Monday, 23 May 2011

Culturcide - Tacky Souvenirs from a Pre-Revolutionary America

"Oh, say can you see in the blinkless electron-gun eye of the mainstream media mirage that what we hail are the hallucinations of authority and progress and righteousness whose sweet and stern voices have captivated and conditioned millions of human creatures, stimulating in them a passive acceptance of technological disruption and destruction of environment, of history, of possibility of alternative ways of being? Whose seven stripes are broken swastikas, whose fifty stars are black holes sucking 200 million atomized existences into the daily routine of the human herd, of hamsters rolling the great wheels of death machine, squeaking at the shocks and nibbling the cheese and reciting and discussing and delighting in their shared programming history, in their stupid lives, in their cancers, their deaths, their TV shows, their jobs, their ignorance, their endless, pointless, forward creeping, their glorious, blithe nose-dive into their pay-check's pleasures, into an ecstatic emptiness: a glowing incinerator: a parking-lot full of business-men conspiring and colluding on the big lie, the big dream, the big nauseating screaming sweating nightmare of Business America/Consumer America/Corporate America/Media America/FASCIST AMERICA...." - Culturcide, Star-Spangled Banner

No-one likes feeling like their essential culture that they love and respect and have invested themselves in is being co-opted by forces who are just seeking to capitalise on the saleabilty of some trite simplication of germinal notions of otherness and rebellion contained within that culture and do so without any of the effort and alienation and history really required to understand those concepts and their pained births. I have read some incredibly awesome angry diatribes on the idea of the 'hipster headdress'. I once stumbled across a discussion on the racist implications of the failure to explain the concepts of east-Asian wisdom in Hong Kong Phooey. Just yesterday (though it doesn't exist on the same societal level in any way, obviously) I walked past an immaculately coiffured bro wearing a yellow and pink Never Mind the Bollocks t-shirt and though I was never particularly into the Pistols, it still sort of pissed me off a bit, but it's pretty much always been this way. How else could the proto-anarchist teachings of compassion espoused by Jesus Christ exist as a central tenet of the unashamedly capitalist authoritarian-right packed to the gills with hate preachers greasing the shadowy machinations of big-business motherfuckers.

They co-opt. We reclaim. They defang and sanitise. We remix, sample, recontextualise and subvert. With spraypaint and stencils, literary theory, rogue codes and a soldering gun. We take this fucker apart from the inside out and rebuild it in a distorted cubist rendition that fits our fragmented view of ourselves and our fucked-out, romantically fuzzed and slickly-shitted aesthetic. We find our icons in odd places. We change the meaning of words and symbols. Scrape them down to the etymological base or pull them out of their hateful past. Altering and dragging up the rough edges hidden by airbrushed perfection, ridiculing the robotic distortion of the flawed human form that is everpresent in the shiny mass media realm. Humanising the inhuman, both in bringing to light the sparks of beauty in the disgraced and in highlighting the ridiculous folly of pitch-perfect PR-managed pop stars and movie stars and politicians who march in meticulous rhythm under the shaming destructive banner of THIS IS HOW YOU SHOULD BE.

It's great to exist on a planet where Luther Blissett, a 1980s Watford striker who by any stretch of the imagination should be remembered solely in wistful pub discussions in centre sections of Hertfordshire, is known by most people as an anonymous anarchist icon. When you walk past a telephone box in Farringdon and notice someone has replaced the text reading TELEPHONE at the top of it with WRAP UP WARM and CALL YOUR MUM it gives you the sense we're living in a slightly nicer world. It's fun to laugh whenever we hear the name 'Santorum'. This happens, not just through collective and individual effort, but almost by happy accident nowadays. We live in a world where you can wake up one morning and find that the playful hands of history have turned a silly Bangles karaoke classic into a revolutionary call-to-arms. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world (in Joey Vindictive's voice).

This is the internet era. Memetic mutations are the norm. Culture jamming is the culture. Reappropriation is an appropriate response. How many jokes have you read in the last few days that have equated the sad death of a now mostly-past it 80s professional wrestling legend with the ridiculously overhyped moronic end-of-the-world ravings of some sad little cultists locked in their homes and even further locked in their denial and turned this coincidence into something that's both an honest celebration of a childhood icon and a bygone era and further gleeful gloating over the idiocy of blind moralistic ranting and taking apocalyptica seriously. This is how we do things. Situationism is the situation.

Culturcide are one the many many precursors to this rearrange-the-world-in-your-bedroom ethic which fills up the culture today, where we determinedly curate and defend what we love and the same time as we repurpose, mock and mutate what we hate. Except Culturcide don't really love a lot. Or anything here. Including the concept of love. Apart from the opener, their 1986 album Tacky Souvenirs of a Pre-Revolutionary America consists of pop songs with sloppily overdubbed scathing lyrics, radio reports and adverts cut in and bursts of industrial noise dotted about to spice up the proceedings.

