Wednesday, July 24, 2013

industrial thinkpiece / front 242 interview / consolidated interview

published as Disturbing Sounds to Unruffle the New Age

New York TimesFebruary 24, 1991

by Simon Reynolds

    "Tyranny For You", the new album by Front 242, sounds like business as usual for the Belgian electro outfit. It features their usual trademark features: juddering, girder-like beats, seismic sequencer pulses, bombastic synthesiser flourishes, and domineering, chanted vocals. These days Front 242 aren't so fond of the samples that used to punctuate their techno-mantras (snatches of political oratory, televangelist preaching, or trash movie dialogue). But their aura is still overbearing and ominous.

    There's one crucial difference about "Tyranny For You", though: it's Front 242's first release for a major label. After nearly a decade of 'covert operations' in the independent sector, Front 242 have signed to Epic Records and are making a bid for a mass audience. Where once they likened themselves to a terrorist unit, now they talk of how "terrorism aspires to tyranny".

    Nobody can agree on what to call the kind of music that Front 242 play: "industrial disco", "dancecore", "Electronic body music", are just some of the names that practioners disown more frequently than pledge affiliation. But after ten years as the soundtrack for a burgeoning cult scene, this sound may be on the verge of going overground. The recent grim turn in world events could even help it on its way, as clubgoers react against the New Age "positivity" of current dance music and turn to something more in tune with the chaos of the age. For industrial disco is danceable but it isn't funky, and it doesn't correspond to most people's idea of "fun". If disco is escapist, industrial disco is "no escape"-ist. Drawing on media images of conflict and calamity, it doesn't so much document as amplify the tension and chaos of the outside world.
The international network of producers and consumers of this music stretches from Yugoslavia to Belgium to Britain to Canada and the USA. But the market is dominated by a triumvirate of record companies. First and foremost is Chicago's Wax Trax label, whose output includes records by Revolting Cocks, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, KMFDM and Front Line Assembly, to name but a few. Wax Trax's public image has come to be defined by the notorious figure of Al Jourgensen, who at 31 has been dubbed "the world's best-paid juvenile delinquent". Jourgensen is the debauched mainstay of both Revolting Cocks and the more overground  Ministry, whose commercially sucessful releases via Sire Records help fund Wax Trax's more left-field projects. Then there's Belgium's Play It Again, Sam label, who have pioneered 'Euro Body Music' with groups like Front 242, a;Grumh, Borghesia, and The Young Gods. Finally there's the Vancouver-based Nettwerk, whose roster includes Skinny Puppy, Severed Heads, Consolidated, and SPK. The three labels are loosely allied, often licensing each others records in their own territory, while members of their groups frequently collaborate on sideline or "supergroup" projects.

     Industrial disco's musical "roots" (the term seems inappropriate for music so inorganic and assembled) lie in the Eurodisco sound invented in the late Seventies by producer Giorgio Moroder and popularised with tracks like Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". Moroder's aim was to create a pulse-based dance music that would be easier for white people to shake their stuff to than funk's tricksy syncopation. Another critical influence is the early Eighties German group D.A.F., who replaced the flash and dazzle of symphonic disco with a precise and rigorous grid of synth pulses. D.A.F.'s version of dance was less about flamboyant self-expression and more about "absolute body control" (as one of their songs put it).

    The "industrial" side to the genre originates in a term adopted by one  of the factions that emerged in the aftermath of punk. Industrial groups like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle beleived that punk was about disturbing the individual listener, rather than rallying youth in raucous solidarity behind political slogans. Challenging the listener involved tampering with traditional musical structures, experimenting with new technology, and exploring subject matter that undermined comforting truths rather than shored up a consensus. These groups combined traditional avant-garde techniques (tape loops, found sounds, electronics) with the new spatial possibilites opened up by disco and dub reggae (using the studio as an instrument). The industrial aesthetic also drew on influences outside music, in particular the apocalyptic visions of cult writers like William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard.  From Burroughs, they derived an obsession with "control" (a paranoid belief in the existence of networks of surveillance and mind-manipulation) and the technique of "cut-up" (the use of quotes and soundbites from the media).  From J.G. Ballard, they drew an interest in aberrant sexuality and a fascination with horror.

    Industrial disco groups still work in this interface between pornography and pathology. For some, it's purely a question of voyeuristic kicks (Revolting Cocks). Others have more honourable motivations: Skinny Puppy rub our noses in the horror of vivisection in order to enlighten us and arouse our compassion. But most groups on the scene tend to have a morbid fascination with extremist thought and behaviour: the arcane rituals and "discredited knowledges" of occult groups, the warped notions of conspiracy theorists, vigilantes, and psychopaths.

    Industrial disco is generally fascinated with the extremes of human experience, and in particular with the extremes of male psychology: the outlaw, the survivalist, the terrorist, the serial killer, the dictatator, the technocrat. Industrial disco's aura is supremely masculine. The key adjective is "hard", as in hard beats, hard living, hardcore. London's major club for this kind of music is simply called Hard Club. Dance is less a funtime release, more like an endurance test. Standard disco phrases like "work that body" are taken literally. The pumping-iron rhythms and unflagging repetition evoke a mood of aerobic triumphalism: like working out or marathon running, this is an aim-less strength that exists only to flex itself. Promo videos for industrial tracks often incorporate images of glistening, tensed musculature inspired by the heroic realism of totalitarian art.

     A key influence here is the rhetoric of the Italian Futurists and Soviet Constructivists, with their faith in technology, their formal brutalism, and their suspicion of the "feminising" aspects of civilisation. Industrial disco particularly resembles Futurism in its worship of speed: not the illicit drug but the tempo of the 20th Century as it hurtles towards the apocalypse. (Wax Trax group Lead Into Gold wittily summed up the aesthetic with the title of their recent LP "Chicks, Speed and Futurism"). And like the original Futurists, the industrial disco groups have an ambiguous relationship with totalitarianism. For some, the flirtation is artistic rather than ideological (the sub-Wagnerian monumentalism of In The Nursery). Others make more explicit allusions. The German group KMFDM talk of their dream of a 'positive fascism' - an army of youth marching in one direction for peace and love, and working to build a society in which images of violence are banned. Or there's Front 242, who propound a survivalist philosophy that has been called 'micro-fascism' (organising your own mind and body like a police state).         

 Even if you can't endure the music, industrial disco is fascinating because it displays the full gamut of male psychology -  from the sociopathic 'rebel without a cause' to the fanatic's will-to-power and paranoid worldview. Like rap, industrial disco can function as a glimpse into the hellish void at the centre of the male ego. It provides a hyperbolic expression of two opposed masculine impulses. On the one hand, there's the outlaw who revolts against God and whose rampages range from rampant egoism to feats of self-destruction. Al Jourgensen is the best exemplar of this breed of barbarian.

    The other tendency involves the will-to-order in the face of chaos. The best representative of this approach is a San Fransisco group called Consolidated, who have been described as a "white Public Enemy". Their brilliant album "The Myth Of Rock" savages the notion of rock rebellion, which they diagnose as a symptom of arrested development. Consolidated dismiss rock as a regressive cul-de-sac whose main effect is to keep people from changing the world. The group are painfully aware of the reactionary aspects of the scene from which they've emerged (they talk disparagingly of "white aerobic supremacism"). Although their music shares much of the brutal exhiliration and galvanising rigour of the industrial genre, Consolidated claim they're inspired by a different, matriarchal model of strength. In that sense, they've done everyone a big favour: excising the unsavoury aspects of industrial while preserving the form, they've brought the genre over to the side of the angels.


REVOLTING COCKS: 'Beers, Steers & Queers' (Wax Trax, 12 inch single)
Title track of their recent, coruscatingly offensive album.
CONSOLIDATED: 'Dysfunctional Relationship' (Nettwerk, 12 inch single)
A poppier track from "The Myth Of Rock" LP, which fuses industrial and hip hop to formidable effect.
SKINNY PUPPY: 'Too Dark Park' (Nettwerk LP)
Skinny Puppy's palatte of glutinous synth-tones and armoury of gruelling beats at their claustrophobic best.
1000 HOMO DJ'S: 'Supernaut' (Wax Trax 12 inch single)
Another Jourgensen off-shoot: this forthcoming, revved-up cover of the Black Sabbath classic is a guitar-driven blitzkrieg suggestive of a 21st Century Stooges.

FRONT 242 
published as 'The Grating Dictators'
Melody Maker, January 19th 1991

by Simon Reynolds

"Determination, persistence, assimilation, infiltration" has long been Front 242's slogan. Its logic has taken them, after almost a decade of covert operations in the indie sector, to a new combat zone: the mainstram, via a deal with Epic in the USA. Framed, fittingly, by the sleek, futurist interior of New York's remarkable Royalton Hotel, the "boys" from Front talk with typical impassivity about their promotion to the big league. 

"We told Epic we're gonna use them, infiltrate them like a terrorist unit," says Daniel, Front's sampling technician. "They're awore of it, they want us to use them in that way. It's not a relationship based on mutual hypocrisy. And we know how they will use us, because they told us."

What does it mead to talk of "terrorism" in this contex? This is pop music, after all.

"It's both a metaphor and a technique. Terrorism is very close to publicity in its techniques, it's just a little less subtle. In publicity, you don't shock people. You don't cut a throat on TV and then say, 'Buy a Band Aid'."

"But terrorism is no longer at the forefront of our music right now," adds Patrique (another sampling boffin). "Our music is now closer to human values. There's a new maturity. The new keyword for us now is tyranny, not terrorism. The original meaning of tyranny was not evil: a tyrant was someone who was elevated and approved by the people. And tyranny is how we approach things now; we still work to spread out music and impose it everywhere, but we have the support of a big audience. It's a benign dictatorship."

Daniel: "There's a direct link, terrorism flows into tyranny, tyranny is what terrorism aspires to."
Vocalist Richard picks up the thematic baton: "We feel that the mood of the people is changing. We don't have to change, in order to expand. Just be more subtle, conceal a few things. It's still what we call a 'no concession' album. What we're doing now is visiting the nine US branches of Epic in order to teach the people at every level - design, press offices, publicity - the strategy for selling Front over here."

If Front 242 are using Epic, how are Epic going to be using Front? I'd heard that they saw you guys as the next Depeche Mode...

"We've had Americans come up to us, saying, 'We love Depeche Mode, but we love you too, because you are the strong edge of electronic music that Depeche Mode draw on'."

Patrique: "I think America is just ready for electronic music. And Epic might have guessed that through watching the rise of Depeche Mode. But apart from that there's no point of comparison between Front and Depeche."

There does seem to be a huge, potential catchment area in the US for you, that was catalysed by Depeche: suburbanites and small town "new romantics" who are fascinated by the idea of Europe.

Daniel: "In a sense, Front 242 are the real thing for these people, in that we have a cultural heritage, and that makes us more authentically grounded than some band from Utah trying to mimic the Eurobeat sound. When I say heritage, I don't just mean electro-pop innovators like Kraftwerk or DAF, I mean something that encompasses philosophy, classical music art, architecture, history. Front 242 draws on Wagner, Shostakovich, the Italian futurists, Rossolo, Graphism, so many European artistic initiatives. Before, it used to be Constructivism that was the big influence. Now we're a little less strict."

Certainly, the new album, "Tyranny For You", reveals a romanticism that few would have expected from Front 242.

Richard: "Previously, we were more media orientated. Our material was taken from the TV and radio. Now we're more influenced by our environment, and the feelings that arouses."

