Blanck Mass on consumerism and Animated Violence Mild
Ahead of the release of Animated Violence Mild, we talk about the violent nature of consumerism with Benjamin John Power, aka Blanck Mass
What’s in an apple? A lot more than immediately meets the eye, that’s for sure. On the one hand, it’s an image of health and youth – 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' as the saying goes. But within this vitality, there’s room for a worm of discontent: the inevitable decay, spoil and putrefaction of its ripe flesh. Apples bob to the surface throughout folklore in stories like Snow White and reside at the very heart of Christianity’s Genesis story, representing the kind of easy temptation that very quickly lapses into death and sin.
It’s for this reason that the bitten apple – seeping blood like an open wound – is taken as the thematic emblem and cover image of Animated Violence Mild, the new album from Blanck Mass (aka Benjamin John Power). From his breakthrough as part of cult duo Fuck Buttons, throughout his two solo albums as Blanck Mass, Power has become known for the snarling malevolence of his music: all distorted vocals and frenetic beats, with last album, 2017’s World Eater, even splicing field recordings of his own underwater screams into the mix. Yet, with his latest endeavour, the tone of piercing discontent is muffled under a layer of sugary synth in a jarring repurposing of the stylistic hallmarks of the bloated, larger-than-life music of the 80s.
It’s a curious musical choice, but one which crystallises the album’s central theme: the banal violence of consumerism. As Power explains, down the phone on a Thursday evening from his home in Tranent: "The 80s were kind of the birthplace of global mass consumerism as we know it. I used an Oberheim synthesiser that was used a lot in the 80s, particularly on Van Halen’s Jump, on that riff that I’m sure everyone is very familiar with. So there’s a very 80s sound throughout the album, and as opposed to a fetishisation or nostalgia, it’s a tongue-in-cheek piss-take of consumerism." But don’t worry, Power’s diamond-hard electronic music hasn’t gone soft. "That very sugary 80s sound is one colour in quite a broad palette. There’s still a lot of ferocity underneath, even if that [synth] is quite prominent in the mixing process. There’s malevolence still, even if in some places it’s kind of coated with this sleazy palette on top."
It’s far from coincidence that this more upbeat synthesiser sits (uncomfortably) alongside harsher, more industrial effects. The clash of sounds and intensities function as a form of consciousness-raising as to the grisly side effects – i.e. climate crisis, large-scale exploitation of human labour, eroding natural resources – that lie behind our never-ending need to consume. As Power explains, this unexpected violence which humans invented but which now has us in its thrall, was Animated Violence Mild’s guiding theme. "Across the past couple of years, especially during this creative process, I was thinking a lot about global mass consumerism and the implications that it has on us as a species and where it’s brought us to. Consumerism is very violent by its very nature, it’s all-consuming and it’s something we birthed ourselves but has now taken control."
The apple adorning the album sleeve isn’t just an abstract theme, it’s also an imaginary brand trading under the Animated Violence Mild moniker. As Power explains it, the apple is not intended to call to mind Apple of the iPhone and iPad game – though, as we point out, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was taking aim at that Apple, particularly given the mass tax evasion lurking behind its clean veneer. "That wasn’t really my intention there. I was thinking of the idea of violence and I thought the apple was a good symbol. Especially when you reference its use within fairytales and that kind of thing. Even religiously it has malevolent, kind of evil connotations with Adam and Eve."
Breaking it down, Power explains that it was the apple’s innocuousness, perhaps even above its biblical connotations, that pushed him to take the fruit as his emblem of capitalist evil. It’s about showing that "violence can be found in the most unfamiliar of territories or objects." Elaborating, he references two trades that embody the kind of hurtful environmental, health and labour practices he sees as especially problematic: "Look at the tobacco trade, or the coffee trade. This is consumerism at its most violent."
What concerns Power is both the internal and external effects of consumerism – how it's rendered humans as a species incapable of satiating their own needs, or fending for themselves in nature, and also how it’s led to the systematic destruction of our environment. What started perhaps out of an animalistic drive to take what we can from the world around us has spoiled our Garden of Eden, and soon we’ll be burnt alive by rising temperatures and drowning under melting ice caps. "Global mass consumerism is like almost a conditioning – you really have to drop off the grid, even then somehow you’re going to have some involvement with it. It’s intrinsic now. It isn’t necessarily just the human psyche but our environmental surroundings, the birth of consumerism and how that’s affected us but also the world around us."
Is Animated Violence Mild a rallying call then? An anti-capitalist album with a powerfully ecological message to boot? While the record, which moves you to dance at one moment and despair the next with whiplash-like intensity, is clearly one that evokes a response in the body of the viewer, Power is ultimately looking for fans to build their own relationship with his music – and doesn’t want to lay down the law too aggressively. "Obviously I do want to move and create some kind of response within my music, hence some of it being very violent and some of it being very, very heartfelt and soft and emotionally driven, but what really interests me is the differences between how [my music] might impact me and how it might impact someone listening. It’s always interesting to see other people’s perceptions of that same piece of music that I’ve written.
"I’m always very keen that people form their own relationships with these pieces of music – I don’t always have lyrics that are intelligible, or those of which that are intelligible to me are kind of disguised by whatever signal processor I might be using at the time. I don’t really want to push my own agenda onto people, I want them to form their own relationship [with the music]. It’s obviously a whole new artistic process in itself, the moment that you share it with people. That’s not just me, that goes for every artist or creative."
It’s clear that Animated Violence Mild is a project that aims towards provocation, rather than preaching. Yet there’s a palpable grief that courses through the album, coursing through the hollow beat of the 80s-inspired electronica – and there are moments of alarming sonic violence. Power might not be spelling out his despair at our late-stage capitalist dystopia, but you can certainly hear it. Let’s just hope we’re moved to do something about it.
Animated Violence Mild is released on 16 Aug via Sacred Bones Records