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York Factory Complaint
Lost In The Spectacle Rob Heath , July 22nd, 2014 09:12

Over fifteen releases (on almost as many different labels), NYC noise duo York Factory Complaint have thematically covered a decent amount of territory, taking in topics from the darker end of the human experience. However, across their previous slew of (mostly) cassette releases, these themes have never crystallised in such a coherent, politicised manner as they do on Lost In The Spectacle, their debut release for Washington D.C.'s Accidental Guest Recordings. York Factory Complaint was formed in reaction to what the duo of Ryan Martin and Michael Berdan saw as the banalisation, sterilisation and commodification of the New York cultural underground; and a resistance of pacification is the energy that drives Lost In The Spectacle. It's a discharge of revulsion, utilising a factory-floor aesthetic and rendered through a repetitive, atonal, sonic sludge.

The title, which references the Situationist idea of the "spectacle", is more than just a slight of New York's supposed corrupted arts underground, but takes aim at society at large too. The spectacle, as first theorised by French Situationist philosopher Guy Debord in the 1960s, refers to the domination of experience by mass media, to social relations among people that are mediated by images. To be "lost" in the spectacle is to be mired in a stupor, always a step away from anything real, from anything lucid and transparent. If the album title refers to our muddied entanglement in a world of empty images, then track titles such as 'Conceived', 'Produced', 'Bought', and 'Forgotten' reference the parallels between the phases that characterise factory-produced commodities, the phases of cultural styles turned into commodities, and our lives as subjects in this world of the spectacle as we ourselves are commodified and transformed. Lost In The Spectacle is a real and angry and response to a hyperreal situation. It is music that presents with revulsion the fragile mental state of the contemporary subject encased within the stultifying spectacle, where anti-depressant medicines and a litany of therapies and Paul McKennas are necessary counteragents to the psychological damage wreaked by capitalism. Whilst the usual sense of dread you'd expect from a droning industrial record is present, Lost In The Spectacle does not instill a shapeless, primitive, and animalistic paranoia: it reflects a societal psychiatric crisis.

However the temptation to get entirely caught up theorising about the avowed content of the record should be resisted: this is a noise record, and as such its power lies not just in the conversations it prompts but in its effect on the human senses. It begins fairly innocuously, opening with the steady hum of 'Conceived', which gives the eerie impression of walking through an unmanned power station, with the machines left alone to throb and rattle undulatingly. It's not long before the introduction of anything more recognisably human however, as the opening track mutates into 'Produced', a mangled scream buried amongst textures that get harsher and harsher and pitches that ascend to unsettling levels. Such distressed wails and butchered tones are characteristic of the record, and even more rhythmic tracks such as 'Commodified' and 'Loved' offer little relief from its caustic surfaces. Penultimate track 'Bought' is where Lost In The Spectacle reaches an acrid peak, with a dense wall of heavy-machinery noise swelling up into a pus-filled abscess.

Lost In The Spectacle is a fine record, channeling the fleshy yet spectral energy that noise music does at its best; but does it achieve what it sets out to do? Despite the sincere themes and intentions, how culturally re-invigorating can we really expect an industrial record to be in 2014? The Debord-referencing title; the Crass-meets-Whitehouse aesthetic; an irate, reflexive reaction to an underground sapped of vigour and commercialised: it's all been done before. But seasoned players Martin and Berdan know that (they've previously appeared live with Genesis P-Orridge, and so are probably well aware of the now-diminished extent of such music's shock value), and we ought not be put off by the earnestness of it all. A scathing, dissenting, and ugly record like Lost In The Spectacle can amount to more than kitsch, and it can sustain the power to strike all the right (or rather, the wrong) notes.