By Kevin Failure
Hardcore. The word seems simple enough, but it means different things to different people. For most of us it simply refers to the stripped down, barebones style of punk music that rid itself of rock ‘n roll’s past and blew the minds and speakers of white kids across America during the early 80′s. Many don’t realize the term has been used by people taking a similar approach to hip-hop and electronic musics for what’s approaching twenty years now. Cincinatti’s Robert Inhuman and the Realicide Youth Crew do. I visited Realicide in Cincinatti this past summer at their home: the Sugary Slimepit. It was a small, underground apartment/venue wallpapered with black and white flyers for shows they’d played and promoted. If you saw only the mutating psychedelic designs that were projected live on their ceiling you might mistake the scene for some ghetto house party filled with a bunch of burned out ravers – minds blown on ecstacy. However, the Crucifucks record blaring on the stereo would probably betray that image long enough for you to notice the intense look in the eyes of the inhabitants and remind you that this is no way a blissed out happening.
A friend of Robert’s approached me at one point in the night and asked what my impression of him was. He nodded at my response and said “the guy is like a bullet, he cuts through all the bullshit” referring to his hard gaze and matter of fact manner of communication. Every sentence out of his mouth felt like a statement. All cold facts. No filler.
Realicide, live, felt like a sonic expression of that same stoic brutality. Pummelling gabber kicks at speeds that’d make Discorance Axis jealous. Crushing industrial noise that makes Merzbow sound flat and empty. Throat ripping screams. All punctuated by the odd hardcore punk or hip-hop sample. It all made for a completely overwhelming aural assault. It renewed my faith in alot of things that had been treading on shaky ground for quite a long time.
Contemporary hardcore. How much more to the point can you get?
Tell me a bit about the concept of contemporary hardcore.
Robert: Contemporary hardcore is just what I’d like to think are the more useful aspects of hardcore culture (and music) executed currently and without dismissing the potential of new technology, definitions, and methods in expressive media. We are currently rehearsing a Black Flag cover with drum/sampling machines and vocal references to grind and noise. Black Flag‘s message is just as timeless as it always has been but to stay relevant language often needs to evolve; same ideas but new media. Also a consistent thread throughout our work is the very blatant pointing-out of parallels between “hardcore” cultures, be it guitar/drums rock bands, gabber producers, harsh noise artists, etc. else.
You guys seem to tour constantly, and release your music either on cassette CDr or for free. What are your feelings on mp3 technology and how do you feel it effects underground music?
Robert: In many ways mp3 technology is very much underground music at this point and this entails the good, bad, and ugly of course. The CDR and mp3 are cheaper and more omnipresent than any previous DIY medium. Pressing a 7″ seems very expensive in comparison. Duplicating tapes seems infinitely more laborious at times. CDR and mp3 media means more and faster. For a propaganda group this is awesome because the music is simply a vessel for endorsing or protesting something. And for the 14 year old kid who will grow to the 30-something year old adult with very little development of ambition or intent it is unfortunately a huge crutch and means to maintain low standards. I don’t have a lot of money, period. But CDR’s can be merely cents a piece, I know how to scam for free xeroxes, and I know how to screenprint. My publications are humble but not lazy, the media itself is a big part of the message in most cases. Yes, it is very easy to release recordings these days, but DIY methods are still something to take pride in, something that can influence just like lyrics or graphics. And as far as I’m concerned, with a positive intent and hunger for progression, the larger the edition the better. Within reason of course; then again that goes back to the mp3, an infinite edition and the closest stab at immortality a recording has to date.
