Pencilbreak Book Review

Please note the the end of this review was accidentally deleted in the print edition.  For the full article read below.

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Pencilbreak: A Graphicore Compilation.  Published by Belio Magazine. €25
Released in late July, 2008 Pencilbreak is the first art/design book specifically dedicated to the visual elements of breakcore. (The only other book on “breakcore” we are aware of is: Andrew Whelan, Breakcore: Identity and Interaction on Peer-to-Peer (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008)). Pencilbreak’s 216 glossy pages are filled with high quality images of flyers, cd and vinyl record cover designs, and other artworks that the editors of Belio magazine associate in one way or another with the musical “style” of breakcore.  Belio writes, “This book compiles fresh work from more than twenty international artists. All of them share a similar feeling and passion for distorted sounds and graphics. This book is meant to be a homage to Breakcore and other styles of hardcore music and corresponding attitudes.” This review does not dispute the self-evident fact that many individuals throughout the world are pleased to have to opportunity to purchase one of the first books dealing with breakcore as a visual and musical “genre,” and that the graphic artists featured and Belio magazine itself will certainly garner some amount of exposure and respect through this publication.  The purpose of this review is instead to critically interrogate the ideological precepts of art articulated in Pencilbreak.  Art/design books almost uniformly avoid questions concerning the social production of art, and rather present the false impression that “art” inhabits a separate autonomous sphere outside capitalist relations. Therefore, this review will attempt to broadly draw out in a more explicit way that as active readers we should be critically aware of how the featured artists and editors in the pages of Pencilbreak conceptualize notions of “art,” the “artist,” “creativity;” the methods of production, and what is at stake in the cultural politics of those who voice opinions that breakcore is a “subcultural” phenomenon.
Inclusion in Pencilbreak was possible through two avenues (as far as we know).  First, the Belio editors established the book myspace site http://www.myspace.com/pencilbreak_book, where interested individuals who had obviously heard about the project could submit their work for consideration in publication. Second, the Belio editors contacted specific artists and record labels asking for them to submit graphic material and in some cases complete interviews based upon questions from the editors.  This is how Praxis was included in Pencilbreak.  The process by which the Belio editors accepted and rejected (if in fact they did so) visual and written submissions is unknown.  The book publication is supported by Carhartt and distributed worldwide through Ad Noiseam.
In the opening text “Graphicore” Belio states that musical “style” of breakcore is the reason for the book, and that they wanted to document the visual analog of the musical sound.  After citing the wiki entry on breakcore in order to define the style term, it is evident that breakcore is understood to be the product of a collage of available musical styles, just as the visual culture of breakcore is a mashup of graphics associated with various style subcultures “skate style, post digital aesthetics, re-invented black metal, trash culture, terror movies, 80s, rock attitudes, videogames, tattoos,” etc. Therefore it is not surprising that the first even number pages up to page 17 are collages of “flyers, poster, design, logos, picture, visuals that friendly people submitted through our website.”  However, the critical potential of the technique of collage (photomontage) is completely absent here, and instead the viewer is submerged in a colorful array of inter-layered elements arranged for visual appeal.
The second text “The Sound of Disco[ntent]” attempts to go “further into the musical subculture” for those readers who want to be more informed about what breakcore “is”, as the assumption stated in the earlier text is that most people buying this book don’t know (much) about the music, but regardless of their knowledge, readers are instead primarily drawn to the book for the aesthetic qualities of the graphic designs.  This premise defines the entire way in which this book functions as a collection of visual aesthetics made by relatively “unknown artists,” and thus eschews a critical engagement with the social production of the art and music here associated with breakcore.  Information on the “sound” of breakcore is based on questionnaires from the “main music labels” including Ad Noiseam – Nicolas Chevreux, Praxis – Christoph Fringeli (mis-spelled throughout the text as Cristoph / Fingrelli”), Fathme Records – Jon Roche, and Cock Rock Disco – Jason Forrest, in which extremely divergent and often oppositional understandings of the music industry, “breakcore,” and the critical potential of a counter-culture (although not stated in those terms) are made to function in artificial agreement through the particular arrangement by the editors of different textual fragments. Praxis has explicitly critiqued and rejected breakcore as a subcultural style, instead attempting through various tactics with like-minded allies to collectively create and radicalize contemporary dance music and its associated (counter-) “culture.”  Nevertheless, Pencilbreak reinforces and concretizes which labels and artists are part of the “breakcore scene” through the (literal) appearance of unity and agreement, and at the same time diminishing a more critical perspective and practice in technoculture.
Another issue not addressed anywhere in Pencilbreak but nevertheless vital to any book which posits an importance to the existence of record labels can be posed here as a question: what is the efficacy of the record label as a constitutive force in the present state of musical production and consumption? In Pencilbreak the record label is described clearly in terms of its marketing potential and that it facilitates “discovery” by consumers of the newest style: ”Labels make it possible for us to discover a new genre, a new trend a new artist and of course they give the proper image to their editions by involving graphic artists as well.”  Alternative ways of conceptualizing, politicizing and operating a record label are not mentioned.  Pencilbreak then features 12 record labels and small thumb-nail pictures of each label’s latest cd and vinyl cover designs, which one might imagine would garner more page space and larger images as a key component of the visual aspect of the music. However, Pencilbreak expresses an artistic ideology that privileges the work of individual graphic “artists” rather than label designs produced anonymously, collectively, or by individuals who specifically refute the specialized role of the “artist”.
The next section of Pencilbreak dedicates 15 pages to the Wasted Festival, whose flyer designs are created by one of the featured artists Jan Rohlf. There is no explanation of why so many pages are dedicated to the self-described “summit of the breakcore community”.  Pages are filled with photo collages of members of the audience and performers alike all focusing on clearly discernable individuals heightening on one hand the effect of the star system of main performers and on the other hand a documentation of the style(s) of the audience in terms of dress, behavior and emotional viscerality at the parties.  The combination of flyers and photos are deployed to reiterate repeatedly that the Wasted Festival is “all about getting wild and crazy, it is all about fun. It is absolutely non-commercial and therefore without compromise.”
The primary fixture of Pencilbreak is about 175 pages showing the graphic designs of the featured artists: satanic mike go home, devoner, droon , dzgnbio, elzo, fighting, ian liddle, inkcore, jan rohlf, jinpow, marco microbi, neon skullz, niark1, nikibi, pastee, fff, pix-hell, plump oyster, raoul sinier, sekitani, sish tick, vida loco. Reading carefully through the commentary of the 22 featured graphic artists, it becomes clear that they fairly uniformly address a number of repeated issues or themes. In order to more critically engage with the responses of the graphic artists, here we will pose the issues as a series of questions that seem to be relavent: What is your inspiration? What are the best parties you’ve been to? How does your design relate to music? What’s your relation to the record label you work with? Where did you learn art? What words do you use to describe you style? What’s the best memory of your career? Do you make music? What do you like about breakcore? What is breakcore?
Unlike the previous sections of the book, collage is not used as a visual technique to present images, rather each piece of art of the featured artists is clearly defined through the use of boarders and segmented layout. Each “autonomous” artwork demonstrates the visual style of the graphic artist, and it is interesting to note that the selection of images for each artist are quite similar in terms of style (see for example Raoul Sinier, Jan Rohlf or Sekitani) even though particular artists produce works that are strikingly different (see for example Ian Liddle and his not-included photomontage cover art for Christoph de Babylon). The establishment of an identifiable style helps establish the name recognition of the artist.
It would be of particular interest to read in some detail how featured artists explain the specific connection between their artwork and the particular musical product.  However, few do so, and Sish-Tick comes closest to articulating an interplay between graphic design and music when he states that his art for DJ Rainbow Ejaculation (Cock Rock Disco 9) attempts to “re-transcribe what his music makes me think.  A mixture of pop cultural with a large amount of purulency. In fact, pop culture without its mask of good manners.”  The reader of Pencilbreak is left grappling with exactly how to understand the communicative potential of each graphic design of a flyer or music cover as a system of decipherable signs, and has to instead settle for general claims about “style” made by the artists like Nikibi: “My style is a kind of vintage-american-underground-comic-and-gig-poster-style with a little bit of modern stuff.”
Almost all individuals featured describe themselves as “artists” but do not communicate an awareness of the historical development of the concept. The present historical condition of “art” (including music and design) both as a concept and as a material good appears to operate as a separate designation outside of other forms of human labor. At the same time art holds claims to be the sole expression of “freedom” and “creativity.”  In Pencilbreak the artists repeatedly locate their creativity in the reuse and editing of pre-existing images they associate with various subcultures or styles. Jinpow is somewhat of an exception in his use of trash to make rubbish props that inhabit warehouses used as party locations.
The conception of the artist-as-creator is maintained throughout the book as few artists actually speak on the nature of artistic production.  Droon, amongst a few others, mention their use of design programs like Illustrator, Photoshop, Corel Painter, while other artists like Ian Liddle produce through more traditional means such as drawing but give no details as to how each design is produced.  Discussing in detail the actual mechanics of production would diminish the myth of the artistic genius transmitting creativity easily to a final product through minimal labor.  However, art is always “manufacture” as Mayakovsky describes in “How are Verses Made?”  Furthermore, the reader gets almost no impression of the process of collaborative creation except for the final product (see flyers made by Elzo with Dav Guedin and Craoman).  Some tantalizing clues are shown in the work of Fighting: continuous picture stills (on page 109) of their collaborative painting on what appears to be a gallery wall.
In the last page of the book Belio magazine states their aim “to support the new and innovative expressions from young artists. We are waiting to hear form new artists in any field, to join us! And keep creating our ‘kulture’” Belio Magazine will no doubt continue to put out more art/design books on different topics in the future enjoyed by a wide ranging reading audience.  Here the re-production of sub-cultural phenomenon aptly articulates the ideology of art in capitalist society. While clearly operating within the “totality” of the present economic and social conditions, the deployment of cultural critique and further development of counter-cultural tactics are increasingly necessary in association with experimental music and politics.
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