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Music by Maniacs: Navigating the Tricky Ethics of Enjoying Art made by Bad People

"Dissected Pugacheva"

“Dissected Pugacheva”

By Mat Blackwell

I recently discovered this Siberian band whose name in English is something like “Dissected Pugacheva” (Расчленённая ПугачОва), a reference to the immensely popular[1] female Soviet singer Alla Pugacheva (as far as I can tell – I speak zero Russian, and my research to date has involved a lot of Wikipedia and Google Translate, and very little else). Their music was exactly the kind of music I am drawn to: intense, fast, bizarre, weirdly produced (the antithesis of mainstream pop’s carefully over-saturated richness), idiosyncratic, extreme in every way, and yet…

The duo behind Dissected Pugacheva are serial killers. Not in any image-based, Marilyn-Manson-esque, we’ll-sell-more-records-if-we-play-with-antisocial-tropes kind of way, but in the actual real-life mallet-and-knife-murders-leading-to-arrests-and-prison-time way. Artem Anufriev and Nikita Lytkin killed people; at least six, but they are suspected of killing more. So, for me as I’m sitting there listening to this extreme anti-social ultra-violent music, the question can’t help but arise – should I be? Is it “right” to enjoy listening to music by people who have done[2] such terrible things? Is this what I want to do with my life, listen to music by people like that? Is appreciating someone’s art actually an act of supporting their lifestyle? Is the feeling I feel when I listen to “Dissected Pugacheva” one of pure aesthetic enjoyment, or is it now tainted by guilt – or is it actually heightened by knowing the hands that played those guitar strings also fatally propelled a wooden hammer into the face of a 12-year-old boy?[3] What do I feel when I hear this music, now, and what should I feel? Is there even a “should” at all?

Dark Malarky

Let’s be open and candid here: I have gotten into a lot of bands because of their antisocial / taboo-breaking / “bad” image. I remember when I was in high school and Cannibal Corpse’s Butchered at Birth cover art was being banned. My first reaction was to rush out and grab a copy (I didn’t really like the music at the time, but the simple fact that their artwork was under threat of being banned made me want to have it; I wasn’t going to let the Big Brother censorship-machine keep me from laying my teenaged eyes on chillingly-illustrated infant sadism). The same goes for Macabre: I partly got into that band because of their focus on detailing true horrific crime in their lyrics (although definitely also because they are incredible musicians and hilariously idiosyncratic). I’m also certain that I’m not the only person whose interest in 90s Norwegian Black Metal came about partly because of all the suicides and murders and church-burnings, or who wanted to see the fabled snuff-like Broken Nine Inch Nails VHS just to see how disturbing it really was, or who had a similar feeling about actually seeing footage of GG Allin shitting on stage and throwing it at people, assaulting audience members and all that malarky. Let’s be honest here: people who like this dark sort of music tend to also be drawn, faecal-fly-like, to dark topics, and want to experience this darkness with their own eyes (even if it’s via a low-bandwidth upload of a third-generation video cassette).

On another note: we[4] don’t like “fakers”, or “posers”, or whatever the current adjective is for that these days (“posers” and “fakers” were the terms when I was getting into metal in 1990 or so, and no doubt make me seem as old and outdated as I actually am). I’ll readily admit that, yes, there is something about the fact that Euronymous was murdered by Varg Vikernes and that Dead committed suicide[5] that makes the band Mayhem interesting to me. What I’m admitting here is that I’m basically a sucker for that kind of thing; dumb or not, I’m attracted to the real-life anti-social controversies attached to whatever piece of art I’m currently consuming. Malefic was actually locked in a coffin to do the vocal part?[6] Awesome!” There is something satisfying, at some level, about knowing a band is not “just acting”, and I may be making a massive assumption here, but the vibe I get is that people who are into post-industrial music are generally not interested in a band superficially co-opting these dark signifiers and using them purely for marketing: we want our musicians / artists to mean what they say.

