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Famous Music Critic Weighs in on Berceuse Heroique Controversy, Defends Art's "Right to Offend"

In a new essay, Scottish writer David Keenan argues in favor of "truly revolting art and music."

by Alexander Iadarola
Nov 4 2015, 9:45pm

Photo from the author's website.

In a new piece for Crack, influential British Music critic David Keenan responds to the widespread backlash Berceuse Heroique label head Gizmo recently received for tweeting about sexually harassing a woman in London—as well as the label's use of fascist and racist imagery in its album packaging and promotional materials. In the piece, Keenan strongly makes a case for "truly revolting art and music, art that does not sensationalize and aestheticize horror but that is brave enough to fix its gaze on it long enough to come to some kind of terms with it." Most of the examples he uses of this kind of work fall within the framework of industrial and noise music.

Keenan goes on to argue that although Gizmo's work suggests a "scattershot attempt to get a reaction," work like it should be defended because it is "brave enough to fix its gaze on [horror] long enough to come to some kind of terms with it."

"There is a right to offend just as there is a right to be offended," he explains. "Rights exist to protect what ordinarily could never survive, what is most offensive, what is most off-message, most non-mainstream...Take that away and we lose some of the greatest art of the 20th Century, from Life Stinks by Pere Ubu through Suicide and Blaise Cendrars. What are we left with? Billy Bragg, Sting and The Lightning Seeds."

Interestingly, when it comes to "great art" in the "non-mainstream" tradition, he only cites white artists, and only one woman, Siouxsie Sioux.

The essay raises an important question as to where you draw the line with this kind of work, because obviously not all art that seeks to offend does so in a thought-provoking way. Is there any kind of empirical evidence that Gizmo's work with Berceuse Heroique is in fact needed by the public to come to terms with horror? While it is undeniable that work exploring these transgressive industrial and noise aesthetics has had an impact historically (think: Whitehouse and Throbbing Gristle), the fact that these traditions are upheld so much more by aging record collectors than today's social justice activists might say something about their real value in the current moment.

The author has a forthcoming novel called The Comfort of Women.

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