It’s a strange truth that dark times don’t tend to produce dark music. As a species we tend to reach upward when events try to pull us down, as if something locked deep within our genetics is always attempting to turn our face towards the sun instead of the shadow. Jazz grew strong despite the horrors of the early 20th century; a music alive with the euphoria of rhythm and movement and sound. The chaos and corruption of Vietnam led to the music of the counter-culture – a reactionary music, certainly, but one which dreamt of a better world.
Even punk, growing out of the exhaustion of a bruised and broken era, was ultimately positive; The nihilism worn like Sta Press gear bought from a shop on the Kings Road. It was life affirming music, played with pigeon chests pushed out, and three chords ringing in delight. And, of course, house music and techno and acid: birthed in the sudden collapses of the 80s, a glimmer of light below the ghoulish spectres of Reagan and Thatcher and mass unemployment – a fight back which began inside the mind, eschewing lyrical calls-to-arms in favour of wild frequency and beats rolling out wherever the outside world ceased to matter.
Dominic Fernow’s Vatican Shadows project, however, has always taken a different approach, one that seems to soundtrack the whirr and crackle of state and media apparatus. There is little emotion; It’s a dispassionate report from the edge of modern human experience. And somehow that makes describing it as dark music somewhat trite. It’s far more chilling than that.
See, the thing is, our world is dissolving. We can beat around the bush as much as we want on this one, but the fact is the jig is up. We have been screwed by our own hubris.
In some ways, there is a similar narrative here to what Pressure of Speech were doing more than 20 years back – an examination of a world that was only then beginning to come into true existence. Pressure Of Speech was about grainy, tiny, images culled from the CCTV’s which glared voyeuristically into the dead spots of British towns and cities – the empty lanes and desolate car parks. Observation, we were told, for our own good, for our own safety even though we knew, we knew, there wasn’t a chance in hell these cameras were for any other reason than making you behave.
With Church Of All Images even that new world is changed, remade from archive footage, from sneering, baiting, ledes. And from smoke and bone and blood. September the 11th saw to that, Even thought the first cracks appeared long before that day. Those acts, finally, irrevocably, took us down a different road.
This isn’t blurry video of a figure breaking into parked cars at the edge of a council estate any more. Nor even a CNN camera whiting out at the detonation of a nocturnal cruise missile strike. Instead the world has become cell phone footage of stumbling, screaming figures emerging from a shroud of masonry dust as buildings and worlds collapse, and the soulless visual feedback of a Predator drone as it harvests life. It is dangerous men in gucci body armour hunting on the downward crest of the 24 hour news cycle. This is the background hum of rallies full of the angry and the incurious bellowing ‘lock her up’ as a poisonous toad-king chuckles out his bigotry, of ancient belief wrapped up in the flags of Facebook and YouTube and Twitter. And, at its heart, as it always has been, it’s the breathless death-rattle of old, rich, powerful men sending everyone else to die for causes they can’t even bring themselves to believe in.
This is the heart of Church Of All Images. More than the madness, more than the dissonance, more than the seething, manufactured hate. It is the cynicism, and the distraction from reality, rather than reality itself, which leads us into this ultimately empty world. It is the narcissism of fundamentalism whether its old men and stone age religion, or young men stained by the corporations who’re destroying the world to rebuild it in their own image. I don’t think anyone comes closer to sound tracking this nihilism than Vatican Shadow, and I think that Regis’ version of Church Of All Images, Its relentless, breathless terror, its splintered beats, and its strange, terrible, beauty, which does it best of all.