I have been meaning to write about this formerly as age keeps popping up frequently when discussing underground music. After recent WCN podcast interview with Sam Torres of Crawl Of Time there was discussion on Special Interests forum where artists behind Koufar (usa) mentions that they “started doing PE at a much younger age then what the average age 30+ was over a decade ago. We both started in our early twenties. Hence why people have made claims that “our parents buy our stuff”.
But I remember when PE/Industrial was just fools +35. I remember Sam and I being the youngest performers at both United Forces Of Industrial fests we participated in too.”
United Forces of Industrial festival was organized in England, with clear intent to have alternative for situation where aging veterans dominated the festival milieu. It was far more likely to see grey bearded old men, both on and off stage of industrial noise gig. Even with intent of having sort of new blood running, UFOI neither was really “youth event” either, like Koufar illustrates. This was perhaps typical for British situation some years ago.
Many other countries had people of all ages involved, and there almost were not people who had been there since the 80’s. At least Finnish PE/Industrial & noise has had influx of newcomers all the time. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but there barely are years when something new and unheard did not pop up. People may not always notice these things, as we tend to follow names we know. Plenty of anonymous projects out there with very few knowing what kind of people are behind it.
Despite if there would be seemingly healthy progressions, influx of new projects, there is often concern in some music genres that where is the new blood and where are the youngsters? Concern that unless there are young people, genre will simply die out.
How exactly would we measure this, as people may not display their age (or act accordingly). Their involvement may be other type. Record stores may be too expensive for young people. A lot of live shows happen in venue, location and perhaps milieu that some 15 year old kid may feel it is a bit challenge to pop up to see what’s up. He/she may be also interested have at least one or couple people that are somehow alike. Often you hear people discuss about lack of women at gigs. I don’t think there would be many barely adult girls who’d want to show up into gig that is not mass event. End up at tiny private gig with just handful of guys twice of her age and not knowing anyone. Theoretically, nothing wrong with the scenario, but reality is a bit different. In some genres you see that couple younger bands, and suddenly new crowd follows.
I do see growing amount of youngster in Finnish underground. When playing rock gigs, we got new breed of boneheads from age 13+ coming up to gigs. Often with girlfriends. Black Metal attracts plenty of people at their 20’s, and way younger. School girls frequently buy obscene BM shirts and are after very specific obscurities like coming to buy some NSBM cd you need to ask from counter. Perhaps it is Finnish curiosity, but a lot of these people know noise. They may not be fans (yet), nor able to handle abstract noise, but they are often aware of existence of genre and where to find it if they want.
As opposite, there are great customers I see at my store. People who found extreme underground music at older age. For example a guy who found Black Metal by entering my shop at his 40’s. Never had he heard BM (apart being exposed to Venom in mid 80’s) until bought random disc from my physical record store. Now decade later, 50+ man is still weekly visitor buying small press unknown nasty Black Metal cd’s at random, diving deeper into expression he never heard as youngster.
While emerging new wave of youth is great, this latter is even more relevant thing.
In industrial/noise, I see growing number of new people, who are not youngsters. At least not teenagers. Perhaps people at their 20’s and 30’s. A lot of these people finally mature with tastes. Sometimes expanding, sometimes growing out of all sorts of music. Become openminded enough to truly understand abstract sound of experimental noise. Also beyond the shock and extreme side of it that may appeal those seeking most edgy and fierce expression.
Entire default that you start to like or listen something as youngster has become obsolete long ago. Same for expectation that it should be the youth, who will carry the torch and revitalize the creative spirit, while the old farts will get a job and start family.
Depends on what researcher you ask, but popular acknowledgement is that youth culture didn’t really exists even hundred years ago. Youth sure did things, jazz may have been the racket of modern world, but in general youth was pulled into adulthood as fast as possible, without very distinctive culture emerging. Even after this, it took a bit until youth cultures and youth sub- & counter cultures were wide spread. We must fast forward pretty much into explosion of rock music developments to start discover clearly distinctive youth cultures.
Most clear it comes 60’s onwards. In those years, you can find so many cultural shifts happen, that specific era may be so short it lasted basically exactly as long as it takes from teenager to reach adulthood, but barely next breed of teenager took part in culture in same way. One generation operates couple summers and then culture almost disappears. Think of original punk. Think of original hardcore. Etc. Surely it all exists now, and always did, but there is quite vast difference between the original peak moment vs. decades that follow even decades later as underground subculture movements.
A lot of people who were there, something like early days youth culture hardcore punk, remember how it blossomed couple furious years and then… kind of slowed down. In many countries you can see developments that there year 77, you got hundreds of punk bands, year 79, and all of them have moved on. You got ton of new wave happening and as contrast by ’82 you got ton of brutal hc-punk in Finland, but again, by 85, scene almost disappeared. You got couple years of massive Oi! invasion, and suddenly its in hands of few remaining loyal listeners while nobody else cares.
A lot of genres have golden era where big number of bands did good demo, 7”s, one of two good albums, then grew out of it. Or did some shitty music and then quit. Often went to work, got wife and kids. That’s like prototype of music youth culture.
For long time, I don’t think there is really underground ”youth culture” like that anymore. Been thinking about it for long time, and been asking from friends of many ages, and nobody can really point out any new alternative or counter culture that was independent and created by youth. Sure you got young people doing music and putting it out, but it happens in context of ready made scene and infrastructure. Within expression that has certain stability. You got whole new ways of culture existing in digital form. Main difference in that is many times it is business oriented or at least business enabled.
As much as the manga/cosplay fanaticism includes DIY aspects it would be very hard to compare it with revolutionary spirit of punk or early Black Metal. What you have there, is material fed by biggest mainstream entertainment corporations. I doubt one can compare game industry or online content creation into same category either. Ain’t really predominantly youth culture at this point either, while youth certainly play part in it.
After this lengthy intro, I feel like I should probably get into the actual claim or suggestion of perspective, which should be obvious:
I don’t think noise / industrial or power electronics was youth culture in first place, and therefore should not be treated as such.
Plenty of links come from free improv, performance art, various avantgarde art movements, university/radio studio electro-acoustic laboratorios and such things. Sometimes co-existing with then emerging youth counter-cultures, but perhaps as parallel thing.
One very distinctive difference appears to be, that a lot of most relevant experimental ”abstract sound makers” have this quality that they… never quit? Or they had quite exceptionally long creative phase. A lot of their works do not have this feeling that it was youth culture, even if they might have been young when they started.
In this historical moment when artform appeared, many of protagonist had the free time because they were students and not full time working familymen. Unlike a lot of music styles where big part of relevant bands existed exactly duration of their youth (often perhaps existing only out of general boredom of having nothing else to do than rip chords out of guitar), noise and PE seems certainly different. In some music styles you got financial aspect that keeps old guys churning music, but in noise there ain’t even that. Just some sort of internal will to create.
Sure bands come and go all the time. Plenty of noise tourists who drop in for couple years and find other things.. but when looking a lot of the relevant names, there is this tendency that they start, they do their thing year after year.. and a lot of them are still here. Many going strong after 40 years.
Hijokaidan, Incapacitants, Merzbow, Masonna. Genocide Organ, Asmus Tietschens, Das Synthetische Mischgewebe, The Haters, and so on, just to mention couple obvious names. You see countless guys who were there since early 80’s and they have been making music all these years. Check out the 90’s noise, and apart from few trendy phases, a lot of makers never left. Their work, old or new, doesn’t usually appear either works of young or old, but as works of creative passionate persons.
In Finland I can look that Bizarre Uproar now 30 years this year. Grunt coming 30 years in 2023. Most of guys that were around 20 years ago, are still around. In Japan there are these stable names like Government Alpha, Hiroshi Hasegawa and so on. Starting at 90’s and year after year deliver multiple releases. Many of these mentioned names have not turned bad. Some have very vital recent releases that work as great examples for long lasting development. It is very hard to find similar vitality from ”youth culture music”. I might be impossible to stretch vitality of 77 punk or grindcore band for 40 years without sounding lame copy of itself.
Sure, quitting is not bad choice. Some guys call it quits when everything was said and done. It seems Emil Beaulieau, Con-Dom, and so on intentionally retired. They knew when time is right for them to decide this is the good way to end with style.
When we encounter hopes of new young blood to save the genre, I often think… save how? What would be the quality that would be advantage, that without doubt requires youth? I often hear kind of excuses, that youth have the time and energy. It seems like excuse. If someone prioritizes his career or prefers to stay in home, that is a choice you make. Not that you would have to and could not decide to live other type of life.
Often new ideas emerged from situation where one felt previous expression had run it course. Rejected the works of past and offered something different that was somehow more interesting. Former expressions started to die out. Sometimes it was simply matter of not knowing what all has been already done, so one would produce with spirit of innovator – even if material itself is nothing new, it had some sort of idealistic spirit as opposed to conscious product. We often face situation where there is baggage of knowing too much. For one who has been around couple years, there may be freedom of not knowing that something has been done countless times.
This may be one of the benefits of inexperience and youthful enthusiasm. Not being aware of all the usual tropes and therefore less influenced by genre material. Rather ending up into specific aesthetics, themes or gear simply because being drawn towards such expression. Even without examples.
It usually blends into the collective expression very quickly. When there is known routine of how power electronics or industrial happens. If there is good new noise act, you will most likely not see them doing something revolutionary, but merely being within already existing system that is the ”scene”. No matter how good it is, release will be recognizable as part of already existing art form. Quickly distributed or released by existing labels and dealers. Nothing particularly new appears.
Instead, it is continuation or expansion of something that already exists. Same can be said when frequent call for women or non-whites to create noise comes real. Often we see perhaps skilled expansion of elements of what genre is known for, but not something unheard. The interest is focused on idea of different creator, rather than creations that would be bringing much new to the table.
Several years ago I asked one fairly well known European industrial/pe label, why they keep putting out so much of old things, like M.B. re-issues, that have been reissued already handful of times? With all the resources, manufacturing possibilities, distribution networks and so on, it felt like pushing something new and interesting would be good. Not just the reissues or new albums from known names. Their reply was that their customers are not interested in new stuff. Old classics always sell, new material interests no-one.
My experience is vastly different. Anyone can check discography of Freak Animal Records, and see how many artists have released their debut albums on label. How many even debut releases altogether. Many of the older artists on label that may be well established now, but were new names when they were first signed. There was always interest to check out what approach someone new had, who is taking their first steps in industrial-noise. It never felt bad idea to put out CD album of someone who zero people know. If it was good, one could trust that is one of the most long lasting qualities that noise can have. In technological advancement, new becomes old quick, trends come and go. But good albums recognized by experienced taste remain fresh for pretty long time.
Of course there are other elements there too. It felt crucial to focus energy on somewhat ”local” level. In this case meaning that Finns would be given far more attention than international artists. In many cases it was easy, as international artists would get support elsewhere, and unknown newcomer from here necessarily not.
I got firm belief that experimental creation and culture, benefits from things that radiate some sort of ongoing movement or possibility. Very specific energy emerges from situation where there is something collective happening. Even if one would not really take part of ”scene”, you may have the feeling that there are live shows, magazines, discussion forums, labels and distributors what belongs to the milieu where your work happens. It can inject something into creative process, while being new creator in realm where labels only acknowledge 30+ year old recordings as worthy to publish, may not appear situation where drive forward is the best. To have purpose with material, someone to forward it to be heard, perhaps critically evaluated, handful of people who’ll invite you to take part of something greater than lonely bedroom experiments. That is most likely what is needed.
This is one of the key elements what has been noticed as major flaw on level of contemporary nation states as well as global state of things. Before the 90’s, there was firm belief in going forward. Countries such as Finland, would have been build under firm belief that there is value in enlightening entire country. There is value in building school system. There is value in having library in smallest villages. There is value in not ignoring potential of female population. There is value in advancing art, culture, creativity as well as health, welfare, advanced eugenics program and so on. What would be the goal, what would be where we must reach – that is uncertain. There was firm belief that there will be something. Until… there was not. In form of failed space programs, possibly unstoppable natural disaster, and large scale extinction and vast amount of other things, suddenly the purpose and goal was no longer there.
When we have abundance of historical, large scale examples, it is easy to see importance what purpose and goal has. Merely having that one guy, who cements some type of milestone what people can use for navigation. Be it M.S.B.R. or NO FUN or something. Remove those operatives from movement, and so many things fall apart with no direction.
How do we create feeling of movement forward? For that to happen, I do not think it is the youth that genre needs. It is something else. Not the old guys either, per se. For long long time, I don’t think it has been the youth that generally pushes art forms forward. It is just the active and creative minds who are passionately there, without being tied up in these old perceptions how culture used to shift.
It is almost trite to remind of so obvious fact that we live in a world where the old transitions from childhood, teenage years and adulthood are vastly blurred. In many times concepts have become obsolete. At the same time, timespan is different. While in past genre or movement could have flourished, made its mark to history and died in few years, now same duration may be what some artists use for recording one album. Dynamics are vastly different if creation of album takes 5 years.
How could you observe change of culture, if you are unwilling to accept that change occurs in different ways that it did in past? There is nothing more backwards and stubborn than insist and demand culture to ”progress” in same old expected routine it happened in past. Always in the same way and to same direction. Despite so many things in western culture changed meanwhile.
To be able to see what is the change, one would have to accept that change changed. In its pace, direction and perhaps who and how and why expression happens. One may see that now emerges a lot of material that has never been done before. It may not be something you like, but it is not the same old.
Several years ago, there was group of power electronics guys returning from some questionable private gig. Late night hanging out in house and drinking beers. Suddenly daughter of one noisician comes into room as asks ”where have you been?”. Father replies ”hmm.. just in the city” and teenage girl storms into own room, slamming the door shut and screaming ”You never tell us anything!”. Charming moment indeed. First thing I mentioned that I guess you could just tell how it is? When we were that age, we were already fully immersed into global underground network of scat, s/m, mondo death films, and few years into publishing harsh electronics…! It would be almost imbecile to convince that they would not damn well know what’s up. It could be expected that they know.
This brings it to early part of text where Koufar / TCU was slandered as if their parents bought their gear. I would not see that as insult really. If there are parents out there right now, I would expect them to do so and not be conservative dicks. For several decades we have lived in era, where it can be likely that someones parents are no longer the dorks that only live the cycle of factory work and prime time television. With only knowledge of culture being football. We may expect parents fully aware of underground culture, culture in general. In such case, someone making fun of someone parents, one could say that yes, at least my parents aren’t the dorks and fuck-ups, but out there feeding some creative force into culture.
This would be also interesting angle. What is youth culture now, if the parents are no longer overly hostile towards even transgressive expressions? Or they may be far more experienced in all the oddities? It brings pretty interesting angle when one may not rebel parents with anything specific? If even society may be far more favorable for huge variety of alternative lifestyles and ideas as opposed to former decades when it may have been alone against all mentality, whatever path you walk, if it ain’t the absolute obvious norm.
