Continuing to battle for the progressive side of the sociopolitical landscape, Jim Marcus discusses the lyrical and philosophical leanings of GoFight’s latest album, American Jihadi.
An InterView with Jim Marcus of GoFight
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Three albums in and still going strong, Chicago’s outstanding electroscuzz band GoFight continues to carve out its own special musical and lyrical niche; fronted by the legendary Jim Marcus, the band’s ‘pro-sex/anti-war’ stance is as pertinent as ever. With each album, Marcus has crafted music that is as much of the moment as it is timeless, merging the gritty and energetic aspects of rock and industrial with the groove and swagger of blues and funky R&B, topped off by a healthy dose of powerfully danceable beats to appeal to virtually all any electronic aficionado. All the while, the lyrics also address sociopolitical topics that are as current as they are far-reaching, touching on the roles of politics, sexuality, and artistic freedom and expression in daily life. American Jihadi is no exception, taking the band’s sound further into a greater juxtaposition of edgy electronics and jagged rock textures.
Marcus took the time to speak with ReGen on the development of the band’s third album to achieve a decidedly American atmosphere, opting for a more organic approach to the live instruments, while also discussing the current presidential campaign, the political nature of feminism, as well as the role of the industrial genre in shaping modern music and where its evolution will ultimately proceed.
What are your thoughts on how American Jihadi as the third album has developed the sound of GoFight so far?
The guitars and the drumbeats (although Napalm Baby had more cowbell) had been treated on past GoFight albums to sound almost as electronic as the synthesizers, whereas on this album, the live instruments do have more of that live, organic feel.
Marcus: Yeah, and I feel that turning instruments into other instruments wasn’t as much part of the experience here. I feel that getting some of the songs and getting more of that organic and very American sounds to actually happen was more of the goal here. And again, I don’t necessarily think that’s going to follow through on other records; it was the evolution for this one, and I’d love to explore with subsequent records a completely different ways to go. I’m torn on it, because I love the idea that for every time we put a record out, we’re actually adding to this repertoire of music that should sound like it makes sense together. A band should be coherent, right? At the same time, we really want to explore other kinds of influences and directions, so I guess I’m always torn about how to approach that. In this particular situation, it seemed like a very good idea to go for this very American feel for the album. I like the way it came out.
While you’ve never strayed from dance influences in the music that you’ve done in the past with Pigface and Die Warzau, GoFight is very clearly influenced by dance music – most of which, we seem to refer to as EDM. What are your thoughts on the way dance music has evolved and GoFight’s place in that evolution?
There does seem to be a whole new crop of artists that are creating exciting new ‘industrial’ music that don’t seem to actually be coming from that scene.
Marcus: Right, and that just demonstrates this idea that all that happened in industrial is not an insular thing anymore. It’s not something that’s owned by four or five people that is measured out in small amounts; there are elements that are in fact prevalent now in every kind of music out there. It’s really hard to find an EDM song that doesn’t have elements of what might have been happening on the industrial or electronic dance floor 20 years ago. I feel like that’s fantastic and represents success in a lot of ways, but it just means that we have to keep moving forward. I feel like we want to be ahead of what’s going on always, right? I think what we’re trying to do with GoFight is that we’re very much about songwriting and I feel like we’re trying to mark out a territory that is just us. That doesn’t mean that some of these other territories aren’t absolutely amazing. You have a record by Youth Code or iVardensphere that is absolutely great. Being able to carve out your own territory within this is the best kind of homage that we can give this music.
You’ve mentioned that the next GoFight record may not follow the direction that American Jihadi went in, and you’ve shown a lot of funk and R&B influence in your work, and that was one of the things differentiating what you did with Die Warzau and GoFight. What’s influencing you now? What’s on your playlist these days?
GoFight live seems to be just as energetic, but definitely has a much more live and ‘rock’ feel. What would you like to see as the next step for GoFight live, either visually or sonically?
Marcus: We’ve done a lot of focusing on the music and the performance, and I don’t think we focus as much on the visuals. I’d love to have a chance to actually do that. It’s just been so much fun to be able to play with musicians that I really respect and really like a lot. To me, it’s been a show of very core musicians – you know, with a live drummer and a guitar player and a bass player – and I feel like we’ve been able to explore playing songs in a very visceral way that the musician in me really appreciates. But I also know that there’s a job to be done in creating a visual expression, and I wish I’d paid more attention to that and I’d like to pay more attention to that in the future. As a DJ, I really enjoy being able to do live DJ work. The problem is there’s this issue that happens onstage – people appreciate music onstage when they recognize what the hell you’re doing; they need to know what you’re doing in order to appreciate it. Very often, I’ll see a performer onstage, and I realize that I know what he or she is doing with the knobs and what they’re making happen onstage, but for people who don’t, it might not be that entertaining. I keep wondering, ‘What’s going to make this better?’ Would it make more sense for that musician to take the screen in front of them, amplify it, and put it up on the back wall so that people can see what’s really happening on the screen? Does it make more sense to have a larger controller or something like that in the environment?
