ songs—I even sang on a blipcore version of ‘Practice What You Preach’ by Testament that may or may not see the light of day—and we still have some noise here and there, like on the split with The Endless Blockade. But the main thing that's changed is how advanced the drum machine work has become. In a way, the drum machine sound used to be industrial, the way it was so cold and unwieldy. But Drumkit From Hell has made things sound so much more natural and must be affecting the songwriting. The complexity of the drum programming has gone into outer space.”
Cole, one of the organic components to the Voltronic armada that is Origami Swan, said the hybrid set up allowed the Canadian collective to craft something “far more intense, absurd, and over the top than we could ever do with a conventional set up.”
“There honestly wasn't a lot of thought to it,” he said. “It sort of just came into being on its own. The band was started as a noise project in nature from the beginning and due to a mutual love of blastbeats, grind was incorporated into that. It seemed natural and logical to us. The sound was also born out of a desire to create an insane musical project that was still musically listenable, rather than straight harsh noise like artists such as Merzbow create, we wanted the music to retain elements of rhythm and listen-ability whilst bordering on noise.”

They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,

Grindcore five fingering power electronics is not a one way street, either. White noise war criminals looking to beef up their – already considerable – extremity credentials are not adverse to pillaging grindcore’s notion of shatter musical strictures.
Winters in Osaka may not blip too many grindcore radars, but the Chicago outfit’s list of collaborators skims the cream of the recent grind and power violence scene, roping in members of Brutal Truth, Exit-13, Spazz, the Endless Blockade and Iron Lung to craft and control their static-swamped noise soup. Turns out grindcore has always been the secret ingredient, said founding member Adam Jennings, who can also be spotted bringing the “New Wave of American Mincecore” (his nomenclature, not mine) in Paucities.
“We just live for music, but personally, I listen to mostly grind and power violence,” Jennings said. “For me, there’s a timeless sort of magic in those records. The sludge and noise and politics of Man is the Bastard, the weirdo tape loops and hidden voices found in GASP records, and the sick hip hop samples and million time changes in No Le$. It never ceases to amaze me. Slap a Ham is by far my favorite label. I even have the logo tattooed on my stomach. The power violence scene has also given me a ‘plug in, don’t be a fucking egotistical rockstar, have fun, but also have something interesting to say and please leave all macho attitudes at the door’ approach.”
Power violence, grind’s still punkier kissing cousin, never had the same antipathy toward transhumant electric augmentation. For all their rejection of the ills of modern society, Man is the Bastard where twiddling the knobs of extremity long before evolving into the white noise monstrosity Bastard Noise.
While it may have taken a decade, that attitude is starting to percolate up through grindcore, and many electrogrind practitioners point to their power violence progenitors as inspiration.
“A lot of the old power violence records with sound clips on them also left a huge impact on me,” Cregger said. “Dystopia used to use sound clips constantly. I think that taught me that the content of the clips really lent themselves to the demeanor for the music as a whole. Some of those songs would do very little for me without the additional samples. I took hefty nods from that example and began to really love the synergy between how non musical samples blended with music. To compare it to something visual, in some way they create interesting negative spaces within the music that really add a tremendous amount of character to an image.”

And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the Soul.

If you think electrogrind is nothing more than disregarding the safety warnings on a drum machine while running the noise you concocted on your Casio keyboard through your laptop, Page would like to have some polysyllabic words with you. You see, Body Hammer’s Jigoku was meticulously pieced together over a period of three years and the college student brought a sound philosophical and musicological imperative to his music.
“I'm not sure of it's superficial or not, but in many cases indeterminacy has worked it's way into the way I created a track,” he said. "I'll generally set tonal parameters, and I guess in that way I score it, and improvise on a track within those parameters. Usually one track doesn't sound great, but five or six tracks in each channel can build up stochastically to achieve the particular kind of atonal ambiance I want.”
Page cites Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope as one of the pivots that sent him skittering along electrogrind’s circuit patterned maze.
“I've had a chance to talk to Richard Johnson about it recently, and I think he's starting to see how influential that record was. What I tried to do was apply some of that in a darker direction,” Page said.
Grindfather Johnson knows a thing or two about mixing up his grindcore with his electronics as an early pioneer of the drum machine first with Enemy Soil and later Agoraphobic Nosebleed. He’s also keenly aware of the pitfalls that can come when you slide too far into cyberspace and lose that essential human element.
“I think working with a machine, meaning basically a metronome going 120 bpm, helped with my sense of timing a lot, but I still have a hardcore, jangly picking style, so I'm told,” Johnson said. “What's depressing is how technology is removing the human element out of drummers, though. If you trigger your drums—so more than just having complete control in mixing them, you don't have to hit them with any sort of conviction—and clean them up in ProTools, and quantize them, or line them up with a grid so the timing is perfect, then what's the point of playing them in the first place? That's why Mick Harris is one of the best drummers ever, although he'd be the last one to admit it, I guess. He's also so innovative because of his work with mixing up his drumming and drum machines in songs on early Scorn records. That's an interesting way of doing things.”
See? It all goes back to Napalm Death.


Alex Layzell said...

We have been blessed with 2 posts!! The robot at the top reminds me of the robot from the Insect Warfare Video, anyway very informative post.

Andrew Childers said...

that's a still from tetsuo the iron man, quintessential body horror/cyberpunk film from the 80s.

Zmaj said...

The last two posts made me all wet and shit. In case my penis turns into a drill, know that I'm coming for you.

I find all this logically acceptable. Grind strives for extremity in rawness, noise, speed, emotion, and there is no reason for a predetermined exclusion of electronics. Johnson hit the nail on the head, though. If you wanna trigger that shit and play grind, retrace your steps and make sure that you haven't lost a few balls along the way. This, this is why I'm such an obnoxious proponent of the "grind is punk" argument. It's not even a head-through-the-wall approach; you gotta go with the whole body. Thus, if I got it right, that Body Hammer guy seems alright - except for the nihilism.

Invisible Oranges said...

I detest this electro-grind sound, but this was a great read. Kudos!

One can see similar kinds of crossover aesthetics in breakcore.

Bicro said...

I still maintain that AnB's PCP TORPEDO is the best thing they ever did, and some of the most brutally violent music ever created. I love it.

That said, Altered States of America bored the snot outta me with half of it being nothing but distorted voice clips.
Agorapocalypse, while it has it's moments, has ventured into hipster territory, and I don't believe we'll see the AnB that produced PCP Torpedo again.

206 said...

crossover grind is 'hipster' now?

Bill Willingham IV, Esquire said...

Interesting stuff! I'm not too well versed in the electrogrind thing, beyond some ANb (who may very well have some hipster fans, but I would certainly not accuse them of courting them musically).

Great read. Agree with Zmaj that the Body Hammer dude is probably alright when he's not talking about how much he hates humanity because he got picked last in gym.

Are you familiar with Noism? They're probably more death-metal, riff-wise, than grind. However, they've got the breakcore-married-to-batshit-riffing thing going on.

Andrew Childers said...

no, i haven't check out noism yet, ditto wadge. i just started hearing more and more of the sound (like half the demos i wrote about) and got curious.

i also question whether hipsters are really up on anb's notoriously brutal humor. they don't look kindly on casual misogyny. even in jest.

Bill Willingham IV, Esquire said...

"There's a chick in the band now. It's SO po-mo."