We were contacted a few days before leaving for Kinetik by Jairus Khan from Ad·ver·sary. He told us that he was planning a visual presentation for his set at the festival which he anticipated would attract a lot of attention, and wanted to speak to us about it. The presentation related to themes and imagery in the work of two other artists on the opening night Kinetik bill, specifically Combichrist and Nachtmahr. The presentation, which can be viewed here, or at the bottom of this post, openly critiques what Jairus perceives as the use of misogynist and racist tropes in those bands’ music and publicity materials. We spoke to Jairus after seeing an early version of the video.
IDUD: Before we talk about the presentation proper, can you explain why you wanted to talk to us about it ahead of time?
Jairus: I didn’t want there to be any confusion about what I was saying. It would be easy for things to get twisted through the telephone game, and I’d rather there be a clear description somewhere of what happened and why.
IDUD: Okay, so can you tell us what the genesis of the presentation was?
Jairus: It was when I got booked to play Kinetik, and I found out that I was scheduled to open for Nachtmahr and Combichrist. Given how strongly I feel about the way they do what they do, I didn’t think I could just get up there and play and pretend as though I wasn’t going to be followed by these two acts that I’ve openly criticized. I actually considered just cancelling my performance, and being done with it. I don’t want to be associated with what they do, and I don’t want to be a support act for them, even in a festival setting. But I took some time to think about it, and at some point I was listening to Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death and thought, “What would Jello Biafra do?” He’d use the stage time to tell people why he’s pissed off. And so here we are.
IDUD: Do you think your statement is in danger of being compromised by the nature of where and how you’re presenting it? In other words, is the dust that could be kicked up by directly confronting these bands going to overshadow what you’re trying to say?
Jairus: Oh, absolutely that’s a danger. I think that’s a danger any time you speak up about something you feel strongly about. People dismiss it as drama, or a stunt, or whatever else. Are some people going to think I’m just trying to sell more records or whatever? Probably. I went out of my way in the video to not take any unfair shots at the bands. I didn’t use photos of them where they looked ridiculous or nerdy or drunk, I used photos and media released by the bands. I didn’t quote them out of context, I didn’t attack them about their personal lives. I want the focus to be on what they’re doing as artists, and I’m doing what I can to be fair about it, so that the message doesn’t get overshadowed by the medium.
IDUD: You’re potentially in a position to directly address Thomas Rainier and Andy LaPlegua, but from the early version of the presentation we saw it seems aimed at the audience rather than the artists it’s responding to. Do you have any interest in actually addressing them?
Jairus: They’ve been asked in interviews about the imagery they use, and they brush it off. Andy will say in one interview that anything sexist is written from the point of view of the Combichrist character, then in another interview that he’s never said anything sexist, then in another interview that there’s no character anymore at all, and that he’s writing from a personal point of view now. I don’t know how effective it will be to address them directly in a video that they’re probably not going to be present for, even if it’s posted online. I’d rather speak to the audience and start a conversation with them about why we accept and embrace the images that we do.
After his performance today, we spoke to Jairus and Nick Thériault of Antigen Shift (who joined Ad·ver·sary on stage tonight) about the reaction from the crowd.
ID:UD: How do you think it went?
Jairus: I think it went pretty well. We really had no idea how it was going to be received, but people cheered at the start, at the start, at the end and all the way through.
Nick: I think people were a little reluctant to react at first, but once the message came through they realized they were down with it and started cheering.
ID:UD: What are you hoping people take away from this?
Jairus: We hope people think about their music, we hope that when an artist like Combichrist, Nachtmahr, or whoever else uses that kind of imagery, that regardless of whether the artists involved are great guys or not, they’re normalizing violence, they’re normalizing the marginalization of women.
Nick: They’re making something that should be completely unacceptable cool and aesthetically pleasing and that’s irresponsible. Because they’re directly in a position to influence.
UPDATE: We individually spoke with Andy LaPlegua and Thomas Rainer roughly an hour after the performance, neither of whom had been present during the performance but had been made aware of it.
