“Power electronics” is not listener-friendly music on a good day. A cacophony of power drills, feedback, short-circuiting amplifiers, panicked screeching and walls of static, it’s fucking useless to dance to and mostly makes sense to budding serial killers, adolescents who can’t figure out how to play guitars, and lonely dudes with severe social anxieties. Whitehouse were/are the reigning kings of the form, but other notable power electronics artists include Grunt, Atrox Morgue, Brighter Death Now and Genocide Organ. Bands in the genre generally self-release, cassettes and CD-Rs, mostly, sometimes in packages that will maim you when you try opening them. There is a very good book, Fight Your Own War: Power Electronics and Noise Culture, that explains the whole sordid power electronics story far better than I can.
These tapes can give you hepatitis.
Anyway, west-coast noiseniks Death Squad already had a reputation for taking things beyond the pale. Even the description of his/their 1996 cassette release, Cutting Myself Open To See And Feel Blood, is enough to leave you whimpering in the corner:
“Contains individual photo, used razor blade and blood smeared tapes packaged in an Abbott OPD Reagant (hepatitis test kit!) box. Edition of 20 copies released at the “Blood And Self Mutilation” performance in City College Of San Francisco May 8th 1996.”
But in 1999, the one-man noise unit performed at a club called Lab in San Francisco, and it just might be the most over-the-top “musical” performance of all time, power electronics, GG Allin or otherwise. The wordy flyers for the gig did have a few red flags—they prominently featured a gun, a syringe and razor blade, and the text-dense manifesto included lines like “Small measures of terrorism are the only hope for the collapse of your perception and constantly programmed ideologies.” So, you know, it wasn’t gonna be an easy ride anyway. But the fifty or so aggro-music enthusiasts in attendance definitely got a lil’ more than they bargained for. Forget the wall of screeching, blood-curdling noise that ripped away at the speakers, that much was a given. It was the crazy shit going down onstage that really put it over the top.
Original flyer for the notorious performance
The show opened in typical 90s industrial/noise fashion, with Death Squad main man Michael Nine seated at a desk, illuminated only by a small lamp. Behind him, a film screen projected the standard edge-wizard atrocities: animal abuse, “true gore” clips, the whole life-is-horror trip. So far, another ho-hum night in 1999. And then things went over the rails.
Ximena Quiroz was in the audience that evening and posted her experience on a Yahoo Forum for fans of Einstürzende Neubauten shortly after the show:
“The desk [Nine] was sitting at had a syringe, razors, a little cup with some sort of liquid in it, a box of bullets, and a gun. The gun and the bullets were real. During the video, he proceeded to inject himself with something (heroin, maybe?). Then he took the razor and began to saw his arms with it until he was bleeding profusely. At first, I thought he wasn’t really cutting himself, but he wouldn’t stop bleeding, even when he wasn’t cutting himself.”
Okay, so far we’ve got heroin use and self-mutilation. And the dude is only getting started. At this point, it’s probably time to pack up and go home. Half the audience did, in fact. But Ximena stuck around, and things quickly escalated.
“He later proceeded to load the very real gun with very real bullets. He sat there for a bit, and all was quiet. And then, he grabbed a microphone and the gun, and started aiming the gun at members of the audience. More people got up and left. He walked around where all the seats were and started putting the loaded gun against people’s temples, including mine and my friend’s. He would scream various things, most of which were unintelligible. But he always had the gun right up against someone’s head. At first, I was too afraid to make a sudden move for fear that he might actually pull the trigger. But I managed to leave when he wasn’t looking at me. Some people began to cry because they were too scared to get up and leave. Last night was the first time that I actually feared for my own life.”
Michael 9: Hostage rocker
And that’s how it went. Naturally, there was a minor firestorm from noise fans over the show, with many of them condemning Nine for his GG Allin-esque antics. Death Squad played their last gig a few months later, and Michael Nine went on to form MK9, which he describes as “Initiation of a different level of psychological intrusion. Through video projection, audio constructions and performance, MK9 continues to investigate the varying aspects of emotional states interrelated with the human condition and social psyche.” He still performs around the world but, alas, hardly ever threatens his audience with guns anymore.
By the way, a document of the 1999 performance was available on the VHS format for years. A DVD version is currently available from Michael Nine himself. However, it’s a fixed camera shot from the side of the stage and you can’t see fuck-all, really. Still, Death Squad’s blood, heroin and hostage-taking show makes your average Slayer mosh pit seem pretty tame in comparison. Let’s step shit up, rock bands!
“Fuck God” live
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Missing Foundation, the long-lost industrial rockers who almost destroyed New York City