Friday, 24 May 2013

Lazy Friday Music Thing: After the Bomb

It's Friday and, like most of you, my enthusiasm for this week was limping at about 9.00 am Monday morning. So let's do music and ease ourselves into the long weekend.

... I promised you apocalypse stuff didn't I? We can do that.

I have a deep and abiding love of post apocalypse books and films, I've done quite a few reviews of novels set after this or that disaster (and have a long list of books to read still). The appeal of the genre lies in seeing people survive against all odds and reading the ways in which society distorts to cope with great pressures. My background's in social science and I find it fascinating to see what writers and other artists come up with. This kind of horror and science fiction really throws a mirror up to society, reflecting its fears. I must confess that it frequently fits my mood, the idea that we can rip up the world and start again is a tempting one.

Its interesting to see how the nervousness that feeds post apocalypse fiction has evolved, becoming more intimate as the golden age of 'big tech', that period of nuclear power and the "white heat of technology", as Harold Wilson put it, seems to have died away. Our fears are biological, bacterial; super-bugs, avian flu. Alternatively they're connected to the environment or oil running out; a graceful if inevitable decline into barbarity as the wonders of the Twentieth Century become the only ones we'll ever know. We fear a demise to the scientific age: no more space programme, no more cars. Back to the horse and cart, steam power; a black future, not a bright one. Even so, the closest we get to the mushroom cloud is the image of a dirty bomb; in the west at least, and even that is more a passing fear than the shadow the atomic bomb laid across the late part of the last century. We've come a long way from the spectre that inspired the show Threads.

The first post apoc novels I remember reading were Patrick Tilley's Amtrak Wars, where the grass had been blasted red by nuclear fallout and the plains were ruled by mutants. 'Good, true Americans' (all white, as far as I remember) lived underground in a huge techno base where the promise of the 'blue sky world' was held out to them like a parent's promise of sweets for a child on a visit to the Doctors.

Interestingly post apocalypse fiction seems to become more popular when things are a bit rubbish in the real world. I suppose it acts as a sort of panacea but, given that the last thirty years have, to an extent, been dominated by visions of dystopia, it's interesting that the credit crunch and the subsequent recession have produced a new wave of 'after the bomb' art in all fields. Whilst most people think about this sort of thing in terms of 'big art' there's no denying that some bands have made their mark here too, encapsulating apocalyptic scenes in music videos.

Perhaps the brightest of them are a twin pair by My Chemical Romance, for songs from Danger Days. Linked by a common setting and action, there's a definite superheroic atmosphere to the way they've been put together; they're almost 'superpunk' to coin a phrase, post apocalyptic, plastic, but taking on the role of freedom fighters against the big bad company that seems to manufacture everything, in a situation that's reminiscent of Tank Girl's Water and Power. The band were accused of being 'unamerican' by Fox News because of the lyrics for Sing. Perhaps because I'm a terrible, terrible British person, but I'm not sure I can think of a higher accolade or a sign you're doing something right.

Nah Nah Nah


The whole thing is very comic booky, it ties into the idea expressed in Grant Morrison's Super Gods that the superhero is the last, great hope and the reason they've become so popular is because they're so much part of modern mythology they really have become like gods. His hypothesis suggests that as politicians, economists and religious leaders do little more than find deeper holes to drop us into, we've turned to something that's fictional but always comes through to literally save the day.

Morrison, by the way, is the bald headed guy playing the assassin in the frilly shirt; he and Gerard Way are great mates.

My other choices are a bit older, dating from the 1980s in fact (the last great heyday of the post apocalyptic form). First up Duran Duran's 'Wild Boyz'. I found this when I was mucking about with a post apocalyptic roleplaying setting. I found it stark and arresting; it seemed to tap into Storm Constantine's Wraeththu books (or should that be vice versa) and with modern culture's obsession with clean cut, asexual, young men.

Wild Boyz

Similar sentiments can be found  in the Sisters of Mercy's 'This Corrosion', which is set in what looks to be the remains of an industrial complex with the band wielding surprisingly well preserved instruments and having found a power source from somewhere. Perhaps that, along with the prospect of fresh meat, is what attracts their obviously mutated audience. The thing that really strikes me about the whole thing is how surprised Patricia Morrison looks a lot of the time, as if the camera keeps creeping up on her.

This Corrosion

Of course the Sisters have an advantage here, the heavy drum machine beat from Doktor Avalanche sounds post apocalyptic, with that deep, heavy thunder that makes the blood race.

Lastly Fields of the Nephilim's 'Preacher Man' is a tour de force, tying in very much with nuclear fear. Here we find a radiation marked pulpit with Carl McCoy leaning over it in his best impression of a rabid preacher, alternately condemning and blessing his followers. What amuses me about the video is the very careful way the instruments are abandoned and guns taken up. There's something incredibly British about it. What impresses me is general lighting and set up the band had, it looks properly apocalyptic and unpleasant. In keeping with their Spaghetti Western gone bad theme, its also the most low tech of the apocalypses, a futuristic western in a world gone bad.

Preacher Man

Carl McCoy appeared in the film Hardware, an SF film set in an irradiated world where war was fought by killer robots. McCoy's role was that of a nomad, scouring the desert collecting salvage to sell. Amusingly about his only line in the film was 'Where is the little man?', which given that McCoy himself isn't exactly a titan, cracks up both my wife and I whenever we watch the film.

Five slices of the desperate aftermath of whatever destroys civilisation and dumps us into a terrible world of mutants, strange science and weird societies. I'm almost tempted to ask what we're waiting for?

But only almost.

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