Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Musician- Writer Interviewed for Project on Fetish Ethnography

Dj Panic got to do a project on Fetish Ethnography. I was rather flattered to be included in it, during which I was asked to respond to a series of questions about goth-industrial music and the fetish scene. It's not really an official 'interview', but it's close enough, so here you go:

"for informational purposes only"

----------------- Original Message -----------------
From: DJ Panic
Date: Nov 4, 2008 12:07 AM

Hey everyone
I'm currently taking a music Ethnology class. I have decided to make my life easier (or more difficult) by becoming research team leader on the final project and doing our presentation on Fetish culture within the Gothic industrial scene. Please look over these questions and answer if you can. Thank you

Ethnography Questions
Fetish Culture and the Gothic industrial scene



Christian Wright


Production, drums, synthesizers, guitar, vj, and occasional singing for bands Bajskorv and Savage Ideal, also, staff writer for Wounds of the Earth magazine.


Making art out of newspaper cut outs, watching strange movies and old tv shows and sampling them. Political activism, social history, socialist politics, fishing, hunting, climbing mountains, road trips, campfires, national forests, seldom traveled state highways, deserts, and of course, industrial music.

History (of self, band, event etc.)

Here is a promotional bio I made.

Something more origional:

I grew up in Atlanta, was part of a punk rock gang there, liked industrial music and made friends at shows like Ohgr in 2001 and Vevlet Acid Christ in 2000 (when I was 17 and 16, respectively), who introduced me to more older bands. Also, at Fantesyland Records in Atlanta they had a good CD and vinyl selection of old wax trax stuff, which I purchased all of. Later I moved to DC to go to GWU, where I spent at least as much time doing political stuff, learning to make music, and working to save up to buy gear, as I ever spent studying. Bajskorv happened...

Then I got really tired of DC and I made plans to save up and travel around and learn about different places. Also a close friend killed himself in june 07 which really hit home the point that it is stupid to stay somewhere you are unhappy. The song 'No Escape' came out of this experiance.

From August 2007-May 2008 was probably the best time of my life... I got to see my family in Sweden, I got to drive across the US four times coast to coast, and I got to meet awesome people and see beautiful mountains and forests and deserts... I stayed in New Orleans for a month and worked there and dated someone I liked, but the town wasn't for me. At the end of Bajskorv tour I was going to move either to Denver or Portland, which I think are the two best places to live in the US, but I settled on Dever, because it is more sunny, the mountains are taller, and it's closer to a lot of really cool desert states, and it has the biggest goth-industrial scene of any city I've ever seen.

What is your experience within the Gothic/Industrial Culture?

Seeing touring national acts play shows in Atlanta in venues like the Masquerade, meeting goths and rivetheads there, hearing their stories, getting to know them, trespassing on railyards in Atlanta at night, hanging out there under a bridge with campfires and punk rockers and cheap horrible Big K Red Cream Soda from Kroger we smashed with golf clubs, making independent films about strange Atlanta phenomena and music videos on high school editing equipment...

Spendings lots of time and money in dc at goth nights like alchemy, midian, midnight... forming bands buried electric cable and bajskorv there, self producing albums, hanging out with Kelly and Juan and Gerald from Commander Salamander, playing live shows around the mid Atlantic, later around the country...

Traveling around the country and stopping at goth nights in different cities. In Portland I invented the trick where during the day I'd make free demo cd's at an internet cafe of music I wrote, and then I'd go to goth clubs at night and walk up to strangers, and give them out. That was a great way to make friends. I can't remember all the clubs, but the Fez and Mt Tabor Legacy in Portland were good, Sadisco in Phoenix was good, NOLA had very little (left) to go to, but Denver rocked. The Milk Bar on wed and sat are really big nights, and Sunday at The Church is bigger than Alchemy in DC usually was. The Church in Dallas is also ok.

Lately I've been doing writing more, for Wounds of the Earth, Laughing Fish, and a local Denver paper called Insight has exposed me to more music and people, and has, in reviewing live shows and albums, gotten me to meet a lot of interesting people and feel a more relevant part of this scene. It's also great because instead of just feeling a certain way about a certain album or band, I can ask them about it, get them to respond, and share that back and forth with the whole scene, or at least as much of it that shows up to read. I think that such music writing is a really important, democratizing force that every scene needs. And if music writing is done by actual musicians, it tends to be a lot smarter.

What attracted (or brought you in to) this scene?

I learned to play guitar at a young age but by middle school I was like, "wait, there's only so many strings and so many frets, so pretty soon every song you could make with one of these will already be written and copywritten and for sale". I liked the idea of synthesizers, multi f/x, and samplers, which I felt opened up a lot more creativity to people. Also, before I was even really into punk rock, my favorite band was Pink Floyd. I bought all their albums before I ever bought another bands', and I think the synth work they did was really innovative and attractive. A Momentary Lapse of reason is still one of my favorite albums.

