Karl Marx

Michel Foucault


TR Young

Dragan Milovanovic

Peter Manning

Stuart Henry Steve Goodman Simon Reynolds Bill Bogard Angus Carlyle Mark Fisher


Vitual Criminologies


An article by Simon Reynolds

(First published in Frieze, UK art journal, 1996; this is the "director's cut", expanded version.)

"Weapons are tools not just of destruction but also of perception--that is to say, stimulants that make themselves felt through chemical, neurological processes in the sense organs and the central nervous system, affecting human reactions and even the perceptual identification and differentiation of objects" --Paul Virilio, "War and Cinema"

In the last five years, pop music has been colonised by militaristic imagery. 'Popular avant-gardes' like East Coast hip hop, hardstep jungle and terrorcore gabba act as mirrors to late capitalist reality, stripping away the facade of free enterprise to reveal the war of all against all: a neo-Medieval paranoiascape of robber barons, pirate corporations, covert operations and conspiratorial cabals. In the terrordome of capitalist anarchy, the underclass can only survive by taking on the mobilisation techniques and the psychology of warfare--forming blood-brotherhoods and warrior-clans, and individually, by transforming the self into a fortress, a one-man army on perpetual red alert.

Wu-Tang Clan and its extended family of solo artists (Method Man, Ol Dirty Bastard, Genius/GZA and Raekwon) are the premier exponents of the doom-fixated, paranoiac style of hip hop that currently rules the East Coast. The Clan's 1993 debut album "Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" begins with a sample from a martial arts movie. "Shaolin shadow-boxing and the Wu Tang sword...If what you say is true, the Shaolin and the Wu tang could be dangerous. Do you think your Wu Tang sword can defeat me?" Then there's the challenge "En garde!", and the clashing of blades as combat commences.

Wu-Tang's Shaolin obsession only renders explicit the latent content of hip hop: a neo-Medieval code of honour, blood brotherhood and fortress mentality. Look at the videos of post-Wu rap acts like Mobb Deep, and the dancing actually resembles shadow-boxing or kung fu: eyes hooded, mouths contorted in screwface animosity, the rappers seem to be fending off invisible adversaries, their arms slicing and dicing in a ballet of vigilance and hostility.

Listen to the Wu Tang's raps, or those of peers like Gravediggaz, Nas and Jeru The Damaja, and you're swept up in a non-narrative delirium of grandiose delusions and fantastical revenges, a paranoid stream-of-consciousness whose imagistic bluster seems like your classic defensive-formation against the lurking spectre of emasculation. For the Clan, words are "liquid swords" (as Genius's album title has it). The Wu's fevered rhyme-schemes are riddled with imagery of pre-emptive strikes, massive retaliation and deterrence. "New recruits, I'm fucking up MC troops"; "Wu Tang's coming through with full metal jackets"; "call me the rap assassinator"; "merciless like a terrorist, hard to capture". Hallucinatory and cinematic, the music is a sonic simulation of the city-as-warzone, a treacherous terrain of snipers, man-traps and ambushes. Over drum-and-bass grooves as tautly coiled as a rattlesnake poised to strike, unresolved motifs--a horror-movie piano thrill, a hair-trigger guitar--are looped, instilling suspense and foreboding. Usually, the loops and grooves don't change, there's no bridges or tempo shifts, which increases the sense of non-narrative limbo, of tension-but-no-release.

Wu-Tang's B-boy warrior stance and Doomsday vision has permeated East Coast hip hop culture, from Onyx (whose "Last Dayz" proclaims "we all ready for these wars") to the Clan's own proteges Sunz of Man. The latter's "Soldiers of Darkness" ups the ante on the Clan's self-representation as holy warriors (one Wu is called Killah Priest). The track begins with a sample--"attention, soldiers! Kill every one of them"-- and climaxes with a "Maldoror"-meets-"Pulp Fiction" fever-dream of "Revelations" style imagery: "Hearken/As the night darkens/You've been warned/That the priests will soon swarm... With Night-time as my uniform, and death as my sword/The universal warlord ... The supreme slayer/I wrote the book of Isaiah... The reason you felt shame/Is because I been ordained/I'll tie you up and throw you off a fucking plane/And fill up your parachute with more dead bodies". Talk about overkill!

