It’s nice to go to shows and see gray hair, and crow’s feet and smile lines. It’s a relief to see aging punk rockers still rocking the double studded belt look coupled with their receding hairlines. I don’t know if I was totally aware of what a toll it took on me to go to shows in a city where I would often be fifteen years older than many of the punks in attendance. This especially in a subculture that discards and writes off its elders every generation or so.
Speaking of the new destroying the old, each time I see HIDE perform, Heather Gabel and Seth Sher outdo themselves completely, both sonically and in stage presence and intensity. So much so, that I think back to the first time I saw them in a near empty bar in Seattle with one of my very dearest friends, and how that gig almost seems like a tame folk punk show played in a community garden in comparison to the aural horror and menace they unleashed on Brilloboxtonight. I go to shows in my new city alone a lot, which doesn’t bother me at all. I just hang in the back and read in between bands. I find that the sense of being alone in a crowd helps me concentrate more than I might at home. Tonight, I biked to the show late, with a copy of Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado in my backpack. At the show, I read “Inventory” from that collection of short stories while I waited for HIDE to set up. If you haven’t read the story, I’m not going to give you spoilers, if you have, you might have an idea why that particular story felt fitting to read while waiting for HIDE to set up.
Better writers than me have argued that the best music and art holds a mirror up to the culture at large, reflecting its ugliness back to us. In doing so, it forces us to face our failings both subculture wise and as a species. I know this is what drew me to the worlds of punk and goth in the first place and I know this is the argument so many of us used on our parents when they wanted to know why we insisted on listening to Dead Kennedys (or really whatever offensive band you loved as an adolescent) loud in our rooms decades ago. “Fuck you, dad! They’re just telling it like it really is!”. I feel like I once saw Marilyn Manson, a far lesser artist than HIDE, and one with a much more contrived presentation and aesthetic make the same argument on Donahue or some similar television show in the 90’s, that he wasn’t telling kids what to do or think, but was just a vessel with which to expose them to the hypocrisy and contradictions of the dominant culture.
Somewhere though, that message became compromised and watered down, and this writer felt like Marilyn Manson gave suburban kids permission to be shocking and edgy at the mall before going off to college and getting a job. HIDE is holding up a very different mirror to our culture and our collective participation in the both quiet and loud atrocities that take place across the world and at home. When Heather Gabel opened tonight’s show repeating instances of verbal harassment experienced while simply being a woman walking through the world in the coldest and most guttural screams imaginable, you get the feeling she is not only railing against the outside world, but demanding the audience examine what parts of that world they have internalized and brought to this small, smoky room with them. One song blended into the next and the venue fell into brief silence punctuated by the sample of a voice saying “When you depersonalize another person… it seems to make it easier to do things you shouldn’t do.” while Gabel writhed on the floor in front of the audience in mock submission. I couldn’t help but think back to being a child in South Florida in the late 80’s, coming in from playing outside to my mother watching Ted Bundy’s final interview on the night of his execution. I watched a few minutes of the interview with my mother, long enough to watch Ted Bundy blame place the blame for his hatred of women on pornography all while the jackass from Focus On The Family ate it up because it fit his agenda, more than examining our collective hatred of women did.
I can think of few bands I’ve seen in recent memory that take the stage with a more driven intensity than HIDE in the past few years. I don’t really know how to write about the mechanics of creating music, so I don’t really know how to write about it in a lot of ways. I could scarcely begin to understand how Seth Sher creates the noise onstage that he does, but he does so to astonishing effect. I’m going to admit here, that even scarcely an hour after getting home the details of the show are a bit fuzzed out. I spent the entire set standing up front stage left, not even dancing, just standing transfixed, aware that I was witnessing something truly powerful and cathartic, and occasionally pulling out my phone to snap a photo or take a video, more to document how the show made me feel for self-reference, than to take any sort of fancy photos. I’m not a good photographer anyway.
I remember when Trump first got elected, some were moved to comment along the lines of “Well at least we will get powerful at and music out of these dark times.”. While acknowledging the privileged nature of that statement (as in, there are a lot of people experiencing these dark times from cages, and a lot of people who might not live to see the end of them), I don’t disagree with that sentiment. The Punk and Industrial scenes were borne of the turbulence and tension of the 70’s and 80’s. While I feel like HIDE’s art stands powerfully on its own, regardless of whether it is being created within the confines of an ascendant fascist state or not, I cannot help but find the synchronicity HIDE’s momentum as artists coupled with the particular cultureal moment we are in to be both terrifying and comforting at once. I just looked at my journals and photographic records and found that my aforementioned dear friend and I first saw HIDE on March 13th, 2017, just two months after Trump’s inauguration, and just a year and a half after thinking we were going to get beaten to death by Nazis together. I distinctly remember returning home to Olympia late that night and sitting beneath a cold winter moon on the shore of the Budd Inlet, promising one another that we would continue our shared resistance to the powers that shape our world, be it through art or activism. We had just witnessed something that powerful. Tonight, at the conclusion of HIDE’s set, the stranger who had been standing next to me snapping photos (no doubt, better than my own!) and I simply turned and acknowledged one another with an exhausted warmth as if to say “Did you fucking see what just happened, and are you okay now?”
I rode my bike home, exhilarated, feeling hopeful for our collective subcultural future, if nothing else. These are vicious times, and HIDE creates art to not to provide comfort in those times, but to encourage the listener to rise up in the face of them. On my ride home, I couldn’t help but think of two very different Industrial and Post-Industrial acts of a bygone era – Death In June, and Boyd Rice’s NON. Both bands have created searing industrial soundscapes and both bands have been dogged by accusations (that this writer happens to agree with, and an immense amount of evidence easily found via google seemingly supports) of fascist and far-right sympathies, if not outright agendsas for much of their careers. In defending themselves, both individuals (I cannot bring myself to refer to Douglas P as a musician) often use the same argument – that they are just utilizing fascist imagery, referencing it in song, and lastly dressing up in its trappings to hold a mirror up to the culture at large, to make the listener uncomfortable, to think.
After watching HIDE perform tonight, I couldn’t help but think that the music of DI6 and NON could more accurately be described as the artists holding a mirror up to the culture as they wish it to be, one where the might makes right and the strong tread upon the weak, a world where white men get to speak and act with impunity – The very same world HIDE seeks to obliterate. Where Death In June, so many of the bands they inspired provide the listener space to fantasize they are the perpetrators of atrocities (If you can make a convincing argument here that the song “Of Runes and Men” is anything other than Douglas P jerking off to the thought of being born 30 years earlier so he could have joined the SS, I will eat that “Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist shirt I wear 8 days a week.*). I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of relief at a changing of the guard of sorts within the Industrial and dark cultures. In the crowd tonight there was none of the fascist dog whistling sometimes present at Industrial shows of yesteryear. No boys with dumb fashy haircuts. No fucking pseudo SS uniforms. No Totenkampf or Sonnerad patches.. Just a bunch of outcasts gathered together in a small room, and two uncompromising musicians, asking, no, demanding that the audience confront their collective demons and their complicity in the horrors of rape culture and misogyny.
What are we going to do? What are we going to create in the face of such horror? What are we going to do to bring it all crashing down? What are we going to build in the ruins?
*Just kidding. I won’t. Douglas P is a fascist. Period. Point blank. Fuck that guy.