interview by damage
America brought cyberpunk literature to life, Japan took it to the extreme, France gave it a fashion edge and now here's New Zealand to show us The Mercy Cage, one of the hottest cyberpunk must-hear projects nowadays. For starters, grab their freely downloadable virtual EP Hymn_01 off their website (also check Needlemarks (& Scars) in their mp3 section) and then see what Josh, the TMC mastermind has to say about the world today.
THE DOSE: Your latest album, Scree: Transmissions (out on DSBP Records) was rated as one of the best albums of 2005 by The Dose in the previous issue. Please tell us about the concept and the creative process behind the album.
JOSH: Scree:Transmissions is, at its core, a record about communication. It's about the dysfunction in way we communicate & the effect of emergent technology & media on our interactions. I've always tended to think of Scree as a thread of conversation. The previous record, Rust:A Fiction, was definitely more of a synths & sequencers album, very aggressive & direct. I made a conscious effort this time around to think outside the square in terms of composition, just attempting to break out of the box that writing electronically tends to place one in. Once I came up with a storyline, it was just a matter trying to approach the feel that each song required to advance the story. Several of the songs on Scree began life on piano or guitar. That juxtaposition of the organic & synthetic contribute heavily to the edge on this record.
THE DOSE: How well was the album received? What was the most intriguing interpretation of the album you've received so far?
JOSH: The reaction to Scree has been great. We live in an age where it's very difficult to sell records, so I think the very fact that we've managed to get it out there & have it sell reasonably well is an achievement in & of itself. I haven't read a negative review of it yet. I don't think anyone has actually tried to dissect the meaning behind it yet. Shame really, because there's a code hidden there if anyone cares to analyse closely enough. In terms of sonic interpretations, I'm most fascinated by the continued references to Pink Floyd. It's certainly not a connection I would have made. Perhaps it's the fact that it's a concept record or maybe that musically it's rather progressive. Interesting nonetheless.
THE DOSE: Globalization brought forth a vast phenomenon of disconnection from reality, from ourselves. What would the five golden rules be that you'd set to those who would try and stay as sane as possible?
JOSH: Rules are very, very dangerous things. There's a lot going on just under the surface of late. The world is a smaller, more insular place than ever before & there's a collective homogenisation happening. Something like MySpace is a classic microcosm, a community where the sole purpose appears to be the accumulation of "friends". It's a status symbol rather than an actual meeting of minds, a classic sheep mentality where everyone unquestioningly aspires to the same ideal.
And I think that's born out by the fact that despite widespread instant global communication now being a reality, there's more fear & mistrust over race, creed & religion in the world right now than at any other point in recent human history. It's an ever increasing depersonalisation of those with opposing mindsets. & the only real answer is to hack our way through the system that's been set in motion, halt the spiral, & actually start talking about meaningful things again. Opening up proper line of communication, as opposed to just paying lip-service.
THE DOSE: How would you define The Mercy Cage, being as genre-specific as you can? TMC was called everything from darkwave through EBM to ambient, dub, goth to industrial.
JOSH: [laughs] That's a nigh-on impossible task. There's a trend of late towards putting music in boxes, to label every single movement within an inch of its life. The Mercy Cage certainly has elements of all those genres, but I don't think you can quite shoehorn it into any single one of them. It's not a conscious decision, purely the fact that different sounds convey different moods. There's nothing more irritating than buying an album by a band on the strength of a single, then finding that said record is virtually the same song recreated 14 times. It takes away the element of surprise & discovery that the great album should give you. I think I prefer the term cyberpunk, more as a general indicator as to the "feel" of the music, as opposed to creating a genre & having a predefined set of rules as to how the band should sound. In the end, music is music, & defining it to the nth degree would create limitations on myself as an artist.
THE DOSE: The first time I heard The Mercy Cage was on hellwire.com with "Needlemarks (& Scars)". That song together with "Prozac, God & The Atomic Bomb" brings back some memories and associations that I can call cyberpunk. Would you call your music cyberpunk? Did you have any inspirative work force driving in you that you could attribute to the CP movement?
JOSH: Definitely. From a literary viewpoint, I can directly attribute many of the themes prevalent in my work back to wider concepts from the likes of Gibson, Sterling & Shirley. There's a pervasive sense in cyberpunk fiction of a dystopian society that we're inching ever closer to in reality. Also, at its essence cyberpunk humanises technology & the way we interact with it. Even Gibson's earliest work can be viewed as something of an amoral socio-political agenda, & it's a thread that can be picked up in his predecessors output in the likes of early Ballard & Burroughs. It's probably as close as we've gotten to a bona-fide counterculture in recent years, though one would have to dispute.
Whether there's an actual CP subculture in anything but an aesthetic sense. It's so hard to define. The term has been hijacked by media alarmism to denote 12 year old boys writing virii in their bedrooms, or as a cliche for a particular type of dress sense. I'd prefer to describe myself as resolutely postmodern I think.
THE DOSE: Four years ago you said the following, "the internet is increasingly becoming a less & less effective way to market a band." How would you update this opinion of yours in the age of MySpace, spams, viral marketing and a possibility for effective target marketing?
JOSH: The idea of aggressively "marketing" a product is not something I'm terribly keen on. There's a certain naivety on my part in that respect, in that I prefer to think of it as art rather than product. & it seems that with the current glut of music available & the widespread propagation of the various digital music delivery systems, the only way to get heard is to force ones product down peoples throats through created/invented hype. Call me cynical, but I'm not sure we'll see another grassroots countercultural musical revolution that'll change the world in way that jazz in the 20s, psychedelia in 60s, punk & postpunk in the 70s, or grunge in the 90s did. With everything one could want on-demand via the internet, we're just too apathetic. Though the idealist in me would like to think otherwise.