Mavis: If it weren’t for online file-sharing servers such as Soulseek, I wouldn’t have found out about some of my primary influences in noise, hardcore techno, and other punk-ethic based genres of music. Websites with MP3 uploading capabilities for D.I.Y. artists offer a network to link themselves to the rest of the world. Sounclick, Myspace, PureVolume, and more are free promotion in this digital age where most of the youth audience live on the internet as if it were their actual home. MP3 technology has the ability to expose people to music they would have never given a chance if they had to pay for it. It has the ability to inspire and influence artists to move outside of their comfort zone. Try something new, put it online, promote it, no money lost on putting out a record that maybe nobody will buy ‘cuz it completely sucks. But at least an attempt to progress was made and hopefully the artist tries again and again and again. If an artist is putting out a record, MP3s are a good way to offer samples of new work, past work, and work in progress.
You often sample yourselves in your songs, how important is the philosophy behind your music to the music itself?
Robert: Ideally philosophy is all that ought matter, but that is pretty stupid when injected into the actual world. The goal is a balance between philosophy and musicality, or I could also say between valuable communication and entertainment. If a project leans too far into conceptual it will inevitably alienate the public, and if it falls into purely the pursuit of fun it will encourage sloth and weak-mindedness. The skill of creating music that provokes and stimulates change in people while remains really fun to listen to is an amazing skill I would like to become much better at. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’d like to end up a master of pop while blowing minds with earth-smashing concepts, but it would be great to learn a balance similar to groups like Crass or Wu Tang. As for sampling ourselves, it is a very necessary tradition in order to remind ourselves we are not exempt from the copyright/originality Armageddon of the twentieth century, no one is. Stealing, in art, is one of the most relevant ways to speak about yourself and your perspective on the world. This is the almighty conclusion of the twentieth century.
You seem to have crafted a very specific aesthetic that draws a lot from underground American hardcore. What is your musical background and what inspired the path you’ve set for yourselves?
Robert: I have no academic musical background and haven’t really noticed very much natural talent in myself as a musician, but I began experimenting and playing with taperecorders when I was in high school. When I started using my voice on a 4-track I realized I wasn’t really “gifted” as a “singer” or anything, but I knew I wanted to use my voice to tell people about myself and that music is traditionally a reliable sugar-coating to wrap this voice in. My drive and determination to be a vocalist has over the years forced me to make due with what I have, through faith that an emotional intensity can compensate and surpass for a limited physical capacity or lack of formal training. That is again punk ethics; use what you have, don’t be impaired by what you don’t have. Limits demand innovation. Jim Thirlwell’s Foetus albums in the 80′s are one of the best examples of music that inspired my work and direction; one of those guys who is working alone with very limited resources and creates these maniacal beastly layered songs, pouring everything in himself into his creative process. Later, when I was like 20 or 21, I finally found the value and appeal of hardcore, for it’s raw and liberating qualities, not the dogma and insecurity it is commonly associated with. Hardcore is a lot like church, and like any supreme religious doctrine it will be corrupted and misrepresented immediately by humanity. This doesn’t discredit the doctrine, it just reminds me that humanity fails. Anyway, the similarities to religious practices yet with enough malleability and open-endedness for me to work with, that’s why I gravitated towards hardcore. In that sense I guess you could see the Realicide project as a form of cult, and I assure you we are charged with heresy quite often by numerous people active in the hardcore scene, both by punks and ravers.
Mavis: I come from an educated musical background. I played classical trumpet for approximately 9 years, studied music theory, orchestration, and composition for approximately 5 years, and studied jazz bass and performance for a year. However, over the past two years of my life, I have been doing my absolute best to wipe my mind clean of most ofwhat I’ve been taught in those areas. For example, I can no longer read music on paper aside from rythmic patterns which I use when programming drum machines and sequencers. This is completely by choice. The dissection of music through formulas and catagories and rules, “you can’t modulate to this chord without first resolving to this chord through this cadence…” shit like that became less meaningful day by day after I was introduced to noise in late 2003. It became obsolete to me when I started performing noisey sets in late 2004. I am in no way against tonal music, melody, harmony, etc. In fact my current solo work is moving back in that direction after my last year and a half of drum-machine-gun/noise performances. The difference between my tonal music now and my tonal music up until 2004 is today I am no longer burdened with the knowledge that was intended to assist me in my compositions but ended up greatly detracting from their quality. And my non-tonal music is not an oppositional force to my tonal music now that they are created with the same mindset. Before I decided to let music theory go, I would use noisey elements such as mic feedback or banging on a piano to ruin tonal compositions I had written. By the mid-to-end of 2004, I was using those same elements to enhance my tonal compositions.