Andy: Well, I didn’t see it, someone just came and told me about it. I think it’s really cool. That’s what he thinks and I think he should be allowed to say so. It’s a good thing, there’s nothing negative about what he’s doing, obviously. I totally agree about bands like Nachtmahr as well, obviously using symbolism of something that is extraordinarily negative. In Combichrist, for my sake, I always did it as a fictional character. No one would say that Wes Craven is sexist because he has a crazy scene in a movie. It’s a part of what he’s doing, he’s doing horror movies, I’m doinghorror stories with Combichrist. Lately we’re doing less of the Combichrist character because I’m frankly getting sick of doing that thing, it’s getting boring, and I’m the first to admit that when it’s done with it’s done. And I’m the first to admit, you know, how many times can you say “fuck” or “slut” in the same song? It was a storyline, something I was doing as a comic book character kind of thing and it’s still been hanging in a little bit because I couldn’t completely give up the character, but if you look at the new stuff we’re doing we’ve been going more and more away from it.
Andy: I don’t have anything bad to say about him [Jairus] at all. I think it’s cool what he’s doing, and he can get some awareness to people who I think took these things maybe seriously when it was meant as some kind of a parody, and little bit of irony and as a character. Suddenly you have people walking around in the scene and they’re dressed the part and behave like that because they think maybe we thought it was cool, but that was never the point. You see people dressing up, I don’t wanna say it badly, but like strippers and going like “oh, I’m a slut” and that’s never what we intended to do. It’s all like fan-fiction.
I have nothing negative to say to him at all. I have nothing to say in my defense for what I’ve done, I don’t feel like I should have to defend myself. It’s all fiction. Everybody who knows me knows that I am not the character. I am not pro or anti anything, really. I’m a realist, I know what’s wrong and I know what’s right, but I also believe in freedom of speech, and freedom of writing, about writing stuff I like to write about, if it’s fantasy or personal. And sometimes fans can get a little confused about what is what, but usually it’s very simple: if it’s really fucked up, it’s fiction. If it’s something emotional, it’s not. It’s very easy, but maybe people get it mixed up.
ID:UD: So moving away from that was a deliberate reaction to people taking these things seriously?
Andy: Yeah, definitely. It’s kind of like, if you start doing something for art or for a storyline and suddenly people take this seriously, they actually think that’s how they should behave, you know, they think “Oh, we gotta go drink and fight and fuck and get some sluts”, you know, it’s bullshit. It’s turning into Scientology, you know, like “you really believe this shit, it’s a fictional book”.
ID:UD: And that’s something you’ve encountered?
Andy: Yeah, I meet people all the time who take these things seriously. And you step back and go like, “this is not what I intended, never what I intended.” It’s also kind of like a director being blamed because someone walked out and did what he did in a movie. You can’t really blame the movie-maker. You have to blame the person who did it. They would have done something stupid anyway. Same thing with school shootings, they blame it on KMFDM and stuff like that. You can’t really do that, it’s not the band, it’s obviously the person, how they grew up. They would do something terrible anyway.
However, I did on purpose step more and more away from the character, because I never really identified myself with the character as a person, I identified with it as stuff I like to watch in horror movies, nothing I ever looked at as serious, but just a bit of entertainment. I’ve never been racist, never been sexist, never been violent. The only times I’ve gotten in fights was twice in all the time we’ve toured: one was to stop a fight in a pit, the other was a fight with security after I tossed out someone who started a fight. If anything, I’m exactly the opposite of the character. But I also let it live for a while. I intentionally never made too many comments on it. I thought it was kind of funny, sitting back and watching the social media and all the speculating. It was like, “yeah, just think whatever you want.” But after a while it got to the point where I deleted Facebook because I was sick of social media and people talking. I have my own personal life and I don’t need to deal with people who don’t know me and people who judge me for a comic book character I created.
Thomas: It’s like we say in the intro of our show: “You have enemies. Good. That means you have stood up for something in your life.” Some people can be critical of your stuff, but I think the industrial scene has been far too tame in the last years. The industrial scene is rooted in the punk scene, to stir up shit, to be controversial. It’s been all about that. And most of all the industrial scene has been too mainstream and trying to adapt to political correctness and all that bullshit for far too long. It’s like the movie “Se7en”, there’s a quote, “It’s not enough to whisper in people’s ears anymore, you have hit them with a sledgehammer.”
UPDATE: At Thomas Rainer’s request, we conducted a lengthier interview with him about these issues. That interview can be read here.