Friday, August 29, 2008

Possession (pt. 3)


In Greek antiquity, Aristotle observed that "enthousiastic" melodies (associated, as their name indicates, with possession) used the (ancient Greek) Phrygian mode exclusively. The Phrygian mode was said to originate in Phrygia, a kingdom in what is now modern-day Turkey. Also, the aulos was regarded as the instrument specific to Dionysian ecstasies. It was a flute-like wind instrument, which also was seen as coming from the Phrygian kingdom. The music of Dionysian ecstasy was regarded as coming from Phrygia.

Gilbert Rouget in "Music and Trance": "It was indeed from Phrygia (or Thrace, but in any case from Asia Minor) that the Dionysus cult spread (...), or, as the Greeks themselves believed, that it originated. We are therefore justified in saying that, although Dionysian music was Phrygian in instrumentation and mode, it was not because the musical characteristics of this instrumentation and mode in and of themselves (that is to say, their particular timbre or set of intervals) were thought to have any remarkable effect on triggering trance, but rather because they were the clearest sign of Dionysus' identity. This would in any case concur with the general logic of possession. For in fact what is possession other that the invasion of the field of consciousness by the other, that is, someone who has come from elsewhere? Insofar as he is the other, Dionysus is at the same time an elsewhere. This is how he was thought to be, and how his music was experienced. In Dahomey, people of Gun or Fon origin speak Nago when they are possessed by a vodun of Nago origin. Elsewhere, people who ordinarily speak a given African language talk in Arabic if the spirit possessing them is thought to be of Arab origin. When she was possessed by Beelzebub, Jeanne des Agnes spoke, it is said, in Hebrew (...). What is true of speech could also be true of that other language, music."

Rouget's analysis puts in mind Michael Taussig's 1986 ethnography "Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man. A Study in Terror and Healing". In the book, white colonists visiting Indian shamans to be cured of the sorcery believe that the 'wildest' Indians, those Indians who live in the most geographically remote region, have the most powerful healing capabilities. The Indians on the other hand visit markets in Colonial towns to buy 'exotic' Western European grimoires. Here too, the magically powerful Other originates from the mysterious "elsewhere".


So what about the music of Mark Stewart, whom Mark K-Punk described as a man possessed, as "a shell and a conduit which other voices, outside forces, (...) occupy.". K-Punk dic not examine too closely which voices, which forces Mark Stewart channels: Stewart's loa was cursorily described as "...rage and utopian longings...". This raises the question: where, for Mark Stewart's, is the "elsewhere" that haunts him?

Even if the sources of inspiration for his music are diverse, Mark Stewart's first "elsewhere" is no doubt Jamaica: possessed by the dubby or duppy ghost, the Caribbean island's music has thoroughly invaded his field of consciousness.

"Dub arose from doubling—the common Jamaican practice of reconfiguring or "versioning" a prerecorded track into any number of new songs. Dub calls the apparent "authenticity" of roots reggae into question because dub destroys the holistic integrity of singer and song. It proclaims a primary postmodern law: there is no original, no first ground, no homeland. By mutating its repetitions of previously used material, dub adds something new and distinctly uncanny, vaporizing into a kind of doppelgänger music. Despite the crisp attack of its drums and the heaviness of its bass, it swoops through empty space, spectral and disembodied. Like ganja, dub opens the "inner door." John Corbett even links the etymology of the word "dub" with duppie (Jamaican patois for ghost). Burning Spear entitled the dub version of his great Marcus Garvey album Garvey's Ghost, and Joe Gibbs responded to Lee Perry's production of Bob Marley's "Duppie Conqueror" with the cut "Ghost Capturer." Perry described dub as "the ghost in me coming out." Dub music not only drums up the ghost in the machine, but gives the ghost room to dance." (sourced here).

It should be noted though that Rastafarianism - unlike many Afro-Caribbean religions such as Vodou - is not a possession cult. As far as I am aware, there are no rituals in Rastafarianism in which, during trance, the subject is thought to have acquired a different personality: that of a god, a deity, genius or ancestor who takes possession of the subject, substitutes itself for him, and acts in that subject's place. Furthermore, alcohol, which has an important role in many Afro-Caribbean possession rituals, is tabooed under Rastafarian food laws (I-Tal).

