Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Otto Dix

Otto Dix (1891-1969) was a German painter and print-maker, considered to be one of the most important artists of the Reich's post-World War I Neue Sachlichkeit period. Along with his contemporaries in the anti-art and Dadaist movements, I see Dix's work as being a crucial influence on the graphic artists involved with punk and hardcore from the late '70s onwards. You can see his influence all over the graphics of bands and labels associated with the anarcho-punk scene: from Crass, Subhumans, Conflict, Discharge and Amebix to the crust and d-beat bands of today.  

I'm certainly no expert on Dix, but I don't think the motivation for his controversial art (that would later be labelled as "degenerate" by the Nazis) came from the same place as the Dadaists, who were outspoken pacifists and affiliated with the radical left. After all, at the outbreak of WWI he immediately volunteered for service, seeing action as an NCO of a machine-gun unit from 1915 until the end of the war in 1918. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that where the Dadaists had a definite leftist agenda, Dix's work sprung from his ability to clinically and objectively observe his experiences (both in combat and post-war Weimar Germany), and a need to record and find meaning in what he saw. To paraphrase a famous quote of his:

All art is exorcism. Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time.

And as to his stance on war and pacifism, he is quoted as saying:

I had to experience how someone beside me suddenly falls over and is dead and the bullet has hit him squarely. I had to experience that quite directly. I wanted it. I'm therefore not a pacifist at all - or am I?

And what experiences he had. He bore witness to the horrors and atrocities of prolonged combat in some of WWI's most infamous hellholes, most notably the Western front battles of the Somme and Flanders (the end of the war saw him injured and awarded the Iron Cross). His post-war observations are no less confronting, juxtaposing the hedonistic cultural excesses of the 1920's with heartbreaking images of the war's aftermath and the struggling underclass left in its wake. Broken, mutilated and discarded men - used up by the state and cast aside. The prostitutes that these men relied on for companionship and sex - also to be abused and thrown away.

It's hard to imagine the scale of a war that can take the lives of 17 million people in a mere four year period, but Dix's paintings and prints offer us a sobering view into the realities of that nightmarish hell. Sadly, his work is just as relevant now as it was then, an enduring reminder of the terrible exploitation and waste of life wrought by human conflict.

I can remember as a kid thinking that I'd dodged a bullet by being born in the late '60s. The way I saw it, with WWII, Korea and Vietnam behind us, I seemed to have been born into an era of prosperity and peace (I was too young obviously to understand the concept of the Cold War that still raged). I can vividly remember as a 13-year-old in '81 reading the lyrics to "Paid Vacation" by the Circle Jerks and thinking "now way, that will never happen":

It's not Vietnam,
just another oil company scam.
Salute that flag of Uncle Sam.
Get your money out, place your bets...
it's Afghanistan!

Little did I know how prophetic those words would be, and now of course I can see how utterly naive I was. In times of peace there is always war looming on the horizon. Perhaps the work of Otto Dix will one day be seen as part of a pre-written epitaph for our species, doomed to extinction by our insatiable hunger for profit, resources, territory and religious dominance. For now his art can provide an alternative and an antidote to the ever present jingoism that seems to have become so entrenched in our media and entertainment.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Fucking Summer, Right?

Going by the Australian system of calendar-based reckoning, tomorrow marks the exact middle of winter here. It's cold, I'm huddled next to my crappy little oil heater and my ears are still ringing from Jucifer's insanely loud set in Newtown last night. The notorious husband-and-wife duo were every bit as mesmerising and powerful as their reputation suggests, and as usual San Francisco's Black Cobra didn't disappoint either.

My ears are still full of Gazelle Amber Valentine's distortion, but the music I can't get out of my head today is this perfect new track from Decades/Failures, "Fucking Summer, Right". It sounds like the anthem to some lost David Lynch road movie, and it's full of the lazy dreaminess of a hot summer's day after a few beers in the sun. I want to be there right now.

Monday, 13 July 2015


I've had serious doubts about the upcoming Evil Dead TV show, but yesterday's trailer has turned my scepticism on its head. It really looks like Raimi, Tapert and Campbell may have nailed it. All the pieces seem to be there: the atmosphere; the humour; the makeup and creature fx; the gore; the manic energy; Raimi's Dutch angles and camera acrobatics. And most importantly, Campbell looks to be in fine form and enjoying his return to the role.

Although it's grown on me over the years and I'm pretty fond of it now, I've never been that much of a fan of Army of Darkness. It wasn't what I wanted from Evil Dead III, and when I first saw it in '92 I actually hated it. Evil Dead II's outrageous humour was still there, but where was the gore and occult horror? It kind of felt like a betrayal and a kick in the teeth.

