In modern society it’s easy to throw together pop culture fragments for entertaining results. Whether you’re flipping through the ridiculous parade of TV reality shows or getting down to Girl Talk‘s mash-up dance mixes, it’s not hard to find novelty and distraction. We like our postmodern art (especially when it comes to sights and sounds) as an escape, a diversion or, at the least, a cathartic counterweight to Real Life.
Negativland‘s show at Satellite Ballroom, however, was far from such sugary fodder. From the introduction of its "It’s All In Your Head" radio show to the night’s absurd climaxes (the sounds of a chimpanzee being shaved to prove evolution and a faux civil department warning that the building was under attack), the group brought culture jamming (a term they coined), hard and heavy.
What were they jamming on? The existence of God. And a joke it was not. There were some funny lines and audio samples (Negativland’s area of expertise), but any sustainable chuckling was extinguished by a recurring, agonized voice that screamed, "There is no God!" Negativland’s three traveling members tweaked knobs and coaxed out more disembodied voices, which ran the gamut from atheist rants to a woman praying for her microphone and audio equipment. The swirl of religious perspectives resonated until (in our heads) it just became one pulsing, messy chant of "God…God…God."
Negativland waged holy war against the Almighty over the airwaves from the Satellite Ballroom. But who won out?
It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t supposed to be. Blindfolds were handed out like party favors as each audience member came through the door, but barely anyone put them on. The silly paper masks sat on tables and chairs as colorful insinuations that, maybe, it is all in your head and, if you turn totally inward, it might just be too much.
Christian praise tunes and other odd melodies seeped in amid the voices and subtly invited head-bobbing and toe-tapping, but such actions seemed blasphemous under the weight of Negativland’s epistemological audio onslaught.
The show turned our streamlined, pomo consumption on its head. Where we prefer pop nuggets like ornaments on a Christmas tree, Negativland outlined constellations in an epic, existential universe. It went down like medicine, but the thoughts left spinning in our brains were something much more than the sweaty foreheads and ringing ears that linger after your usual rock show.
For more on Negativland check out "Strings and things" [August 7, 2007]