What role do you believe politics play in music? Is the way you play music and the music that you play as an individual inherently a political statement?
Robert: Well ok first I will go over and re-check the definition of “politics’ in my dictionary, it says “art and science of government, public life and affairs, activities concerned with seeking power.” I’d be an idiot to say music isn’t political. Everything is; everything we do is an endorsement or protest according to how we want to live or what we think is the right thing. Politics are like air or sound waves; omnipresent although not always acknowledged or don’t always have to be. I breathe air all the time but don’t need to talk about it every waking hour of my day, and to be equally verbal and mundane with political issues can often suck too. There should be a balance (again) of awareness with free fun action. Don’t be swamped and pigeon-holed by subjects you detest; don’t be tricked into becoming what you hate, an alienating and oblivious-to-reality monster like many government officials.
Politics: art and science of government. In this definition I would choose to opt “apolitical, ” to drop out because I do not believe in the human capacity to solve the larger problems we so extensively get ourselves into, my humanity is an anti-solution and surrender to an alternative perspective outside my own, although so much easier said than done.
Politics: public life and affairs. Excluding overlap with the first definition, this is really important to me. Why are we supposed to be so afraid of each other? Why am I not supposed to look a stranger in the eye when we pass on the street? Why is the world so neurotically passive-aggressive? I’d like to address these things in bands I’m involved with.
Politics: activities concerned with seeking power. Very very important. To the people who are after power over me and my peers, power over eachother, this music needs to be a total “fuck you.” And to the people scraping to take control of their own lives, to find a foothold and change things to become who they really want to be, we need to push them and lift them up as
much as we can.
In your travels touring the country, have there been certain people or places that you’ve felt inspired by?
Robert: Yes, although I’ve learned not to really envy other cities as much because things don’t vary that much in many ways. Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center in St Louis really revitalized my thirst for community and what a good all ages music venue needs to be. Rat Bastard’s International Noise Conference in Miami FL is really amazing, an annual pilgrimage of like a hundred artists to this festival that is free admission and non-paying, everyone goes just to contribute a short performance and be in the company of a lot of incredible people. Baton Rouge LA where these teenage kids had never seen noise or gabber punk before and they are ditching the screamo and metalcore fads, writing me about new bands they are starting, but a lot of inspiration comes from being in Cincinnati where I’m from, both hosting touring bands and observing the fluxuation of local artists. Brutal Cincinnati Damage fest or the Heinous Rave series comes to mind, in which hundreds of kids have come together for nights of excruciating noise, shrieking, and merciless gabber smackdowns. It is a good feeling to see spontaneous crowd-surfing or event-specific t-shirts at a gabber and noise themed event in Cincinnati OH.
How do you balance the symptoms of survival like work as an obvious example and your path as musicians?
Sometimes I enjoy having a job because it can be downtime during periods where my creative and social life is overwhelming and too hectic. I wrote all my lyrics and designed all flyers and record sleeves while I was a security guard for a while. Other times I’m working when I really don’t want to; I constantly remind myself it is temporary and keep my focus on moving past the period where I have to work the job, dedicating as little mental energy to the job as I am able. This summer I am technically unemployed. It is the first time I have decided to experiment with actively staying away from jobs and focusing on my real work for as long as I can. I am cutting lawns with a friend once in a while for rent money, otherwise I am trying to find distribution for records and books.
How important do you feel passion is in relation to skill or technical ability in creating art?