So here, then, is the crux of the issue at hand: the grey area between dark imagery on one hand, and the reality of that dark imagery on the other. It’s a difficult terrain, this grey area. It’s a taut material stretched thin between the exciting frisson of darkness over there, and the socially-necessary responsibilities of “being a decent person” over here. Basically, it’s the tension between wanting our artists to be able to deal with dark themes, and to deal with them authentically, and also wanting them not to turn out to be child-murdering fucktards at the same time.

Or is it? Is it actually perfectly fine to listen to music made by child-murdering fucktards? I suppose this is the underlying question that I don’t want to ignore by assuming the answer. At this stage of the inquiry, it feels like it’s probably not okay to listen to music made by child-murdering fucktards, but if that’s the case, then I want to be able to articulate exactly why; or if it is okay, I’d like to be able to articulately defend myself next time I’m listening to the song “I Killed a Homeless Man”[7] made by a couple of guys who did actually kill a homeless man.

Attack Each One Separately

There are the two things that immediately come to mind:

  1. That enjoying a horror movie is very different from enjoying that same basic scenario in real life (and I’d say that folks like Slayer or Cannibal Corpse are basically dealing in “sonic horror movies”)[8]
  2. That a consumer of a cultural artifact can enjoy certain aspects of a work, without wholeheartedly consuming the entire ideology of the artist in question.

There are probably others too, but the problematic part of the discussion appears to be within these main two areas. So, I think I’ll see if I can attack each one separately, and come back and see where it leaves us in a little while.

Based on a True Story

So, on to the first problem…no, actually, I’ll skip that one. I mean, it feels like this has been hashed and rehashed and double-rehashed already. It would seem absolutely clear and unequivocal that the vast majority of people who enjoy horror movies, ghost stories, gruesome tales, etc., would not enjoy the same scenarios if they played out for real.[9] Maybe I’m being naïve here, but I suspect that most people enjoy a horror movie in much the same way as they enjoy a roller-coaster; the fear is only fun because it’s safe — it’s not real. I’m going to assume that this is a moot point and will skip over it entirely; that people listening to “Hammer-Smashed Face” or “Meat Hook Sodomy” have no great interest in either scenario outside of the frisson of safely-confined fear or the delight in the darkness that it induces. Someone enjoying either song has no great desire to smash a face with a hammer or sodomise someone with a meathook, nor to experience the same with regards to their own face or sodomisation-zone.[10] It’s just basically a bit of a thrill, a quick dip of the toe into the shallow end of the pool of human darkness (before towelling off and heading to the kiosk of innocence for a choc-top of normalcy).

Of course, as every movie executive and advertiser knows, a horror movie is more powerful if it’s based on a true story.[11] For something to really move us, it needs to be at least a little bit real; it needs to be relevant, somehow, to the act of authentic real-life living. If the ghastly events described (in song, or cinematically) actually did happen, then the thrill becomes even more visceral. We’ve walked up to the deep end of the pool of human darkness now, but we’re still just dipping our toes.

However, as far as reality is concerned, Slayer had nothing to do with the genuine atrocities listed in “Angel of Death”. Macabre had nothing whatsoever to do with the litany of horrors they have so jauntily put to music, but these Siberian guys “walked the walk”, as far as being dangerous anti-social fucktards goes. These people have dived right into the pool of human darkness, and collected all those little colourful rings from the very bottom, with their eyes wide open.

And there is a certain attraction to that. They’ve been to places that most of us never will, but they have broken the unspoken rule of true horror stories, by becoming the horror themselves. Does this mean it’s not okay to listen to their music?

Icky Private Lives

To work this out, we have to move on to number two: what exactly listening to their music means about us. What is our relationship to an artist, as individual consumers of their art? When we support a piece of art, to what degree are we supporting the particular ideologies of the artist themselves?

