Thursday, 8 March 2012

C-187 – Re-appraisal: the issue of Authenticity


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There are albums people dislike and albums everyone dislikes. In 2011 the top two contenders for the most widely disliked albums were Metallica’s Lulu and Morbid Angel’s Illud Divinum Insanus. But what makes an album unlikeable? From what I gather, the most common contributing factors are changes in artistic direction, movement in either direction to/from accessibility and stylistic appropriation and the question of authenticity.  Metal as a genre witnessed a merging of all three of these factors at the tail end of the twentieth century in the form of nu-metal. A blending of hip hop and electronic elements seemed to be the right thing at the right time and in many cases it actually worked. But the backlash from the metaller-than-thou crowd soon followed and this new artistic direction came under increasing scrutiny facing a barrage of negative criticism. In my opinion, this is largely the result of the third factor listed above: appropriation and authenticity. To put it at its most simple: Vanilla Ice. When an outsider takes another identity and attempts to claim it as his/her own without a sufficient depth of understanding of his/her relationship to the original identity in context.

With C-187 Mameli (Pestilence), Reinert (Cynic) and Choy (Cynic, Atheist, Pestilence) managed to stew together a pretty decent reprise of Pestilence’s Spheres and stitch an uneasy hardcore/nu-metal/hip hop influenced vocals on top. Moreover Collision was a concept album of sorts, it stemmed from Mameli’s dissatisfaction with metal as a genre and drew on his interest in the US TV show, Cops. Collision aspired to be street tough, world weary and to some extent, gangster. Yet in spite of the engaging Spheres influenced, looped hip hop beats groove, it is easy to sympathise with Collision’s critics: after all, what does a Scandanavian know about the mean streets of America? There is, however, another way of hearing Collision that is not only about authenticity and genre ghetto-ising (you try to release a nu-metal album here and now!). In fact, it is so obvious as to seem obsequious: C-187 was never about authenticity but instead about outsiders looking in, trying to comprehend the chaos, horror and dysfunction of contemporary American culture at its worst. In this way, Collision functions as an external commentary, an expression of confusion at what contemporary America has become rather than an attempt to claim an authentic space within.

One thing that fascinates me about the US today, and something to which I cannot help but return to again and again is the contradictory prominence of the rhetoric of nation building in what it means to be American and to make America mean. The very image of the United States is one of a nation fought for, forged through conflict stemming from a necessity and urge to buck the yoke of European colonialism. A work in progress, its self narrative positions itself as a young heir to the greatness of European culture and civilisation based on new rules rejecting monarchy and celebrating the possibility of the individual to rise to the highest degrees of success. Much of US history has seen its people fight for removing the obstacles to obtaining these goals.

The right to liberty as a dominant mode of national identity is commendable. However, its function over time has proved insufficient to erase the deficiencies and disease of internal colonialism, external terror campaigns and slavery. Whole areas of cities, indeed almost whole cities in the rust belt are uninhabitable due to failed economic policy and crime. A misguided, puritan descendent “war on drugs” has seen several concurrent generations of men and women end up in prisons, destroying any semblance, let alone possibility of community continuity. Indeed, in spite of platitudes to the contrary, the US has one of the highest incarceration rates per capita of any nation on earth. With widespread gun culture, itchy trigger fingers a deeply embedded conservative movement and lingering attitudes the result of what have been perceived as attacks on personal liberties (civil rights, church/state separation, abortion, contraception, welfare and medicine) it can be difficult sometimes to properly see the polished stone of potential America. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these days due to deepening ideological and economic divides, political stagnation and a failure to redefine itself in a rebalanced global network of competing powers post-China, “potential America” may no longer be visible. And this to me is a cause of great sadness.

SO, while Collision might be an imperfect realisation of metal and hip hop aesthetics, its authenticity comes not from the citizenship of its participants but of its insights into the loss of potential America. Viewed from this perspective, it is at least worth one more listen, right? Plus, distorted jazz chords over syncopated, double-kicking is rad.
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