Daniel: "If you look at recent history - and ignore the recent Iraq episode - you can see that the world has calmed down, there's been a return to real values. There's been a lot of recycling - both of materials and values. We felt that technology had to brak somewhere, and look at itself in the mirror. So we've tried to inject a few more human feelings in the music, which means going back to ancient feelings - like tragedy or tyranny. Our way of working is the same, it's just that the electricity is different. It's 'nombrilique' record. Navel-contemplating."

Front 242 music is also very white: although it's dance music, there's scarcely an ounce of funk in it.

"We feel that there's such a strong barrage of black rhythm in pop music, and, yes, it's great, but it's not what we're about," says Patrique. "We can enjoy black records, but we cannot feel black rhythm. We could copy it, but it would be inauthentic. We're probably stiffer in our way of doing dance, but we're more probably more authentic. When I look at myself in the mirror and listen to Front 242, I feel something closer to myself that if I watch a rap group on MTV."

To get back to the concept of tyranny: I always thought that the Front 242 idea of masterhit was about the exhilaration of self-mastery (Nietzche's idea of self-overcoming). Is your tyranny more about ruling your own body and soul like a police state, than dominating other people?

Richard: "In our case, tyranny is not political, it's artistic. It's not the dark side of tyranny, where we're compelling them to do things. We just want the audience's undivided awe."

The sound, the image, the aesthetic of Front 242 is very male...

Patrique: "We are male, yes. We are not afraid of that fact. That masculinity is strong, because we are talking about art here. If we were talking about love, then you'd see more of our female side. It's art, and art calls forth your instincts. We are male, but not macho. Take Wagner, it's a very masculine form of expression. But it doesn't have any bad connotations for me."

On the whole, Front 242 is about the grand passion and extreme intensities that are dislocated from the hum-drum plateaux of medium-level existence - upon which most of humanity dwells most of the time. Do you despise the everyday, the domestic?

Daniel: "We prefer the eternal emotions, and avoid the topical. With the new album, there are no samples of contemporary political figures like Gadaffi or the televangelists on 'Welcome To Paradise'."

Front 242 view human existence as a kind of perpetual war: globally (peace as war pursued by other means), socially (capitalism's war of all againt all), even within the microcosm of the individual soul (the war between dries and aspirations). A war in which there is no right or wrong, just "strong" and "weak" forces.

"In each human there is the fundamental fight," they say. "Every day of your life, you are at war with yourself. It's a constant struggle."

  Melody Maker, July 13th 1991
by  simon Reynolds

Consolidated are the new militants of American rock. Their debut album, The Myth Of Rock, agitated against rock’s regressive impotence, its spurious rebellion and disengagement from the world, over an incendiary samplescape that combined industrial beats with a Hank Shocklee-style ‘wall of noise’. Their new album, Friendly Fascism, brings them even closer to their dream of being a "white, Marxist Public Enemy". I asked Adam Sherbourne, Philip Steir and Mark Pistel of Consolidated whey they’ve chosen to be agit-pop militants in an age where white rock never been more apolitical?

"In a sense, we’re a huge anachronism, and a comedy troupe. Being that serious is an enormous folly when you’re involved in such a degraded and diminished arena as rock ‘n’ roll. Just being in a band today requires a sense of humour and a sense of tragedy. We’re stuck in a medium that is trammeled by huge restrictions and limitations. We’ve tried political activism before, but for better or worse, our collective statement is through music. Among other things, our collective statement is that rock’s gestures at transgression or transcendence inevitably end up commodified."

But the same applies to agit-pop, which is arguably even more defunct and contradiction-riddled than all the other sub-genres of rock.

"Well, we’re the last people diving off the dock and missing the last boat. People say it’s been proved that pop and politics don’t mix, that political effectiveness just gets lost in the entertainment context. But politics gets lost and destroyed within ‘politics’ too. What people call politics has nothing to do with political change, it’s all about insider trading, chicanery, wheeler-dealing."