Angelspit did that for awhile, having old Nintendo controllers modified into live MIDI controllers. But you do make an excellent point; futurepop and EBM had that issue for a long while, with many bands being a singer and a keyboardist or two keyboardists, and people would wonder what they were actually playing or if they were actually playing. Or another example being VNV Nation; for a long time, it was just a vocalist and a live drummer, but all of the electronics were on a backing track, and I knew many people who took issue with that and complained that it wasn’t ‘live’ enough for them.
Marcus: It’s not impressive if nobody knows what you’re doing onstage, and that’s a problem. You can perform for an audience that really recognizes that what you’re doing is complicated when you’re hunched over your gear. I feel this when I’m DJing, and I’ll do a live DJ set with four decks going at the same time with a bunch of sounds that I did myself going at the same time. The audience knows basically if the dance floor works or not… that’s really it. They’re not impressed, and there might be an audience that might say, ‘Okay, I’ve heard this song, but it’s a whole different mix that I’ve never heard before,’ or ‘that was an amazing transition that just happened,’ but I feel like those people are very few and far between.
What would you say should be the next evolution of these ideas, whether in terms of technology or how visuals are incorporated?
Do you find that to be a regional thing? It is obviously part of the American experience, but in your experiences in other cultures and countries, do you find that this problem of sexual censorship still applies?
Well, this was the country founded by the Puritans – as Robin Williams once joked, ‘People so uptight that even England kicked them out.’
Marcus: Right! It’s important to understand too that contextually, I don’t think the past was any better than today. Today is certainly better and I think you have more people who are more recognizing of what’s going on and there are certainly a lot more men who are willing to take responsibility for male behavior in public. I think that we’re seeing a much more successful approach, but what sucks is that realistically for people who truly love sex, who love sexual expression, and who feel like that is one of the more positive elements of the human experience, it’s depressing to think of sex being a thing that hurts people and that the same tools used for sex are being used to hurt people, and that the people who are just hurting people actually believe that they are just attempting to have sex. That’s really sad, but it does mean that the people who care about sexual expression are the ones who need to stand up and talk about consent and how we approach these things. I’m glad that a lot of people who actually do care so much about sex are at the forefront of standing up and saying consent is important and how we don’t take rejection well, and what role we have in creating these situations.
What role do think the internet plays in this? Because it does seem like despite all the trolls who think they can say what they want without consequence, there is a greater forum for forward thinking attitudes to come to the fore…
Marcus: I think that we are seeing a decent amount of forward thinking positions on this, but at the same time, a lot of the internet platforms haven’t come to terms with their own policies surrounding them.
Facebook certainly hasn’t.
This relates to the current political climate as well, and you certainly explore politics with GoFight’s music as well, and there does seem to be a similar situation where it seems like we are trying to legislate sexuality; I hesitate to use the word ‘machismo,’ but there does seem to be a heavy emphasis on it.
Marcus: I think we can make that word mean whatever we need it to mean in a particular situation. In that context, you’re talking about toxic masculinity, and that’s an interesting perception on how that impacts politics as well. There is no fighting the fact that feminism, by its nature, is a political stance. What you’re talking about, and I used to struggle with this a lot when I was younger, is how we talk about women, and I don’t necessarily think feminism is about how we talk about and how we actually address women; I think that is a weak expression of it. I actually think that it’s a red herring, and I think that feminism actually is the narrative about the story of the other in the context of our culture. It’s looking at it from the perspective of the feminine, and we’ve treated women as the other, so feminism ends up being a narrative about that perspective. Because of that, it becomes an invaluable narrative, and we’re now talking about the ability to see the world from the perspective of the other, and it naturally becomes intersectional in that context because now we’re in a situation where being a woman and femininity is not necessarily the only act of otherness and there are lots of other ostensible… well, it’s a sociopolitical abstraction to say that women are a minority or black people are a minority, where the word minority refers to who is fewer and who is more. It has nothing to do with it! It has everything to do with where power is amassed, and women as the 52% of the population are still the other. It’s necessarily intersectional, and in that context, if women had 100% the rights, freedoms, and abilities that men have in the context of our culture, feminism would still be necessary. The idea of exploring the narrative of the other would be necessary, and it wouldn’t just be for women; it would be for convicts, for people of color, for gay and transgender people… it would be for everybody who has actually had to personally explore the experience of the other. I personally feel that there’s no way around that being a political stance because it is in the political framework that the liberties of the other are at play and at risk of being disenfranchised. It’s totally okay to say that toxic masculinity has its own narrative, which is this physical drive towards superiority and the failure to accept any other positions or recognize the subjective reality of the other. It’s hard not to look at the Donald Trump campaign and say that it’s the most toxically masculine campaign I’ve ever seen!