"[Rasta] has little in common with Haitian voodoo, Cuban santeria or the other Africanised remixes of Catholicism. Instead of a panoply of spirits, Rasta has just the one God, the stern patriarch of the Old Testament - not someone with whom you can cut deals, as you can with voodoo's loa. If anything, Rasta is Afro-Protestant, sharing with mainland America's fundamentalists an emphasis on close reading of the scriptures and a millenarian belief in an End of Time whereupon the righteous get transported to the promised land." ("Tangets #2. Back To The Roots", by Simon Reynolds, Wire, September 2000).

Nevertheless, in Rastafarianism communion or 'communial trances' do play a role. "Rasta mystical experience emphasizes the possibility of the immediate presence of Jah within the "dread," or "God-fearer." God's presence brought on an understanding of the fundamental unity of all humanity, expressed in the pronoun "I&I" (which can mean I, we, or even you, with Jah present). Discerning the will of God is an almost Talmudic process, achieved through night-long "reasoning" sessions, part theological debate, part prayer meeting and meditation, which lead to an "overstanding" (rather than understanding) of the truth through union with Jah." (sourced here).

In fact, one of the most common Rastafarian rituals involves reading a chapter of the bible everyday. The version most commonly read is that of King James. The Rastafarians claim, however, that King James distorted the true content of the bible party because of his inability to translate the Amharic Ethiopian text accurately, and also as a deliberate ploy to perpetuate the suppression and oppression of the black race. So, although the bible is read and venerated, the Rastafarians only choose to read those passages which they ‘intuitively’ feel are correct.” (sourced here).

Many tenets of Rastafarianism, such as the I-Tal diet and the wearing of dreadlocks, are the result of an at once inspired and paranoid reading of the Scriptures, the result of a Ganja-entranced communion with Jah.

Employing Rouget's typology of types of mystic trance, we can describe Reasoning as a mystic religious practice in which "... the relation between divinity and subject is seen as an encounter which, depending upon the individual, is experienced as a communion, a revelation, or an illumination." For Rouget, this type of non-identificatory mystical trance is possession without the embodiment of the deity. Other examples of such non-identificatory possession are the (Protestant) Shakers of Saint Vincent in the Antilles, the Dervishes, the Schlustes (a Russian sect of dancers and flagellants) and the Camisards.


Mark Stewarts music can be described as a non-identificatory possession, directed not at communion with Jah but at communion with the Thatcherite Great Britain of the 1980s, at communion with the Babylon that Rastamen denounce.

Using his politically militant music his to reveal the Western world as a greedy, proto-fascist, paranoid, surveillance-obsessed society, Mark Stewart's use of Dub is informed by late-1970s Western interpretation of Jamaican culture:

"Reggae fans, black and white, (...) looked to the music for "a solid foundation" (as the Congos sang it), for certainty and truth, militancy and motivation. 'Roots rock rebel' neatly condenses how Jamaican music was seen both by rock and by reggae itself. Reggae was anti-imperialist: Rasta's Pan-Africanism connected with the period's post-colonial struggles (...). Reggae was anti-capitalist (...). And reggae was anti-fascist, (...) bringing radical chic to countless student digs with its poster iconography: Peter Tosh, a Che Guevara with natty dreads and black beret; Medusa-headed spiritual warriors Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, and Culture; Steel Pulse preaching about "Handsworth Revolution"." (from: "Tangents #2: Back to the roots", Simon Reynolds, Wire, September 2000 issue)

Stewart's mid-1980s music also looks forward to the mid-1990s discourse on Dub: "For simplicity's sake, this cluster of ideas can be described as the Afro-Futurist discourse, but it actually has multiple facets: dub as deconstruction (of the song, of the metaphysics of musical presence); the producer as mad scientist, dark magus, shaman, trickster; the 'Macro Dub Infection' notions of dub as post-geographical virus and of dub's sonic instability as an education in 'insecurity'." (ibid.)