The field they’ve chosen to operate in ("dancecore" or "industrial disco") does not seem the most appropriate arena for a consciousness-raising initiative. Its two extremes seem to be crypto-fascist discipline (Front 242) and outlaw delinquency (Rev Co).

"With Friendly Fascism, we’ve distanced ourselves from that context. We’re fully aware, after a year of touring on that scene, of the crypto-fascist nature of that music. It’s just white aerobic supremacism preying on the twisted fears of male youth. We’ve redefined ourselves as ‘bureaucratic entertainment specialists’. We’ve already made the transition of being lesbian nuns playing coffee shop protest songs on wooden guitars!"

On The Myth Of Rock, you diss everything that you despise with the put-down, "Man, that shit is WEAK".

"Our idea of strength has no connection with constructivism or the heroic imagery of totalitarian art. In our value system, what’s weak is penis-oriented ego tantrums, the arrested development syndrome that is rock rebellion. Our idea of strength is modeled on matriarchal values — pride, resilience, determination, compassion."

You say capitalism has failed, which is true in the sense that it’s failed to deliver on its promises. Yet it’s a long-running failure!

"Of course, capitalism remains a huge success. What we really wanted to do with that song was make a counter-blow against all the propaganda that the Eastern Block revolutions are a proof of capitalism’s righteousness and inevitability. We wanted to make the point that the Eastern Block peoples were rejecting state tyranny, not voting for capitalism. Capitalism is definitely the biggest revolution ever, but we don’t see why people should have to tolerate that revolution, put up with homelessness, racial conflict, dehumanised labour, eco-cide and blood for oil."
Does ‘beauty’ fit into the Consolidated world view, or do you see music’s value as purely instrumental (a vehicle for agit-pop)?

"On the contrary, we aim to show that rock is not instrumental in promoting social change. Our argument is that we need to change the social conditions in which music is produced and consumed, before music can change anything. Our project is to abandon the failing tradition of agit-pop and invent our own failing tradition. Our message is simply that people should spend less time listening to music and more time changing the world."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Against Health and Efficiency
Monitor, issue 5, January 1986

by Simon Reynolds

Friday, July 5, 2013

Spring Breakers

Sight & Sound, May 2013

by Simon Reynolds

An American tradition that dates back to shortly after World War 2,  Spring Break today involves hordes of college students descending on Florida beach towns for week-long bacchanals of binge drinking and bare flesh.  Taking place in the gap between the second and third terms of the academic year, Spring Break is essentially an amplified version of what goes on every weekend at frat houses across America, especially at those “party schools” where higher learning is not necessarily a priority for the students. The only difference is the duration of the debauch, and the fact that the revelers wear bikinis and thongs and trunks.

 “Break” echoes the idea of break time in the school day, when the children dash out of the classroom and play free. Confusingly Americans use the word “school” where the British refer to university.  But that does effectively capture the way that college, for most American middle class kids, is merely an extension of high school – marginally more autonomous, but still a time of grafting for grades and extra credit, all of which are entered into a ledger whose final tally determines what kind of career you’ll have.

The first scenes in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers had me flashing on Chuck Berry’s single “School Days”. This 1957 rock’n’roll classic juxtaposes the dragging time of the classroom with the ecstatic release of the jukebox joint:  “Soon as three o'clock rolls around/You finally lay your burden down... All day long you been wanting to dance”.   In the lecture hall, a professor drones earnestly on about Jim Crow laws and the black struggle for civil rights.  Bored and restless, two female students--Brit and Candy, played by Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens—amuse themselves by drawing an erection plus the slogan “I Love Penis” on a sheet of paper and miming fellatio.

The salacious duo and their marginally less wicked friend Cotty (Rachel Korine) are desperate to escape the college grind and get away to Spring Break.  So is their new friend Faith (Selena Gomez), a virginal, goody-two-shoes type who’s in a Christian youth group (“are you jacked up on Jesus?” asks the pastor) but who’s being seduced off the path of righteousness by the charismatic Candy and Brit.  Only hitch is that, after pooling all their cash, the four girls discover they don’t have nearly enough to get to Florida.

