Dark Sound: Destructive Pop 2015

Dark Sound: Destructive Pop 2015
Photograph by Erwan Durand
Thursday 23 April 2015 18.00 to Saturday 25 April 2015 23.00

Dark sound emerges from the vast plethora of pop in ever-changing voices and faces. Dark sound morphs and shifts through artists such as Nick Cave, Burial, Nico, Aphex Twin, Marianne Faithful, Die Antwoord, The Knife, Public Enemy, Nadine Shah, Grace Jones, The Smiths, Leonard Cohen, Portishead, The XX, Tom Waits, Young Fathers, Tindersticks, Ayron, Warpaint and all the other inexhaustible cutting grains of pop's sharp electrified voices. In conjuring dark sound, we are bound to the fragility of a sanctioned boundary between popular music and noncommercial music; bound that is, to question the defining tropes and clichés of pop, and to listen to the music that materializes, both within pop, and at its fringes with an 'outsider' status.

Dark pop is the pop that most avidly and unavoidably tells us something about our deepest inner selves as it immerses the listener in sonic vacuoles of violence, sex, melancholy, loss, death, desire, void, addiction, rage and longing. As artist and audience alike, we find solace in the dark song that offers comfort and catharsis in every void, every cacophony and every whimper. The song becomes a reflective surface of empathy in both directions. Through pathos and though (re)presentation, that which we find ourselves unable to articulate can be articulated for us. The inanimate and the insignificant take powerful positions and bulge with the opportunity for meaning. Our drudgery and our slights, our rejections and our losses, our grief and our longing become romantically played out, and we begin to feel understood, by strangers.

Dark sound is frequently accorded a certain degree of artistic integrity because it seems to mirror what we always already felt, but could never ordinarily express. However, the popular sonic mirror is not simply a matter of "flattering reflection" (as Theodor Adorno has argued emerges in the buying and owning of a record), but rather a complex weave of a sense of self in relation to otherness at the points where dark pop emits a vital cultural resonance that is simultaneously both utterly personally indulgent and overtly socially connective. This potential combination accounts, in part, for the political possibilities of dark pop and its often (self)destructive tendencies.

Despite the constantly shimmering guises of dark sound, one's focus could quite easily be tempted to dismiss its capriciousness and settle on making sense of an album's dark character through biographical narrative, therefore cutting the figure of the 'troubled' artist. Psychologically pained and necessarily tortured, the troubled music maker is a figure that lurks in the shadows of popular music's imagination like a recurrent dream. Much of pop's myth making depends on the currency of this dream and the flexibility of a semiotic system that can simultaneously present the familiar at the same time as it creates the unknown. Yet, if discussion were to focus entirely on the "bio-mythology" of an artist (Roland Barthes), then the cultural and social significance of dark sound and what Walter Benjamin has called "the destructive character", would be missed; its generative force in the process of meaning making relegated in favour of one voice.

Benjamin writes that the "destructive character" has no interest in being understood, but on the contrary prefers to provoke misunderstandings, "just as oracles, those destructive institutions of the state, provoked it". Such a character does not seek out the kinds of creative solitude relished by romantic heroes, but is instead imminently bound to an audience because of a defining need to be "constantly surrounded by people, witnesses to his efficacy" (Walter Benjamin). Popular music, as a matrix of live performance, recorded and produced work, mass distribution and media presence, appeals as the ideal network to the destructive character that, effectively and affectively, calls to others to bear witness to her/his ability to produce a desired intention. But pop emerges between both performer and audience: when dark sound is properly witnessed, the relationships between subject and others are called to the fore in a context that relishes the affects of destructive music – in body and in sound. This elemental aspect of dark sound goes much further than personality or individual intention.

Dr D Ferrett and Dr Johny Lamb

Visit the Dark Sound website

(Photograph by Erwan Durand)