Later, I supposed, as I got more angrier and depressed about the world, goth and goth-industrial was more attractive to me, and the sound I liked more than punk, too much of which I felt all sounded the same. I also really liked the fashion aesthetic- not necessarily the 'club clothes' that get sold, but I like how it was all very dark, but like punk, industrial to me had more of an edge to it. Gas Masks, tall boots, leather jackets, torn jeans, and dark coats, are just cool!

Moping around and being depressed and crying about yourself or the world is fine for goths. But for rivetheads it was about going out into the fucked up world, sneaking about and fighting it, and making good art out of it all to deal. Luckily when I was 14 they were playing VAC on the Georgia State University's 88.5 radio in Atlanta that I'd listen to while playing computer games at home, and I really loved it. That was probably my first real industrial band. Afterwards I got really into puppy, controlled bleeding, 242, fla, and the wax trax stuff.

At the VAC show apparently a girl who likes other girls named Christin saw me and thought I was a hot girl (I was pretty goth then), and began fantesizing about me. Later we randomly met at a Dennys at about 4 am and she found out I was a guy, but we became friends out of that weird experiance. She was living with some older guys who were all about "Skinny Puppy back in the day", and I think she owns every puppy release on vinyl and CD as well as most bootleg videos... so that was a great person to meet, and learn about music from. I also met some cool folks from Pensacola, FL who had driven up for that show. I'd hang out with them now and then and visited them once and picked up a little more. Somone named Tainya in Penscacola introduced me to funker vogt. Two albums of funker vogt is awesome, cause you don't really know how repetative theY are yet :)

What appeals to you about this scene over more conventional lifestyles?

When you meet a goth-industrial person you already can tell a bit about them and know that you have a lot in common. I don't know any other scene you can do that with. Hip hop is rotten with sexism and the glorification of money and violence... good political hip hop tends to be confined to obscure margins. A lot of 'punks' also have terrible attitudes... I can't really stand guilty rich kids who think that sleeping in the street, dumpster diving, and sleeping on my couch, eating my food, and enjoying the central heating I work for while they don't have a job makes them anything other than a leech. Of course that's not all punks, but there are quite a few sexist punks, or punks who just want to fight, or punks who in a few years abandon the politics with the fashion and grow corporate. A lot of them are so busy trying to be 'extreme' they don't know how to incorporate politics, art, and creativity with an ordinary life in a way that is sustainable...

And of course I'm a bit weird, and attracted to the darker sides of things... so for my money goth-industrial folks have been among the nicest and most intelligent people I've ever met.

What keeps you involved?

I like the music, and I like the people, and I like to write the music. I'm also pretty shy usually around people, but around goth industrial folks I'm a lot more comfortable. I did become rather confused during a recent spate of poverty when I got laid off, checks I'd write would bounce, yet I have thousands of dollars in gear in my apartment. It's like, "fuck, why not sell all this and give it up?" I don't really have an answer. I just sort of accept now that it is my fate to write music few people will hear, and spend years and thousands of dollars perfecting it, and then just live broke. If I became a father that would change my perspective a lot, but for now, that's sort of what I am resigned to. As long as I can get out of the city in the mountains now and then, and PBR is still cheap and clubs are free before 10 pm, I don't really mind too much.

What is your experience within the fetish culture?

Some of it is cool, some of it I just don't get. I went to bound in DC because they played better music than any of the other clubs around. Obviously attractive people wearing skimpy clothes and spanking each other is pretty hot, but I never really got into that side of things too much at clubs because I figured if you couldn't go all the way what's the point?

Fetish sex and bdsm and bondage and wild sex are all fun and good, and I enjoy them as much as the next person when they are available, but for me it's more of a personal thing than something I need to be out in public with. Also, regarding fashion, I don't usually wear 'fetish clothes'... usually my fashion these days is somewhere between punk and normal, but then again what is normal these days would have been looked at rather oddly 20 years ago. I guess a lot of it is because I am a political activist, and if I'm trying to build events, groups, and movements, and if I want people to take me and my ideas seriously, I think that dressing in the most outlandish way possible will just push people away before they even get to hear what I say. I think being able to make friends and have intelligent conversations with ALL types of people is way more important than just looking particularly weird.

What (if anything) do you feel ties these three seemingly unrelated elements together (Goth industrial fetish)?

Well there are clubs that do it... but then you have to ask why do people go to those clubs? I guess a lot of it has to do with the fact that people who like goth and industrial- they're very interested in what is dark, or forbidden, or what we're told is bad or sinful. A lot of such people are also rather progressive/left/libertarian, and many of them are bisexual, so I think that combined with an interest in going beyond mainstream music, art, and mortality, makes an interest in "deviant" sex natural.

