Here I am enduring yet another release by The New Blockaders, the original noise band with whose output I have had an ongoing love-hate relationship for many years…Live At Sonic City (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR261CD) is billed as “the last ever TNB performance” and was captured at a 2017 music festival under the auspices of Thurston Moore, whose name is printed quite prominently on the hype sticker. The New Blockaders have done more “last ever” appearances and “last ever” records than The Who, to the extent that I suspect even their long-standing fans perceive this claim as something of an in-joke. In all the time I’ve been suffering though these records, I never once saw movie footage of TNB actually doing it, but that’s all changed now with this release which includes both an audio CD and a DVD document of the 40-minute blast. Oh, I’ve seen plenty of photos of the stage act, and have always felt queasy at the sight of the TNB “look” – black ski masks to make them look like commandoes, on top of formal suit and tie outfits. The suit and tie thing – with clean white shirts – has always seemed anomalous. It’s as though they’ve arrived from an earlier, more genteel time and place, like a 1930s salon in Paris or a 1950s gardening club in Surbiton. But the ski masks add that horrifying touch of menace. The combined effect is like having Fantomas on stage, multiplied by two. One of the strongest manifestations of this visual trope of Richard Rupenus wasn’t even a photo, but a line drawing – for the cover of Planned Obsolescence, a 2009 LP which teamed Nihilist Assault Group with Blue Sabbath Black Cheer. It’s an unsettling image showing a 19th-century drawing room in the throes of fiery destruction, as the players sit around with studied nonchalance, neither caring about the disaster nor rejoicing in it.
I mention all these instance of cultural destruction in the context of today’s item, because of the havoc that is wrought on that most innocent of instruments, the humble piano. Watch this DVD to see a Rupenus or a TNB member destroy a piano with hammers, if that’s what appeals to you. At any rate the keys of that instrument are given a vicious beating with those metal pounders, even if the entire body of the piano isn’t destroyed and reduced to firewood. Later, a wood saw is also used for further damaging actions. I suppose it’s a symbolic assault, a gesture showing the destruction of music, and the demolition of the Western tuning system; the well-tempered clavier, which took us years of culture to evolve, is wiped out in a matter of minutes. The Rupenus plan, as expressed through slogans and texts, makes no secret of the anti-art agenda. It’s not enough for TNB to make a hideous, formless racket; they have to consume everything else we hold dear in the conflagration too. The punishment meted out to the piano upset me terribly; the whole movie, in fact, seems like sheer torture porn to me, much like the grisly scenes from Eli Roth’s movie Hostel. The ugly low-key lighting only adds to that lurid sensation, as does the artless camera work (exhibiting the exact opposite of the craft of mise-en-scène, perhaps undermining another foundation of artistic convention thereby).
This squeamish reaction of mine means I didn’t make it to the end of the DVD. The audio component isn’t much more comforting, and for some reason seems like one of the most aggressive entries I’ve heard in the TNB discography. Maybe it’s because of the violence; the actual sounds and noises generated might not be that bad (though they are grating and unpleasant), but you can really sense the anger, hatred and sheer nihilism behind every blow and pounding action, as the TNB members set about the junkyard on stage with a grim, resigned determination. What I recall of this part of the DVD – which I hope one day to forget – is that they moved around like Mafia hitmen, slowly and efficiently cutting up the bodies of their victims. Yuk. The triple-gatefold package reprints portions of a Rupenus interview which originally appeared in Glissando magazine, and he attempts to clarify various misunderstandings about the project. For instance, the masks which I clearly find so repellent are really “strictly an exercise in anonymity” and “to remove the idea of a personality”, a trope which has been used by other low-profile types in the “industrial” genre (another pigeonhole which I suspect Richard Rupenus rejects); the example I usually cite is Nature & Organisation, who pretended to be a whole band of nameless creators in the 1980s when it was really just Michael Cashmore. There’s no denying the intelligence and determination behind The New Blockaders thing, but it’s now beginning to feel to me like a very narrow seam of cancerous nastiness, which is all but mined out. From 1st April 2019.