It seems, on the surface, not too difficult a question to answer: the answer is “well, not very much, surely”. I mean, if I love the song “Rock and Roll” by Gary Glitter – and let’s be honest, who doesn’t – my support of the artist is straight-forward and clearly limited to the brutalist catchy melodies, simplistic stomping rhythms, and primal shout-along chorus, and nothing whatsoever to do with his icky child-molesting personal life.[12] I like the song, not the man. Just because we like a piece of art does not mean we will like the person who made it. After all, the more I read about Euronymous, or Snoop, or Beefheart, or Fela,[13] the more I read stories of monolithic narcissism, unpleasant inter-personal relations, and general bad vibes. It may indeed be that in order to be in a position of global renown, you have to be at least somewhat fucktardy, which means that 99% of the popular music we’ve ever consumed turns out to be unacceptable, morally-speaking. (Pause for a moment, to imagine the inverse situation: “Man, this guy’s music sucks, but I buy all his albums because he’s just such a nice person.”; “I love this band, they’re so safe!”; “Mmm-mm, nothing sets fire to my soul more than knowing this music was produced by someone tolerant and kind.”  Exactly.)

Would I personally like any of the musicians whose sounds I care about deeply? In fact, is it possible to approach art this way? Is it at all reasonable to insist that I research the intricacies of a person’s private life in order to judge them ethically worthy before I allow myself to sit down and enjoy their creative output? Maybe an artist’s personal likeability shouldn’t be what directs our moral compass — maybe just “liking a song” doesn’t translate to “overall character support” at all. Maybe, when we support an artist’s art, we aren’t necessarily supporting their personal agendas or deep-seated biases or ego-driven fucktardiness. Maybe, we just happen to like their song, and maybe it really is as simple as that?

When I listen to “Rock and Roll” (parts I or II), I’m not expressing support for paedophilia. When I listen to “Good King Wenceslas”, I’m not expressing support for Christianity.[14] When I listen to “Snow Blind”, I’m not expressing support for cocaine. When I listen to “The Candy Man”, I’m not expressing support for the Church of Satan.[15] Basically, at this point in the discussion, it feels like maybe we can listen to any sort of music we like, from militant Zionist reggae to white-power vegan ska to homosexual Pagan doom, without having to subscribe to any of the views held by the creators of the works. We can decide for ourselves where we stand, and happily ignore what doesn’t fit our current conceptual scheme.

Except…

Just imagine Gary Glitter had a song called “I Love Molesting Underage Vietnamese Girls”, and imagine it’s the most awesome song in the world, with everything you love about music all condensed into this single piece of incredible composition; it sounds amazing, it’s played superbly, it’s exactly the kind of thing you love. Musically, it’s fucking awesome, but conceptually, it’s abhorrent – and it’s real. Is listening to that song some sort of inherent support for Gary Glitter’s indecent lifestyle? Where exactly does the “support for the art” become implicit “support for the artist”?

I’m not sure. Certainly, this seems to be exactly the issue regarding Dissected Pugacheva’s “I Killed a Homeless Man”. I really like their music, but they really did kill homeless people. Plus, a fucking 12 year old boy! These are really fucked up people.

When I “support” a piece of art, what is the precise nature of this “support”? Does it matter if I pay for it or not? Is this an issue? Because, let’s get it straight, I have not paid for anything these people have done (nor for anything by Gary Glitter, for that matter); these people have not received a single cent from me, nor have they gotten anything else from me.[16] In fact, these people have no idea whether I’ve heard their music or not. Does this matter? In what way, exactly, am I “supporting” someone just by the act of listening to their music? Is “support” that the artist never knows about actually “support” in any real sense of the word? Is it really? Let me turn it around: if Varg is a neo-Nazi Pagan,[17] does listening to his music (and enjoying it immensely) really mean I “support” neo-Naz Paganism, any more than it means I “support” maleness or Norwegian-ness or bearded-ness[18] or Northern-hemisphericality? In other words, is an uncritical support for every aspect of an artist’s person actually implied when a person enjoys their music? It seems to me, just thinking about it now, that it’s definitely not.

