Objection to Procedure Interview with Christoph Fringeli (2000)
1. Your contribution to the harsher elements of hardcore are most easily
chronicled in the progress and history of the Praxis label. Please describe
what you saw Praxis’ purpose when it began in 1992, and what you see its
purpose as now.
I had been involved with what you might call industrialnoisejazzpunknowave shit in the mid- to late 80’s, and ran a label called Vision in Basel, Switzerland, where I grew up. Around 1990 I became extremely disillusioned with the “independent” scene, as it seemed to be replicating the mechanisms and values of the major music market. This is a process that hasn’t stopped since: it’s all about commodification of young people’s creative energies, and channeling them into something that is cementing the current dominant social-relations by creating the idiotic concept of “great artists” = “stars”, and divisions between audience and performers.
When the first wave of Acid House hit (say ’87) I was quite intrigued by the DIY aesthetic and the concept of anonymous white labels, but with the exception of a small handful of tracks, such as Phuture’s Trax releases which I thought were brilliant, really fucking weird, overall there were not that many interesting tracks to support a whole new concept of use value of records, which I think really happened around ’90/91. Suddenly there were all these 12″s coming out that had a much harder sound, and I think for me personally seeing Underground Resistance in the Tresor club in Berlin was a real turning point, but it was backed up and supported by countless often anonymous producers churning out banging tracks all over the world.
By the end of 1991 I was squatting in South London and the following year the first couple of Praxis records appeared. I’d rather not try and “chronicle” Praxis here, as it had and continues to have an intense history, but to try and stay clear and short, one of the basic departure points were that I wanted to take elements of the new dance culture and push them a bit further, distort them, make them more extreme.
I was, and I’m still, particularly interested in the aspect of collective cultural creation and experience. The “artist” would no longer so much express their personal feelings towards the world and expecting to be admired for it like in rock music, but take elements others were working on and add their touch, throw it back into a collective pool; and the actual experience of the music would not so much take place in the bedroom, but at a party where a DJ would use records as raw material for his set.
Of course the existing system of record labels, distributors and media has done everything to appropriate these tendencies and recuperate them for their economy; of course the revolution has not been successful in the sense that the old concepts have been destroyed, with a lot of help by the media they survived in people’s heads. Of course there were soon DJ stars etc, but at the same time there exists a resistance network that simply produces the better, more exciting music, and it’s self-organized, autonomous and based around sound systems and small labels.
Praxis exists in this context of feedback loops between producers, sound systems, underground distribution, always trying to add a new twist to the dialectics of liberation.
2. Many of those who enjoy the “c8” sound, if you will, find that to develop
a “scene” in their own city is quite difficult due to the music’s inherent
dissonant properties and the fact that it does not gel with the typical
noise/power electronics scene. What strategies do you/have you used to
establish a hardcore scene in your own area? In your view, what are the
inherent dangers in creating a “scene”?
In a way a scene has to create itself in order to work, but you can make that possible or facilitate it by organising events, running labels, distributing records and zines etc.
Between 1994 and 96 we were in the fortunate situation to be able to organize regular monthly parties at the 121 anarchist center in Brixton. This was quite a small venue, didn’t put us under any kind of economic pressure and therefore allowed us to persevere where we would have “failed” in a commercial context. “We” btw was not just Praxis, but a small collective of people who included people who are now involved with or run Adverse, Ambush and Break/Flow.
A typical “Dead By Dawn” night would consist of a talk, discussion or presentation that would start around 9.30pm upstairs, often to do with political or psycho-social themes, b4 the noise would start in the basement. There would be stalls of records and mags in the ground floor and eventually some experimental noise in the bar area. The space was intimate and people got to know each other. Still it took a while to kick off, only after several months people started coming regularly, but it was well worth holding out, as the events became more and more crazy and powerful.
We stopped on our own accord, expecting/hoping someone else would do something similar somewhere else, but this never really happened, at least not with the open political/cultural agenda to it.
I think this music is strongly attractive to different types of people, if they are noise-heads or ravers, as long as they have an open mind. Since it’s generally “faceless” and POST- MEDIA, the difficulty is how people can discover it and get involved.
I think you’re doing a good job by publishing a zine and doing parties – what helps a lot (or did in our case) is producing a (more or less regular) newsletter with the parties, providing information on the music and it’s political/psycho-social dimensions.