Side Two of "Enter The Wu-Tang" starts off with yet another martial-arts movie sample: "the game of chess is like a sword fight, you must think first ...dope style is immensely strong and immune to any weapon". This sample resurfaced a year later in the British jungle scene, on "You Must Think First" by Dope Style, a.k.a. DJ Hype. Hype's battery of breakbeats mimic the slashing and scything sound effects in martial arts movie, an effect also achieved on another 1994 classic, "Lionheart", by Bert & Dillinja. Half-way through, "Lionheart" reaches an oasis of ambient soul; a languishing, melting male voice moans for "mama, mama, mama". Then the 'butcher's block' breakbeats return, signalling that battle has recommenced, that psychic armature must be put back on again.

Dillinja is also the man responsible for "Warrior", a masterpiece of abstract militancy, and more recently, under another gangsta alias Capone, he released "Soldier", featuring the sample: "a coward dies a thousand deaths, a soldier dies but one". Dillinja's ally, Lemon D, also opened up another front of recording activity under the name Soul-Jah; the name gives the rude-boy hoodlum a conscious Rastafarian spin, makes it another signifier for holy warrior dispensing righteous violence. And there's The Terradome's "Soldier": its histrionic sample--"I'm not a criminal, I'm a soldier, and I deserve to die like a soldier"--is the ultimate crystallisation of the idea of the gangsta as a one-man army, a rogue unit in capitalism's war of all against all. Gangs in American inner-city ghettos have long been organised along military lines; in some ways, gang brotherhood offers an alternative form of self-mobilisation and career-structure, to joining the real US military. In turn, militants like the Black Panthers attempted to radicalise the hustlers and hoodlums, hoping to transform the street-warrior's private quest for prestige into a struggle for collective African-American sovereignty.

Jungle is the British equivalent to hip hop--hip hop sped-up and with rap verbals replaced by abstract atmospherics--and as such it's permeated with warzone imagery: urban-paranoia samples ("there's a war going on outside, no man is safe"); metaphors of the DJ as artillery-man (an MC on pirate station Reload FM boasts "we load up the ammunition, and fire it, like dis"); raves like Wardance and Desert Storm; artist names like Dark Soldier and Military Police.

Jungle's militarism goes back as far as the early days of hardcore rave, 1991-92. Influenced by Underground Resistance's guerrila-unit chic (EP's like "Belgian Resistance", "Kamikaze", "Electronic Warfare"), 4 Hero conceived their Reinforced releases as "raids" on the hardcore scene; they'd carpet-bomb the scene with multiple releases, even putting out the remix on the same day as the original, then disappear from sight for months. Their first single was called "Combat Dancing", and on their 1991 debut album "In Rough Territory", the cover depicts a commando unit planting a flag on enemy soil, while the first label compilation Reinforced, was entitled "Callin' For Reinforcements". Goldie, one-time Reinforced A&R and recording artist (under the alias Rufige Cru) talked of his proteges as "prototypes", as if they were weapons under development.

A seminal 1992 track that pioneered today's minimalistic drum & bass, 2 Bad Mice's "Bombscare" actually employed the sound of a suspect device detonating as part of its bassline, making the sound of urban dread funky. 2 Bad Mice's label Moving Shadow continued this idea with 1994 tracks like Renegade's "Terrorist", Deep Blue's "Helicopter Tune" (which turned Latin percussion into the sound of the ' 'copter dawn-raid in 'Apocalypse Now').