Of course calling fetishes, or anything sexual that "fetish-goth-industrial" people do "deviant" is really messed up, because people who give into and explore their fetishes and make them part of their sex lives have freer, happier sex than most people who accept getting berated constantly by society to repress what they really want. Closeted homosexuality is an extreme case, but more likely are the far more common examples of people who really want to try something sexually with their partner but are afraid to ask them about it because they don't want to come off as a "freak". This of course is another great reason with rivetheads and goths date each other- they generally have very little to fear about this... I mean, if you met someone at a club where people wear electric tape over their nipples and spank each other, it becomes a heck of a lot easier to, say, suggest to your girlfriend that you try something new and interesting.

Do you feel fashion plays a significant role in this culture?

It can, and it can be helpful because if someone's wearing a Bauhaus t shirt or spikes or has weird hair it's a lot easier to go up and talk to them, ask them where the cool clubs are, and if you think they're cute you can ask them on a date and know that for starters you've already got a lot in common. So that's pretty cool. Some people get really obsessed with fashion though and I think that can be sad and a bit shallow, though some of it I guess is just a matter of what your hobby is. If your favorite thing to do is to look 100% goth industrial and go out to the club, I guess I should appreciate that. For me though, I always used to tell more fashionable goths that, "Unfortunately I can't afford too much nice clothes to look like I listen to goth-industrial music because I spend all my money on things like keyboards to actually *make* goth-industrial music." That usually works. But in other matters I'd rather have, say, 1,000 miles worth of gas money to go on some cool adventure than I would have a shiny new pair of vinyl pants.

How important do you believe community is within the G/I/F culture?

It could be better... you have to understand though that a lot of people attracted to that world are hyper-individualistic, and 'community' isn't something they really consciously prioritize. In Denver for example there are A LOT of people who are friendly as you've ever seen. People here actually talk to strangers at bars, or when a stranger on the street passes you they look you in the eye and ask how you are doing. Even stranger, they expect and wait for an answer! Oddly though, in the goth industrial scene, where there are a lot of nice people, such random acts of friendless that makes people feel included and valuable are a lot more sparse. People just tend to be more gloomy or depressed, and are naturally more introverted. On the worse side of things there are some big egos, and cliquishness, and a lot of stupid gossip that goes on... Promoters, DJs, and Bands do this a lot, and often only talk to each other, and make newer or younger people who patrionize their clubs feel inferior somehow. Of course that's terrible and destroys a scene. Nothings more sad than a bunch of mis-understood "freaks" from all across a city who all like the same music and art that almost no one else knows about, and they all come to the same club on the same night, and none of them talk to each other.

Of course not everyone is like that. There are good promoters out there who not only like having people show up with money in their pockets but who actually like and care about and want to get to know these people. Todd of Bound in DC and Mark aka Dragzilla in Dallas are probably the friendliest goth-industrial promoters in the United States, who actually hang out with people who show up, get to know them, and drink with them, etc...

What do you feel the future holds for this subculture?

It's challenging... Things like the internet and free downloading have made labels more confused than they have even hurt sales. Some people, like TommyT from DSBP, have good rants about how the internet was bad for music. Yet that guy can be really elitist. He didn't sign my band when I approached him about it because he said he wasn't signing "new bands", yet he bashes people who give away free downloads. A recent myspace bulliten of his literally started out, "Ever notice how bands with free downloads have more spam?" and then went on to list the DSBP catalog and encouraged you to buy from it... I see that and I'm like, "fuck, well if you're not signing me, I have to get exposure some how, and giving out free songs is a pretty effective way to do that if you are on your own." The bit about spam of course is ridiculous. I know bands on that label who have had more spam and obnoxious daily self promotional myspace bullitens. I won't name them though out of respect for their music, some of which is nonetheless quite good.

In a similar vein the "new school" of industrial I think sucks in most cases. Most newer artists on Metropolis suck, and are boring, repetitive, and predictable... If you ever go to someone's house who says they are really into "industrial", and their itunes is there playing on random and it's all just the same thing you heard at the club, it's usually a pretty sad experiance that doesn't really impress... Of course that goes over well on the dance floor, as bands understand that if a song is easy to dance to and not too hard to think about, more people will dance to it. Then the DJ is happy to keep playing such songs over and over because it keeps him in a job, and the label keeps pumping out such artists... But the net result is that music gets worse. Nothing like old controlled bleeding, or skinny puppy, or YelworC, would have much chance of getting signed or played by DJs if those bands were starting out today, in my opinion.

