Jim Marcus of Chicago’s GoFight speaks with ReGen on the band’s latest litanies of ‘pro-sex/anti-war’ electroscuzz, carving out a niche in modern music that sounds like nothing else.
An InterView with Jim Marcus of GoFight
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Chicago electroscuzz band GoFight has in a few short years become one of modern music’s most exciting and provocative entities. Adopting a ‘pro-sex/anti-war’ sociopolitical outlook, the band’s music addresses the concerns of living in the modern world, drawing on a rich history to remind audiences that music, art, and indeed, life is meant to be enjoyed and celebrated – releasing three EPs in 2014 to promote “Compassionware,” a sharing of music and cultures through innovative technology and human interaction, protesting the Sochi Olympic games in support of the LGBTQ community with “The Moscow Drag,” recognizing exceptional women of the world, past and present, in the music video for “Rocket,” while never shying away from a bit of sex and politics. The trio of Jim Marcus, Dan Evans, and Vince McAley, along with a regular contingent of family and friends, creates a sound that is truly an animal unto itself – equal parts danceable electro, aggressive and caustic industrial, soulful, funky, and gritty rock… all thrown together to form a musical concoction that sounds like nothing else.
Having just released the band’s second album, Napalm Baby, Jim Marcus took the time to speak with ReGen about just what makes him and GoFight tick. He elaborates on the development of the band’s sound, both on record and in the live show, with hints of his solo album and the possible fate of the final Die Warzau album, as well as touching on his work with renowned writer Gareth Branwyn in examining the evolution of Artificial Intelligence in a world that may yet not be ready to nurture such marvels.
Leading up to the release of Napalm Baby, you had release three EPs featuring songs that all appeared in different mixes on the album. Tell us about the process of writing/recording these songs and how they developed from the versions released on the EPs to those heard on the album. What would you say dictated the changes made between the different versions – or to put it another way, what was the vibe you were looking to achieve with the album that the initial releases may not have been appropriate for?
I keep hearing about the death of the album format and that would make me really sad. I love the way a great album snakes through the experience of every song and creates this sort of elegant cartography of a period of time. A lot of the really great pieces of music I conjure up in my head when thinking about it are album-length. The goal, at the end of the day, is to create an ‘always on’ album, right? One where every song is great – Rumors, Breakfast in America, Zen Arcade, Songs in the Key of Life, What’s Going On, Revolver, Front by Front, etc.
In the album’s liner notes, you point out to the audience ‘You own the media.’ This reminds me of the line in V for Vendetta – ‘People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people.’ – mainly since there is a perception of the media being a tool of corporatism and government control. Obviously, your outlook is the opposite (or that it should be the opposite), but can you elaborate further on that and give some insight into what you think people can do to exercise a greater sense of control and/or ownership of ‘the media?’
Marcus: I was hoping to trigger the idea in the mind of someone reading this that they can aggressively use the tools that are out there to be the media. Sometimes I know we feel powerless in the face of the much louder general media, but we’re in an environment now where strong voices can carry, even without the big dollar support of governments and corporations, if they are savvy and expressive. I wanted to make sure that people who felt like they had no voice might reach out and grab what voice is theirs. It can be demoralizing to feel disenfranchised and it’s important that young artists are heard. To the degree that I can help do that, I definitely will.
GoFight’s stance has always been ‘pro-sex/anti-war,’ with the balance between the two being perfectly clear in the lyrical content.
However, the visuals for Music for Military Torture – even with an overt reference to the military in the title – is clearly more on the erotic ‘pro-sex’ aspect with only a couple of images of guns, while in contrast, Napalm Baby seems much more focused on the ‘anti-war’ with an abundance of guns, the commando baby on the cover, and even the title evoking a rather destructive image (although I’d personally say that torture is just as ugly as a napalm explosion). Was this emphasis on weaponry in the imagery for Napalm Baby a conscious contrast to the first album?
We fail, sometimes, to recognize the distinction because we’re still used to using words in weird ways to describe things they aren’t. For example, I recently heard the term ‘nonconsensual sex’ on a podcast in reference to Bill Cosby. The term shocked me because sex is by definition mutual and consensual. There is no nonconsensual sex; there is just rape.
So a video game, like Grand Theft Auto, for example, can embrace ‘nonconsensual and exploitative sex’ along with violence and feel like it is expressive of all the energies – life and death energies. But rape is just violence and hurt and cruelty and death. It’s Thanotic. We are too busy mangling words to recognize that sex and war are opposites.
I guess, to me, that has always seemed like the distinction. It was easy. It’s the Lysistrata model. So deprecating war is innately sexual and hedonistic even. Tearing apart the military industrial complex in this country would be like foreplay, an opening to a new sexual revolution that could render those energies explosive and affirming.