3. It has been stated by John Zerzan, Michel Foucault and other
“post-modernists” that society is constantly distancing itself from its human
reality via technology and emotional detachment. Where does computer music factor into the human being as an animal?
It hasn’t occured to me before to mention Zerzan and Foucault in one breath, since at least lately Zerzan has taken a sharp turn towards neo-primitivist Anarchism, proclaiming all technology to be alienating etc, and fighting “civilization”. I’m not down with that. I don’t think it’s desirable to reverse the technological process and go back to live without electricity, I think what needs to be done though is wrest the control of technologies from the corporations and the military and eliminate the profit-motive. I don’t think it’s technology as such that creates alienation – it’s human to create and use complex tools. It’s the combination of wage labour and a spectacular system that sells back to you everything that once may have been directly lived that creates an unbearable alienation, which certainly is aided by technology, but it can also be used to strike back.
Electronic music of course mirrors the present age, but I think especially in the case of dance music it makes an interesting loop by feeding back into the physical world at a party for example, a kind of active listening with the body and the mind.
I know that a lot of post-modernists, like Virilio, are less optimistic as to the possibility of use of technologies without being neo-primitivists. Sometimes it seems that they simply don’t see a future for freedom. And as we are dissected under the gaze of doctors and jailers, always in the “indirect light” of the surveillance systems, this is an easy conclusion to make, but is a somewhat a-historical view, because as long as there is oppression and exploitation in the world, there will always be friction, and class struggles will continue.
This is one of the ironies of the development of high-tech means of control, that in fact they also produce their anti-thesis, and more people have their hands on the means of production for audio/video/publishing via computers than ever before.
4. Obviously, Industrial once played a large part in your life, as the Vision
label and early Praxis records had Industrial elements. What was industrial
to you? What is industrial to you?
“Industrial music for industrial people” was a slogan of Throbbing Gristle in the late 70’s, and I think their music as well as early SPK, Test Dept. and Einstürzende Neubauten were really “industrial” in that their theme was life in post-industrial breakdown civilisation, utilising the waste of that society as tools to make noise with. This was a time when, for example, the London Docklands were empty, the once great port was out of business, there were an abundance of empty warehouses and ruins. There was still the trauma of WW2 and the economic recovery, the Cold War, and the failed revolution of the late 60’s… all these elements and more fed into the bleak but energetic noise. It was a music of discontent exploring the dark side of the restauration under Thatcher and Reagan, using distortion and clanging as weapons of critique.
20 years later the situation is totally different, the docklands have become another financial district surrounded by lots of yuppie homes, and industrial has become a kind of American noisy rock music, via Belgium. Or so-called power noise.
I still use the term (industrial) sometimes, manque de mieux, but what I cherish is not so much what it’s become in terms of sound or sociologically, or what’s become of its original proponents, but the meme of discontent and distortion, realism and innovation that lives on in the best, say “breakcore” music now.
5. During your journeys across America, what struck you as fascinating or
vulgar? Is pop culture a disease or the will of the people?
Both? I don’t generally find anything “vulgar”, but maybe it’s the lack of history that has some distasteful results, but is also fascinating. I’m also interested in the “melting pot” aspect, even though I’m aware that there’s a lot of apartheid at the same time, not to mention the genocide of the indigenous population. There’s a feeling of unease there, but it’s not unlike what I feel in Germany as well, thinking of the holocaust (which I think is a crime of unique proportions and I don’t want to compare the two, I’m just talking about a feeling I have thinking about the violent history of certain places I visit).
I don’t share the anti-Americanism of a lot of the European Left, of course no one feels comfortable with the fact of the military hegemony of the US over the rest of the world, but I have no illusions as to the European ruling classes.
Americans on average at least seem to be more critical of the state-machine, but not of the culture-machine yet.
Pop culture seems to go into two different directions at the same time, on the one hand becoming more and more monolithic, more global and controlled by the managers of fewer giant corporations. Four majors control 85% of the CD market already, on the other hand they try to get their tentacles into all sorts of minor movements as well, hoping to catch the next trend, to extend their control, setting up fake independent companies or quietly financing others. It wants to be a metastasis in the brains of the people, all people, but it’s also self-destructing. Mediocracy rules: They can’t even produce real stars anymore. It’s like with the general economic system that it’s attached to, the question is how many more hamburgers can be sold, how many more actors ‘cry’ when they get an award, before we give them a reason to cry.
