LIVE: Hair Police and Pharmakon at 285 Kent (7/12/2013)
By Paula Mejia on July 16, 2013
Hair Police and Pharmakon
July 12th, 2013
Courtney Love once penned a great lyric about darkness: "The abyss opens up / It steals everything from me". The Hole frontwoman hits upon a fundamental truth about humanity -- there's something about darkness that makes us feel like we've lost something, perhaps a sense of stability.
The tugging sense of absence is especially present within the blackened industrial clangs of drone-steeped music. This kind of music alienates humanity, tests limitations and makes us feel hollow unlike pop music, which stuffs us with bubblegum-pink escape like piñatas.
Inevitably we're drawn to music because we crave a story. In turn, it touches on our own experience. For Margaret Chardiet, the bellow behind the moniker Pharmakon, the real story is more about unconscious movement induced by feeling. And those feelings are the ones you try and drown otherwise: anxiety, paranoia and obsession.
Plato famously described the "pharmakon" as both the sickness and the healer. With those dualities at the helm, Pharmakon conceptually projects auditory hallucinations into reality like the deus ex machina she was meant to be.
It begins with rumbling basslines that eerily mimic what I imagine to be an alien invasion overhead. Squeals and crackles punctuate the thick air. The sparse quiet moments are even more alarming when they happen. Ladies and gentlemen, we have landed in space.
Chardiet's voice is husky, nearly beastial above the drones. You often forget that it's a human making these sounds. Lights flicker not unlike a waning lightbulb. The needle here is perpetually in the red.
Onstage Chardiet writhes as though fully possessed by demons. Somehow by doing this she is effectively rubbing my body with a giant piece of sandpaper. It's a call and respond interaction: she screams, my limbs twitch. Meanwhile, a lone woman twerks in the corner. Twerks. I look at her and marvel at how differently we all experience performances.
Next, headliner Hair Police is militant about head-splittling abrasion. I can't tell if the sounds are real or imagined by the receptors in my brain fizzling out. It sounds like we're on a railroad and, faced with the prospect of a freak accident ahead, the last memory and my last memory will be the buzz-saw wheels whirring off a track.
It's an entirely individualistic experience for everyone involved. People retreat into their own worlds with these synth-zaps and manic-depressive drum solos. I see a man with his eyelids shuttering open and closed, like blinds on windows long closed, over and over again. Modelos perspire in a couple's unmoving hands. The sheer volume could easily make someone vomit if they were even slightly nauseous.
In the back, someone's knuckles are bloody from punching a wall. It feels as though a sacrifice is being offered, but it's too dark to tell what that is. Maybe eardrums? Clarity? At that precise moment I push a bad memory out of my mind. Later I have a dream about it.
The day I'm at this show is the day after Marina Abramovic has passed Jay-Z a sort of torch, their foreheads touching in a peace offering before he launches into performing "Picasso Baby" at rapid-fire spits for six straight hours. Industrial, drone, whatever you want to call it – it's not the medium for a passive listener. You are as much a part of the show as Pharmakon or Hair Police are. If your intent is to "get" it or walk out with a heightened understanding, you may as well be staring at James Franco's $10,000 endless oxygen tank/piece of non-visible art and trying to unearth some kind of deeper meaning.
During the last segment of Hair Police's space-shifting yelps, my friend yelled to me that she was, in that moment, alarmingly reminded of a video she once watched that depicted a dying camel. I misheard her, thinking she said "dying Camus". Either way.