|Image by tim forster based on IWW 'Pyramid of Capitalist System' (1911)|
Sometimes gigs are like the mythological London bus none for a while then several at once-in this case three and all at The Lexington!
The Oscillation, White Hills and Gnod were all excellent gigs, wonderful times of transcendence from the mundanity of the everyday. In an instrumentalist post/modernity where so much, and so many, are seen as a means to an end the importance of benign experiences that are ends in themselves includes that they can be counter cultural,
The Oscillation, White Hills and Gnod, the thing that made me link these three bands together isn't that they are similar musically-they aren't. What links them is that they are all music of the alienated, they make music that is at least ill at ease in neo liberal capitalist modernity and expresses that alienation, that resistance, and at times downright hostility to the status quo. The Oscillation, White Hills and Gnod are protest music in a post modern era.
If you can get hold of a copy of White Hill's superb and brave 2007 album Glitter Glamour and Atrocity and listen to track 6 'Love Serve Remember'- what you have is recordings of statements by George W Bush doctored so that he is apparently admitting his criminality and violence. Appropriation and subversion going on as a means of protest against the Bush regime's neo liberal imperialism and violence. Now remember this was an album released by an American band in the middle of Bush's second term (1), that takes courage and convictions. If you want an idea of how America can view dissenting musicians watch 'Shut Up and Sing'.
You may also want to check out White Hills' Hp-1 which looks at structures of control and power and 'So you are .. so you'll be' which explores the individual's agency within those structures (2)-the band attempting to stimulate consciousness and thought about these issues and what our response/s to the world around us could/should be. To quote Ben Hewitt when he contrasts White Hills with more traditional protest music '...what if the protest music of the 21st century... takes (the) form (of) a pure blast of sound?... mind-altering loops of psychedelic rock?' (3) I would want to argue that in his piece he is setting up an unnecessary tension between lyrical content and musical style-but his point that 'protest music isn't dying, it's just mutating into something multi-stranded, multi-layered and altogether more insidious'(3) is an important one, as is that effective protest will always be embedded in, and relevant to (sub) culture.
The Oscillation probably wouldn't be included in many peoples lists of protest bands but their last two albums have explored the alienation of modern urban life, the lived experience of many in this capitalist age. On their website they commented that ‘The Oscillation’s third album “From Tomorrow” is an attempt to find some kind of new mental and spiritual zones, away from the psychological effects of the modern urban landscape, and the curious emptiness of the digital social world that we are forced to inhabit. The introversion of these bleak and unsettling conditions are reflected back as music with all the ambiguous emotions of hope, despair, aggression, indolence and narcoleptic bliss’ (4) in an interview from September 2014 Demian Castellanos talks of the homogenization and gentrification going on in London and other cities and the accompanying increase in anesthetising entertainment. In a recent interview he commented that the same issues had been present while making the new album 'Monographic' but that he was working on his response to those issues and felt more hopeful of not being 'over run by it' (5). Here is a songwriter conscious of capitalism's corrupting effects on social space, culture and the individual-and allowing those concerns to inform his work. Good music and musicians, like all artists, can alert and envision us. Sometimes when I go to galleries I need to read the accompanying text in order to really get a piece of art-extra information opens up the slightly obscured meaning, the same can be true with bands.
Gnod have often made their antipathy to life in neoliberal Britain known from their T-shirt with Cameron on emblazoned with the statement 'No More Lies' to Chris Haslam's 'Rebel! Rebel! 'We are many, they are few!' reply to the question 'What would you like to tell the world?' (6) Their latest album Mirror is the aural equivalent of Munch's painting 'The Scream' an album of authenticity that confronts the listener with the truth that life includes suffering and pain. According to Gnod's Bandcamp page the album came out of, and was informed by, a period that included individual illness, societal self harm-the 2015 election result-and the realisation that as individuals we live in relationships of asymmetry to structures of power that are often hard to perceive but have a very real effect on our lives (7). At The Lexington Gnod maintained an incredibly focused, intense level of sonic attack for the whole set. But Gnod's intensity wasn't about turning every thing up it was about transposing and channelling responses of empathetic frustration and legitimate anger at life in modern Britain into a music that adequately expresses that pain and rage and the dread that that rage might turn out to be impotent. And deep in the mix of their wall of sound were the vocals, half heard, fragments caught, but in one of the songs coming through clearly, 'I want to be a stick in the wheel not a cog in the machine',
Whether it's The Oscillation's consciousness of the corrosive effects of late modernity and gentrification and the need to resist assimilation or White Hills calling out George Bush and putting together a triptych of albums exploring structures of power and the individual's response or Gnod opposing the capitalist status quo and it's destructive effects on the individual these bands have more in common than just being associated at times with a (very broad) musical genre . They may be at different points on the spectrum but they all give (at least) hints that things can be a whole lot better than they are.
(2) Terich, J. (2013) 'w: White Hills' http://www.treblezine.com/interview-white-hills/
(3) Ben Hewitt 'Review' of H-P1 at http://www.amazon.co.uk/H-P1-White-Hills/dp/B004XKBCMS/ref=sr_1_5?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1458147674&sr=1-5&keywords=white+hills
(4) http://theoscillation.com/news/ 2014
(6) Smith, S. (2013) 'Interview: Gnod' http://thequietus.com/articles/13880-gnod-the-trip-interview