Regarding the current presidential race and the current state of American politics, how much of that plays into the lyrics of American Jihadi?
Do you think he’s going to win?
Marcus: I think he has every chance of winning, and I think that history suggests that protest votes are powerful things. Adolf Hitler never would’ve been elected chancellor if it didn’t take a wheel barrel full of money to buy a loaf of bread. People protested, and they protested at the voting booth, and they did it because they didn’t like the way things were and they were terrified of what was going to happen. I think that we’ve fermented an atmosphere of fear here that is going to permit that to happen. We think that brown people are the problem, and bless us for being awake and aware enough to recognize that there is a problem, but it’s too bad that we point the finger in the wrong direction. What’s sad about this is that people in poverty in this country, people working two jobs and who are trying desperately to make ends meet, are the economic engine of this country and that’s the place where economic activity can do the most good…
And those are the votes that are being marginalized the most.
Marcus: Right! I think if Trump does make it, we’re going to have a disastrous presidency, but he has every chance of winning. It’s terrifying. And you hear about how Trump and even Sanders are protest votes in a way, and people are objecting to the idea of the candidate that is completely manufactured and put together… and Hillary Clinton is completely manufactured and put together. It sounds like everything she says is going through a focus group, and I don’t want to come down on her because there are a great deal of her positions that I respect. But it seems like everything she says is from a focus group. I think the absolutely put together, completely unflappable last eight years of Barack Obama has actually made a lot of people who feel like they’re necessarily angry feel alienated from that administration as well. He’s a very graceful and dignified person and handles things very calmly, and there is a percentage of the population that is looking for an aggressive and toxically masculine approach to the things that bother them for easy and bad answers.
Shifting gears, let’s talk about technology because GoFight is very electronic and we’ve talked about how industrial and electronic elements have shaped much of modern music. What would you like to see as the next evolution of technology, whether musically or generally?
So, what’s next for GoFight? GoFight has toured in quite awhile, but you did recently play on the Electronic Saviors tour.
Marcus: No, we haven’t toured for awhile, but we did do a couple of benefit shows for Electronic Saviors, and that’s just because it’s such a great cause! I’m just excited to play. We’re in a situation now where I don’t feel like I don’t play enough.
You still DJ quite a bit.
Marcus: Oh yeah, but it’s not the same thing. There’s something about getting onstage with musicians that you really respect, and now that my son Mission has been playing with us a lot more, it’s so much more exciting for me. I really enjoy being able to get onstage with him.
You are DJing this year’s ColdWaves as well, and you’ve DJ’d and performed at ColdWaves in the past.
Marcus: Yes! Obviously, I’m just a really huge fan and I’m really excited that things like ColdWaves and Electronic Saviors are actual events, and that we’re in a situation where people care enough that they’ll do these things. These are fantastic and really super important… and I don’t want to just say ‘issues,’ because I feel like that sort of demeans it, but it’s important that people hear that it’s actually being addressed. Whether it’s suicide with ColdWaves or cancer and medical research on Electronic Saviors, I think we’re not sitting here saying that we have an answer, and I don’t think anybody involved thinks that ColdWaves is going to solve suicide or that Electronic Saviors is going to cure cancer tomorrow. But the big idea is that people going through these issues need support and they need to feel like they’re not alone, and I feel like there’s so much worthwhile that can be done in that space, and that’s really exciting. I’m really glad because I’ve always felt like music can do great things, and feeling like it is doing good things makes me happy.
Is there anything we’ve not discussed that you’d like to talk about, whether pertaining to the album or any new movies you’ve seen, etc.?
Marcus: Wow, that’s such a nice open–ended opportunity. As far as the album goes and our records go and this idea of continually releasing music on our own, I feel like part of every time we put a record out is this question of whether or not we’re going to release it on our own again or if we’re going to look for a label. What are we doing? Over and over again, I keep hearing from people that they appreciate the idea that it can be done on your own. I find myself wanting to be successful with releases so that I can turn around and say to people, ‘You can do this on your own. You don’t need permission from anyone, and you don’t need a massive marketing budget, and you don’t need people telling you what’s right or what’s wrong in your own music to be able to do this on your own.’ I feel really good about being able to do things like that, and I keep hoping that it’s a model that people will feel comfortable with, and that they begin to recognize that there is a point to it. I kind of feel terrible saying this, but once upon a time, we (Die Warzau) was on the same label and the same level as The Cure, and what was interesting to me about it was that I was actually very proud of how that band got its fanbase – they built it slowly over a long period of time, and I felt basically that that was the right way to do it. They didn’t expect their first album to sell a million copies, or even the second one. I think there are artists, even on labels, who build a fanbase the right way by simply and consistently delivering good records. It’s scary when you talk about having to hire a publicist or whatever, and I hate to think that it’s true, because I feel like right now, if we don’t believe that people who want and are looking for music are going to actually go out and can actually find it, then I don’t know what to do.
Photography/artwork courtesy of GoFight