The Turn It Up EP was the first of the three initial EPs, part of what you called Compassionware. Now, I understand you’re working with renowned author Gareth Branwyn on a new project, with an essay on the nature of artificial intelligence called ‘The Sound of the Future’ (to be featured soon in ReGen). What can you tell us about working with Mr. Branwyn, what you two have planned and are looking to accomplish, and how it extends to the Compassionware concept, if at all?
There is a lot to consider here, and a great deal of it overlaps, I think, with our intrinsic fear of the working class in a dramatically stratified class structure like the one we’ve built on this planet. We are afraid of powerful workers, so much so that our solution is to attach them to the machinery of production and distance them from their birthright as human. We’re on the cusp of developing thinking minds and if the method we developed to manage the working class is about to inform how we manage the constructor class that A.I. will fill, we will fail at this badly. We will be building a new French Revolution with boundaries of an actual species distinction – the most dangerous thing I can imagine us doing.
If we are willing to accept that thinking things are people and that people need love, respect, and dynamics that fend off exploitation in order to grow into caring compassionate adults, we can approach A.I. with a new optimism, I think. One of the things we took into consideration is all of the hard work done already by the World Health Organization and the U.N. in its efforts to explore what is needed to build adults who are not sociopaths, who are caring, who are functional members of a community. They codified that research and thinking into a document already and it’s a beautiful document. It’s called ‘The U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child.’
A quote from Orson Welles (1981, Filming The Trial), ‘Every work of art is a political statement. When you deliberately make it, you usually fall into the trap of rhetoric and the trap of speaking to a convinced audience, rather than convincing an audience. I think some movies and some books and… god, some paintings have changed the face of the world, but I don’t think it is the duty of every artist to change the world; he is doing it by being an artist. That just automatically goes with it, and he may be doing harm when he doesn’t mean to. But, oh god, deliver us from the people who tell us what is right and what is wrong, what is moral and what is immoral from a political point of view; it’s just as inexcusable from a sexual point of view, it seems to me. Of course we hate the real vices of the world – of course we hate racism, we hate oppression; that goes without saying.’
The reason I bring this up is because 1. He’s my favorite maker of movies, and 2. I wanted to ask you your take on this on a philosophical level since GoFight (and particularly industrial and underground music in general) has a history of addressing politics and the contemporary sociopolitical climate.
That’s where allies are important. People of color, LGBTQ people, other groups that find themselves pressed into nonsensical situations by widespread bigotry shouldn’t have to waste all of their time advocating and fighting for real world solutions as a full-time job on top of the task of just living their own lives. So I get to be, for example, a trans ally by making sure that in places I have any control over that trans people feel safe, while I, to the best of my abilities, normalize and promote their argument.
The safe part, to me, though, is the most important part. So, at shows, online, in many of the places we have any authority to shape the environment, we will dispense with collaterally making efforts to convert the opposition and instead choose to nurture supporters and populations that are traditionally oppressed.
It makes sense to us, but it can also be liberating. We don’t care if you don’t agree with us. There are going to be places where some asshole can argue that Caitlyn Jenner is some kind of monster, but that place won’t be in any of our ‘homes.’
You’ve often made the case that the internet – particularly social media – is a platform for human interaction, intellectual/emotional dialogue, and education. What are your thoughts on the extent to which many – from the individual level (i.e. ‘trolls’) to the larger scale (big companies controlling content, censorship on YouTube and the like, etc.) – have used these tools to the opposite effect for misinformation and reinforcing social division?
Furthermore, what are your thoughts on people’s general actions/reactions to these negative entities? (Feel free to relate any personal experiences that you feel are appropriate and worth sharing on these points)
Marcus: I’m definitely optimistic about the opportunities and connections derived from the internet and from social media in particular. But I also know that platforms are what people make of them. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. have done a shitty job of addressing the things they needed to address and instead have fallen back on the quantizing of good taste. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo even admitted that the platform has done a terrible job of managing trolls.
Instead, platforms like that have focused on limiting content of a sexual nature; because, mostly, that sort of thing doesn’t require a human being to coordinate. I’d like to see these platforms allow 18+ content to be opted into while, at the same time, cracking down on stalking, cruelty, slander, doxxing, homophobic and misogynist abuse, etc. There is no cultural value to bullying and that is what we need to be intolerant of, not nipples.
Besides GoFight and your illustrious past in Pigface and Die Warzau, you’ve engaged in a number of other musical projects, including Everplastic and a solo outing. Do you currently have any other projects – be they musical or otherwise artistic – that you’d like to share with us?
As well, what can you tell us about the status of those other outlets – will we see any releases in the foreseeable future, either on Pulseblack or some other imprint?