"Jungle" and "Vietnam" are associated in jungle's collective unconscious, and this link has occasionally surfaced, from the label Saigon to Peshay's "Back From 'Nam" remix of Goldie's "Angel" to Ed Rush's "Bludclot Artattack Remix" with its Martin Sheen's monologue from "Apocalypse Now" ("everytime I think I'm gonna wake up back in the jungle'). Perhaps the connection is the idea of the rban ghetto as a sort of internal Vietnam. Los Angeles is the paradigm here; witness the LAPD's use of helicopters and military-style raids in the "war on drugs", and their post-Vietnam grief about having "lost LA" (here the ethnic gangs have the same demonic status as the Viet Cong). "Predator 2", a film set in a Los Angeles of the near-future, and its prequel "Predator", have exerted a huge crucial influence on jungle's imagery. From "Predator" came the sample "she said 'the jungle, it just came alive and took hi'm", as used in Shimon's "The Predator", while the sequel produced the famous "fucking voodoo magic" line used in Hyper-On Experience's "Lords Of the Null Lines". While the first film is set in a real jungle that's also a Central American warzone, "Predator 2" is about the urban jungle, where rival drug gangs fight each other and the police. The script obsessively underlines the state of martial lawlessness, with various police officers declaring "welcome to the war", "you're a soldier", 'we're not winning this war'. Beyond this dystopian magnification of contemporary urban chaos, what must have particularly grabbed the junglist imagination is the clan of drug-peddling warlords called the Jamaican Voodoo Posse who smoke ganja and wear dreadlocks, and the fact that the local TV news programme which documents the carnage is called 'Hardcore Report'!

How did jungle's militant sound and attitude emerge out of hardcore rave's smiley-faced benevolence and gloriously soppy sentimentality? Ecstasy is the androgynising drug, melting psychic and bodily rigidities (Reich's 'character armour'); its anti-aphrodisiac effects encourage a regression to the infant's polymorphously perverse sensuality. But regular use causes its blissful effects to wear off, leaving only the jittery speed-rush. This is exacerbated as ravers take more and more pills in a vain attempt to recover the fast-fading rapture of yore. Either that, or they switch allegiance to the cheaper, more reliable sulphate altogether.

Amphetamine has historical connections with warfare. Millions of pills were given to Allied and Axis troops during the Second World War, to fight fatigue, boost morale and promote aggression. Hitler was given methamphetamine shots seven times a day, and Japanese kamikaze pilots were speeding out of their heads as they hurtled to a glorious death. After WW2, speed was the drug-of-choice for veterans who couldn't adjust to civilian life (Hell's Angels, truckers), and for kids who were bored senseless by it (Mods got "blocked" on purple hearts and black bombers, before battling the Rockers on the beaches of Brighton). Today, the bosozoku--Japan's delinquent "speed tribes"--fuse mod and rocker with their greaser image, and their fondness for listening to cassettes of their turbo-charged bikes revving up and for getting wired on injectable methamphetamine.

As Ecstasy's androgynising powers began to fade circa mid-92 (the Second Wave of Rave having come on line a year to 18 months earlier), so there was a gradual re-masculation of rave culture, and a militarisation of the music. In England, 'ardkore techno turned into jungle; in Scotland and Northern Europe, hardcore turned into gabba. In both cases, the tempo rose dramatically to match the overdriven metabolisms of a new generation of speedfreaks, peaking at 150 bpm with jungle, and rising to 180, 200, even 250 bpm with gabba. Rave music turned 'darker' too, its video-nasty soundbites, rude-boy/gangsta threats and persecutory soundscapes reflecting the paranoia and psychic malaise that are long-term effects of prolonged Ecstasy, amphetamine and marijuana abuse.

With E's luv'd up vibe haemmorhaging from British hardcore, out went the cartoon hypergasmic bliss of squeaky, sped-up voices, the rush-inducing, tremulous piano riffs. The music stripped down to drum & bass. The bass sound in today's jungle lacks the wobbly glee and wombadelic warmth of hardcore rave; instead, there's the sinister radioactive glow of the 'dred bass' sound, or dry, metallic, atonal B-lines that palpitate joylessly and tunelessly. As for percussion, jungle basically consists of James Brownian funk beats tightened and tuffened into the martial paradiddles and triplets of the parade ground; snares are sped up and pitchshifted until they sound like bursts of machine gun fire. It's easy to imagine today's 'hardstep' jungle being picked up as a training resource by the military, a new kind of drill (with JB barking like a sergeant!) designed to sharpen the motor-reflexes of the new breed of soldier--more improvisatory, less regimented--that'll be required for the urban conflicts of the future.