Desire confronts a limit. But in the first sign that Spring Breakers is set to ascend through stages of implausibility into sheer fantasy, desire wills itself through.  The girls blindly grope their way past the impasse, almost seeming to stumble on the solution: crime. The script, here and at other critical moments, has an incantatory quality, phrases repeat and accumulate, like a magic spell.  .  Bitching about their plight (“so tired of seeing the same things every single day....”)  the girls seemingly hypnotize  themselves into a volitional state (“I’m not going to sit in the same classroom.. .  we’ve been stuck here...  we’re getting out of here”). Stealing their poor old professor’s car, Britt and Candy and Cotty rob a fast food diner and its working class customers.  Given their slight physiques and girlish voices, pulling this stunt off requires whipping themselves into a thuggish frenzy. “We can do this...  just fucking pretend like it’s a videogame ... act like you’re in a movie or something.”  The girls need to believe their own make-believe. To make it to Spring Break, they break the law but also break with Reality.

Because I’ve more in common with the professor than with these tearaways, watching Spring Breakers I immediately thought of the Situationists: their slogan “take your desires for reality,”  the pamphlet diatribe On the Poverty of Student Life,  the notion of “the politics of boredom”. Above all, I thought of that widely daubed graffiti of Paris 1968:  “under the pavement lies the beach”.  “Pavement” (flat functional surfaces guiding the citizen-consumer to  the workplace or to the shops) representing  mundanity, business as usual, “the poverty of everyday life”.  “Beach”   (a sandy, sunkissed playpen for kids and adults  temporarily reverting to childhood) representing the utopia of  life as permanent vacation. Paradise regained.

I’m afraid I also thought of Bakhtin: the notion of the carnival, which has been defined as “an event in which all rules, inhibitions, restrictions and regulations which determine  the course of everyday life are suspended”. A Medieval ritual in which the world is turned upside down in a potlatch of pleasure, profanity and insubordination. 

As it happens, “carnival” is a word that has new currency in American pop culture through the massive success of Electric Daisy Carnival, the brand-leader of the new breed of  festivals for EDM (electronic dance music). These massive weekend-long dance parties combine the drugginess of Nineties raves with the non-hipster appeal of Spring Break. But they also weave in aspects of fancy dress and fantasia derived from  Mardi Gras and Cirque Du Soleil.  The clothing worn by devotees of Electric Daisy Carnival and similar festivals mixes super-sexed-up (many of the girl-ravers are clad in lingerie, are barely more dressed than the female cast of Spring Breakers) with kitschy-surreal accoutrements like fairy wings.

Spring Breakers latches onto the EDM boom with its soundtrack, partly the work of Skrillex, whose audio-visual spectaculars have made him king of the new dance festival circuit in America. His tracks deftly merge dubstep’s blaring bass-blasts with the hands-in-the-air builds and climaxes of trance. But the overall effect betrays his past in the emo-punk band First To Last: an electronic, digital-maximalist update of the moshing catharsis offered by arena rock styles like nu-metal. EDM buzz phrases like “rage hard” and the popular acronym-slogan YOLO ( “you only live once”) express a spirit of embattled hedonism and lets-get-wrecked recklessness.  My own term for this carpe diem attitude is NOW!-ism. It has a formal corollary in the music and the videos, which offer a barrage of sensational effects and non-sequential intensities: pop videos involving costume changes and location shifts every five seconds, sampled phrases or rapped lyrics that freeze-frame moments of  triumph, glory, excess, disdain,  euphoria.    