In fact, it’s starting to look like I am allowed, ethically-speaking, to listen to music by total fucktards after all. Logically-speaking, my listening to this band really has zero impact on anyone; no-one dead is brought to life, and no-one’s fucktardy behaviour is rewarded nor vilified. No explicit – or implicit – support is given to the despicable and unpleasant wrong-doers’ private lifestyles and/or ideologies. I can listen to the song “Killing – cool!”[19] by a band who actually killed, and thought it was cool[20] – totally guilt-free…can’t I?[21]

In the same way as I can listen to Fela Kuti without supporting misogyny, or the Velvet Underground without supporting heroin addiction, or Sammy Davis Junior without supporting Satanism, I can listen to Burzum without supporting murder, or beards,[22] or an anti-Christian fascist take-over of Norway, and I can listen to “Dissected Pugacheva” without supporting the repeated fatal bashing and stabbing of (at least) six innocent people.

But can I “enjoy” it?

These are actual murderers. People who actually decided to hit people with hammers until they were dead. Bludgeoned people to death. Imagine the blood, the pleas, the sounds of crumpling bone, the sobbing. The generally unhappy vibe. This is not a nice situation to be creating in someone else’s life – some other person who has done you no harm, or has any reason to suspect that you’re about to beat them to death, or stab them, whatever the details happen to be. The question remains:  Can I ethically “enjoy” music made by horrible people?

The Actions made the Music

I ponder the issue for some time. It revolves Hitchcock-style around my head for several days. Then, one night, as I am about to fall asleep,[23] something occurs to me with eyes-springing-open sudden-jolt power:

Are they “horrible people”, or just “people who have done horrible things”? That is, they are people, and people by their very nature are complex and multi-layered things, that are sometimes nice and sometimes nasty, and are impossible to simplify[24] in nice neat terms like “horrible” — that (maybe) I’m demonising them, blackening their whole character because of one or seven particular acts of hideous and ferocious lethal violence. Perhaps these murderous Siberian kids (and Gary Glitter, et al) are as complex and multi-layered as I am, or as you are. Maybe they are really nice people, to their mothers, or to each other. Maybe they’re really good with mending small objects around the house, or excellent at making sure the fire’s nicely stoked on a cold evening. Maybe they are wonderful at playing charades, or just entertain each other with their weird noisy music. There are, theoretically, parts of their whole complex person that are warm, sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful. There are, theoretically, really positive character traits in there, which I’m almost willfully dismissing, because I’ve already decided that they’re “evil”. I’ve judged them on a few acts, and dismissed their entire person’s-worth of non-murderous potential.

So, perhaps my unwillingness to emotionally detach these people’s music from their actions is based on my unwillingness to see them as real people, because I’ve already demonised them. It’s like I’ve already associated the music with the actions, bypassing the person entirely. It’s like, in my mind, the actions made the music – not the people.

Perhaps this demonising / dehumanising process has occurred because, like all decent people, I want to think that that “these people” are somehow different to me; that I am a totally different species of creature, or that they are just “bad”. However, perhaps these are actual complex people, no more intrinsically “good” or “evil” than anyone else, but basically a really similar mass of dynamic behaviours, belief systems, and morphing context-based actions and reactions, to what you and I are. Maybe it’s about not wanting to face the dark side of yourself — your own dangerous potential; that “let ye be judged yourself” thing, that “there but by the grace of God” thing. The idea that, if you’d had the same nature-meets-nurture upbringing, and the same wants, the same motivations, the same aimless anger, the same place and time, the weight of the hammer, the chemical imbalances, the adrenaline, and the exact moment — searing red death — how do you know you wouldn’t do what they did?

That’s what scares us, I think, and that’s why we turn them into “something else”, and turn anything they’ve touched into something we shouldn’t touch. As if we’ll catch the badness, or something, like some demonic Midas that turns everything to filth.