THE DOSE: Also four years ago when Deadline asked you where you see yourself in five years, you answered "With the increasingly conceptual nature of our output in recent years, the idea of film scoring interests me more and more...it's something I'd definitely like to try my hand at once the band passes its use by date..." How are you keeping up with that?
JOSH: Well, I don't think the the band has reached the point where I'd want to start diversifying that far just yet. I feel The Mercy Cage is still relevant, & scoring for picture is a big undertaking. I've had a few interesting offers come my way on that front, but it's going to have to be a project appealing enough for me to want to pour everything into.
THE DOSE: What is the New Zealand scene like in 2006? What bands would you showcase from your country, what bigger fests, parties or events would you highlight?
JOSH: There's a fiercely individual ethic towards music making in New Zealand. I'm convinced it has much to do with the relative isolation geographically. Anyone interested in sampling some New Zealand music should definitely check out Headless Chickens, The Legendary Johnny Chrome & FEARvLOATHINC, Skeptics, Jordan Reyne, N.U.T.E, Minuit, Danse Macabre, Clear Stream Temple, Disjecta Membra & Concord Dawn at the very least. As far as shows, there's a large two-day event in Wellington coming up at the end of June called Darkness ‘06, featuring The Mercy Cage, Ikon & Angelspit (from Australia), Horror Story, & a load of kiwi bands. It's being organised by a new outfit called Creepshow Productions, & I'm hoping it'll become an annual event, because New Zealand needs something of this scale regularly.
THE DOSE: Is there any NZ collective that unites the different bands under one flag, aiding them with gigs, compilations, etc?
JOSH: Unfortunately since the dissolution of Mediatrix in 2004, things have become somewhat scattered. Club Bizarre do the occasional NZ music compilation, Circadian Rhythm put on monthly gigs in the main centres, & i'm hoping for big things from the afforementioned Creepshow Productions. but, unlike Australia, there's no real unifying force in the scene here. I guess I tend to think of myself as something of an outsider, & from the outside it seems rather factionalised to me.
THE DOSE: With the number of community sites and its services increasing, more projects emerge while labels refrain from releasing newcomers in the shadow of financial risks as the indie bubble still hasn't burst yet and the critical mass is not yet reached. Do you see a way out of today's globalized, havoc-heavy indie music situation?
JOSH: This is the reality of the music industry now. If the internet has done one major disservice to music, it's the fact that its convinced everyone they can be in a band. Critical mass would have to be the point that there are more "projects" than people listening to them, & we surely can't be far off that eventuality. The market is flooded with badly composed, performed, mixed & mastered music at the moment. It's very hard for something of quality to poke through the mire. Also, with the rise of the MP3 taking away the visceral response of owning an actual physical product such as a CD, music has become devalued, more disposable. Perhaps that's because we're in between generations, & as the physical distribution systems disappear entirely, digital delivery will become all-pervasive, but I think record labels do act as a form of quality-control. Having a company willing to invest money hopefully ensures that it's at least competent before being unleashed on the world. Society is on the cusp: either the average consumer becomes more discerning, sees through the hype, & starts actively seeking out worthwhile music, or we as artists effectively allow ourselves to be reduced to something marginal...background chatter.
THE DOSE: Please mark one non-audio art object which embodies most the concept and philosophy of the band.
JOSH: That's a tough one. If pressed, I'd probably have to say William Burroughs' Naked Lunch. Possibly a cliche, but it's so dark, surreal, & provocative, again with a decidedly dystopian sense of things to come. & viciously funny to boot. Either that or Fritz Lang's Metropolis. In both cases they're portentous artefacts that seem even more relevant today than when first released. I do tend to identify with outsiders, artists that exist outside of any specific time period or genre.
THE DOSE: What's life like when The Mercy Cage mode is switched off? What do you do, what hobbies do you have, what jobs do you have?
JOSH: [laughs] Sadly enough, I don't think it ever truly switches off. The Mercy Cage is an outlet for me, a way of purging thought & idea. For example, I'm on a big Foucault/Lotringer trip at the moment. The evolution of how we as a society perceive sexuality, & the alarming rate at which sexual taboos are breaking down is both fascinating & disturbing. I also have an obsession with cryptic ephemera, such as shortwave number stations, & the history of cryptography in general, so I'm sure that it'll all find it's way onto the next record in some shape or form. other than that. I'm a professional audio engineer, a hermit, & I like to collect things...odd things.
THE DOSE: Have you been active members of any other musical or subcultural scenes before setting still in the electro/goth community?
JOSH: Prior to The Mercy Cage, I fronted a dark alternative rock band called The Altar, alongside current TMC live members Dean Young & R.Neale. My initial approach to The Mercy Cage was a direct reaction against that. The idea of preconceived notions of a "band", an attempt to create something with no cultural reference or debt to anything previous. After spending many years distancing myself from that era of my life, I've come to terms with the fact that it was very good guitar rock. We're definitely trying to inject some of that raw energy into the current live show.
THE DOSE: Thank you so much for this interview once again. Do you have any final message to the DOSE readers?
JOSH: Thanks so much for your continued support! We're just starting work on writing a new record, which should hopefully be out next year. And,as ever, question everything...