Even more than its EDM tie-in, Spring Breakers  references the mainstream radio sounds of dance pop and gangsta rap.  There are several overt nods to Britney Spears, including the deliberate echo of Brit’s name and a scene where the girls sing Spears’s breakthrough smash “... Baby One More Time”.   The arrival of drug dealer and aspiring rapper Alien (James Franco) shifts the movie away from EDM’s artificial elation and pseudo-communality and into hip hop’s fantasy world of regal splendor and paranoia.  Wearing corn-rows and a grill of gold teeth, Alien takes the girls under his wing. Even though he never learns about their foray into armed robbery, this self-described “gangsta with a golden heart” recognizes them instinctively as “motherfuckin’ soul-mates.” 

Some of the key scenes involving Alien appear to have been made expressly with the intention of being DVD-rewind favorites, to be endlessly quoted and karaoke-performed by fans, just like the “say goodnight to the bad guy” and “Say hello to my little friend!” scenes in Scarface.  One of these sequences has Alien showing off to the girls, repeatedly exulting  “look at my shit” as he points to the deluxe bed  (“that not a bed, it’s an art piece”)  and  brandishes a bounteous array of assault weapons.
Even before The Sopranos, it was a cliché that gangsters like to watch gangster movies and are  influenced by them: a feedback Moebius loop of simulacrum shaping reality shaping simulacrum shaping...   And sure enough, Alien points to his flatscreen TV and says “I got Scarface on repeat!” Close on the heels of this scene comes another would-be-classic candidate:  Brit and Candy grab some guns and turn the tables on their host. When they orally “rape” him with the weapons, Alien responds like a true sport and ardently sucks off the barrels.  It’s an echo of an earlier scene where one girl fills a water pistol with liquor and ejaculates it into her own mouth.    

Franco apparently based his character on a real-life white rapper called Dangeruss.  But why Franco even needed a template is unclear, given that the white appropriation of the Staggerlee archetype is one of the longest-running stories in popular culture, from the Rolling Stones to Eminem.  Staggerlee is at once a historical legend and a recurring social fact: the fantasy, realised at severe cost both to those who pursue it and to the community they inhabit, of criminality as a life without limits.  The gangster is a sovereign individual in a world of peons and bureaucrats, someone whose existence is both regal (swathed in luxury and prestige) and primal (a warrior’s life, shedding blood for territory, vengeance and honor).  Alien embroils the girls in his struggle with rival gangster  Archie, played by  cult rapper Gucci Mane. On the surface, the emnity is explained as a mixture of friendship betrayed and turf war (Alien threatening Archie’s ability to put food on his family’s table). But at a subliminal level the dispute is about symbolic capital: Alien’s appropriation  of what belongs to the black gangster, his stylization of rapacity, the lore and lingo he invented. 

As Archie, Gucci Mane gets to utter the movie’s most memorable line, when he praises the giver of a blow job with “you’re playing Mozart on my dick, baby.”   But for a movie whose function is partly to give an adult edge to the careers of  former teen-TV stars like Gomez and Hudgens, there is a surprising deficit of actual carnality.  Mostly what Spring Breakers is about is sexual display. So there’s lots of  bump ‘n’ grind dancing in the semi-nude, guys and girls sniffing coke off the flat abdomens of girls and guys, and  raunchy talk: “the smell of money” makes  a girl wet,   a coquettish and wasted Cotty taunting a guy that he’ll never get the pussy.   But apart from Archie’s blowjob threesome, there’s just one actual sex act. (Gomez, notably, has exited the storyline by this point. Clearly she was only prepared to go so far in an R-Rated direction: she’s not involved in the robbery, is never shown taking drugs or having sex, and doesn’t even swear much).

As depicted in Spring Breakers, the participants in Spring Break act out an idea of unbridled freedom and lascivious irresponsibility that’s as convention-bound and repetitive as the regular, regulated everyday  life of which it’s a carnivalesque inversion.  Is that the message of Korine’s movie? It’s hard to say: the director steadfastly refrains from anything that might resemble judgement. As with his script-writing debut Kids, you can take Spring Breakers as an indictment of youth today,  a comment on how pop culture’s anti-social fantasies contaminate real life. Or you can enjoy it as a (pretty softcore) wank-fantasy. 

