Words: Richard Hudson-Miles
The pioneer of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, thought human actions were motivated by two unconscious drives, which he named after the Greek Gods of love and death. Firstly, the life-drive, or Eros, which represents our drive for fulfilment, pleasure, procreation, and species preservation. Secondly, the death-drive, or Thanatos, which causes melancholy, obsessive compulsive behaviour, aggression, and violence, particularly towards sexual rivals. Left unchecked, the death drive produces a morbid desire for self-destruction, manifesting itself in addictions and neurotic self-harm. Discussing the death drive in 1920, Freud argued that ‘the goal of all life is death
Both life and death drives are evident in rock music. You could think of heavy metal guitar. shredding as a display of sexuality, even phallic power. Alternatively, the heavy guitar distortion could be thought of as a form of aggression, even a sonic assault. The mythologies of lead singers and their voracious sexual appetites can be explained as manifestations of the life and death drive simultaneously. More tragically, the decline of other famous rock stars into suicide, depression, and drug addiction is the consequence of a dominant death drive. Yet, this self-destruction invariably co-exists with a life-drive, evident in the desire to convey emotion and affect through music. Also, to use that creative energy to inspire future generations. In a sense, music can act like a form of catharsis, sublimating more dangerous instinctual drives. The life and death drives are written into the very name of WARGASM. Here, sex and death are screamed in capital letters. At the risk of dragging them involuntarily to the psychoanalyst’s couch, you could say they are possibly the most Freudian band on the circuit today. For example, their last single, released in May ‘22 was psychosexually titled D.R.I.L.D.O. This wordplay changes a domestic sex toy into the nightmarish weapon of a serial killer. Its weirdness, which Freud called the uncanny, relates to this transformation of the familiar into the threatening. The uncanny is the persistent backdrop to WARGASM’s music. Beyond the title, this song’s lyrics repeatedly sound like the life and death drives clashing in an apocalyptic reckoning. The single opens and closes with the chant of “Drink, Fuck, Fight, Love’. In the intro, this is repeated in an anxious whisper by the band’s frontwoman Milkie Way. In the outro, it is screamed by Sam Matlock, the vocalist and musician who makes up the other half of the duo. The video for this single is set in what looks like an underground vampire rave. As the song progresses, Milkie Way’s words gradually become more intense, as they fight to be heard above the pounding four-four beat which drives the music. The singer can only be seen through the flashes of strobe lighting and the contorted rhythms of the crowd. Eventually, the song erupts into the nu-metal / punk / techno onslaught which has become WARGASM’s signature. As the band fight onstage with an obese skinhead, the lyrics scream “I’m proud to pick the corpses / Yeah, it’s sick / I’m caught in the slaughter / Of this 21st century torture”.
The band certainly have a visceral sound and an uncompromising identity. They hit hard, like a primal scream against our corrupt and uncertain times. Behind the life drive / death drive psychic tension, there are frequent glimpses of social critique. The band are forthright in their criticism of modern Britain. Matlock: “I’ve never felt so embarrassed at our country, and it wasn’t great to begin with”. However, the band are far from apathetic. Milkie Way describes their songwriting process as channelling ‘our rage into the songs to save us from doing things that are truly anti-social’. This is readily apparent in the band’s latest single ‘Fukstar’, which takes aim at consumer culture, false prophets, and the empty cult of celebrities. The video is shot in a broken geodesic dome, set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, highly reminiscent of the 1980s Mad Max films. Milky Way opens this song with a sarcastic feminist sneer “Don’t wear my makeup for men / No, I just love corporations / Want them to take all my money”. As well as satirising mindless consumerism, this seems like an attack on vacuous celebrities like the Kardashians. WARGASM’s debut single, ‘Postmodern Rhapsody’ (2019) explicitly took aim at the Kardashians and the “car crash television / Giving me an aneurysm”. However, Matlock insists that he was thinking about Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk when writing Fukstar. The lyrics “You’ve Got Your Money and your fast cars / You’re not God you’re just another Fukstar” apparently are direct references to the intergalactic vanity projects of these two billionaires. However, Milkie Way insists that this term is more universal, applying to all “people who have this self-imposed god-like air of superiority who are really only imposing the destructive side of being a god to the world around them”. Depressingly, contemporary social media is full of other celebrity, and wannabe celebrity, Fukstars with God complexes. WARGASM’s song therefore doubles as a critique of a society who turn to the super-rich as their cultural and spiritual leaders. The outro to this song repeats, like a mantra, “Just another Fukstar”. Matlock has suggested he wanted to channel the energy of the rap-rock band Rage Against The Machine here. The song he presumably had in mind is ‘Killing in the Name’ (1992). Famously, this track concludes with the indignant repetition of “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me”. WARGASM might lack the militant anticapitalist politics of Rage Against The Machine, but there is definitely a politics of refusal at work within the music of this band. There is also a sense of something darker and libidinal being unleashed. Like the punk bands of the 70s, WARGASM have claimed that they stand for chaos. The punk spirit of WARGASM is not located in their style but in their anarchic spirit. For Milkie Way, “punk is existing and thriving in a world that is set up to see you crash and burn and has people practically buying tickets, sitting at the sidelines, wanting and waiting for it to happen”. Matlock even has a tattoo which reads ‘BURN THE PRESS’. This is a reference to an old punk zine he used to produce, but also the mass media who twist the words of bands for their own agendas. In our interview, Matlock concedes that a punk attitude might not be enough to change society, but that music like theirs might align with other forms of social dissent. Matlock: “Maybe someone will do something louder than music and that something else will help – then I’ll be happy as a brick through a window”. Expect more of this seditionary chaos when the band drop their debut LP later this year.
WARGASM’s Explicit: The Mixxxtape will be released imminently on slowplay/Republic Records, with a debut album to follow.