Here is a selections of the messages I got from Tacky Souvenirs of a Pre-Revolutionary America: Love sucks. Heroes suck. The media sucks. Punk rockers suck. The music industry sucks. Corporations suck. Pathetic fanboys suck. Critics suck. New York sucks. LA sucks. Cops suck. Trite humanitarian platitudes from multi-millionaire rock stars really really fucking suck. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you. This is a screaming joke. A culture war where weapons are sharp. Pikes, maces and nerve gas and everyone is already wounded. This is a pitched battle on a fast-food forecourt. This is a riot. A fucking giggle.

The first song is an deadpan intonation of the speech at the top of the page over a wall of noise and the faint strains of the Star Spangled Banner in the background. It really reminds me of the opening and closing monologues of the Dead Kennedys' Plastic Surgery Disasters. The whole tone of this album is pretty similar to Jello's searing scattershot satirical tone, with less of the silly horror songs that DK used in I Kill Children and Funland at the Beach. Maybe Culturcide feel there is enough inherent disturbing horror in the song We Are the World without having to further establish their credentials as unflinching romeos to the void.

There are some shit artists parodied on here (Grand Funk's American Band is blown apart as Industrial Band). There are some great artists (Bowie and Springsteen). There are some things I just could not give a fuck about (Was there ever a band as bland as Huey Lewis and the News? And Ebony and Ivory, anyone? The song which I have an odd personal relationship with as having it sung at me and my girlfriend by a couple of pricks outside a bar but for most people is notable only for somehow being an even more vapid plea for racial equality than Blue Mink's Melting Pot and its hilariously misguided non-PC lyrics of "Curly latin kinkies, mix with yellow chinkies). But whatever the state of the song being parodied, everything is approached with the same juvenile sense of outrage and nihilistic philosophical certainty, the same kick of dizzy anger.

I like Bruce Springsteen a lot. I think at his best he's something approaching genius in the way he can synthesise all the human ache of the shortcomings of the American endeavour and the slippery moments when life coalesces into a flashing second of hope and warmth, where you sit behind the wheel of the car and can feel the whole world's blacktop under the tires, where you walk down the road with such a bounce in your step you're afraid to jump for the fear you'll take off for outer space, waving at airplanes and patting weather balloons on their flank as you pass them by. I think the lyric "We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school" on No Surrender is one of the quintessential rock and roll lines. I do like the way a bunch of current punk bands have taking the best parts of Springsteen's unashamedly romantic posturing and combined it with the drive of punk rock, I think the first three Gaslight Anthem releases are really great music, Senor and the Queen especially. Despite all this, I still fucking love it when Culturcide fill Dancing in the Dark with a load of extraneous feedback noise and sneer over the top of Bruce's earnest singing and big synth-lines: "We sit around gettin' older, listening to Bruce's new LP. Dig the glorification of our own passivitity. Cos on the streets of this town, everybody's given up the fight. You're hungry for entertainment, Let's play the new Springsteen album tonight!"

Wichita Lineman is a classic, but it's still thrilling to hear it as Houston Lawman, with a long news report about the use of 'throwdown guns' by the Houston PD and their tendency to plant weapons on unarmed suspects they got trigger-happy with. It does have a couple of bonus tracks from a Christmas single, which exist in the long tradition of bonus tracks that are kind of interesting but do fuck with the rhythm of the album which finished fucking strong on a cover of Chicago's Colour My World entitled Colour My World With Pigs which is the only song on the album that they just straight-up parody without any grinding clamor or silly voices thrown into the mix.

It's a heroically single-minded shrieking vision of a inexorable slide into beige despair and oppressive social order that paints the group as the sole inheritors of the tradition of intellectual and social validity. Or maybe as the fresh new lords of an ironclad renegade morality, without any precedence whatsoever. It's pretty fucking stupid. You know that there's no way they're not tainted too, that they're not as sucked in my the whole neon human quagmire as the lazy punks they excoriate on They Wish They All Could Be California Punks. You know they can't really consistently believe that love is just another form of control because that sort of nihilistic totality cannot sustain itself. But that's kind of the point, this album is not really supposed to offer solutions or effect a positive change, it's a SHIT OFF! like a clarion call. A teenage fuck-the-world without refuge. No 'Fuck the World, I'm Hanging Out With You', more like 'Fuck the world! I'm fucking the fucking world!', 'Fuck the world til it fucks you back! It's a shout of NO GODS BUT TRICKSTER GODS! NO MASTERS BUT YOU BETTER FUCKING MASTER YOUR DESTINY, MOTHERFUCKER! NO COMPROMISE!

This gives the album more of a fun feel than anything, which could be taken as undermining their own message, but really just gives a vision of that disgusting lonely arrogant second where you feel like you're the only person who gets it, who sees past the curtain. You know really that there are dozens of valid ways of looking at the world, but right now you want to call bullshit through a hundred megaphones strapped together. And there is a little bit of hope dug deep down in there, evident in the forward looking title and bits of They Aren't the World. It's a great artifact but not just that, much of its anger and sophomoric cynicism needs to be appreciated for how relevant it remains. It's not the smartest approach, but its a tentpole of blunt truth for us to circle, lean against and futz around with. It challenges us to build on the slogans. To develop our mockery into methods of resistance. And it's fucking illegal as anything. Fuck tha police!
Somehow we get by without ever learning, somehow no matter what the world keeps detourning.

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