Mirror, the 2016 album by Manchester collective Gnod feels like the aural equivalent of Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’, it’s an album that confronts the listener with the suffering and pain that many in the second decade of the 2000s are experiencing in the UK, but it also investigates the causes of that pain. According to Gnod’s Bandcamp page the album came out of, and was informed by, a period that included individual illness, anger at the 2015 election result-and the realisation that as individuals we live in relationships of asymmetry to structures of power that are often hard to perceive but have a very real effect on our lives (1). Mirror was a response to individual struggle and societal dysfunction but the response wasn’t self anesthetisation, losing themselves in distraction or looking away from the sources of pain and anguish instead it was to confront those problems, to empathise with the victims and transpose the pain and anger experienced into this harrowing album. With Mirror Gnod created a daunting, uncomfortable listen, a superbly realised unflinching expression of social realism in a period of societal dysfunction, it’s also a reminder that really good music often forces us to engage with reality not flee it.
Roughly a year later Gnod were back with their 2017 album ‘JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT – WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE’, made up of five tracks it seems like a continued response to the same issues that gave rise to Mirror but whereas Mirror was a harrowing emotional response to the pain of living in a neoliberal dystopia-in-the-making marked by a low level of class consciousness JUST SAY NO… seems more cerebral, more analytical, characterised by a determination to make a positive difference. Gnod had come out the other end of dread and this album was/is their declaration, a rallying cry in opposition to authoritarian capitalism.
First track up is ‘Bodies For Money’ which makes clear what capitalism tries so hard to disguise that with the privatisation of the means of both production and subsistence people are forced to hire out their bodies in return for money, the means of survival in a commodified society, so that they can do it all again tomorrow. This is art that makes the invisible visible. Gnod’s response to this transaction that is at the heart of capitalism? “They can keep the fucking money”
I saw Gnod at Brighton’s Green Door Store in 2016 where they played track two ‘People’, in it Paddy Shine took the mic into the audience passing it around, giving us the chance to participate in the creation of the moment. In retrospect that simple act of chanting “People” was an evoking, a bringing into being, a recognition of our collectivity. We are social creatures and we need to rediscover a solidarity built around progressive, inclusive, egalitarian values rather than the elite serving ethnonationalism that seems to be being taken on board by too many people at the moment.
Track four is ‘Real Man’ an insightful interrogation of an old school hegemonic masculinity via the depiction of a particular individual. In Descent of Man, Grayson Perry makes a similar critique of destructive/self-destructive masculinity except his book isn’t as danceable! In Gender Studies gender is posited as a social construction, as performance- what Gnod do so well on this track is draw attention to the performance of a certain sort of masculinity and question its validity.
‘Stick in the Wheel’ is lyrically so sophisticated in deserves to be considered for a prize in literature! “Take a look at these hands, they’re the hands of a real hard worker. Got fingernails made of steel, still I never really show how I feel … How many times will I sell my soul…I want to be a stick in the wheel, don’t want to be a cog in the machine” In many ways this song reprises the ideas being explored in ‘Bodies for Money’, but here Gnod brilliantly capture the tensions of deriving a sense of identity (and maybe pride) from work, while at the same time resisting and detesting the system that that work is embedded in and an expression of. “I want to be a stick in the wheel, don’t want to be a cog in the machine” reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s comment ‘We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself’ (2).
Gnod are an important band. In their collectivity, succinct analysis and social compassion they may give important clues as to the way out of the state the UK is currently in.
‘JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT – WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE’ is on Rocket Recordings and available here https://gnod.bandcamp.com/album/just-say-no-to-the-psycho-right-wing-capitalist-fascist-industrial-death-machine
Cover design by Johnny O