The Emporium, a trendy and inviting art gallery in Newcastle, Australia, recently featured an exhibit on an obscure slice of rave history in the city's ignoble past. They showcased the entire 10-year body of work from the group Nasenbluten and their defunct label Bloody Fist Records at an exhibit aptly entitled The Fistography.
It's a somewhat incongruous to so officially tribute a group and label that specialized in releasing decidedly low-brow hardcore techno records and cassettes, but the group's releases and memory have outlasted many of their contemporaries and nestled into art history. They're often credited with being an early and major influence on what would become breakcore, while their D.I.Y. approach and punk attitude attracted a global cult following of jaded ravers and other malcontents.
"At the time, Australia was mired in faux-glamorous dance music and excessively twee mainstream music. We were told what to like through the press, radio and television, by people living in major metropolitan Australian cities and I took extreme umbrage with this. Even people who considered themselves 'underground' were for the most part nothing more than Antipodean sock puppets for their European or American cultural masters," says Mark Newlands, owner of Bloody Fist Records and 1/3 of Nasenbluten.
Nasenbluten, 'nosebleed' in German, made music that was raw and uncompromising, designed to feel like a slap in the face. It sat starkly in contrast to the blissed out sounds of rave at the time. Mining unconventional sound sources like field recordings at steel factories, gangster rap and Australian radio broadcasts, Nasenbluten offset their sonic abrasiveness with a dry humor influenced by British comedy like Monty Python and Derek and Clive. The evocatively titled "Cunt Face" off their first album 100% No Soul Guaranteed featured television news samples confirming to the listener that "yes, it is vacuous."
Their music wasn't always so confrontational, though. Often it would drift into more abstract territories, in turn bringing an experimental edge to a music genre not known for deviation from the norm.
The group, made up of Mark, David Melo and Aaron Lubinski, credit production methods for their wide musical range. They rarely worked on music together, instead swapping samples and .MOD files for the Amiga's ProTracker production software. Mark, an accomplished turntablist and local DMC champ, gave the group its hip-hop edge, while Aaron and David were responsible for the group's weird and noisy bits.
"My whole approach to Nasenbluten in terms of music and art was cut 'n paste. Although I own some synths and have incorporated synth generated sounds into the music I have produced, in the main it was sampled and handled the same way an audio slab from a record or TV would be handled," explains Aaron Lubiniski.
Using their dole money as seed capital, the group started Bloody Fist Records in 1994 to release their music when no one else would. While only 100 copies of their first record were printed, word of mouth spread about the group through international DJ circles, eventually garnering a worldwide distribution deal for Bloody Fist Records as well as releases for Nasenbluten on Earache and Industrial Strength Records.
Nasenbluten almost immediately gained a reputation as the enfants terribles of electronic dance music due to their recalcitrant attitude. Simon Reynolds described them in his tome on the 90s rave scene, Generation Ecstacy, as petulant troublemakers leading a "pan-global network of dissidents" for whom "hardcore is anti-rave in spirit." They frequently, and publicly, feuded about money with their record labels. Threats of violence from detractors were used as sampling material.
"Often, people will experience nostalgia for a younger and better time when they were younger, more carefree and more beautiful. We can't really do that because we hated it all. "
The group embraced lo-fi production techniques and collage album art, aesthetic choices which, depending on who you ask, were either extremely primitive or years ahead of their time. The art was undeniably stark and disturbing when compared to pablum aesthetic most rave records went for at the time. Their use of the increasingly dated Amiga 600 as their production tool of choice earned them the diminutive label of "cheapcore" from more established producers, which they wore with pride.
"Originally it was an affordable means of creating things we wanted to," explains David Melo. "Later, it became increasingly more outdated, and thus appropriate to what we were doing. What better way of conveying an emotional immaturity and inability to grow up in an incongruous world, than 8-bit mono audio recordings from devices better suited to graphics?"
For Mark, the over emphasis on production value has strained most of the excitement in electronic music nowadays."Although the production is amazing, a lot of newer hardcore I hear these days seems very 'safe' and unadventurous. No loose cannons, nothing unexpected and no provocation. Just VST plug-ins, severely regulated BPMs and strict guidelines adhered to by big-headed producers obsessed with Facebook likes. Of course there are a few exceptions, but for the most part, all the original '90s roughness has been strained out. Time has moved on, but that roughness is one thing I really do miss…"
Their adherence to old technology meant, until recently, most of their output had been relegated to the analog past. This scarcity has led to extravagant price speculation on record collector websites like Discogs. A copy of Bloody Fist 03 sold for more than $500 in June. A common joke among hardcore DJs is to refer to their collection of Bloody Fist and Nasenbluten records as their retirement funds.
Nasenbluten seem as surprised as anyone at their influence and scoff at the notion that any of their music could be considered classics. David Melo waxes philosophic on the group's notoriety:
"Often, people will experience nostalgia for a younger and better time when they were younger, more carefree and more beautiful. We can't really do that because we hated it all. We appeal to those within whom there is an inner 14-year old schoolboy scrawling a massive cock in his friend's history textbook. Not so much a Peter Pan-like eternal youth, more a misanthropic emotional refusal or inability to grow up. Apart from that, we suspected a lot of contemporary stuff out there was fucking shit in the first place, and what came out on Bloody Fist wasn't."
Mark N will tour the United States in November, playing shows in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. Tour dates and the entire digitized Bloody Fist catalog are available at www.BloodyFist.com.au.
For more misanthropic emotional refusal, follow our intrepid reporter at @dan_rtype.