Machine Girl The Ugly Art

[Kitty on Fire; 2018]

Styles: bloodied banker-core, digital hardcore
Others: Dreamcrusher, Deli Girls, Kill Alters, Channel 63, Five Star Hotel

Traversing the history of punk, the opening 30 seconds explode from the distant beating of drums to the synthesized onslaught of sequenced drums. The tensions between punk and dance music that haunted post-punk — with its gentrified visions of funk, “world music,” and pop, and its eventual copout in New Wave — are eviscerated. Machine Girl, now expanding to a duo and incorporating live drumming, does not give a shit about this history. Instead, on their new album The Ugly Art, the dividing line between hardcore and underground dance music dissolves, replaced by the amorphous blur between mosh pit and gabber dance.

It’s the body-horrifics of colliding subcultures, club kids’ intestines choking punks as bruises from the mosh cave in, letting roaches and used needles plummet to the bloodstained ground. The drums, like Alan Vega’s fists pounding yuppy skulls, texture the mix. In those moments where they creep around the edges of the blown-out beats, like the decelerating instances in “Psycho Signal Jammer,” flesh and metal, analog and digital, are entangled in the Tetsuo-grotesque.

Sonically, Machine Girl represent the crisis of urban postmodernity: The false promise of organic creativity after gentrification, as artistic output is infused with anti-black violence; the horrific realization undergirding DIY culture that we are not only the victims of gentrification, but also complicit within it. “Necro Culture Vulture,” one of the album’s catchiest yet simultaneously most throttling cuts, centers on this antagonism, containing the heinous screeched vocal passages, “They built a condo on your tomb/ The earth is rotted to the root/ A marble corpse like sister moon/ They gentrified the hellscape, dude!”

This is the collapse, the moment when cities fold in on themselves as artists are unknowingly enlisted by real estate developers to aesthetically remake neighborhoods. Abandoned by the state and callously used by commercial interests focused on profit, the artist becomes a tool in gentrification. The hellscape, the spiral downward, open cysts, blackened eyes, The Velvet Underground exhibit in the East Village, stomping on the person who falls in the pit, spitting in the yuppy’s face, the frustrated stares of those now living in gentrified neighborhoods, Sonic Youth’s gear on Reverb — underground culture’s coffin.

The Necro Culture Vulture perches above the rotting corpse, wires protruding from the biomech installation that made things so much easier. Machine Girl make music for the decline, for the moment of realization that we’re all fucked, that those of us who are part of the problem can only thrash back and forth, building the bruises. The closing cut “Descent Man” embodies this problematic, moving from mangled electronics and drumming topped with wretched vocals, to a distanced interlude driven by a hypnotic beep, then back to a pummeling peak interweaving all the previous elements. The climax rings with the frenetic lines, “I was a decent man I’m on a descent man.”

My cut precedes me; the question is not how to mend the wound — it’s much too late — but how to live with it, through it. When Machine Girl offer momentary reprieves, such as on “Nwofka Skullboy” or “First Five Years of Life,” reflection emerges on how to approach the urban landscape’s mix of mechanized capitalism, anti-blackness, and aesthetic production. Machine Girl’s entangled influences from all corners of underground punk and electronic reply with David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Naked Lunch, Brian Yuzna’s Society, and Takashi Miike’s Gozu: embrace the horrific transformations of our bodies. Against the post-punk revivalism that gentrified Williamsburg in the early 2000s, Machine Girl say fuck punk, fuck electronic, fuck experimental, fuck noise, fuck DIY — fuck it all. Everyone is a pharmaceutico-technical monstrosity. We might as well accept that and revel momentarily in the intoxicating catharsis of saying “fuck you.”

This, however, is just a new starting point. The cut remains. The questions of how to be a decent human, of how to sustain scenes, and how to stop these scenes from contributing to gentrification and anti-blackness still permeate the air. Now the task is to determine what is to be done.

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

Most Read