Today I come back from the cold to tell you about three blinding techno albums released in 2018. If we project their vibes into multi-dimensional culture-space, we find them clustering with failed visions of the F-117 Nighthawk that were too deadly sleek, that Culture novel Iain M Banks would have written if cancer hadn’t taken him above, and the collective galactic encephalogram produced by a generation of kosmische hacks now resting body-dead but not brain-dead in Amoeba records’ new age section.
I will keep things short because each word I type is a blip in the sensorium of those obsidian sharks that lurk in the impossible cathedrals of this music. Remember the words carved in the altar:
Silence is gold, beats are titanium.
This is what happens when the Harkonen are uplifted
More than his actual music, a lot of the time people seem to be mostly interested in whether Ben Frost is a douche or not, and how this might interface with his political intentions.
In 2010, while touring a ferocious noise album that resulted in a frankly ludicrous attempt to play Brighton’s Freebutt at the height of its resident-appeasing limiter-in-force infamy (two failed attempts to get started and then he was out the door) and burnt out speaker cabinets at a London show, he gave an interview to Resident Advisor that set nerves jangling, edited highlights below:
The thing I was most fascinated by in making that record was the collective aural memory of the human experience and our fascination with the malevolence of the natural world. By the Throat was always about somehow channeling those ideas, because they are powerful, musical weapons: rumbling bass, explosive distortions and growling, howling strings. It’s simple synapse—our brains hear music but we hear earthquakes, volcanoes and fear of predators in dark.
About an hour’s drive from my house right now there is a volcano exploding. It’s the hottest (no pun intended) ticket in town. Everyone wants to get close to it, and to be afraid of it. I guess the same could be said of anyone who wants to get close to my music. It’s masochistic. I don’t see much of a line between enjoying the experience of my music, and the guy who pays a hooker to walk on him in six-inch stilettos while he rubs one out.
Ultimately, I would prefer that my music comes through the door before I do, or that it’s experienced live first. Nobody cares what I call myself when it’s coming at you at 120db.
The void is far more fascinating than anything I could fill it with. I just want to map out my territory, and piss in the corners so you know where the edges are. You can work out—and make up the rest—on your own.
We seek experiences that fire our primal emotions. This is why we have bungee jumping, amphetamines and self-asphyxiation…
Gozer was just there to fuck shit up. It was that simple. There was no explanation, and there is no discussion to be had with Gozer the Destructor. And Peter Venkman realized that. I suppose what I am getting at is that we have cerebralized our fears and that By the Throat does not work like that. In fact, none of my music works like that. I don’t want you to think about what I am doing, I just want you to be affected by it.
This interview was again picked up by Dan Barrow in his recent Ben Frost cover piece The Wire, who confessed to finding Frost’s statements “troubling.”
“The concept of extremity,” Barrow explained, “circulating in the discourse of music since before Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, has been so often the vehicle for troubling power relations and pathetic machismo, so hackneyed in its secret alliance with the status quo, that it’s difficult to make anything productive of it now. To what end, people might ask, is Frost struggling? If Swans utilised volume, repetition and scale to articulate the agony and plenitude of identity – of being trapped in gendered, labouring, desiring, decaying bodies – then Frost’s extremity, flushed with a more conventional gorgeousness and stripped of what Keith Moline called Swans’ “harrowing stasis,” is more opaque and problematic.”
There’s a lot of question marks to be raised there:
Is The Rite of Spring really an example of “troubling power relations and pathetic machismo”?
Is Ben Frost in a “secret alliance with the secret quo”?
Was/is the volume, repetition and scale of Swans actually an attempt “to articulate the agony and plenitude of identity – of being trapped in gendered, labouring, desiring, decaying bodies”? Or did they just like big noises?
Maybe Ben Frost just likes big noises too?
But it’s a good piece and it made us think.
If anything, though, Frost’s music itself makes us not-think. It doesn’t fire thoughts in our multi-headed brain political or otherwise. At least not any more than Autechre or Jerry Goldsmith, or any other composer who makes loud/dissonant/pretty/consonant music with no words does. That isn’t just anti-intellectualism, if anything there is something audio wallpapery about Frost’s music – maybe more than he’d like to admit. But that isn’t intended as a diss. Some of my favourite artists used wallpaper as a medium – look at William Morris!
And Frost’s music is as detailed, thoughtful and precise as Morris’ art, and presumably little more complex in its motivations.
I guess it’s ultimately about texture, noise, shape and colour – or sometimes the absence of those materials. Sometimes it can feel like you want to touch it. That’s maybe when it’s at its best.
At other times, it sounds slick, produced and blockbustery. That’s good too. Like the soundtrack to a rave scene set on a moon. Lots of slow-mo dancing, suns collapsing in the background, orbital tracking shots of crater hedonism slowly spiralling out and out and out until everything’s just a dot.
Which is a sentence that also makes us think of this Daniel Avery tune, from 2012: