The following letters concern my article The Unacceptable Face of Freedom and have been extracted from EST3 and EST4, and are printed unaltered except for HTML markup.
David Minshall, Bristol
Regarding your article on fascist imagery in EST1, with particular reference to your mention of the Viennese Aktionists Rudolf Schwarzkogler and Hermann Nitsch. The basic facts in that paragraph are incorrect.
Schwarzkogler never carried out any acts of self-mutilation. This myth probably began with an incorrect article in Time. Comments such as those on Nurse With Wound's To The Quiet Men From A Tiny Girl LP cover further strengthened the myth. Schwarzkogler became schizophrenic and died after jumping from a window in 1969. He is best known for his photographic work, for which Heinz Gibulka was his model. The pictures were by Schwarzkogler, not of him. Everything in the photographs was simulated.
Nitsch's rituals used dead animals from slaughter houses. They were not 'sacrificed' as part of the rituals. He has had a bull slaughtered as part of a ritual. No torture was involved, and the bull was due for slaughter. Only the location was changed.
[Thanks. My main source was Rose Lee Goldberg's Performance Art. BD]
I especially enjoyed reading your article on Thee Grey Wolves, and the racist / fascist element of industrial / noise music. Aside from a letter exchange between myself and Ben Gilbert, later published in Chemical Castration, I haven't seen any type of extended essay concerning these issues. I've always been clear about my distaste for the backwards ideologies represented by such groups as AWB, Terre Blanche and their ilk, and I've found it a bit hair-raising that so many individuals ignore the context of the music to listen only to the sonic aspects (i.e. was it good noise?!) It is necessary for us to initiate dialogue concerning these issues, and articles like yours here are the impetus for examining the inundation of shock images / tactics linked up to, correlated with, industrial / noise music. That whole mind set holds back any hope for an evolving and positive "movement" within the underground scene - it only provides more fragmentation - and my feeling is, at this point, we haven't even begun to explore the potential for "expression" using noise elements. When I can put my gut-level emotions across in as powerful a way as, say, John Coltrane or Albert Ayler or Cecil Taylor, then will I find restitution.
P D Condon, London
I spotted a flaw in your Unacceptable Face essay. It goes thus: in what way is it 'harmful' to be interested in fascism if you're not actually a fascist yourself? Due to the general weirdness of the human psyche people somehow seem to be capable of showing interest in such matters without actually genuinely sympathising with them at all. Maybe there's a danger of losing the irony and falling for black propaganda - but of course the main danger is of turning into a hypocrite fashion-following dullard who can't think for oneself. So - that's the danger, but this wasn't mentioned in the essay. It seems to be a countercultural parallel to arguments involving obnoxious mass-media films, books etc.
[It certainly is, which is why those of us concerned by the neo-nazis in the experimental music world need to be careful not to end up behaving like the mainstream's censors. I didn't intend to imply that it's a bad thing to be interested in fascism: obviously, I'm interested in it myself. What worries me are the artists popularly perceived to be "exploring" fascist imagery who seem to spend quite a lot of their time hanging out with known neo-nazis. One rather well-known label is currently suffering a bit of a crisis of conscience about one of their artists. The label boss loves his music, and wants to put it out, but they also have misgivings about his alleged fascist links. What should they do? This is the point that I think PBK was making: which is more important about this artist's frequently aggressive music - the content? Or the context? BD]
Dave Stamp, Birmingham
You characterised Test Dept [in The Unacceptable Face of Freedom?, in EST1] as "thugs of the new left" with their "masculine, angry, violent presentation". To my mind, what such presentation actually does is create an alternative to the dope-sated, apathetic 'counter-culture' which suggests that all one has to do to subvert 'the system' is to sit around skinning up (maaan) and watching radical TV programmes.
Certainly the kind of performance you describe serves more to stimulate me, to make me want to do things with my time than to make me submit to its authoritarian nature. At least, I think it does - I might just be fooling myself! Or perhaps you might reply that it's simply because I'm a man myself and so I can tap into the masculine energy you're talking about, but I get much the same sensation from the work of, for instance, Diamanda Galas. Or is she just copying men?
I think, ultimately, that the artists we're discussing here are - at their best - seeking to provide a cultural manifestation of Malcolm X's idea of liberation "by any means necessary". Since the state, the multinationals etc will not - and in fact cannot - renounce their violence, then it's futile for the oppressed to attempt to emancipate themselves by purely passive means. Since the authority of our rulers comes from our compliance, it is our duty to negate their authority, to say "No" in the strongest possible terms.
Having said that, it's quite clear that, as you point out, there's no shortage in the electrobeat area of idiots dressing in paramilitary drag and spouting utter shite. What precisely, for example, does that prat from Thee Grey Wolves think that the Gulf War has "changed for the better"? Perhaps the poor darling was just trying to be 'shocking' - like Gary Bushell.
Nigel Ayers, Newcastle
Your "fascist imagery" article [The Unacceptable Face of Freedom?, EST1] goes nowhere and can only lead to further confusion since your terms are so undefined. Is fascist imagery that of the 1930s political fascist movement headed by the likes of Mussolini or Oswald Moseley eg the Throbbing Gristle logo lifted from the British Union of Fascists? Or is it imagery from 1930s political groups allied to the Fascists? eg punk's use of the Nazi swastika (itself lifted from ancient Indian mystical symbology). Or is it imagery that promotes the degradation of women, black people etc? eg the Come Organisation's quotes from De Sade and various racists and mass murderers in their Kata publications. Or is it imagery made by people who address racist abuse and physically attack black women at their concerts? eg one well known member of the "industrial" / noise underground. Or is it imagery used by musicians to express "right-wing" views? eg the music of the BNP-affiliated group Skrewdriver. Or does it include left-wing imagery? (S.P.K. took their name from a left wing anti-fascist group which may or may not have been involved in bomb-making activity. Graeme Revell and other members of the music group made clear their own anti-fascist approach in numerous published interviews). Or is it Nationalistic imagery? Or is it imagery that offends your personal taste and / or is simply confused? Or is it a fashion statement? (Reflecting the prevailing authoritarian mood of the late 20th century).
It strikes me that like most label bosses, the guy you mentioned in your reply to PBK's letter [EST3 and above] couldn't really care tuppence about 'fascism' - all he's really interested in is the 'music maaan', and like most other label bosses will continue to release any old codswallop as long as his 'conscience' permits him and the punters are stupid enough to buy it.
[At which point I ought to come clean and admit that the musician concerned is Boyd Rice, a.k.a. Non, who Mute boss Daniel Miller continues to release music by, despite Boyd's reported friendship with people like Bob Heick, Chairman of the racist group the American Front and member of White Aryan Resistance; and his public support for views that many would consider to be "fascist". BD]
... Another question: what constitutes anti-fascist imagery if there be such a thing? Can there ever be such a thing? The anarcrust band Crass were often attacked by the likes of NME for their 'fascist imagery'. OK, you've been reading up on the Situationist International, a big thing with them was the strategy of 'detournement', where the imagery of the state (advertising) us appropirated and used against its original masters. At what point does the imagery 'turn around'?
Zoviet France uses the three-legged swastika of the South African far-right AWB on a CD cover - for what reason? They don't explain. The 'z/s oviet' in their name suggests a political angle - they have also shown an interest in Celtic folklore - what does it all mean?
... Who owns what symbol? Everyone and no-one going everywhere and nowhere. Terms must be defined and clear thinking is in order. The far right has always exploited the irrational. Can there be a libertarian aesthetic if the terms of a totalitarian one are so total? The surface has been scratched but not yet sniffed.
Joel Bender, Austin, USA
In EST3 you wrote "What worries me are the artists popularly perceived to be 'exploring' fascist imagery who seem to spend a lot of their time hanging out with neo-nazis" [see above]. Worry you? Why would these artists in particular and neo-nazis in general worry you? Do they somehow hold sway over your civil rights or similar freedoms? Over your own creativity or your printing? Likewise, the label boss you mentioned having misgivings about a particular artist's fascist ties. Is everyone really this prejudiced? Why is what you are generalising as fascism met with such vehement disdain and fear by those who otherwise regard themselves as free thinkers? Do you believe in democracy?! Perhaps if Christianity were dealt with as bitterly we would be free of its lifeless, deadly ideology.
[I only want to reply to a couple of comments, but readers should feel free to send their own. No I don't believe in democracy, I believe it's a mechanism that assists the oppression of minorities on behalf of the majority, and that requires the surrender of individual or collective responsibility and freedoms to political representatives. But that's just me. The neo-nazis don't impinge much on my freedoms (although their more moderate political allies certainly do), but why should I only be concerned about my freedom? Can't I show some concern for others, too, like the immigrants in France and Germany (for example) subjected to physical attacks by neo-Nazi groups? What worries me about the neo-Nazis in the "industrial" music scene, the subject of EST1's article, is not so much their existence as the fact that their ideology is not always recognised by their fans; or is seen as somehow "ambiguous". Having an open mind towards users of "extreme" imagery is a different thing to lending the real "fascists" actual support, but there's a grey area in between that deserves examination.]