Archive for March 16th, 2010


Attack and Decay

March 16, 2010

French, noisy and full of capitalized "A's"

SebastiAn, French electronica producer and premier dancefloor wrecker, has thrown down the gauntlet with his latest track, Threnody (go ahead and look it up; I had to), which is 13 minutes of buzzing, grinding build.

But why? Why this, rather than his patented stop-start, bump-n-grind roughhousing? A statement of intent? A celebration of electronic tweakery? The key beginning piece for a cohesive whole?

Or is it just a contentious audio “fuck you,” disguised as an artistic statement? A test of your limits as an electronica fan?

There’s a lot to be said for confrontational art. When done well it can change people’s outlooks or remove barriers. Too much of it, though, is rarely a good thing.

I may not know art, but... I have no idea how to finish this sentence...

Check out Andres Serrano of Piss Christ infamy. Does anyone even care what he’s doing now? (Wikipedia says: “His most recent work uses feces as a medium.” Hmm.) You cause a bit of stir, fuck with the moral majority and… what? If “confrontation” is all you have, it quickly changes from “art” to “gimmick.” And just because it doesn’t offend me doesn’t mean I think it has more artistic merit than a Normal Rockwell painting.

"Just a word of caution to those in the front two rows: you WILL be forced into my crotch."

Or take G.G. Allin, the death of rock and roll personified. An evening in the company of his band (which contained J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. at one point) meant you were taking a chance at being showered with any combination of feces, urine, semen and blood before the night was over.

It’s tough to tell what his motivation was. He liked to say something muddled about making rock and roll “dangerous” again. But all he really seems to do was show every aspiring punk rocker just how low the bar could be lowered.

Oddly enough, this is one of the few times where I welcome the censor's black bar.

Then there’s Bob Flanagan, a self-mutilating performance artist. Feeling betrayed by his own body (thanks to cystic fibrosis), Flanagan took to abusing it violently in public. (And in private: he married a dominatrix.) While I have no idea what his headspace was filled with, it does make me wonder who would pay perfectly good money to watch a man hammer a nail into his penis.

And perhaps more importantly, when does self-mutilation become “art?” When it outgrows My Chemical Romance?

Artistic statement. Artistic Intent.

These phrases seem more like excuses when it comes to genital mutilation or jerking off into the crowd. If it’s defined as “art,” does it suddenly make normally inexcusable behavior excusable? Do you draw the line somewhere or have we only got another decade or so before the Palm D’Or graces a snuff film?

I’m not trying to sound alarmist or even expressing some vague concern for today’s morality. I honestly don’t consider this fringe entertainment to be somehow indicative of the whole. I’m just wondering whether the word “art” is being abused too frequently.

Ironically, due to a printing error, the poster itself is reversible.

Another example: Irreversible, directed by Gaspar Noe, which was declared one of the most “difficult to watch” films by none other than the Onion A.V. Club (among many other listmakers).

The film includes brutal and lengthy scenes of rape and violence. It makes some good points about the futility of revenge (most of which would be undone if the story were told in chronological order) and obviously stomps all over the sensitivities of its audience.

To sum up: a film that I will never watch.

For the most part, I tend to watch films that I will enjoy, rather than regulate my DVD player to the role of impartial observer (observee?) in a battle of wills (me vs. filmmaker). I have read extensively about this film and come to the conclusion that I’d be better off not viewing it. I have no urge to watch something that’s going to make me want to shower for three hours, ask for a brain transplant and exterminate what little faith I have left in humanity.

Well, the Dandy Warhols are on it, so it's probably an all-ages film...

Another film I Will Never Watch: 9 Songs, directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People)

Ostensibly a love story crossed with a concert doc, 9 Songs is the first “mainstream” motion picture to feature non-simulated sex. I’m not sure what Winterbottom was hoping to achieve here, but it still ends up looking like chin-stroker porn.

At least in real porn, everyone knows where they stand. The performers are paid to “perform” and the porn consumer pays to watch it and get themselves off. Or buy it for the “bachelor party.” Or whatever.

To sit back and claim that this is “art” asks your audience to ignore the fact that you (and your studio, producers, etc.) paid two people to have sex while you filmed them. You can dress it up with a storyline, but so can Vivid. And at least Vivid doesn’t pretend it’s anything more than jack-off material.

Somehow I doubt that the presence of a “real” director and “real” actors will take away from the hollowness this project presents. Sex by proxy is always hollow. Calling it “art” makes me feel as used as I perceive the two principals to be. With porn, you can be a voyeur. With art, you’re just intruding.

It just seems very disingenuous to present a film that features two people fucking for most of the runtime and then dare your audience to cheapen your effort by getting an erection.

Sorry to bother you, but I'm dragging you back into this exceedingly long post...


What does all this have to do with SebastiAn?

It all comes down to what each person is willing to put themselves through. Granted, no matter how grating or self-indulgent a song is, it will never have the impact of nine-minute long rape scene or a man pounding a nail through his dick, but I still think you have to question the intent.

Everything listed here seems to presume an unhealthy amount of masochism in its audience.

Is this all “art?” Is it nothing more than pushing just to be pushing? Has it become better to be hated than ignored?

I don’t know.

I do know this. I like the full version of Threnody but I’m already predisposed to lengthy electronic fuckery, thanks to a major in Techno and a minor in Industrial.

Other people may be able to find what they like in Piss Christ, Irreversible or a handful of Allin’s feces. That’s not something I’m willing to look for.

Maybe, when it’s all said and done, the transgressive nature veers more towards “artifice” than “art.”

Here it is – all 13 minutes of Threnody:
(Give it a little time on the player. It’s a 30 gb file. 320K.)

SebastiAn – Threnody.mp3

If you’d prefer a condensed version, which veers dangerously close to danceable, try this:

Threnody (Capt N Cooked Mix).mp3

[Unused tags: You Call That “Art”? My Kid Can Piss Better Than That!; You Call That “Music”? I’ve Got More Feces in this Little Finger Than You’ve Got in Your Entire Hand; “Performance Art,” Eh? Maybe It’s Just Me, But I “Perform” Better When My Dick isn’t Nailed to Something]