However…

So, “these people” are humans, like us. They have fucked up, in major ways, and have done terrible things that we haven’t done, but they are still whole complex human beings. Then again, so are paedophiles, gang-rapists, and every other kind of mind-boggling fucktard on the face of the planet. So, just because they’re human, they get to do whatever they want, and we just have to forgive them? Just because they share our DNA and our opposable thumbs, we have to just accept their snuff movies, kiddie porn, and whatever else as “valid art”, and can happily consume it without somehow being culpable, or complicit, or abominable ourselves?[25]

To be honest, I don’t feel like that’s what I’m actually saying. What I feel like I’m actually saying is that I’m not sure I can isolate a good reason for not listening to music made by people I don’t personally like — that simply liking someone’s music doesn’t mean you approve of their every act, or that you’re somehow guilty of their wrong-doings. The music of “Dissected Pugacheva” is not kiddie porn, snuff, or criminal in any way: it’s just music. Dark, dark music by bad, bad people, but it’s just music.[26] It’s not really in the same league as child pornography, is it? It’s not hurting anyone. Sure, it’s about hurting people, by people who did hurt people, but I think there’s a line there, isn’t there? Making music is not the same as killing people. In fact, if we’re honest about it, the time these chaps spent making music was actually time spent not killing people. This music, noisy and chaotic as it is, might indeed be the one good thing that these murdering fucktards ever did. This is the “light side” of these guys; this is them at their warmest and fuzziest. There could even be an argument made that if more people had supported their music at the time, maybe they’d have been so swept up in the creative process that they never would’ve killed anyone at all.[27]

Why Should I?

Excellently argued rationalisations aside, I still feel a certain moral ambiguity about the whole situation. The head says “all clear”, but the heart still says “woah”. I still feel like, despite detecting no true clear reason why I should feel guilty for listening to their music (or to anyone else in that same moral grey area), my heart remains unconvinced. I’m missing some piece of the puzzle — this music is still morally difficult to navigate, even though I can’t detect the exact reason why, and I’m thinking now that maybe it’s something like:

“Yes, but so what if there is no sound moral reason why you shouldn’t listen to them – what is the sound moral reason why you should?”

And that is trickier to answer.

Why should I listen to this music? What good reason is there to stick this into my ears? Then again, can I answer this question for anything I enjoy? What good moral reason is there for listening to anything? Am I thinking about things too much? Is this over-analysis? If it is, are there some cultural artifacts that actually require over-analysis?

And, if I am unable to shake off this feeling of moral ambiguity, is it this feeling itself that becomes one of the band’s most powerful drawcards?[28] Because, if we’re really honest about things, perhaps that is what makes this music all the more compelling – this inability to neatly mark it as “safe”. Perhaps it is actually this quality itself that makes this music important to listen to; not the actual notes or beats or production qualities of the sounds we hear, but its amorphous presence in the intangible world of ethics. It’s dark, and it’s real, and it’s horrific – but its safety is forever under question.

When my mum used to look despairingly over my Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious and my True Crime Books, she would frown and ask me “but why?,” and I’d always answer with some glib assertion along the lines of “we need to remind ourselves of the gruesome terrible things we are capable of, to remind us that only a thin veil sits between us and abhorrence”.[29] I think maybe that’s the attraction – and value – of listening to this music: it reminds me that people really do this horrible stuff, and like it or not, they are genuine people like you and I. That, but for the luck of the draw, we are here and they are there.[30]

It reminds us what’s inside us all, and to have a deep gratitude for the circumstances that allow us to be who we are, and not something horrible.[31]