Mark Stewart's image as a paranoiac can be compared to Lee Perry's image as a 'mad scientist', a madness which in the 1990s was exalted in terms derived from Deleuze and Guattari's "A Thousand Plateaus". Like Perry, Stewart has been portrayed in the press as being dangerously paranoid, and rumours abound as to "no-shows" at On-U Sound concerts being due to hospitalization. In a 1988 article in NME, the artist was presented as suffering from delusions:

"Sure enough our conversation slid rapidly into the realms of the bizarre. 'Of course I know people who are under surveillance,' he claimed at one point, getting up to close the door, 'I'm under surveillance because my Dad has Grade A security clearance and access to uranium.' You mean you're being watched? 'I'm not under surveillance,' he countered, donning a pair of mirror shades, 'I'm a vegetarian'. Looking straight over my shoulder, he laughed with a sudden, unexpected burst."

Mark Stewart's music interrogates his socio-cultural environment like a Rastaman interrogates the Scriptures: in a state of bleary-eyed Ganja-induced paranoid trance, finding unorthodox meanings occulted behind conventional signs. But where Rastafarians unearth the law of Jah in the Bible, Stewart uncovers the secret workings of Babylon in British society, a society which is nothing more than an cancerous outgrowth of the military-industrial entertainment complex; where Rastafarians find ‘a solid foundation’, Stewart finds semiological quicksand, seeing signs and portents which make him suspect the pavement on which he walks hides concrete bunkers; where Rastafarians expect the End Times to bring a repatriation to the Promised Land of Ethiopia, Mark Stewart anticipates - even desires - a nuclear Rapture.

Like Rastafarian Reasoning, Stewart's music conflates several semiological genres in a musical montage: his work is part political harangue, part invocation of the military-industrial complex and part divination aimed at discovering cryptic/encrypted knowledge by the entranced interpretation of the urban environment. Concealed beneath the city streets Stewart sees a veritable labyrinth of missile silos, blockhouses, ventilation shafts, corridors, and "...cathedral-like vaults with hydraulic platforms resembling Piranesi's prisons, endless concrete galleries leading to vertical shafts and even further galleries (...)" (from here).

The concrete bunkers which Mark Stewart knows beneath the city streets are his second, his true 'elsewhere'.


Here is a trailer for a documentary on Mark Stewart,"ON/OFF: Mark Stewart - from the Pop Group to the Maffia" by Tøni Schifer. The DVD will be released by Monitorpop in october/november 2008.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shock Xpress - The Brain That Wouldn't Die

Below is the trailer for the 1962 film The Brain That Wouldn't Die. From Lucas Balbo's article on that film's director, Joseph Green, in the first Shock Xpress book:

"While [The Awful] Dr Orloff made its impression through its superb photography and Gothic atmosphere, Les Yeux [Sans Visage] through its gloomy, macabre realism, The Brain [That Wouldn't Die] struck me with its sleazy delirium. It is like seeing your nightmares on screen: everything looks real, but as soon as you start to think about it it's totally unbelievable. Add to that the minimalist dialogue ("Hey, you out there in the closet, get out and free me!") and the tongue-in-cheek humour and you have a genuine classic of weirdness."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Luc de Heusch - Tracking the Pale Fox

Below, you'll find a YouTube video of the 1984 documentary 'Sur les traces du Renard Pâle' (Tracking the Pale Fox) by Belgian ethnographer and filmmaker Luc de Heusch. It is a fascinating documentary about French ethnographic research into the mythology and rituals of the Dogon, a West-African people living in Mali and northern Burkina-Faso.

The central figure of the documentary is the French anthropologist Marcel Griaule (1898 – 1956), who was affiliated with Georges Bataille's brand of Surrealism. He published several articles in Bataille's journal Documents, the publication which inspired this blog.

Griaule is perhaps best known as the leader of the 1931-1933 Dakar-Djibouti expedition, which became famous paradoxically because of one of its most disaffected participants: the Surrealist and ethnographer Michel Leiris, one of Georges Bataille's closest friends. The mission was organized by the Institut D'Ethnologie and financed by the French government and the Rockefeller Foundation. The mission, which took from 1931 to 1933 would "... criss-cross French West Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon, French Equatorial Africa, the Belgian Congo, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Abyssinia, Eritrea, and French Somaliland".