6. We’ve spoken before about the need to create new networks outside the
manipulation of the current ones. When does a self-established network turn from communal grassroots into authoritarian crusade? Do you believe that
size implies mediocrity? Can there be “a network of everyone”?
“Networks” are really a buzzword in the “think tanks” such as the Rand Corporation (professional “thinking” bought by the money of the military and corporations) for a few years now. Their “insight” is that ‘small’ network type structures are able to challenge huge hierarchical structures successfully. At least since Vietnam the nature of warfare has changed considerably – nothing new – just as Sun Tse always said, his ideas (2’500 years old) getting picked up by Mao, and put into practice by guerrilla movements everywhere. The reaction by those in power in the 80’s was a then new doctrine of “Low Intensity Conflicts”, that was trying to deal with the “mystery” of the defeat of the Americans in Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan. But even then the guerrilla usually had hierarchical structures: This was also true about the German and Italian urban guerrilla in the 70’s which were both defeated (to go into details here would take too much space & time), but all this changed in the last few years.
It turns out that hierarchically organized groups can be defeated easily if their leadership is arrested, e.g. the Shining Path in Peru. But if a number of small cells operate logistically independent from each other, if one gets knocked out, then the others will still be able to carry on. This type of organization is certainly suited better for communistic or anarchist type of groups, but it’s merely a mode of organization – it is used by neo-nazi and islamic fundamentalist groups as well, so paradoxically it can be used to further authoritarian causes as well.
I have this ‘military’ meaning in mind when I talk about networks, but I’d like to emphasise that I’m interested in more than just the mode of organization, after all cultural networks don’t exactly have to work in clandestinity at this point but can use non-hierarchical structures to openly communicate and exchange goods and information. The clandestinity comes in at another level, to avoid the searchlights of the spectacular media, or the police when it’s about organizing ‘illegal’ parties.
Interestingly some think tank literature is talking about ‘cultural subversion’ alongside their standard issues such as ‘terrorism’.
To get back to your questions more precisely – ideally of course there couldn’t be a transformation of a grassroots network into authoritarian crusade, unless there are people at work who already believe in authoritarian structures; a good example being the Leninists within the Communist movement who unfortunately got the upper hand against the anti-authoritarians in the early 1920’s and later turned to party dictatorship, labour camps and other travesties of Communism.
And size shouldn’t mean mediocrity, and a “network of everyone” should be possible, but we might have to wait for a true human community of the future…
7. “You must help yourself.” Is one of many slogans that Praxis has inserted
into ads and datacide. Why can’t you help us?
I think I do help other people as much as I can – if we look where the sample is from we’ll see that there are different layers of meaning to it. A simple meaning that says “get off your ass and do something yourself” I can subscribe to, but the actual sample is from ‘Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS’, so there is another projection, another truth to it: Spoken by someone in power it denies the collectivity of those subjected by that power. Therefore we could answer: “No, we can help each other”. And if we can’t say that then then at least we should say: “O.k., I will then” and act.
8. When you wrote “Welcome to Violence”, the confrontation with the sample is inevitable for the listener. Where do you see violence in the world? Can
music be violent?
Some people react heavily to samples like that (another example is the “Kill your parents, fuck your friends and have a nice day!” on Ambush 02), but unfortunately the conception of violence they have is that violence is when one person hits another over the head with a stick, and that these samples supposedly ‘glorify’ such behavior.
The “Welcome…” sample of course is from the beginning of Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! and could be replaced by ‘intensity’ in that context, but by taking it out of context – quite on purpose – it becomes open to interpretations, so we have to live with various reflections.
But to answer your question, besides the obvious open violence we see a lot of structural violence, like when you’re at the receiving end of an IMF ‘structural readjustment plan’ and when you’re denied food, clean water and housing. There is violence in all types of oppression as well as in all types of change.
I found an interesting quote in a 1968 book on ‘Intellectuals and Socialism’:
“Today thinking can only proceed under the sign of violence. Thinking means to change the given situation, to create the space for freedom. From this follows that thinking is the conscious application of counter-force. This violence starts with the first refusal and finishes with the removal of all forms of irrational authority. Only like this the break can be brought upon that will turn the camp into a revolutionary class.”
9. Do you have an opinion on the WTO(World Trade Organization), IMF
(International Monetary Fund) or WEF (World Economic Forum) protests
recently? Can lyric-less music promote the ideals of a protest?
