Review by Freddy Syborn
The sleeve of an old LP called The House of Terror is pinned to one of the walls in the Space’s exhibition of artwork and ephemera which influenced or was produced by the band Destroy All Monsters. Above Hammer Horror images, a slogan announces ‘we dare you to spend a night’ listening to the record’s ghoulish sounds, songs and stories. I haven’t heard The House of Terror, but I imagine spending a night with Destroy All Monsters might be more terrifying. Here in Bethnal Green, the band’s music only plays in fits and starts; its CDs lie in cellophane under glass. Objects, still. But still the sound they make hits you, recreated by clash of material on display. Hungry for Death gives us a glimpse of Detroit’s psychotic mood at the end of the sixties, a mood we can see was influenced by (amongst others) Betty Page, John Sinclair, MC5, Famous Monsters of Film Land, Mexican pop Catholicism, black power incitements, Sun Ra, Vincent Prince movies, trips to Ann Arbor, ‘sploitation of blax of women of soul, kitch percussion, fake blood and the Charlie Manson edition of Life magazine. With this last item, a question might be being asked: Manson’s leer makes you wonder how one creative community in hippy California produced him, while another in the far more brutal surroundings of Detroit did not succumb to that well-documented end-of-days anger.
It might have something to do with the certain, highly aggressive irony that Destroy All Monsters, the Stooges and MC5 applied to culture, an irony at the heart of rock provocation. Iggy Pop dressed as a member of the SS to perform, and cut himself up with peanut butter; the most visceral moments on Kick Out The Jams are Rob Tyner’s appropriating revolutionary rhetoric (‘brothers and sisters’‘) to make people dance. How seriously we take these acts depends on how far we want to analyse that charge we feel witnessing them. Such performances may have no meaning behind them, but they have meaning enough in and as themselves, moments beyond the pales of ordinary experience. Accordingly, the conflict in Destroy All Monsters’ exhibition could be to reconcile a lifetime’s supply of ephemera with a lifetime of lost moments. If consumer goods live longer than those that resist being consumed, by time, by the mainstream, then we must try to transfuse them with a little of what is lost.
Back in Bethnal Green, an ape suit hangs, staked and crucified, lurid blood everywhere. There are all kinds of conflicting impressions to negotiate: cruel reflection, pop joke, portentous decoration, even battlecry. Like the basslines in Destroy All Machines’ music, the ape resembles something familiarly plastic - King Kong and the whole world of Forrest J. Ackerman - around and under and in which incredibly disturbing things can play out. The band’s music works because there are always elements in their songs which are recognisable to the point of being cheap, tropes kept formulaic to lull and sway us into undergoing a kind of trauma. Maybe it’s akin to what I take to be the comedy in Jeff Koons’ work: willing the audience to dismiss the obvious crudenesses which dissect their desire.
Hungry for Death’s real hunger is for the overwhelming, dense juxtaposition of trash with truth, real influences with pulp fiction. The consumer object represents death in life; it should not be desired, it should not be consumed, but the low lighting and (more) gore, the redness of the room, suggests we’re in the processing part of a body that has already eaten. By contrast to this physical mass, the lyrical moment is transitory. The exchange between object and spirit occurs - the performance is captured on material, material is reproduced in performance. Each bends the other to its will. The ape almost becomes celebratory: whether trash or deep, it is brashly invincible in its death, revelling in the immaterial. It’s about the fun you can have with fake blood.
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