As the year draws to a close, some often spend the post Christmas/pre New Year lull looking back on the year, taking stock of how they have spent the year in a job they gain no pleasure from, paying bills they can't afford and spending free cash on alcohol in an attempt to regain some attempt at "pleasure" (albeit heavily commoditised pleasure).
Quite clichéd, I freely admit. But I'd hazard a guess that it's true for a good lot of people.
In that rumination period, you'll have a variety of thoughts on how the year wound up. All of them will be influenced by personal tastes, events relevant to them and factors outside their control.
One thing that's been on my mind throughout the year, due to the obvious events, is the notion of moral relativism (one interpretation being that you can tolerate the opinions of others, even if you disagree with it on a moral basis).
With recent events showing how deeply divided the working and the chattering classes are, the popular media have attempted to show the opinion of both sides, with some adopting a condescending tone to those generally considered to be freaks, racists and little Englanders (as Jonathan Pie so brilliantly put in one of his videos). There was little in the way of attempting to understand the opposition and actively debate them. Just ridicule and (effectively) no platforming. Censorship, plain and simple.
And this attitude has seeped into the underground, with witch hunts on bands like Destroyer 666 and the removal of the abysmal Grunt from the Siege of Limerick just two examples in our recent past, among many.
However, there was one story that really hit hard for me this year, because it's a (seemingly) simple tale. But it raised questions for me on the notion of separating the art from the artist, the effectiveness of removing an album for whatever reason and where to draw the line when real life protrudes on art. Is moral relativism possible for some in this case?
Read on and decide for yourself.
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Grave Mistake Records put out one of the finest albums of the last few years, the self titled release from Barge. Pure, unadulterated hardcore punk.
However, the album was withdrawn from sale by the label after singer Jean-Pierre Olivos was publicly accused of sexual assault by a fellow band member (from his other band Blackout).
Quickly, Olivos deleted his Facebook page and Twitter account so any posts of admission on Olivos' part cannot be located.
If the post above is true, then it's a depressing end to a highly exciting band and to have the music associated with such a heinous crime is as equally depressing. This is also not a new scenario, as 80's UKHC band Generic have refused to reissue their back catalogue due to singer Wizz being convicted of similar offences ten years or so after the band split up.
What did strike me about the initial post made by the label was the announcement that they will no longer be selling or distributing the LP. On one hand, some will argue that it's a perfectly natural response to the alleged events. But what struck me was the finality of the statement, effectively stating that the thing is now out of print.
Undoubtedly, that was my reaction as the album is one of my favourites this year and it certainly deserves a wider audience. But it got me thinking about the way the punk/hardcore scene has progressed over 40 years to the state that we find it in today (for better or worse, you decide).
It could be argued that this action by Grave Mistake is an example of a growing malaise within punk/hardcore circles between the "safe space" crowd and the "real life" crowd and I have heard it argued that it reflects a conscious effort to self police the punk/hardcore scene in a manner that would make it more in tune with the communalist aspects and distrust of established authority motifs that the genre has often played with.
On one hand, that's highly commendable (and certainly, the post by Blackout member Natalie does suggest a healthy support in the punk/hardcore circuit in Philadelphia, which is certainly to be commended).
On the other hand, the original notion of punk/hardcore came from disaffected people who had a hatred towards authority (which, in 70's UK, meant the Labour Party and collectivism) and conformity in all forms ("the only rule is that there are no rules" was the old saying). Put these people together and tell them to behave themselves because they're in a "safe space." They'd have killed you.
Like any social movement, the rules of engagement change and develop as the years go on. Hence we see the lineage from 77 chaos punks, to the second wave (who adopted a more blunt lyrical approach and decried selling out), the anarcho punks (such as Crass and their Dial House commune), with the two influencing the late 80's hardcore scene and beyond. So self policing and adherence to "scene rules" are now a common theme.
Hence the dichotomy between the strands of punk.
In 2018, it's possible to enter places dedicated to this scene, only to find certain elements within the place ordering people to remove Confederate flag patches from their jackets (used on the jacket as a traditional symbol of rockabilly) and asking people at the front of the stage to move back to let women come forward. Highly patronising behaviour and hardly likely to challenge the status quo, is it?
