Saturday, October 13, 2007

[Bring the Noise deleted scene #28]

CONSOLIDATED, The Myth of Rock
Melody Maker, January 5th 1991

by Simon Reynolds

Since the “death of agit-pop” it’s generally taken for granted that “the truth” is the last thing you go looking for from rock’n’roll. An account of the perplexities and pleasures of a life without truths, absolutes, bearings--now that’s legitimate. Dazed and confused drifting, daydreams, blurred and bleary bliss-out--all well and good. But “total vision”, the Truth--gimme a break! Trouble is, this consensus has become dangerously complacent. Personally, I’m sick to my back teeth of bands coming up with platitudes about ambiguity, leaving their lyrics “open” to interpretation.

Which is where Consolidated come in: as a bracingly single-minded alternative to the woolly-minded aestheticism of the day. Neo-Marxists, they believe they have scientifically located the motor of history. More to the point, they’ve come to tell us that our little world of “rock for rock’s sake” is a regressive cul-de-sac, a mythical realm of pseudo-transgression/transcendence wherein no real liberation exists, just another decoy of capitalism. Their verdict: “Man, that shit is weak.” I don’t believe that for a minute, but it’s real refreshing to be challenged, forced to defend your own corner. For once.

Consolidated, in fact, are something like a white Public Enemy. That’s to say, their importance lies not in their truths, but the vigour/rigour with which they demolish untruth. The lie of “America Number One”; the lie of democracy in a capitalist society; the lie of consumerism’s false needs and fabricated anxieties; the lie of rock’n’roll rebellion. Being the white Public Enemy is a contradiction in terms, of course, and Consolidated are fully aware of it; on “White American Male”, they flagellate themselves for their privileged status over women, blacks, et al over a storming samplescape of laser-riffs and snatches of a KKK rally song. And they’re fully, even tragically conscious of the contradictions of purveying revolution via the pop marketplace: on the damn funky “Josephine the Singer” they seem to conclude that even their brand of ultimate rock rebellion can’t escape being just another form of whoring for capital.

Combining deconstructionist polemic (a scathingly ironic call-and-response of cut-up quotes) with a constructivist aesthetic, Consolidated are like a cross between Front 242 and Public Enemy: colossal floorquaking beats, loudhailer vox, eerie sequencer pulses, looped drones and squeals in the style of a “Rebel Without A Pause”. Their sampling is often inspired (“It’s about That Time” samples the Miles Davis track of the same name to conjure a pre-revolutionary lull before the storm), and the points they make always acerbic. On “Dysfunctional Relationship” they even reveal a sense of humour. Consciousness-raising agit-pop hasn’t looked this watertight impressive for years.

Their error is the totalitarian nature of their worldview, by which I mean only that they see around them conditions of total oppression, and no way out, short of total revolution. Consolidated miss that crucial ambiguity that The Mekons caught: rock’n’roll is both ‘dream and lie”; rock records and performances are as transformative/transcendent as you are willing to make them; there are degrees of liberation to be found in the interim. It’s not all con. But while I ultimately reject their conclusions, I’m captivated and energized by the force, rigour and wit with which they put their argument across. And on a purely surface level, The Myth of Rock is a convulsive blast of “edutainment”. A stunning piece of work.

Melody Maker, July 13th 1991

by Simon Reynolds

Consolidated are the new militants of American rock. Their debut album, The Myth Of Rock, agitated against rock’s regressive impotence, its spurious rebellion and disengagement from the world, over an incendiary samplescape that combined industrial beats with a Hank Shocklee-style ‘wall of noise’. Their new album, Friendly Fascism, brings them even closer to their dream of being a "white, Marxist Public Enemy".

I asked Adam Sherbourne, Philip Steir and Mark Pistel of Consolidated whey they’ve chosen to be agit-pop militants in an age where white rock never been more apolitical?

"In a sense, we’re a huge anachronism, and a comedy troupe. Being that serious is an enormous folly when you’re involved in such a degraded and diminished arena as rock ‘n’ roll. Just being in a band today requires a sense of humour and a sense of tragedy. We’re stuck in a medium that is trammeled by huge restrictions and limitations. We’ve tried political activism before, but for better or worse, our collective statement is through music. Among other things, our collective statement is that rock’s gestures at transgression or transcendence inevitably end up commodified."

But the same applies to agit-pop, which is arguably even more defunct and contradiction-riddled than all the other sub-genres of rock.

"Well, we’re the last people diving off the dock and missing the last boat. People say it’s been proved that pop and politics don’t mix, that political effectiveness just gets lost in the entertainment context. But politics gets lost and destroyed within ‘politics’ too. What people call politics has nothing to do with political change, it’s all about insider trading, chicanery, wheeler-dealing."

The field they’ve chosen to operate in ("dancecore" or "industrial disco") does not seem the most appropriate arena for a consciousness-raising initiative. Its two extremes seem to be crypto-fascist discipline (Front 242) and outlaw delinquency (Rev Co).

"With Friendly Fascism, we’ve distanced ourselves from that context. We’re fully aware, after a year of touring on that scene, of the crypto-fascist nature of that music. It’s just white aerobic supremacism preying on the twisted fears of male youth. We’ve redefined ourselves as ‘bureaucratic entertainment specialists’. We’ve already made the transition to being lesbian nuns playing coffee shop protest songs on wooden guitars!"

On The Myth Of Rock, you diss everything that you despise with the put-down, "Man, that shit is weak".

"Our idea of strength has no connection with constructivism or the heroic imagery of totalitarian art. In our value system, what’s weak is penis-oriented ego tantrums, the arrested development syndrome that is rock rebellion. Our idea of strength is modeled on matriarchal values — pride, resilience, determination, compassion."

You say capitalism has failed, which is true in the sense that it’s failed to deliver on its promises. Yet it’s a long-running failure!

"Of course, capitalism remains a huge success. What we really wanted to do with that song was make a counter-blow against all the propaganda that the Eastern Bloc revolutions are a proof of capitalism’s righteousness and inevitability. We wanted to make the point that the Eastern Bloc peoples were rejecting state tyranny, not voting for capitalism. Capitalism is definitely the biggest revolution ever, but we don’t see why people should have to tolerate that revolution, put up with homelessness, racial conflict, dehumanised labour, eco-cide and blood for oil."

Does ‘beauty’ fit into the Consolidated world view, or do you see music’s value as purely instrumental (a vehicle for agit-pop)?

"On the contrary, we aim to show that rock is not instrumental in promoting social change. Our argument is that we need to change the social conditions in which music is produced and consumed, before music can change anything. Our project is to abandon the failing tradition of agit-pop and invent our own failing tradition. Our message is simply that people should spend less time listening to music and more time changing the world."

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