There is something that feels downright cataclysmic about Blanck Mass. Maybe its the speedcore drums or the primal death metal screams that open his latest album, Animated Violence Mild, but there is something about the way producer Benjamin John Power puts together a song that makes it feel like the whole world is in the midst of being annihilated by a flaming meteor. Its apocalyptic and immense, and feels like a small hyperactive dog wrestling its way out of your grip.
Formerly half of the experimental drone pop duo, Fuck Buttons, Blanck Mass began its life as an outlet for Power's solo material, but his self-titled debut is a far-cry from the cacophonous compositions that dominate his more recent records. An hour-long series of ambient meditations that softly grow into glistening gardens of sounds teaming with life, it would be from this body of work that director Danny Boyle would ultimately tap Powers for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. It wouldn't be until his sophomore LP, Dumb Flesh, that Power would settle on his signature alien hacker-rave sound.
His new album, Animated Violence Mild, really sees Power hone in on an identity for Blanck Mass. There's more screams, crazier drums, and vocals pushed even further from their human origins, but we also see the injection of new elements as well. The album is dominated by glossy synths that would sound right at home in a euphoric trance track, a bright beam of light shining through Blanck Mass's dark intricately-woven soundscapes. This was a deliberate choice made on Power's part, in ways that aren't perhaps immediately obvious. Animated Violence Mild is about consumerism and the ways that it has grown to overtake our lives. Nice things in hyper-polished packages can ultimately betray the dark sinister beast that lies beneath the surface.
Even the album's lead single, "House vs. House," which takes cues from the sounds of the voguing scene, ties back into this theme of rampant consumerism with ballroom culture at its core being about how a performer re-packages themselves as a parody of the mainstream. In the context of Marx's definition of a commodity as a product of human labor hollowed out to make room for the injection of value, Venus Xtravaganza's famous quote from Paris Is Burning, which was recently featured in Teyana Taylor's hit "WTP," about wanting her name to be a "household product" seems less like an inspirational Warholian maxim and more like the brainwashed ramblings of someone who has taken a long sip of the corporate Kool-aid.
This isn't to say that Animated Violence Mild is one long sermon on the dangers of corporate greed and excess. Made during a period of massive grief for Power, the record has a tender underbelly beneath its hard prickly exterior. Best exemplified in the way that droning power chords eventually give way to pastoral harps in "Creaure/West Fuqua," there are constant reminders of how fragile humanity is. That in a cold, harsh, and cruelly indifferent world there is still warm blood running through our veins.
Ahead of the release of Animated Violence Mild via Sacred Bones, we caught up with the man behind Blanck Mass to talk about opening up to interpretation, lessons learned, and his love of drag.
What was the inspiration behind Animated Violence Mild?
I dodn't generally tend to have any set vision or picture thematically of what a finished album is going to be about when I start creating stuff. It's very loose and exploratory, I'm not one to draw up a concept and keep myself in check or boxed in during the creative process. But this time, I noticed how the culture of consumerism has kind of led us down this path where we're not really in touch with what it is to be human. We birth consumerism. This is something that was preying on my mind particularly while I was writing the album. I underwent some personal grief as well. I can see parallels between what I was going through personally and with how we ended up in this particular place. That's where my head was at.
How did you then go about translating that into the music that we hear on the album?
There's always an element of tongue and cheek with a lot of my stuff although the subject matter is very serious and real. I'm a child of the 80s and I feel like a lot of blame can be placed on the 80s for how consumerism has ended up bringing us to where we are now. I get a kick from 80s music but I don't get a kick out of particularly utilizing 80s sounds even though I did on this record. I bought myself an OB6 which is very famous –– it's a Dave Smith clone of the Oberheim Synthesizer and it's very well known for being the same sound that was used on Van Halen's "Jump."
Animated Violence Mild feels somehow brighter in tone than Dumb Flesh and World Eater.
Once it comes to the production stage as opposed to the songwriting stage, that's when I start to pin more importance conceptually onto stuff. The writing stage is very emotionally driven. I think the subject matter is equally as dark as the other two records, but the way it's presented this time around is more high gloss, it's definitely brighter spectrally. I feel like there is a similarity between this album, Animated Violence Mild, Dumb Flesh, and World Eater, in the sense that the conceptual tone is very similar.
"Love is a Parasite" seems like an awfully loaded title.
It's a very loaded title. I don't necessarily see the word "parasite" with a negative connotation across the board. It's about surrender and letting go of something that inhabits your psyche to a certain degree. It obviously comes across quite negatively because it's difficult to think of the word "parasite" and not have a negative picture painted in your mind. A lot of this album is paired with this idea of personal grief and surrender and letting go, an exorcism.
What would you say informs your musical style? Your music feels very UK 90s warehouse rave in a sense to my American ears.