There's also an alternative, musically... Go to http://www.bugscrawlingoutofpeople.com/store.htm (the Bugs Crawling Out of People label's list of other goth industrial and ambient labels). Many are small, some are only on the internet, and they don't have the distribution networks or promotional captial that something like Metropolis has. But they do have way better music. Obviously the nature of capitalism tells us that some of them might consolidate and eventually repeat the same downward spiral that metropolis did, but for now that is where the best new music is.

A lot more people are able to start making this music than ever before... it's easier to get started producing at home, and synthesizers, including vintage ones, are way more affordable now than when they came out. Cynics only see that now there's a lot of poorly produced, 'clutter' on the internet, which is true, but it's only half the story. If there's 1,000 mediocre myspace bands now where kids in their dorms or mom's basement use fruitiloops and soft synths to produce, in five or ten years that might translate into 25-50 pretty good bands with some awesome records, and maybe like 5 or 10 bands that are GREAT. Even 10 years ago you had a much narrower pool to start out with, so there was a lot less that was possible.

If that trend continues I think it will make local scenes, and live shows, a lot bigger and a lot more important than they are now. That's a struggle that plays out at the local level though, as a lot of club goers might dance to a band but be upset if the same band is booked for a live set at the same club. In most towns there are ONE to FIVE people who have the final word on whether or not there will be a venue for live, goth-industrial music. Even more scary is the prospect of promoters giving bands their first few shows, because the odds are there will be more technical problems and people won't just dance right away.

More reasons Denver is cool: We have our share of "dance club nights", but one thing I really like is the Backwards Records' night at the Cosmos lounge, where it's pretty much always a local band playing. Sometimes it's good, sometimes they suck, but it's always interesting, and it's a great starting point. Other cities have similar minded people, like the part of Denver Backwards' Records that moved to Seattle, and is doing the same sorts of nights there. We're also lucky enough to have Vendetta music here, which is a very small store, but they have great music, and Dave Vendetta and his people do a good job of having shows that bring in good national acts, but they also have smaller local bands playing. The recent two day "Vendetta Festival" had *a lot* of local acts on it... some for better and some for worse... but I think events like that really show a lot of what the future could look like.

Can you share any other experience that might be of interest?

If I answered that right you'd have a book and I don't think that's really the point of this questionnaire ;) Maybe the last thing is just about live shows. There will always been dark and angry and sad people who look at fashion and music for ways to express themselves, be heard, and meet cool people. Sadly, goth industrial is such a hole in the wall genre in this country, you pretty much have to trip up over it or have some one hand you a mixed tape to find out about it. Thus we have emo.... which is bad music for sad people... and it's really a shame.

Anyways, I think promoters should re-think they way they promote. If they want the scene to grow, putting flyers for your events at clubs already very similar to your event, isn't going to cut it. There needs to be more all ages shows so kids can find out about this stuff before they've already bought in to some other genre. Young people should feel welcome; and not be looked down on because they're not generating enough booze revenue. When it becomes more about liquor sales, and dumb laws where club owners and promoters can be sued if kids do something foolish or tragic and get hurt while at a show, the scene starts to die because promoters feel paranoid and impotent to stand up to the booze pushers and the legislators. The scene started with music and needs to prioritize it. If you have good music, and outreach, and people are generally friendly and respectful to each other, the rest will follow.

The one other thing is that bands really need to work on their live shows. Live shows are becoming more important, but goth industrial "live shows" are some of the worst of any genre I've ever scene. By now everyone who books clubs probably knows and needs to admit that NO ONE WANTS TO SEE ONE PERSON BY THEM SELF ON STAGE BEHIND A LAP TOP. Even worse is having your backing tracks on itunes on a laptop, singing over them, and calling that a band (see my review of the Unter Null show on WOTE for more on this). Just one keyboardist helps, but if they're not playing melodies or different, harder parts, you can't tell if they're even playing at all. Also, without live drummers there's about 70% less energy than with one. Guitars used too much can drown out the interesting synth stuff but used a little they can add a lot of energy and really broaden a band's appeal.

Another musician who also lived in a car in a parking lot for a while after his first tour was Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. For that and other reasons I think he's an interesting person and there's a lot of lessons you can take from his career. One of the best is the story about him trying to get a show, and him not getting one unless he replaces his drum machine (the laptop of his day) with a live drummer. It took a promoter actually confronting him about what he's doing live to make that happen. We need more people like that promoter, to push bands to be interesting. Of course, for individuals who write all their music themselves at home, it doesn't come naturally for them to find other people to work with musically, and of course it's harder to find other people to coordinate practice times and all the rest of it with. But I really do feel that if there's not more interesting stuff going on on stage than one person singing, itunes playing, and someone else that no one can tell whether or not they are actually playing a keyboard, shows will continue to suck.

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