Robert: Passion is mandatory, skill is an optional tool. That’s about it, but I can include a segment of this essay I wrote spring 2005 which addresses the mystique of skill: “skills, more often than not, distract and mislead away from any true importance. Skillful art is often done to pass large amounts of time in a feeble life thirsty for glory as a default sense of worth and purpose. Skillful art is a standard and a precedent with an absurd tradition to deceive and fall into vagueness through illusion, fuzzy and faint creating a mystique assumed to be brilliant and superior. Illusionary crafts are preferred largely because they are a set of rules which make it easy to say who is great and who sucks, simply at face value. They distract for such a time that there is none left to look past and evaluate content beyond aesthetic mastery (thanks, college). Art and music that serves to instill a vaporous vibe or atmosphere is usually, in a sense, cowardly and uncertain, implying that the artists rock so hard that they could say something more direct and legible but that would be beneath them; too easy and silly of course. Bullshit; I wonder how many people can look me in the eye and tell me anything at all. I fucking wonder about that. Lives whittled away through a hypothetical worth only; the possibility of message and substance; but you know dawg possibilities can suck it; we’re gonna die and soon, so get to the point.”
Mavis: Even the most talentless, unskilled, ignorant artist will develop all of these things if they are truly passionate and consistantly active in what they are doing. Passion for one’s own art breeds original style, skills, technical abilities over time.
Although your aesthetic is rooted firmly in punk, you incorporate elements from other underground cultures. What other cultures inspire and influence you, and how do you make these influences your own?
Robert: Basically anything that can be paralleled to punk has an appeal and potentially useful influence to me. Noise should be pretty obvious, the most sensible evolution of punk music, but also grindcore (not metal as far as I’m concerned), gabber and other forms of raw aggressive rave music, and of course hiphop and rap that has firm allegiance to street life or at least real life. These are all genres that encourage inexperienced and unschooled individuals to try their hand at using music as an expressive and truthful medium. Sometimes the influence is presented very directly. For example, I have been using select lyrics by The Screamers and other bands for years now and though they originated as covers or tributes, gradually they become my own through their mutation and adaptation to our progressing style as a band. I splice appropriated lyrics with my own, I change the way the lyrics are accented or repeated. It is very parallel to the sampling process I use when sequencing electronic music. Rave culture is a good example of adapting an entire cultural phenomena to our own way of curating events. We liked the idea of a rave, the music instills such an unstoppable energetic feeling, it can be an extremely inspirational experience. We liked the ideal of an event in which the music is generated by an anonymous individual, like a DJ who is not in the spotlight and the attention of the audience is on itself instead, making the event the actions of everyone present and not one band or person. The pitfalls of rave culture are mostly all too apparent, many are cliche. We are not generally interested in drugs. We aren’t against them, but we don’t really talk about drugs or recommend them generally. So “heinous rave” is not drug-based, it is actually about the music and natural adrenaline. This makes the event even more terrifying to many traditional ravers who insist that it is impossible to tolerate gabber and speedcore without the aid of drugs. It’s hilarious. Then they want to know when the DJs are coming on. There aren’t any and when the “heinous rave” segment of the event is underway (usually after a few bands play and video gear is set up) we often just play our own tracks off a computer by the soundboard. Nobody is looking over at the soundboard, or finding some DJ veteran to hover over and worship for picking out the same mundane joke records they’ve heard time and time again. The kids that come to Heinous Rave are busy dancing, swinging off the ceiling beams, watching video feedback being scrambled, and yelling into microphones set around the room for spontaneous (and shrill) MCing. When they leave they don’t thank Realicide crew for being the sickest DJs that no one can beat, that is just the same as the rockstar shit I thought raving was a refuge from, the kids thank us for arranging the event as a whole, for taking the initiative to get everyone together for a really memorable collaboration. Heinous Rave is a means of reclaiming rave culture, the same way as a band we infiltrate and jostle the punk rock community.