This trailer looks like the movie that I wanted to see in '92. We'll know for sure if Ash is really back on Halloween when Ash vs Evil Dead has its premiere. On a side note, I just realised that six years into this blog, this is the first time I've ever mentioned The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, two of my all time faves! What the fuck?!

Sunday, 12 July 2015


Pusrad don't play the raw, blown out noise that the cool crusty kids love. Neither do they play the faux vintage USHC that the cool HxC kids are moshing to. They don't play powerviolence or grind. They don't play neo-goth/new wave/post punk. 

In other words, these two weirdos from Sweden couldn't care less about the trends that are dominating the DIY punk™ landscape in 2015. Since their mutated birth in 2011 Pusrad's only mission is to pump out ultra-fast, short, tight, clean-sounding thrash jams. An endless avalanche of manic stop/starts and fist pumping riffs that are never given the time to overstay their welcome. It's music that sounds like it was made by an anal-retentive, paranoid robot on meth. It rules.

Their sweetest offering to date is still the 31 Premature Ejaculations tape, which compiles the 19 track Dömd 12'' with the Akta Dig and Smarttrams 7''s (all released in 2012). You get 31 spurts of lightning-speed insanity that wisely climaxes with the best material on the tape, Smarttrams (which features their sickest ever guitar tone and riffs that are as catchy as Herpes). The only problem with Ejaculations is that Dömd's surprise melodic track, "Errare humanum est", only lasts 35 seconds. The song is sheer musical perfection, and it's a crime that it was never expanded to a couple of minutes long. But as the title of the tape suggests, Pusrad never fully satisfy, they just leave you wanting more.

The onslaught of rippage continues with 2013's Modern Anatomi E.P. (on which they slow down and break the one minute barrier(!) for another melodic beauty, "Maskineri") and last year's Erarre Humanum Est 12". The latter 24 track scorcher finds the boys applying the brakes with a consistently slower tempo and more melodic approach. The minute barrier gets blown out twice on this one, and as good as Pusrad are at supersonic speeds, the 1:06 "Mönstermedborgare" proves they're at their very best when they slow it down and concentrate on the riffs.

Beyond satisfying the urge to play the music that they want, these old punks don't seem to care much. They don't play live. They can't be bothered to print shirts (and I'm sure they're sick of me asking). On their latest release, simply titled 2015, they seem to have given up on trivial things like cover art, lyrics and song titles.

You might not like Pusrad, but they probably couldn't give a fuck.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Mid-year autopsy

An examination of the year so far reveals mostly healthy tissue, with only a few signs of necrosis (Jurassic World was found to be tumorous, biopsy results showing signs of malignancy).

Here's my 13 picks for best of the year so far:

Yann Demange's first feature is a tense, immersive and claustrophobic thriller that strikes a successful balance between white-knuckle action and serious political commentary. Set in Belfast during the most violent period of Northern Ireland's Troubles, '71 manages to largely avoid bias in its depiction of a conflict that many filmmakers still wouldn't dare to touch.

He's known as the writer of the uniformly excellent 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go and Dredd. Now, with his directorial debut (if you don't count his uncredited, allegedly extensive work on Dredd), Alex Garland has firmly established himself as the current master of intelligent, ultra-cool, visually cutting-edge sci-fi. Ex Machina is thought provoking, scary, gorgeous and adult. Garland is the sci-fi auteur to watch.

Gerard Johnstone's Housebound (another impressive first-timer) is a near perfect horror comedy. Like Jackson, Raimi and Edgar Wright before him, Johnstone understands the elements that make the genre work: compelling characters with satisfying arcs, and the importance of genuinely horrific atmosphere and scares.

A delirious slice of violent, kitschy, pop nonsense that's just too much fun to write off. Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman is a reminder of the days when James Bond wasn't so dour, and is proof that 2010's Kick-Ass was no fluke. Vaughn simply knows how to translate the adolescent wish fulfilment of Mark Millar's comics into sheer cinematic entertainment.

George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterpiece of unhinged cinematic mayhem and unfettered artistic imagination. Amidst an endless parade of disastrous franchise revivals that rely on vacuous nostalgia to sell tickets (the latest being the critically reviled Terminator: Genisys), Miller has shown that not only can you revive a decades old series, you can blow all previous entries out of the water. In terms of its design and visuals, Miller's insane post-apocalyptic vision is a game-changer and a shoo-in for best looking movie of the year. The practical action is bonkers, the characters well developed, and to top it off Fury Road is a hugely budgeted mainstream action blockbuster that passes the Bechdel test with flying colours.

The second outstanding horror comedy to come out of New Zealand this year (sorry Deathgasm, A for effort though). Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's film succeeds because of the love and respect that it shows for vampire lore. From Stoker and Murnau to Browning and beyond, these guys know their vampires (or did their research anyway), and it shows. What We Do in the Shadows is hilarious, but it also has plenty of heart. It's sweet, romantic and just a little bit sad. Along with Jim Jarmusch's brilliant Only Lovers Left Alive, this vampire comedy proves that there's still life in the old bloodsuckers yet.

Sunday, 28 June 2015


Deep space, late 23rd Century:

For the sake of his bloated vanity, the ship's captain has just thrown away the lives of his entire crew (and a brand new Constitution Class Heavy Cruiser) in a military engagement so futile it made the Kobayashi Maru look winnable. His captain and fellow crewmen all dead, the sole survivor of this appalling catastrophe is a plucky young Starfleet ensign, fresh out of the Academy. He is adrift amongst the blasted wreckage of the ship, surrounded by the frozen, mangled corpses of the friends and comrades who served alongside him. Ice crystals glitter on their frigid, spilled entrails. Their torn, burnt faces will forever wear the screams and prayers of their anguished final moments. Glistening maroon sculptures of hardened boiled blood jut from gaping wounds, erupting from torsos that have violently burst open under explosive decompression.

The shit-stink in his nostrils is a constant reminder that he's fouled his EV suit. Distant echoing voices that aren't really there and a sudden migraine like an ice-knife into his brain make him painfully aware that the suit's oxygen supply is about to run out. His vision fails, he gasps convulsively for the last stale fumes of air.

No Academy simulation could prepare anyone for this reality, let alone a naive, youthful junior officer. Overwhelmed by the hopelessness of his situation and the combat horrors before him, he begins to weep. Uncontrollably. Sobbing for the light-year-distant family who he knows he will never see again.

Now, out of nowhere, a familiar and sickening feeling. The nauseating, excruciating pain of molecules slowly ripping apart. Starting like pins and needles in the bone marrow and building to a nerve shattering agony that consumes his entire body. Our valiant young ensign is being beamed aboard a nearby starship.


Hope evaporates as a Klingon transporter bay materialises before his eyes. He's been beamed aboard the very Bird-of-Prey that just obliterated his ship. The ensign takes in his dank surroundings: the deck is coated in an unidentifiable congealed paste; a pile of corpses lies against a bulkhead, the mutilated bodies of Orion slave girls who have been discarded there after being used up and murdered for the crew's pleasure. Directly in front of him the hatch of a filthy Head hangs open, a paunchy Klingon perched on the spiky, black toilet within. He wipes the shit from his ass with living Tribbles. They squirm and mewl pathetically as he tosses them into a wall-mounted incinerator.

The Klingon warrior finishes and rises to his full seven foot height. Grinning toothily, he walks over to an oil slicked contraption that looks like a miniature iron lung crossed with a studded S&M sex toy. Slowly, deliberately, he wheels the machine over to face the young human. After adjusting a few controls, it purrs and shudders to life, suddenly sprouting a multitude of evil-looking, gleaming instruments.

As the torture machine rips the helmet from his head, the Klingon's deep, wicked chortle fills his ears.

The ensign's terrified face is illuminated in a grid of green laser lines, the machine scanning the contours of his handsome features. The scan complete, the machine whirs into motion, a long, scimitar shaped scalpel abruptly springing forward. It neatly bisects the ensign from forehead to chin, then efficiently and precisely flays the skin from his face. It's done so quickly that our young hero registers only frozen shock on his new meat-face. It's only when the blood and lymph fluid bead to the surface of the raw, exposed muscle that the first screams come. The scalpel smoothly retracts and is instantly replaced by a long, thick-bored needle that noisily liposuctions the flesh and fatty tissue from his skull, its tip scraping and scratching at the cranium beneath. Next comes a segmented, chromed hose, snaking carefully into position in front of the hole where seconds before the young man had a nose. It sprays a fine mist of fluid onto his cleaned skull-front. Instantly, the bone begins to dissolve in a bubbling, fizzing, steamy mess.

As he starts to die, the ensign remembers that among its many life-support features the EV suit comes with a built-in music player. Using the controls on the back of his glove, he punches in the commands by feel. The sounds of classical early 21st Century powerviolence blast from his neck mounted speakers. It's Dallas, Texas' PAVEL CHEKOV. His favourite. The track is their ripping cover of INFEST's "Sick Machine". He feels alright. Soothed. If he still had lips, they would curl into a wry smile at the thought that this music is totally melting his face while his face is being literally melted. Even though the young ensign knows that the frantic shrieks he can hear in the background are his own, it doesn't matter anymore. It's OK, because the music makes him feel like everything in the cosmos is just as it should be...