Right now, jungle already has just such a quasi-military function for its followers. With its unstable beats and landslide/landmine bass, jungle creates a kinaesthetic sound-picture of '90s reality in all its dread and tension; at the same time, the music's interminable energy gives the junglist street-warrior the will and the stamina to survive.

While jungle got blacker, taking on influences from Jamaican ragga and US hip hop, hardcore techno's other half evolved into the Teutonic, funkless sound of gabba. Originally invented in Rotterdam, gabba is an aural blitzkrieg of stormtrooper beats, distorted bass, death-swarm synths, and rabble-rousing, expletive-undeleted samples. Its aura is of mass rally and proto-fascistic brotherhood, its sensations are velocity, fixation and aimless belligerence.Gabba's shaven-headed, mostly male fans grind their teeth, shake their fists in the air and jump up and down on the spot in a peculiar Dutch variant of the pogo.

Like jungle events, gabba raves create a sensory overkill that blurs pleasuredome and terrordome, using lazers, intelligent lighting, and 80 K mega-bass sound-systems to create a hallucinogenic hellzone of light and noise that recalls the nocturnal, up-river battle scenes in 'Apocalypse Now'. And even more than jungle, gabba is explicit about its militaristic fantasies. The imagery recalls heavy metal's super-speedy, sadomasochistic sub-genres such as thrash, death-metal and grindcore: band names like Search & Destroy, Annihilator, Strontium 9000, track titles like "Iron Man", "Dominator", "The Endzone", "Dark Knight", and compilations like "Battlegrounds". As well as diabolic horror-movie voices, gabba often resorts to sampling rappers, particularly those from the Def Jam rap/metal crossover era, e.g. Chuck D boasting "my Uzi weighs a ton".

Gabba offers all the pleasures of war without the consequences; it's an intransitive war, a "Mindwar" as one track by Annihilator puts it. Beyond gabba there's a realm of even harder'n'faster subgenres like speedcore, terrorcore, scare-core, doomtrooper. Here you'll find labels like Cold Rush, PCP, Kotzaak, Gangstar Toons Industry, Napalm, Killout, Shockwave, Bloody Fist;artists like The Speedfreak, Trip Commando, Disciples of Annihilation, Soldiers of Fortune, Midwest Hardcorps; tracks like Delta 9's "Wehrmacht", Leathernecks' "At War", Disintegrator's "Locked On Target". Here the near-autistic fetishism of technology, the perverse identification of libido with the military-industrial complex, is even more intense; fantasies of man-machine interface, of prosthetic access to ubermensch powers, abound. What's odd is this cyber-fetishism often goes hand in hand with a militant opposition to the pan-global corporate forces that actually developed this technology, articulated in the form of a cyber-Situationist rhetoric of underground resistance, "guerrilla warfare on vinyl".

Alien Underground, a London-based 'zine that monitors this international ultra-core network, sometimes reviews tracks using 'samples' from Virilio's writings on speed and the war-machine. One review, actually credited to Virilio, raves about "instantaneous explosions, the sudden flare of assassinations, the paroxysm of speed... an internal war- machine". Gangstar Toons Industry's 250 b.p.m "pure Uzi poetry" is hailed as "exercises in the art of disappearing in pure speed to the point of vertigo and standstill". Everything that for Virilio represents an anti-humanist cultural exterminism that must be resisted and reviled, is valorised and revelled in by these speed-freak techno-junkies.

Bruce Sterling coined the term "military/entertainment complex" to describe the way that technological spin-offs from military research feed into the leisure industry, from video-games to virtual reality. These toys originated in the flight-simulator developed by the military to train jet-fighter pilots. Gabba is exactly the sort of music that really ought to be playing in the background of all those carnographic video-games. In fact, the blitz of lights and lazers at gabba raves could be seen as an attempt to make the raver feel like they're inside a video-game.

