Benjamin John Power wants to remind you, in visceral detail, just how fragile your form is.
Molecules tremble in fear at the presence Blanck Mass. If traditional dance music is meant to be an ascension away from daily troubles, Benjamin John Power wants to remind you, in visceral detail, just how fragile your form is.
Power (ain’t that a great name for a producer) isn’t just focused on sheer viciousness. One half of Bristol electronic wizards Fuck Buttons, Power has evolved from the spiraling hypnotism of his previous work into a sound that could be best described as noise with hooks. His last album, World Eater, matched its title in apocalyptic fervor. His newest, Animated Violence Mild is only misleading on the final world. It is jumpy, energetic, seething. There is nothing mild about it.
Power’s current dissection of pop and electronic can be traced back to the perverse catchiness of Ministry or Nine Inch Nails, but Animated Violence Mild has the trappings of the dancefloor firmly in its sites to mutilate. It’s as much Kaskade as it is Pharmakon, and, as he’s done his whole career, Power proves the difference between rave and noise is marginal at best. “House vs. House,” cheeky title and all, is the best example. The lead melody that bursts open during the chorus is Odessa-levels of arena dominating. But the drums thudding underneath imply all sorts of nasty things lurking just below. Following track “Hush Money” rides a twinkling synth that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Britney Spears record, but the rest of the track is a cacophony of unpleasant vocals biting at the ears and a frenetic drum machine that seems to have swallowed a whole bucket of amphetamines.
Electronic music ripping nostalgia into tiny shreds and pissing on the remains is nothing new. But Power channels grief as the primary emotion of Animated Violence Mild. The rising dangers of the Climate Crisis, unchecked corporate greed and the increasing influence of right-wing authoritarians all filter through. Like a more physical form of the best Vaporwave, Power takes the tropes of chart-topping pop and gouges at the hideous tumors beneath. Any beautiful line of synths will be interrupted by the punch of a fiery keyboard, every vocal sample stretched until the singing becomes screaming. The brief rest of “Creature/West Fuqua,” floating on a beguiling harp line and humming vocals, is sandwiched between the album’s two most horrific moments, “Love is a Parasite” and “No Dice.” It would be generous to say Power was providing respite. It’s more likely that the calm was a bait and switch, to make the surrounding madness all the more incomprehensible.
Animated Violence Mild scoffs at the idea of the ballroom as a sanctuary. The genres Power has fused and mastered often offer absolution. Raves through illicit substances and waves of beats to wash over the audience in all consuming elation. Noise music acts as an erasure of the body. The focus on the music leaving only shredding wall of sound, pounding listeners into submission. Power refuses both. In his grotesque stitching, there is no escapism.
I saw Blanck Mass at a dimly lit, dingy club in Austin about two years ago. Saw is the wrong word: I was physically attacked by his music. It was, bar none, the loudest show of my life. At one point, I was leaning against the wall, feeling my arm and throat vibrating at an unnatural, unnerving rate. Thinking I was touching some metal pipe that was ringing in frequency with the music, I stepped away. Nothing changed. Turns out that was just the thudding brutality of the music making my very tendons quake.