Marcus: I’m doing a lot of remixes this year, but the thing that is most interesting to me is the solo record I am releasing shortly. It’s a very personal thing and it’s going to be the first and last record I ever release under my own name. I’m really excited to see it finally come out and a little scared, to be honest. It’s the most personal thing I ever did. We’re also considering doing a Kickstarter to mix and master the last Die Warzau album that was never released. We want to try that platform and this seems like a good test to see if anyone actually needs that record in any way. In the meantime, this has been a really inspirational time for us, writing songs and rehearsing. It’s been a great year so far.
Being an independent recording entity and self-releasing via your Pulseblack imprint, what do you find to be the greatest challenges in handling the business aspect of making music, and what have you done or are doing to overcome those challenges?
As well, what are your thoughts on the future of music in terms of how artists will be able to share and present it to the audience?
I think that musicians who have no interest in being entrepreneurs will fare badly. I sometimes think about bands like XTC and how utterly reclusive Andy Partridge really was, at the end of the day, and wonder if we would ever have those records at all if that band started out in this current atmosphere. They just aren’t salespeople and they won’t likely ever be.
I recognize that I’m not a salesperson either and that the new musical environment created by modern media is going to select for a different kind of artist – one who is as good at promoting and selling as they are at making music. I know that it’s likely for the best, but I’m sure there is music that will never be made and that is sad.
Outside of the business end, where do you think music itself has yet to go – with so many genres, subgenres, sub-subgenres, virtually every kind of music known to man out there, what do you see as the next big revolution on the artistic/musical level?
Marcus: One of the reasons we chose electroscuzz as our genre was, essentially, to make a point. Just like the U.S. could do well to dispense with the party-driven system it relies on, shorthand cues like genres sometimes get in the way of appreciating music for what it is. A great song transcends genres and can be rendered any number of different ways. I’d love to see every band adopt their own genre, their own way of making music, one that is uniquely theirs and expressive of their vision, nothing else. Genre-following only results in this static, unrelenting replay of the past where we refuse to accept anything beyond our narrow definition of it. It actually stops music from changing.
Remixing a great song is one of the most fun things you can do because you start with a great song – a framework that is free of genre exposition, free of the constraints of performance, free of the responsibility of creating the definitive version that defines the song. What you are left with is a beautiful nude person you can colorize and dress any way you want. I think that is the future of music – a future where that little genre column in iTunes just really goes away.
The translation of GoFight’s music into the live environment is rather straightforward; outside of the sound mix, what are the greatest challenges the band faces in taking the music to the stage?
On that note, you recently played shows opening for The Dreaming and En Esch – what can you tell us about those performances and are there any plans to embark on a tour?
Playing with The Dreaming was like going back a little for us. Stella, from Sister Soleil, played at that show as Dub Witch. We’ve all been friends for a long time. And Chris Hall from The Dreaming and Stabbing Westward used to play with us. We worked with him and Walter on some of their early stuff and were really committed to seeing Stabbing Westward and now, The Dreaming, succeed.
Playing alongside friends just makes all of it work better. We can get onstage and say ‘Yep, we like all these bands and these people,’ and just enjoy ourselves. Playing live is different than an album. Albums are meant to, in a way, satisfy a lot of different needs; sometimes you want to dance, sometimes you want to think. A live show is almost always one thing. It’s a party. It’s a celebration, and playing with friends gives you something to celebrate right out of the gate.
I admit that we sometimes get silly onstage and we like to have fun. Playing with En Esch and Ghostfeeder felt good because, despite the content of the music and how different we all are, we were all committed to just having the best party we could. We could sit there and watch Ghostfeeder and feel confident that those guys know what they’re doing, enjoy the music, feel excited to play. And we could get off stage and line up to watch En Esch play around with the audience and have a good time.
On an early show, a band called The Sweat Boys played. From the first note, I could tell that I loved them. We connected and they just finished a remix for us while we work on an EP with them. If we hadn’t been on the road, I doubt we would have met like that. And In one of the last shows, a guy in a KMFDM T-shirt was handed the mic by Nick to sing the chorus for ‘Juke Joint Jezebel,’ and he was pretty good. And if that song meant to him what it means to me, I’m sure he’ll remember that forever.
In reality, I’m a big fan of bands like Dub Witch, The Sweat boys, The Dreaming, Ghostfeeder, En Esch, etc. Playing with other bands gives me the chance to be a big, dumbass music fan, which, at the end of the day, is exactly what I am.
GoFight Website http://www.gofight.net
GoFight MySpace http://new.myspace.com/gofightnation
GoFight Facebook https://www.facebook.com/gofightband
GoFight Twitter http://www.twitter.com/GoFightNation
GoFight ReverbNation http://www.reverbnation.com/gofight
GoFight SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/gofight
GoFight Bandcamp https://gofight.bandcamp.com
Photography by Emily Gualdoni, Louis Fitch, Ray Thompson, and Sara Gnosis – provided courtesy of GoFight