During the Dakar-Djibouti expedition, Griaule studied the culture of the Dogon, a West-African people living in Mali and northern Burkina-Faso. Following the expedition, Griaule would study Dogon culture extensively for more than 25 years, becoming famous for a study on the meaning of masks in the complex mythology of the Dogon.

Jean Rouch, whose utterly mindbending documentary Les Maitres Fous was featured earlier on this blog, narrates the story, and interviews Dogon elders and Griaule's closest collaborator, Germaine Dieterlen.

Valenapio, who posted the videos on YouTube, writes: "Note : As always, the translations and subtitles are clumsily home-made. A dogon game is mentionned in this part. I haven't found a transcription of its name : Griaule uses a phonetic sign for it in his book "Jeux Dogons", and the sound "un" or "in", which exists in french, doesn't exist in english. So, you've got an "ein" instead. Oh, well...".


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Shock Xpress - Peter Carpenter

From "Vegas Lounge Horror", an article on the films of Peter Carpenter by Greg Goodsell in the first Shock Xpress book:

"Blood Mania and Point of Terror are two extremely odd genre entries. Both are bids by screenwriter and star Peter Carpenter to showcase his acting and singing talents to the public and potential producers for further film roles. (...) While the tantalising ad mats for these pictures promise all sorts of chills and frissons, their audiences more than likely walked away with a confused "what the hell was that about?" Both are borderline entries, edging just slightly into the horror genre. Doubtless seeking a return on his investment, Carpenter made fright films in a bid to get to 'that type of audience'. Suspense and scenes of fright take a back-seat to shots of Carpenter singing, showing off his muscular bod and seducing women."

Blood Mania (Robert Vincent O'Neill, 1970)

Point of Terror (Alex Nicol, 1971)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A whirlpool effect in the crowd

UK police has banned an appearance by Babyshambles, fearing that their performance would incite violence. From NME: "Chief Superintendent Julian Kirby, divisional commander of Wiltshire Police, said: "We carried out an analysis of what Pete Doherty and his band does. What he does as part of his routine is to gee up the crowd. They speed up and then slow down the music and create a whirlpool effect in the crowd. They [the crowd] all get geed up and then they start fighting.""

It's interesting that where the moral panic of British authorities was in 1994 aimed at repetitive beats, in 2008 it is aimed at beats that are in a sense "not repetitive enough": the rhythm of Babyshambles is faulted because it accelerates and slows down again.

On a more serious note, I feel that the actions of Wiltshire police are a violation of Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of expression. In a judgement from 1988 the European Court observed, that "Those who create, perform, distribute or exhibit works of art contribute to the exchange of ideas and opinions which is essential for a democratic society. Hence the obligation on the State not to encroach unduly on their freedom of expression". Only under strict circumstances, the treaty allows the exercise of this freedom to be subjected to "...such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society...". Article 10 continues to specify the ground for interfering with the freedom of expression, one of which is the prevention of disorder or crime. But it is hardly necessary in a democratic society to ban Babyshambles only because of some accelerando and ritardando - if it were, the Wiltshire police would do well to also forbid the perfomance of many classical symphonies, especially from the Romantic era. Furthermore, the idea that forbidding music which speeds up and slows down is necessary for the prevention of disorder or crime, is sheer nonsense. Without denying that accelerando and ritardando can have a powerful aesthetic and psychological effect (more on this later), it is simply not correct that these musical techniques are a determining factor in causing aggression. On the contrary, the connection between musical causes and psychological effects offers a very wide margin of freedom. As far as I am aware, there is not a shred of neurophysiological evidence that would support the Chief Superintendent's hypothesis.

In fact, the Chief Superintendent's actions are so obviously stupid that they even fail to impart the glory and prestige of transgressivity to Babyshamble's music (which, by the way, I loathe). Not even the merest shred of that perverse pleasure!

Post scriptum

Picture cribbed from the History Is Made At Night blog, which provides more details of this case.

The Bug - London Zoo

Black Romantics dream of the end of the world.