That's interesting, because I don't feel like it fits in a particular geographical space. I know that when Fuck Buttons first started out, we potentially were perceived as having more of a connection to American industrial noise. We were lumped in with a lot of artists. As far as what actually informs the sounds themselves, it's difficult for me to say. I never kind of step into the process trying to replicate a particular sound or from any kind of era or location. It's difficult for me to pinpoint where these things come from, because they do come from so far within. I feel like I have to have some kind of psychoanalysis to figure out exactly where they come from. I mean there are obviously things that I'm interested in.
I remember World Eater kind of struck me as like an alternative soundtrack to a movie about hacking. Like of the Blade and The Matrix era, but then again, that's probably me just projecting.
But that's okay though. I encourage that. Art is perception, is it not? It's all very personal, there is no right or wrong. That is one kind of continuation I've had throughout my career. Lyrically and vocally I don't want to direct anyone into a certain place. The use of vocals I have are very alien and I like these things to be like mixtapes and not soundtracks. Soundtracking is something that I've just recently gotten way more heavily involved in. It's been a long time coming because I feel like all of my albums are soundtracks but they're for the listener to interpret in whichever way they want. I do title tracks and there are cultural references and emotional references in the album but I only see those as a necessary evil. Once I share this music it's not just me who's listening to it, it's for you to interpret and form your own relationship with it. I thoroughly encourage people, if they feel that they can, to kind of disregard song titles and any kind of aesthetic that I have implemented and just use it for yourself.
What kind of lessons do you think you've learned from creating this album?
Space is a very important lesson that I've learned over the last couple of albums, especially the space within sounds. When I first started out, I was prone to completely filling that space, I wanted every single pocket of air to be inhabited by something. I don't know whether it's me getting older or understanding my tools a little bit better, but I do think that space is extremely important to make things shine. During the process I actually started to paint again and I've been using that as a parallel to the creative process. I have a habit of seeing things through until the bitter end no matter how difficult it is to get there. It's quite an important life lesson to learn but I do feel like if something's not right it's not bad to completely readdress.
What do you typically paint?
It's abstract stuff. I hadn't really painted in this way for 15 years or something. This was a kind of self-counseling procedure, an exercise, to try and teach myself something about myself or at least change the way I perceived my own reality. I feel like it was definitely kind of aided in how this album eventually ended up sounding, how it sounds now.
I was browsing your Twitter and I definitely want to talk about drag with you. How did you get into that? What's your history with it?
It's something that's been on my radar for quite some time. I did honestly get into it through RuPaul's Drag Race. A lot of friends of mine have been fans of it for years, but I hadn't really had the time to fully engage. I watched one episode of season seven and from there on, I've been completely obsessed with it. I can't stop watching it. I go to local drag shows as well! If you're a fan of drag, I think it's very important to support your local queer artists. The history of drag does not come without its trials and tribulations. It may be getting easier but obviously with current political events maybe it's actually becoming a little more difficult again.
Who were you rooting for in this past season?
This past season, I really liked Shuga Cain, I thought she was great. I thought Scarlet Envy's lip sync when she was eliminated was maybe one of the best lip syncs I've seen in about four years. Possibly tied with Jinkx versus Detox. Who else did we have this season? Oh, I liked Yvie [Oddly]! I think she deserved to win.
I'm really glad she was the one to ultimately snatch the crown.
I think she was quite pragmatic. I think somebody like Silky [Nutmeg Ganache] didn't quite have that level of pragmatism. But I have to say right now, I'm a straight white dude, I'm not in any position to judge any drag queen. I'm just going to support them regardless. I can talk about who my favorites are for sure but I don't feel like I can judge.
Who are some of your favorite local queens?
I'm quite friendly with a queen called Jon Pleased Wimmin, she hosts a night in Edinburgh called Church of High Kicks which is great. Then you've got queens like Violet Grace, Alice Rabbit, you've got Amy L'amour, they're all amazing. Alice Rabbit also does the Rabbit Hole on a Tuesday night in London that you should check out.
Do you ever fantasize about getting into doing drag yourself?
Sometimes I think about it, but I don't think I'd be very good. It takes a level of skill that I think people take for granted. These are professional entertainers. I'm too self-conscious, which is a shame really and I don't think that's necessarily any fault of my own. That's society's fault, not mine. But I'd love to do it and I'm sure I will at some point.
What would be your go-to song to lip sync to ?
That's interesting. I might need to have a think about that one though. One thing that I did think about the other day actually is, "Why has nobody done David Bowie in Snatch Game?" Maybe it's too obvious? Maybe it would be too easy?
"House vs. House" definitely sounds like a ballroom track, have you found that your love of drag has bled over into your music recently?
I think so. "House Vs. House" started off with that ballroom vogue-y kind of thing at the beginning there. That was the very first thing and that sat around for a long time. I was kind of like, "Can I do this justice because if I'm going to reference this, I want this to be a decent homage." I didn't want it to be a throwaway. I want it to actually mean something. The creative lifespan of "House Vs. House" was maybe the longest on the whole record. It took the longest for me to get it to a place where I felt like it was doing this idea some justice. I'm really happy with how it turned out. People have definitely picked up that it's a reference to that world so I'm very pleased about that actually.
Photos Courtesy of Blanck Mass