Hard Music in Hard Times

This essay was my winning entry in a TQ zine essay contest back in June of 2020. TQ is an underground music zine that hails from Northumberland, England.

We live in a golden age of irreverent and unsentimental hard music, released by armies of atonal warriors onto Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and cassette tape. We can listen to hundreds of hours of crushed white noise decorated with screams and clipped crunches.

Performers can boldly destroy any expectation of comfort or familiarity. It’s a full body embrace of the anxiety and struggle that people feel in a society that produces so much disconnected sound pollution in service of consumption.

But where does it fit when we live in a pandemic, with people suffering and dying? Should we still be making harsh music in harsh times? Who is it for if so many people are flocking to feel-good music and movies, nostalgia, and any other cultural salve they can find? Are folks really spending months in isolation, listening to Merzbow?


Plenty of crazy bastards are not only listening, they are making more of it. What else is there to do, watch more vapid bullshit on the internet?

If you spend any time around firefighters, you’ll notice many of them smoke cigarettes. Seems strange to do something you have to avoid while doing your job. It is a way of getting use to something you will have to deal with eventually. Firefighters don’t get to hold their breath and ignore the smoke while fighting fires.

The noise of city life, cheap vehicles, and expensive phones surround us. Brooms brush and scrape. Street machines move us back and forth between to places to earn money to buy new machines. A new nowness is needed to remember to listen. Listen to all these things around us instead of filtering them out. Use the noise to feed noise.

In 2015, Tasha Howe from Humboldt State University published a paper about the midlife status of metalheads from the 80s. It reported they were better adjusted as adults than a similar cohort of non-metal fans.

I’ve found that to be true in my own life and among friends I grew up around. Anecdotally, I’ve seen friends that were into heavy shit in adolescence end up as healthy and interesting adults. More importantly, they tend to have a bit more empathy than the people I knew who were into pop music. I have no real explanation of that other than a belief that people who confront struggle and pain in their lives do much better in emotional maturity than people who ignore the same.

That Humboldt study was of adolescence, though. How about grown folks having a hard time in the middle of a pandemic? If not already a fan of challenging music, listening during a painful time probably won’t do much for them. Telling them about the noise project you’re into on social media probably won’t get a whole lot of interest either.

Performers cry, bleat, and moan about their metrics. Nobody gave a shit before the pandemic, why would they now? Hahahaha. N.A.U., motherfuckers.

I have been building a lot of noise instruments during the lockdown. Playing them is fulfilling and liberating. There is a physicality and connection to them and the sounds they make. Even a lousy day around that kit is so much better than any Marvel movie or Game of Drones mental mush.

I could probably put out a decent full-length of well constructed ambient right now. Something soothing and somatic. It would get more likes and downloads I suppose. But, I don’t feel that way. This idle time and solitude has inspired a visceral reaction.

I want to make sure my mind stays alive. Opting for intensity keeps me in the now with an undeniable sonic force. I don’t want to tune the world out. When they announce that more people are hurting or have died, I want to know that and feel it for real.

Ignoring the news and letting Netflix hijack my empathy with the melodramas of fictional people can only lead to something bad down the line. I plan on retaining my emotional life.

So, here’s to feedback, squelches, cracks, and booms. All of it. Snip some diodes in your pedals and point your amps at each other. Turn off every screen you can find. Smoke nothing. Drink nothing. Be radically present. Say everything you think out loud into a microphone. Then say it again louder. Scream it.

Pulverize craniums boldly. Celebrate the resonance of the real and serenade the suffering. Let go of irony and cleverness. Record nothing. Play for your plants and animals. Liberate your intent from ego.

Above all, stay human. Keep feeling. Live loudly.

Prizes included PCBs galore

One of the rules was that the first three words of at least three paragraphs had to start with P, C, and B. The lengths was also set at minimum 650 words.

I was thrilled to win this because the prizes included a bunch of electronics components for building modular audio gear. My plan is to turn this metal lunch box I bought at a thrift store into a portable synthesizer rig.