In his 1948 essay 'La Lampe Dans L'Horloge', Surrealist André Breton wrote: "Do not numerous studies in the course of contemplation, establish that for a century [Romantic poets] - and consequently the most acute modern spirit - have drifted towards the temptation of the end of the world? In fact there can be no doubt whatsoever that the state of mind of men like like Nerval, Borel, Baudelaire, Cros, Rimbaud, Lautréamont, Mallarmé, whose sensibility, for the most part, has conditioned ours, was governed by the old Manichaeanism and Sade." Breton cites Baudelaire, who dreams of a Pompeii-like catastrophe: 'To amuse myself I calculate to myself ... whether a prodigious mass of stone, marble, statues, and walls crashing down together would be stained by the multitude of brains, human flesh and broken bones." (sourced here).

Not only the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum influenced Baudelaire's cataclysmic calculations: the Romantics employed secularized extensions of Christian thought, of which the apocalyptic theme of the end of the world figured importantly. The French poets mentioned by Breton, but also British poets such as William Blake, appropriated Christian imagery of the apocalypse, like those from the Book of Revelations, and re-used these images in their poetry. Of course, only the decline of the Church since the end of the Middle Ages made it possible to reduce the Apocalypse to an object of aesthetic contemplation. Where Christians read the Revelation to John as describing not the end of the world but on the contrary, the new creation of a new world, the Black Romantics saw the Apocalypse as a seductive yet ruinous and blood-spattered sacrifice of civilization. Theirs was an Apocalypse without a Kingdom Come.

In a sense, Kevin Martin - the mastermind behind Yardcore and Dubstep outfit The Bug - is a contemporary Black Romantic. Where the Black Romantics appropriated the Apocalypse of nineteenth-century Christians, Martin appropriates the Apocalypse of the Rastafarians in his most recent album, London Zoo.

Rastafarians, being - admittedly unorthodox - Christians, draw their inspiration from close reading of the Bible, particularly the first books of the Old Testament, the Psalms, the first pages of St John's Gospel and the Book of Revelations. Occidentalist milleniarists, they believe that the final Judgment of God is imminent, and that it will bring the downfall of the hegemon, of western capitalist civilization and all its institutions. Rastafarians represent the hegemon as 'Babylon', the biblical 'whore' which symbolizes luxurious decadence, filthy fornication and bloodthirsty evil. For Rastafarians, Zion - their Kingdom Come - is to be found in Africa, and more specifically in Ethiopia, the land of their Messias, Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia.

The Bug's recent album London Zoo paints a picture of London as a city where the Apocalypse is already taking place - and there will be no Redemption: global heating, incompetent government, crack addiction, capitalist greed, youth gang violence, hurricanes, unbelief, collective insanity, corruption, terrorist bombs, are at once symptoms of London's decadence and punishment for the corrupt, faithless Londoners. The Dancehall Noir of the track "You & Me" (featuring poet Roger Robinson) tears pages out of J.G.Ballard's novel The Drowned World, which paints a picture of a world in which the polar ice-caps have melted and caused worldwide temperatures to soar, leaving the cities of northern Europe and America - and specifically London - submerged in exotic, haunting tropical lagoons. London is Kevin Martin's Babylon, and listening to The Bug's latest album is watching Babylon teeter, ready to fall.

Kevin Martin casts London's Pompeii-like decadence in Rastafarian language, yet without doubt he does not subscribe to the tenets of the Rastafarian faith. Like the Black Romantics, Martin is able to use the imagery of Babylon only because the Rastafarian faith has little or no hold on his psyche. For it's aesthetic effect, London Zoo is paradoxically dependent on the attraction, on the fascination exerted of the terrors of the Apocalypse. Armageddon produces "...a delightful Horrour, a terrible Joy (...)" (John Dennis, 1688). The aesthetic of London Zoo is similarly structured to that of the Black Romantics.

Kevin Martin is not the first musician to present London as a city where the Rastafarian Armageddon is already taking place: Mark Stewart and the Maffia's 1983 album 'Learning To Cope With Cowardice' is an obvious precursor. In fact, that album's review by David Stubbs in the February 2007 issue of the Wire, could very well describe London Zoo: "The title track creates instant unease through its easy interplay of rough, Industrial Techno, funk noir, dub and plundered hiphop rhythms, all collapsing into one another like new buildings. Fires of reggae righteousness roar like bonfires amid the urban chaos as Stewart (...) pours conflagratory scorn on a sick, corrupt and fearful populace, torching the veneer of their illusions." Here, it should be noted that Mark Stewart's inspiration for this album came from Romantic poet William Blake's vision of London as a sacred city, simultaneously Babylon and Jerusalem. However, London Zoo is an album that is somehow more triumphant, heroic, muscular in tone than that of Mark Stewart, which is altogether more raw, more bleak, shattered-sounding.

