The Dark, Traumatized Pop Music Of 2012

zola-jesus-stridulum-epWriting 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.”

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  • JohnFrancisBittrich

    on the upside, most of the genres and artists mentioned here are 100000 times better than whiny, middle-class white kid “indie” rock or whatever garbage is floating around in clear channel playlists these days..

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Yes–at least it’s an attempt, of some sort, to confront the issue.

    • ZZ Reilly

       But this is whiny middle class white kid culture.

      • Thyl

        Who cares. What matters is what people do. And enough with this inferiority complex. White and middle class doesn’t necessarily mean petit bourgeois hipsters or uninspired people playing lame plaintive pop music.

  • Redacted

    The question is not where I can buy music, but where I can buy music about music. Also, ironic t-shirts.

  • ZombieSlapper

    This is nothing new.

  • Txc

    I liked this chunk of contact. More shit worth being tagged goth!

  • Siichotic
  • rus Archer

    you call that gloomy?
    crap, the beegees = heavy than those examples

    • Thyl

      People how consider such records are truly creepy should listen any Cold Meat Industry release (Megaptera for instance) or even a good Nurse With Wound record…

  • Hadrian999

    we need to shame John Lydon  out of retirement, he at least was fun

    • Pazuzu

      He hasn’t retired. A new Public Image Limited album is coming out this year.

      • Hadrian999

         can’t wait, his short lived tv show was pretty fun to watch to, Johnny Rotten inside the republican convention was awesome

  • patrick

    If the “new music” is manifest trauma it has every reason to be. To read about, and see documentaries of the ease with which Germany embraced the Fascist nightmare of Nazi’ism is one thing; to see it happening in the U.S.A. and the U.K. and to be seemingly helpless to stop it should, and apparently is, be producing much “wailing and gnashing of teeth”. Most of us have already torn our clothes. C.G. Jung spoke of ‘psychic epidemics’, think I’m coming down with something.

  • Jecht

    It seems to me that at any given period of time the grim and dark sort of music dominated over the upbeat one
    90’s music seems very melancholic to me, but the decade gave us Cardiacs’ Sing To God

  • blondertongue

    this is article is about as helpful as an encyclopedia. i’d be more interested in a greater does of opinion where there’s some talk about what worthwhile ‘cultural traumas’ have influenced the popularization of this music and maybe a thoughtful suggestion of why that is the case. i can quote zizek too.

    dark serious music has always existed, and you need to seriously reevaluate what you call dark and serious. when it comes to the body of seriously ‘dark and gloomy music’ im not sure these folks mentioned qualify as ‘brood tunes’. they’re just replacing summer pop hits like any other. maybe we’re getting to smart for our own good so glossy poppy jams just dont appeal in the same naive highschool way that neutral milk used t, but that doesn’t indicate some deep collective trauma catalyst. that just means we’re growing up and maybe realizing there’s more then our own egos.

  • http://www.soundcloud.com/myconica Threedinium

    Well, the article seemed to focus on pop/chart music but I can observe a similar trend in quite a few other genres. If anyone’s been looking at the more psychedelic electronic genres recently you’ll have noticed a huge explosion especially in the scenes such as psytrance for the incredibly dark, almost to the point of tasteless, the sounds of torture, rape, murder, the music disintegrating into total and utter chaos. But I went to Cosmo festival last year which is a Parvati records thing where they play all their new dark psytrance, and I think I saw the point. What I witnessed at that festival was a whole bunch of hippies having a massive, mental shit. We were so…. bombarded with all that shit and horrible, demented sounds that on the third day when they played all the chillout and beautiful music in a separate tent everyone just swarmed for it, they were so fed up with the dark… apart from a few. Reminded me of something I read once, I think it was Israel Regardie… “And drown it flying.”

    The other thing I thought about this is that the goth/dark/depression thing’s been around for a while… it just seems like the usual process of things starting out underground and ending up mainstream. The horror and disillusionment a select few were feeling is seemingly now becoming the norm. I think we’re gonna need one big fuckoff toilet pretty soon….

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