There’s a smidgeon of a hint of authorial irony in the juxtaposition of squalor (a passed out girl in a vomit-spattered toilet) with  voice-overs from the girls phoning their mothers to reassure them that they’re having a great time, they’ve met so many wonderful people, “next year I want to come here with you”.  What’s disquieting about these phone calls, which recur at various points and have that same incantatory repetitiousness, is that you’re not sure if the girls are simply spinning a line of bullshit (a thought to give jitters to anyone in the audience who’s actually a parent). Could it be that they actually believe what they’re saying, when waxing lyrical about how “it’s like paradise here...  so magical... I’m starting to think this is the most spiritual place I’ve been...   It’s way more than just having a good time”?

One of the voice-over lines crystallises the movie’s theme: “it’s so nice to get a break from reality”.  The point of carnival is that it’s temporary.  Faith wistfully beseechs “if we could just freeze time, this is the way it’s going be forever, this moment”. But she acquiesces to the school bell call of reality and like everybody else heads back to college. The two really bad girls, Brit and Candy, don’t.  They stay with Alien, who boasts “I live at the beach all year around” and whose chanted “Spring Break, forever” is a recurrent refrain.  To actually live full time without limits is psychosis.  By the movie’s end, the girls finally become videogame characters, indestructible. Toting AK-47s, clad in pink balaclavas and yellow bikinis, they take down a small army of seasoned street warriors. 

Unlike with the earlier youth-gone-bad moves in which nonentities take retaliation for the fate of boredom and anonymity that their environment promises them—Bonnie & Clyde, Badlands, even  ludicrous ram-raiding exploitation vehicle Shopping—there is no comeuppance for these renegades from reality.  The movie, which started out gritty and naturalistic, ends up an oneiric art-movie dilation of the gangsta rap video, a porno tone poem.  

While watching Spring Breakers play out to its morally unsatisfactory (in)conclusion, I thought finally of Marcuse’s concept of “repressive desublimation.” Way back in the 1960s, the Frankfurt School associate grasped that capitalism had an interest in creating wanton consumers,  insatiable and impulsive.  External constraints on  our appetites for sex and destruction still exist (police, law, social services, etc), but they are contradicted and undermined by a consumer capitalism that erodes internal restraints like guilt and inhibition, the ability to defer gratification, even the capacity for linear thought.  Stimulating desire and narcissism, the economy’s interests collide with those of other political structures like church, education, and family, all of which aim to channel energy into long-term projects (“heaven” being the longest-term of them all). Capitalism, advertising, and their bedfellow,  pop culture have  harnessed Romanticism not for repressive ends (unrepression is precisely the modus operandi) but for the dissipation of energy and the displacement of anger from any kind of political articulation. 
When a pop star as bland as Katy Perry can sing, in her #1 hit “T.G.I.F”, about binge-drinking past oblivion (“it’s a blackout blur, but I’m pretty sure, it ruled”) and ménage-a-trois romps, it seems pretty clear that excess is normative and “breaking loose” just another set of  chains. Likewise, of Spring Break and Spring Breakers, I found myself wondering: if this is the beach underneath the pavement, what if anything lies beyond the beach?   Pop culture in its present state has exhausted it point:  its incitements to poor impulse control and attention-deficit-disorder no longer threaten anything. 

If desublimation is regressive on both the individual psychological level and in terms of its political consequences, can one talk perhaps of  a “progressive resublimation”?  What seems likely to be valued in the future is the ability to wrench oneself out of the state of distraction, damp down the desirousness stimulated by consumer-capitalism.  Discipline, focus, rigour: everything that cuts through the non-linearity of post-MTV, post-Internet pop culture. (Using the word “linear” as a pejorative is so 20th Century, don’t you think?).  The artistic corollary of such a shift might be a director who actually dared to pass judgement, who was unafraid to risk being didactic.  To be more like the lecturer in the hall, in other words, and less like a lecher ogling  babes on the dancefloor.