I would like to assume that people who attend gigs in these places are dissuaded from wearing Sex Pistols t-shirts (due to the use of swastikas) and picket Eric Clapton gigs (due to his, never withdrawn, remarks about immigration).
Somehow I doubt it. Not so much a case of moral relativism, but brow beating.
Bringing this back to Barge, I'll ask this question: what point does withdrawing the album from sale do? Is it so that the label feels that it has done it's bit, ensuring that his victims aren't retraumatised by seeing the album in a distro? If so, (and without wishing to denigrate the suffering of the innocent women involved in this case) it's a very worthy but ultimately pointless exercise.
The first thing that springs to mind is that it's an album pressed in small quantities (500 for Europe alone and 600 odd in America), so it's hardly likely to have generated an awful lot of money, and thus there is little to no chance of Olivos profiting from the record. Secondly, due to the small numbers and the nicheness of the genre, it has virtually no profile in the mainstream media or record buying public, limiting the scope for the record being a discussion point. It is merely a grain of sand on the beach.
Of course, the wishes of the band and label should be respected but, like Generic, it sets a precedent that, for me personally, is uncomfortable.
Basically, you can say the album was made by a band whose singer was a horrible human being. But the art has to be divided from the artist. Otherwise, you'll have to throw out your Burzum records (an easy target, I hear you say) and your Led Zeppelin ones as well (underage groupies a plenty).
And if we carry on with this train of thought, does this mean we should remove all aspects of crime from art, literature, music and movies/TV, because we don't want people being retraumatised by something they've seen on a repeat of The Bill?
Should we ban books like 'Lolita' because we should never read the point of view of a paedophile (even though anyone who has read the book can tell you that it's clear that Humbert is a pathetic loser)?
Should we ban the paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi, due to the imagery (an attempt to deal with the trauma of rape)?
Let's take it a step further and start judging historical figures in this light. Martin Luther King was an adulterer, so clearly his message of equal rights can be disregarded. Gandhi infamously believed in the purity of race, so his views on pacifism don't count anymore. One of the greatest proponents for free speech was George Orwell. Yet there are homophobic references aplenty in 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying.' So that obviously means we can ignore any of his works.
Obviously, there will be people out there who find it impossible to separate the person from the art, which is understandable and their choice. Discussions about this are crucial for people to open their minds to other opinions (whether they agree or not). But for one or two others to decide that we don't need to hear something because of the artist's behaviour? Sorry, but no. I'll be the judge of whether I want to listen to it or not.
Will Barge go the way of Lostprophets, or will it be reissued at some point in the future with a trigger warning on the back? Time will tell.
When dealing specifically with Barge, I'll reiterate my comment that it's a simple tale of one side deciding not to work with another side. But the story has been a springboard for this piece, allowing me to compile several thoughts together.
With the recent outcry over misrepresented comments relating to the 1972 film 'Last Tango in Paris' from people who, more than likely, had never heard of the film prior to a Yahoo article that (incorrectly) suggested actress Maria Schneider had been raped by Marlon Brando, it now clear that Franz Kafka was right, the truth is an abyss for many.
Johan Steyn (now in the House of Lords) was once quoted as saying that:
freedom of speech is the lifeblood of democracy. The free flow of information and ideas inform...it acts as a brake on the abuse of power...
This is something we need to remind ourselves of when faced with a piece of art (or opinion) that we may find anathema to our own value system. The work may challenge you to think beyond your own prejudices but that's all it remains, a work. It does not threaten your way of life, nor does it create monsters.
Art is a reflection of life and sometimes life is a an ugly site. Be prepared and make your own mind up, otherwise we could find ourselves listen to extreme music about the pitfalls of skipping through a field in the summer while wearing a summer dress.
The clue is in the word "extreme."
You certainly have the right to disagree with it, and even protest about it. But you do not have the right to deny others the right to express their opinion. If Grave Mistake wish to withdraw this album, it's their choice to do so. But I also have the right to write about it and express my misgivings about it.
➽ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212