“Ignorance is a cancer that needs to be eradicated.”
The prospect of interviewing Rexx Arkana (nee Rik Milhouse) was an appealing one to us for a lot of reasons. Even before founding FGFC820 with fellow NY’er DJ Dracos, he had already he accumulated some 20 years DJing and promoting in Our Thing, founded industrial supergroup Bruderschaft, and collaborated with artists from across the scene on various projects. Those experiences and the resulting perspectives they have afforded him have shaped FGFC820, both in terms of the style of the music and the content of the lyrics which display a genuine pre-occupation with personal and political strife.
With the third FGFC820 album Homeland Insecurity released a date opening up for Suicide Commando’s on their first North American tour and further campaigning overseas in the Fall, Rexx took some time to answer our questions about the use of military imagery, patriotism versus jingoism and the value of resistance.
ID:UD: We were very surprised that the first voice heard on “Homeland Insecurity” is a sample of Pierre Elliot Trudeau from Canada’s FLQ crisis in the 70’s. Was there something specific about the use of that sample as it relates to the themes on the record?
ARKANA: The broadcast speech that Trudeau gave during the October Crisis remains one of the most potent declarations of “martial law” of all time, and the fact that it comes from Canada, which most Americans view as a peaceful, quiet country, just makes it that much more striking, I think. As the themes on this album were already predicated on the ideas of personal and external conflict and doubt, it just felt like the perfect way to begin the record. Sadly, I’ve found myself having to explain the October Crisis to many Canadians at Kinetik over the years. Such a monumental occasion in a country’s history, it’s a shame that so many people have no idea it ever happened.
ID:UD: You’ve been accused of being jingoistic, but digging into your lyrics reveals a very critical view of US foreign policy. How important is that to the character of FGFC820 as a band? How do you navigate the area between patriotism and a more nuanced view of global politics and America’s role in them? Are you ever concerned that some of your music’s message is lost in your use of military themes, both in terms of image and in the fanfares you employ musically?
ARKANA: The truth is that people are very quick to judge and to draw first impressions of things that they may not fully understand. Jumping to conclusions is a lot less work than actually trying to understand and appreciate the true nature of things; no matter what, we’d be misunderstood and misinterpreted by people anyway. So we don’t much worry SPECIFICALLY that our images and fanfares might be interpreted in ways that we didn’t intend. On a larger scale, it’s a central concern of ours as a group that people begin to take a more active and educated role in their own lives. If someone hears us and thinks we’re “too pro-America” or “too pro-war,” it doesn’t take much effort to read our lyrics (all of which we make available) or to read any of the various interviews we’ve done to better understand where it is we’re coming from. Ignorance is a cancer that needs to be eradicated. We are intentional in our ambiguity sometimes, as an indirect plea for people to seek out knowledge and educate themselves on important subject matter. As we say in “Doctrine:” “No one can imprison an educated mind, so be yourself and free yourself by learning all the time.”
ID:UD: You’ve been active in the scene for close to three decades as a DJ and promoter. What factors went into deciding to start your own project when you did, and work within the specific sound of FGFC820?
ARKANA: Most of my professional band experience in music over the years was more behind-the- scenes: promotion, booking, management, etc. I always fantasized about starting my own project, particularly as I become more disenfranchised with musical evolution within the scene, but I just never had the right partner or the right project. Instead, I put a proverbial toe in the water by writing lyrics for other artists’ songs. Once Dracos and I started working on original material, however, I felt as if our combined talents provided a nice balance and the proper forum for expression. The rest, as they say, is history.
ID:UD: Harsh EBM and industrial are awash with military imagery. How do you relate to that as someone who actually has a military background?
ARKANA: I have a general problem with people for whom fashion is more important than the music. For us, the uniform of FGFC820 is symbolic of a greater theme and message. I do feel somewhat jaded by people who wear overt military insignia and gear without any understanding of their symbolism or history. It’s not like I’m going to beat someone over the head with an AK simply because they don’t know how to fire one, but still wear fatigues to the club. Everyone should retain the right to express themselves, but I feel there should be some personal connection to the subject so that what they’re representing is more a lifestyle choice than a trendy, scene-approved costume; even one that – as you point out – might be trademark iconography. In the late 80s, when I was spinning in upstate New York, we used to have dozens of Army guys come down from the base in Watertown to my industrial night because they loved 242, FLA, Nitzer…those guys were wearing BDUs because they were ISSUED to them. I don’t demand that everyone who wears ACUs be active service, but at least relate to it and wear it for yourself, not because it’s the standard.
