Writing for The Quietus, Ryan Diduck looks at the recent ascendancy of haunted, bleak indie musical acts (Zola Jesus, Burial, A$AP Rocky, Fever Ray) and sub-genres, what he calls our new “cultural obsession with darkness”:
Minimal techno, black metal, witch house, goth…If it can be said that art is an accurate indicator of our collective unconscious, then this could be the darkest age of love yet. Perhaps it’s the ultimate acceptance (after denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and Occupation) that various shocks and collapses are seemingly not going away – that not only was Naomi Klein right, but her books have indeed made the unholy transubstantiation from crisis warnings to disaster capitalist manuals. An emerging constellation of cultural productions in the second decade of the new millennium is, so far, pointing toward a slow descent into the long, dark night of the soul.
Perusing the avalanche of best-of lists leading up to the New Year, the most interesting releases seemed to me to be of the sluggish and spooky sort. Upon its release (on Valentine’s of all days) Pitchfork described Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath 1972 as “a dark and often claustrophobic record”. Rip Empson of XLR8R called Hype Williams’ One Nation “the musical expression of a 48-hour sleepless walkabout.” Massive Attack and Burial’s “long dark collaborative effort” invokes “the gloomiest moments ever”, according to The Fader. And looking toward promising upcoming recordings from moody labels like Kranky, Hyperdub, Tri Angle, and Blackest Ever Black, there’s not much light glimmering at the end of the tunnel.
Philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek believes that traumatic events work on people in complex and profound ways. In his 2010 book Living In The End Times, Žižek defines trauma as “the violent intrusion of something unexpected, something the subject was absolutely not ready for, and which it cannot integrate in any way.” Furthermore, it seems to matter little whether those traumas are personal or collective, political or natural, physical, emotional, self-inflicted, or otherwise. Oil spills, economic collapses, riots, revolutions, tsunamis, pepper-spray attacks on peaceful protesters: all are equivalent in the unconscious that perpetrates, suffers, and bears witness to trauma – even when it’s on YouTube. In the wake of those shocks, crusty new identities emerge who “live death as a form of life – his or her life is the death drive embodied […] and this holds for the henchman no less than for his victims.”