Nintendo games and post- rave styles like jungle and gabba are to virtual reality what cocaine is to crack. By stoking an appetite for ever-escalating doses of hyper-stimulation, Nintendo/gabba recalibrates and hotrods the nervous system in preparation for insertion into the virtual domain. If the crack metaphor seems hyperbolic, consider the way that TV ads for video-games play on the addictive nature of velocity and ultraviolence, the two sensations they offer the player. One commercial shows a mother begging her sallow, red-eyed teenage son to 'please try to go outside today, honey'; with its murky gloom, and its fixated occupants, the living room suddenly takes on the atmosphere of a crackhouse. The game 'Zoop' is advertised as "America's largest killer.... of time". The commercial shows a boy doing cold-turkey in a padded cell, twitching and puking. Peering through the peephole, the doctor asks 'how long's he been playing?"; the nurse answers "17 straight days", at once setting up the association of the amphetamine freak's sleep-defying "run". Here is Virilio's "becoming-speed" or Arthur Kroker "speed-flesh": a sexless euphoria that bypasses the adolescent's hormonally-troubled body to recover the prepubescent boy's imaginary of explosions and pyromania.

Playing up video-games' emotional spectrum (autism/psychosis) even more blatantly, the commercial for 'Zero Tolerance' begins with a maternal voice chiding 'clear your room'. The boy (and it's always a boy) responds with another kind of cleansing, entering the virtual sensorium to blast innumerable foes to smithereens; meanwhile, a list of non-virtual 'enemies' (including 'your sister') scrolls up the screen. The closing slogan: 'there's way too much reality out there'.

It's already a cliche that the Gulf War was a Nintendo War. But perhaps it's less known that Allied "jet fighter pilots [flew] into combat listening to heavy metal," according to Arthur Kroker. 'Heavy metal' was originally a military term (in the early 19th Century it signified large guns, carrying balls of a large size), but this is only one example out of countless of the militaristic streak running through rock's imaginary: Steppenwolf's "fire all of your guns at once... explode into space"; Black Sabbath's case study in protofascist rigor mortis, "Iron Man"; Iggy Pop's "heart full of napalm", ballistic death-trip; Motorhead's iron-fisted, neo-biker Reich'n'roll; sampler-wielding cybernauts the Young Gods and their militantly mystical crusade to the End of the Night.

All of these instances of man-machine interface fantasy have an ancestor in Norman Mailer's 1957 essay "The White Negro", which concerned the building of a new nervous system by experimenting with psychopathology. And all find their culmination in hardcore techno's kinaesthetics of rush and crash. The rush is when your nervous-system's circuitry is plugged into the machine, charged with artifical energy, turned to speed-flesh; the crash is when the all-too-human body can't handle the pace anymore. Back in 1992, the hardcore rave DJ would sometimes abruptly switch the turntable off: the nauseous, vertiginous sound of the record slowing from 150 b.p.m to Zero was a hideously voluptuous preview of the drug comedown, the inevitable crash, only a few hours ahead. Then, woosh!, the DJ would flick the Technics' switch, and the force-field would re-possess the dancer's body.

For today's digital-Dionysian, release doesn't take the form of Mailer's 'Apocalyptic Orgasm', but the orgasmic apocalypse. Hence a band like Ultraviolence, who fuse thrash metal and gabba, and whose "Psycho Drama" LP is trailed with the promise: "10,000 Nagasakis in your head!" For the modern militarised libido, the equivalent of serene post-coital tristesse is the aftermath: post-apocalyptic wastelands, razed cities, dead suns, the empty horizon, entropy-as-nirvana. Hence titles like Jack Lucifer's "After All Wars", or statements like this by PCP's The Mover about his own doomtrooper brand of gabba: "imagine surveying earth after nuclear destruction and enjoying what you see, that's how it feels when you listen to it".

In this music, Virilio's "ecstasy of catastrophe" is revealed as a cybertronic update of Bataille's sacrifical violence and "expenditure-without-return". Militarism offers entertainment culture diverse technologies-of-ecstasy, means of procuring the Wargasm to end all orgasms.

The text on this site copyright Simon Reynolds, 1998. Please do not reprint without permission.

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