From a theoretical point of view, Stewart's bleakness is perhaps preferable to Kevin Martin's attitude. Nevertheless, I absolutely love London Zoo and personally prefer London Zoo to Learning To Cope With Cowardice. Why? Perhaps it is only because I am too young to fully appreciate Stewart's album, as I have few memories of it's socio-political context - it came out before my time, as they say. But there is also the matter of Mark Stewart's vocals: they are a taste I've never quite acquired, and they are at their most grating in Learning To Cope With Cowardice. On London Zoo on the other hand, the vocals are a boon. The contribution of the MC's - such as grizzled Tippa Irie, gruff Flowdan, dread Ricky Ranking and the viper-tongued Warrior Queen - is more successful integrated into Kevin Martin's music than in his earlier work with MCs, such as Techno Animal's 2001 Hiphop-influenced album The Brotherhood Of The Bomb and The Bug's 2003 album Pressure. Furthermore, technological advances in electronic music mean that The Bug's London Zoo is an album of luxurious aural subtleties - there's simply more sonic terrain to explore.

Probably, preferring London Zoo to Learning To Cope With Cowardice is in poor taste. If so, I am guilty. I feel London Zoo is perhaps the best album Kevin Martin has made since Techno Animal's magisterial 1995 album Re-Entry - which is an album which I would take with me to the proverbial “desert island”. London Zoo comes with the highest recommendations.

Post scriptum

I am in no way implying that there is no reciprocal relationship between Martin and his Rastafari-oriented MCs, that Martin is only taking from them. Perhaps the MCs are taking something from Martin that is similar to that which Aimé Césaire took from André Breton?

Here is a YouTube video to one of the most successful tracks on the album, Poison Dart (feat. Warrior Queen).

You can find a Kode9 remix of the entire London Zoo album here.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Global Metal

Just found this through the Savage Minds blog: "In 2005 his movie Metal - A Headbanger’s journey took the world with storm. Now anthropologist and metal musician Sam Dunn has released “Global Metal” - a film about the global expansion of heavy metal music."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Summer Hiatus

This blog is in recess, probably until mid-to-late August.

In the meantime, can anyone recommend to me a good book on Carribean Surrealism?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Shock Xpress - Philippino exploitation film (pt. 1)

Inspired by an article by David Taylor in the first Shock Xpress book, "Shocking Asia. Exploitation cinema in the Philippines".

The Blood Drinkers (Gerardo de Leon, 1964)

Mad Doctor of Blood Island (Eddie Romero & Gerardo de Leon, 1968)

Wonder Women (Robert Vincent O'Neill, 1973)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Shock Xpress - The essential guide to exploitation cinema

This post is the first in a series of posts inspired by Stefan Jaworzyn's exploitation film fanzine Shock Xpress. These posts will present to you YouTube videos of the films featured in the three books which collect the fanzine's best articles. First, however, some biographical information on Jaworzyn.

In the nineteeneighties and nineties, two worlds intersected in Stefan Jaworzyn: that of Noise Rock and that of exploitation cinema fandom. Jaworzyn was extremely active at the time: not only was he a Noise Rock guitarist, head of a record label, and music critic, but he edited the exploitation fanzine Shock Xpress, and co-organized the horror film festival Shock around the Clock.


Jaworzyn first collaborated with Matthew Bower in the Industrial Noise Rock band Pure. Pure evolved into Skullflower - one of my alltime favorite bands - and Jaworzyn would play on the 1989 Form Destroyer album and the 1990 Ruins and Xaman albums, as well as on several 12 inches. According to the biographic information on Monotremata, Jaworzyn quit Skullflower over a disagreement with Matthew Bower over the mixing of the Xaman album. Jaworzyn went on to join the guitar/drum duo Ascension. According to legend, Jaworzyn replaced a bassist in Ascension who was so horrified by Jaworzyn's audition that he quit not just Ascension but music altogether (sourced from Wire 276). With Jaworzyn on guitar, Ascension evolved into a band which - though still working within Noise Rock - was more explicitly influenced by Free Jazz than Skullflower ever was. In 1996, opening for Sonic Youth at Kentish Town Forum, the band practically caused a riot. Enriched by jazz musicians Simon H. Fell (double bass) and Charles Wharf (soprano sax), Ascension became Descension.