This situation makes emerging youth culture very hard. What is the last predominantly youth culture, what was by youth, for the youth? Not people just having sub-culture in already existing infra, no big corporations pushing something that is consumed by youth. I pondered this for long long time, and only think I can come up with, is kepparit, hobby horse phenomena with quite unique twist. When it wasn’t big public thing, it was the most interesting phase. Couple of depressed pre-teen/teen girls started sort of escapist lifestyle of riding self made hobby horses outdoors. Creating entire culture around it. In few years phenomena had become nation wide subculture and gained international attention too. When media and documentarists caught it, it had turned already quite something else than the original form. For years it has been established form of child/youth culture in general, with big competitions, playgrounds for hobby horses and so on. Yet in the beginning, it was girls who started whole things in void, not from former culture, not inside existing network, for themselves, slowly networking and expanding.
I do not rule out possibility of new generations finding the new ways of doing noise that is improving what we have had before. I do not see ”online noise” as progression at all. If new expressions of noise happen firmly hand in hand with climate of mainstream culture, I don’t see that as progress, but regress. Low effort noise. Easy, temporary, meaningless things. Quick laughs. Products. Mundane personality fetish. Etc etc. When a lot of old noise managed to develop into art form alternative for mainstream, a lot of new approaches are identical or similar to what happens in mainstream popular culture. It can be challenge for those who never seen examples of wide variety of expression how it could happen?
Looking influence from past, by people who know, is something that can bring new things. Some of easiest known examples can be give to elaborate. Examples of rather fresh ways of pushing genre forward by older persons by older methods. Aube started doing sound at his early 30’s. His first works were sound installation in someone else’s exhibition. Sound of water was used to fit the visual aspects of exhibition. At early 90’s, thematic experimental audio to accompany exhibition is fairly vintage idea. We have examples of it for several decades before. One could easily link Aube to Pierre Henry’s Spatiodynamisme recordings from mid 50’s and published in early 60’s, where Henry carved bunch of metal object scraping and clanging and processed it into soundtrack for installation. 40 years later, idea in context of noise may have been old. Something done among avantgarde art for decades, but wasn’t outdated. Something as old would appear as new compared to noisicians who were churning free form old school harsh noizu. Con-Dom was not teenager when project started. For some, Con-Dom may present almost prototype of power electronics, yet sonically a lot of his stuff was more conceptual sound collage, than what many understand to be ”power electronics”. Perhaps the depth of works and intertextual references revealed that it wasn’t all about youthful transgressions, but research, presentation, physical performance art, pushing yourself and the audience, not merely from perspective of obnoxious teen provocateur, but something else.
Both examples show moment where surrounding genre had plenty of youngsters. Hijokaidan, Merzbow, Hanatarashi and all that was born out of wild teenage minds and so was Whitehouse, Ramleh, SJ, Consumer Electronics and so on. Examples show how ”maturity”, or going back to formerly known expressions, was no way negative thing. Instead, pushed expression forward to create quite unheard styles of personal noise.
I recent Noisextra episode with En Nihil, artist explains how back in the 90’s he was in self destructive phase. Gave up the noise and pursued into other things. Felt like needed to live and experience things to have perspective. After resurrecting his project roughly decade ago, he approached creativity from entirely different angle. His conclusion was that some of the best materials were the recent ones. Mastering the craft finally brings best results. ifots
One good example of experimental power electronics could be Iron Fist Of The Sun ”Family Survival Strategy” album. Brilliant album, which reeks of spirit that probably required very specific life experiences and vision to be done. It is unlike almost anything that has been published under power electronics, but fits under it without doubt. Sound and content matures and expands, while keeping specific spirit.
This is reminder of what I formerly said. It is unlikely that a lot of youth culture based music bands would reach same level of aggression, commitment and true feeling of meaning. Experimental, industrial noise in other hand, has none of that baggage. Committing into honing your skills, refining taste of knowing what you want and how to get there, getting better, explore sounds and sort of living the noise is something that one can do probably limitless. It is not as limited as ideal hardcore punk track or most energetic grind core blast.
This is not only matter of getting involved with vastly increased means offered by technology and communication, but also cumulating experience and perspectives of all things new and old.
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