————————————————-

1. According to the Wikipedia page, Alla Pugacheva enjoys “iconic status across the former Soviet Union as the most successful Soviet performer”, and is one of the judges on the Russian version of those terrible “talent” shows. I guess a Western version of the band name might be “Carving up Dion” or “Gaga Autopsy”.
2. As in , this has been proved beyond all reasonable doubt: there is actual video footage of the young men committing actual post-fatal corpse mutilation on someone they readily admit they actually killed.
3. To be absolutely honest here, I’m not certain that the 12-year-old Danil Semyonov was killed with a wooden hammer, but they did use wooden hammers to kill people, and 12-year-old Danil Semyonov was killed by them, so I’m kind of extrapolating here. Regardless – the point is, really, that these fuckers are child-killers, which is sort of the Big One if you’re looking for antisocial attributes.
4. See, I’ve gone and taken my own personal feelings about the topic and mashed them into a more general-feeling “we”. Not sure this is entirely warranted, but it’s what I’ve done, anyway. It feels right at this stage.
5. I’m assuming that I’m currently talking to people who know who these folk are. If not, google these names and you will quickly be up to speed.
6. Malefic (aka Xasthur), ostensibly a claustrophobe, was locked in a coffin to perform the vocals for the Sunn O))) song “Báthory Erzsébet”. I didn’t know this when I first heard it, but knowing it now does add a certain… something… to the experience of listening to the song.
7. Actual song title. Although in Russian.
8. Which turns out to be (now that I’ve actually gone and done some minor research) basically what the band members themselves have opined. As vocalist George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher said in an interview with Mark Fisher in 2004: “All our songs are short stories that, if anyone would so choose they could convert it into a horror movie. Really, that’s all it is. We like gruesome, scary movies, and we want the lyrics to be like that.”
9. As Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster said in 2007 to Aaron Wilschick , “like you know, we sing about all this stuff and you watch a movie where you know it’s not real and it’s no big deal, but if you really saw someone get their brains bashed in right in front of you, I think it would have a pretty dramatic impact on any human being, you know what I mean? Or some terrible, gross act of violence or whatever done right in front of you, I mean you’d react to it, no matter how many movies you’ve watched or how much gore metal you’ve listened to or whatever, I’m sure it’s a completely different thing when it’s right in front of you.”
10. My dear friend and long-time co-writer Warwick Holt argues that this assertion of mine may actually be “bullshit”, and that “there IS some (possibly minor) correlation between enjoying violent art and committing violent acts.” (Personal correspondence, 2014.) However, I argue that, even if there is a correlation, there is no causal link: even if violent-minded people are drawn to violent art, it doesn’t mean violent art causes violence. And, as of April 2014, the Wikipedia article on Media Violence Research concludes that “little evidence links media violence to serious physical aggression, bullying or youth violence”.
11. And obviously not just horror movies – every human tale ever told, really, is more powerful if it did / could conceivably happen.
12. My dear friend and long-time co-writer Warwick Holt makes the excellent point that it is highly unlikely that Gary Glitter would have ever become popular if anyone had known he was actually a kiddiefiddling fucktard when he released his records. “And has his appeal and audience dropped since the revelations? Massively, I would think. The music IS now tainted by the acts of the artist.” (Personal correspondence, 2014) However, this begs the very question I’m asking: how is the music tainted, and why? Exactly how does just listening to someone’s music translate into implicit support for their lifestyle?
13. Etc.
14. A lot of people are going to say “woah, you just compared Christianity to paedophilia!” I’m not really, other than saying they are both belief-systems that I personally want no part of, totally disagree with, and generally find off-putting and difficult to imagine real people actually subscribing to. Just to assuage any arguments, let me just categorically say here and now that I’m sure there are a great many differences between Christianity and paedophilia.
15. Did you know Sammy Davis Junior was a card-carrying member of the Church of Satan? I had no idea. This world just gets weirder and weirder.
16. Of course, my dear friend and musical comrade Dr. David Prescott-Steed makes an excellent point when he suggests that, in the very process of writing this article, I am actually giving them my time, energy, and thought, and that by bringing them to the attention of the article-reading public, I am also giving them fame and/or notoriety. (Personal correspondence, 2014.) Believe me, I’ve contemplated this myself, and did indeed toy with the idea of leaving their bandname blanked out or something, so as to be able to write the article without giving them any sort of publicity, but then not naming them gave the whole thing this degree of mystery, and there’s nothing that draws people in like mystery, especially mystery based on censorship – especially to the kind of people who are reading an article like this. So I decided, in the end, that I’d actually be bringing them less publicity if I just said their name flatly and openly, with no fanfare, and dealt with the whole uncomfortable meta-situation in a footnote way near the end of the article.