Furthermore, Jaworzyn worked together with many artists, the best known being his 1992 collaboration with notorious Noise outfit Whitehouse on the Twice Is Not Enough album.

Jaworzyn also ran Shock Records between 1989 and 1996, releasing albums by Ramleh, Skullflower and Sol Invictus, as well as 7 inches by Current 93, Coil and Nurse With Wound.

Horror film

From 1985 to 1990 Jaworzyn edited the Shock Xpress magazine, 'The essential guide to exploitation cinema'. Jaworzyn: "The idea was to write about the weird, obscure movies we were seeing and that nobody else seemed to be covering. There were only a couple of books dealing with them and a couple of US fanzines which were really hard to find. So we wanted to do a similar kind of thing but maybe get the magazine across to more people. The first two issues were a fairly shitty black and white thing then it slowly improved from there until it ended up as a book.". Three books in fact, published in 1991, 1994 and 1996.

From 1988 to 1990, together with horror film journalist and author Alan Jones, Jaworzyn organized the legendary "Shock Around The Clock" horror film festival at the Scala Cinema in King's Cross, London. Showing films such as Hellraiser, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Monkey Shines, The Stepfather, Slugs, Mongolitos, The Church, The Fly II and Bad Taste, the most notorious film shown was perhaps the UK premiere of Jorg Buttgereit's 1987 necrophile film Nekromantik. After Jaworzyn stopped, the festival would eventually transform into the London FrightFest Film Festival.

In 2003, Jaworzyn published The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Companion, a book on Tobe Hooper's brilliant horror film. After publishing this book, Jaworzyn seems to have dropped out of sight.


Perhaps Jaworzyn's attitude to exploitation film can be characterized best by contrasting it to that of the editors of Re/Search Publications' 1986 book Incredibly Strange Films. The editors - V.Vale and Andrea Juno - sought to recuperate exploitation films as a political instrument. The consumption of these films was presented by them as a strategy against class structure and the media's control of society and culture. For them, the value of low-budget films is that they are "transcendent expressions of a single person's individual vision and quirky originality". In Shock Xpress, we do not find such Icarian idealism and naive applications of cinematic auteur theory. For Jaworzyn, exploitation has no redemptive value. In his preface to the second Shock Xpress book, Jaworzyn wrote: "What a successful exploitation picture and/or publication should do is to so infuse the reader with glimpses into the weird and twisted that they become infected, that an overall perspective emerges which the viewer of reader is part of and can never escape...!". For Jaworzyn, consuming an exploitation film meant exposing oneself to virulent mental pollution, to a contagious psychological disease.

Jaworzyn's work as an exploitation film fan and as a noise musician seem to have fed into each other. Where his appreciation of exploitation film is far removed from the political strategies of the Incredibly Strange Movies book, his approach to Free Jazz is far removed from that genre's idealism. Even when Free Jazz is at it's most chaotic, dense and noisy, the musicians tend to justify the music in politico-spiritual terms "Silva saw broad extra-musical ramifications in his procedures. He believed that by rejecting all externally imposed constraints the inherent goodness in men would surface and enable them to function in absolute harmony with both nature and each other. "Man," he said to me once, coming off an especially vigorous set. "In another ten years we won't even need traffic lights we're gonna be so spiritually tuned to one another"." With Jaworzyn's music one senses no such idealizations: in his work, one hears music rotting, dissolving, pulverizing. His noise is filth, smut, dirt - like the movies he writes about.

The upcoming series of YouTube video posts is a tribute to Jaworzyn's work.

Post scriptum

Here is an interview with Jaworzyn.

Here is an interview with Derek Bailey by Jaworzyn.

Here is a review of a Descension concert by the Wire's Ben Watson.

Here is a review of the Shock Around The Clock festival.

Can anyone tell me if the Scum List still exists, and if so how to subscribe?