It started slowly over the last few years, but since the London City riots June 18 1999, and Seattle on November 30, the international struggle against Capitalism entered a new phase. A lot of clarification has yet to happen, but I think the overall development is exciting: Internationally organized grassroots protests have managed to disrupt the flow of control-decisions by these unelected bodies, as could be seen most recently in Prague, Sept.26 2000; and a lot of people are paying attention now to the fact that big corporations are controlling more and more of the market and are becoming more powerful than whole countries, essentially redistributing world wide wealth from the masses to the few managers and profiteers.
The resistance against all this is divided though into two major streams (and many smaller ones). On the one hand there are people that are worried about “globalisation” as such, there is a resurgence of nationalism and protectionism, as well as the Zerzan-types opposing air planes for example, or neo-nazis hallucinating a international Jewish finance capital conspiracy, on the other hand there are people who understand that technological development and globalisation are not bad as such, it depends in whose hands they are. We obviously side with the latter, and think that the resistance against it has to be as global as capital.
The culture industry is a part of the capitalist economy that forms a large part of consciousness, like ‘women’s magazines’ telling women how to look like and behave, mainstream porn telling men how to look at women, brands promoting looks (from Marlboro to Gap) and behaviors and generally all of the above hijacking desires that can’t be fulfilled – only bought, often with fatal consequences to yourself or others (e.g. the producers of the goods) and the environment.
You’d think that a clever lyricist could point these things out and present them to an audience and draw attention to whatever injustices etc. but it simply doesn’t work like that anymore, by standing up there expressing themselves or preaching they will merely fulfill a function safely within the spectacle. They become product, celebrities excuses, clowns.
Lyricless music can still be different, and while it can doubtlessly be even emptier, it can also help configure a new social-space.
10. What’s next for yourself and Praxis?
We have talked relatively little about music-specifics in this interview – and I’m quite happy about that because the music is there to listen to. Thankfully in our music there are no stars, no fake celebrities. Those who pass through it to become famous soon disappear again, because the dissonance in it is not what the spectacular system wants to spread although we shouldn’t underestimate its abilities to absorb any force that agrees to collaborate.
Besides music I’m working on the next issue of the Datacide magazine and on expanding the web pages, writing and researching, musically I’m working on my own stuff, and also with Crisis Theory and other collaborations.
On Praxis there will be a bunch of new releases after the last batch that included work by Bambule, 16-17 and Nomex, the next three will be by H, Kovert and an album on double vinyl and CD by Hecate. We’re also trying to re-press some releases and keep them available longer, and distribute things better, while at the same time having most material on the web for free downloads. You choose if you need the vinyl (still the real thing, the tool) or not. Sub/Version, the label dedicated for our mutating interpretation of drum & bass just released a split of Pure and myself, and is about to come out with a 12″ by Crisis Theory (me and Rachael Kozak aka Hecate from Zhark). We’ll probably do a couple other records by the side… and whatever else we can do to visually sonically literally socially change culture in its entirety…
“It’s how you feel.”
“It’s how I feel.”
“It’s how you feeeeeeel.”
“That’s how I feeeeel.”
(2008 note by CF: This interview was conducted in 2000 and published in the California based zine Objection to Procedure. I post it here as a document to accompany an article about Praxis and the ideas behind it to be published in the next paper edition of Datacide. Other interviews or texts may be posted in the future.
I have not altered the text besides correcting a few obvious typos.
Nevertheless I want to mention a couple of issues where I was clearly too optimistic from todays point of view. One is obviously the almost enthusiastic claim that “the struggle against Capitalism has entered a new phase” with the emergence of what would be called the “anti-globalisation” movement. From the beginning I had a critical view on certain aspects of this movement, but believed that a process of “clarification” would eventually make it become a revolutionary movement in an emancipatory sense. This has not occurred.
Also there is too much talk about “corporations” and “managers” which is obscuring the fact that capital is a social relation that cannot be blamed on persons or business entities. Not that that would have been my opinion in 2000, but it’s important to me not to be misread in this, e.g. in the sense that to do away with the evils of capitalism one would only have to curb the powers of the “corporations”; obviously this would only lead to – and has historically led to – state capitalism. This is certainly no improvement.
On the side of music, more specifically regarding “lyricless” music and “breakcore”: While conscious of the fact that there were already “dj stars” and of the ability of the spectacular system to “absorb any force that agrees to collaborate”, in 2000 I seemed quite confident that “our music” would be more resistant to recuperation and more antagonistic than it turned out to be over the years.)