17. I’m not saying he is, but he probably is, really. Okay, so now I guess I am saying that he is. But please, make up your own minds.
18. Depending, of course, on whether or not Mr. Vikernes is currently bearded or not.
19. Again, actual song title. Although, again, in Russian.
20. Wikipedia says that their reign of murder was between 2010 and 2011, and, as far as I can tell, Dissected Pugacheva’s heyday was 2009. If this chronology is true – and this is the internet, who knows – but if it is, then these songs about killing actually pre-dated any actual killing. That is, the music was made when they weren’t actually murderers – at the time it was made, the music was no more intrinsically “evil” than music by Manowar or Cannibal Corpse.
21. My dear friend and musical comrade Dr. David Prescott-Steed argues that, because the music pre-dates the actions it describes, it in fact turns the whole thing into premeditated murder, and therefore turns the music into part of the crimes committed. (Personal correspondence, 2014.) Then again, he didn’t enjoy the music, so was quite happy to write the band off as a bunch of evil fucktards and thereby abandon the rest of the ethical grappling that I’ve had to rationalise away, and then deeply and honestly explore, and then rationalise away again over the course of writing this article.
22. See 18.
23. Literally – head on pillow, limbs relaxed, irises flaccid – like, seriously just about to drop out of consciousness.
24. (according to my wishy-washy lah-di-dah humanist bleeding-heart relativist belief systems)
25. I’m indebted to my dear friend and long-time co-writer Warwick Holt for this line of thought. (Personal correspondence, 2014.)
26. Pretty much everyone who read draft versions of this essay has asked the question: “what if “Dissected Pugacheva” had used recordings of the screams of their victims in their music?” For me, if there were actual recordings of atrocities in there, then it becomes something that isn’t “just music”, and it kinda becomes the subject for another essay. Certainly, there does seem to be no shortage on the internets of actual footage of people being bludgeoned to death with hammers (and so, so much worse), if you look in the right places – but these are all things I choose not to watch anymore. I’ve seen enough things in my curious adolescence that I’m still struggling to unsee. (And, importantly, none of the things I’ve seen in my curious youth were watched for “entertainment”, but instead to satisfy the kind of morbid curiosity that seeks to know, viscerally, exactly how dark the human experience can go. Music, I think, even dark music, is still primarily “entertainment” – the horror movie / true crime analogy I made earlier.)
27. Flimsy, silly, far-fetched, unlikely – but, well, it is possible.
28. My dear friend and fellow surrealist Xtian argues that this is exactly why the music is compelling. “If you offer ppl [sic] the chance to use Einstein’s pen, most would love the the idea. Offer them a chance to wear Fred West‘s jumper [really horrible serial killer guy – I just googled him and, fuck, he was a serious fucktard] and they wouldn’t touch it, let alone don it. We GIVE these lifeless objects meaning, because we’re irrational. Same way, we GIVE meaning to this music. Sure enough, a song called “I killed a homeless man” by a man who’s done just that is pretty fucking to the point, there’s not a lot of hidden meanings there. But we can either just hear it as a song or as a testimony. Duchamp‘s urinal is either a urinal or a fountain or both. Same with the song. I think that’s the attraction in part: the oscillation between “good” and “bad”, light and dark, sane and insane.” (Personal correspondence, 2014.)
29. Of course I didn’t actually say anything like that. Honestly, I probably mumbled something ungrateful and disparaging and shut my door. Sorry, mum.
30. My dear friend and fellow surrealist Xtian makes the comparison to the seemingly limitless number of documentaries made about the Nazis of WWII: “we are fascinated by that intangible threshold between us and them… between what they are capable of, and what that implies about our own capabilities.
31. This is a weak conclusion, and I apologise. Because, honestly, is that really why I would put on this music? “Mmm, I’m really in the mood to be reminded of the unpleasant potential in every human being. What music to suit? Oh, I know the perfect thing!” Wouldn’t it be (more likely) to experience the snuffy frisson of taboo-breaking, by listening to music I know I shouldn’t be? I mean, maybe the argument is true, that this music is good for reminding us of the evil of which we are all capable, and that even evil-doers can make music, and that we all have a dark side, etc. – but is anyone ever going to listen to this music with that in mind? Or is it only ever going to be the sonic equivalent of looking at the photos of dead people on rotten.com? I guess that’s the responsibility of each individual consumer, and, as such, is inevitably outside the scope of this article.

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