IDUD: Is FGFC820 embracing those tropes an attempt to redeem them at a time when the value has been sapped out of them, at least in our scene?
ARKANA: That’s a complicated answer. We are not consciously doing ANYTHING to serve anyone else, whether that be individuals or the “scene” at large. The influences or effects of our work is a byproduct to the work itself. Yet, at the same time, we do not exist in a vacuum, personally, politically, emotionally… I guess the best answer is this: while we don’t purposefully set out to redeem the integrity of the scene, redemption is not only welcome, but desperately needed.
ID:UD: How do audiences outside of the US react to the project’s very America-specific imagery and themes? Have you experienced any specific blowback or anti-US sentiment at shows?
ARKANA: That’s been predicted/feared a handful of times by our label and others, but honestly, we’ve never had much of a problem with it. The most flack I’ve taken was in German, and that was actually for my Bruderschaft tattoo and had nothing to do with FGFC820. I think that Homeland Insecurity tries to level the playing field (or the battle field, if you prefer that metaphor) and show that conflict and corruption are things that happen everywhere. Even in Canada. Intelligent people can relate to that, even if they don’t support our political “agenda.”
“We never have, nor would we ever, consider EBM to be apolitical. That’s anathema for me…”
IDUD: How much of FCFC820’s lyrics reflect your personal politics? What’s the importance to you of making a direct statement with your work considering how apolitical much of EBM claims to be?
ARKANA: We never have, nor would we ever, consider EBM to be apolitical. That’s anathema for me to even contemplate, given the history of this style of music and the intentions of its progenitors. Personally, I think that the lyrics in our scene have become so trite and inconsequential that it insults the listening audience. Everything’s all about “feel the bass” or “fuck the bass” or “fuck my throat with your bassline” bullshit. Most of the people who scream about fucking aren’t getting any that I’d do with a rental penis, just like most of the singers who thump their chests and emit braggadocios about how they’re going to “blow shit up” and “tear shit down” would actually scatter like roaches in the light if/when serious shit ever really went down. We try to be a little truer to ourselves in our lyrics: the first rule of good composition is “write what you KNOW.” That said, we aren’t politicians, so our personal politics aren’t necessary in their fully exposed light. We’d end up potentially offending a larger audience and there’d be no net gain for us in doing so. We mute our messages somewhat, to make them more universally understandable and relatable.
IDUD: Homeland Insecurity has some very personal songs, moreso than on previous releases. Was that something you were consciously moving towards in the writing process?
ARKANA: Like I said before, as a lyricist I write what I know. As we were working on this album, my wife announced that she was dissatisfied with our marriage and was leaving me. We’ve been together for seventeen years and have two wonderful daughters together. Over those years, she’s been the most important friend and confidante that I’ve had…and she was always there to support me and my efforts. Then, suddenly, it’s all gone. It’s clear that this kind of situation is bound to bleed through…and that’s what led us to “Lost,” “Relapse” and “Love Until Death.” So it wasn’t a conscious decision – hell, it wasn’t my decision at all – but it became an inevitable one.
IDUD: We hear some classic 90’s dark electro influence on the record. Are you trying to expand the project’s palette?
ARKANA: If people ever saw the gear we have to work with, I think they’d be amazed that we’re able to complete anything at all. It was not an intended expansion of sound, in as much as it was an evolution that has multiple outcroppings. For example, many people have commented on the hardstyle/gabber elements of the new material. Others have picked up on the “retro” vibe to which you referred. For us, it’s just finding the right combination of sounds and words that inspires us.
IDUD: So if the primary theme of the album is conflict, both political and personal, did you see creating the album as a form of resolution? Is Homeland Insecurity a way of reconciling the issues you’re concerned with?
ARKANA: In many ways, I wish I could report back to you that completing the album served not only as some cathartic resolution to even some of the issues to which the lyrical content refers. However, the misdirections of leadership in this country at present have no more been affected by our small voice than writing songs like “Relapse” or “Love Until Death” was able to save my marriage. There is something sad and stifling about the fact that one’s efforts, no matter how well meaning and convicted, often times may not yield the intended results. Yet, the threat of inevitable impotence shouldn’t keep us from trying to make our worlds better, in both a micro and macro sense. I could easily have chosen to give up when it seemed the fight was lost and, believe me, I gave it serious contemplation. However, as cliche as it might sound, it is true that sometimes you have to lose a battle or two to win the war. Concession begets oppression. If there’s any overarching message in our work, it’s the belief that even in failure, there is value in effort.
FGFC820’s Homeland Insecurity is available now on CD and at all major online retailers.