M.E.S.H. - Piteous Gate
When is the future? The hopeful answer would be now, because it demands the present to be revolutionary in scope. Perhaps that’s the utopian dream of science fiction and much of cinema in general. Glowing screens could frame a technological transition of the social ego into a more revolutionary whole, a digital regime, a force that pushes individual feelings of sublime escape, total annihilation, or unbelievable spectacle into the public sphere, where the alienated are carried away on the backs of dinosaurs, where deus ex machina is a laser-storm.
Unfortunately, barriers prevent many from marveling at a behemoth, genetically modified lizard ripping the flesh of its torturers into tiny bits. We absent-mindedly anticipate a differentiation of the real in order to take back what the fiction took from us — we meditate on the shortcomings of plot, the politics of Hollywood, or the grotesque nature of capital itself and end up holding on to opinions that should have been suspended within the cinematic moment to begin with. We blame the industry’s inflationary tactics on the million dollar lizard on screen and forget its conception as a massive reptilian beast, a vision of pre-history: powerful, noble, imperial. This is the cinematic history we’ve inherited: hatred of the potentially sublime. The “cinematic” is not necessarily the instrument for social change dreamt by philosophers and the artier auteur filmmakers amongst them, but an unreal force that should rouse feelings of power synonymous with big-budget means of production, gladiatorial in its breadth. And this cinema has dreams. And it has hope.
Piteous Gate, the debut full-length from Berlin-based artist M.E.S.H., uses the cinematic and all of its tropic tendencies to arrive at a statement of personal vision often hard to find within the social continuum of future-minded electronica or quasi-club music. That isn’t to say the record isn’t full of the social tropes common within the field; rather, the record uses those sounds — ephemera from sample packs, pirated VSTs, Ableton drum-racks loaded with Frankenstein YouTube samples, mecha, etc. — to contextualize the individual’s relationship to the largeness of spectacle. The album’s subtlety and abstract tendencies prevent it from becoming solely a work of stock collage or pastiche appropriation. Rather, in order to evoke the powerful, high-budget achievement of top-dollar soundtracks, M.E.S.H. incorporates trending audio into the prodigy of his own will to power, an act that reflexively places himself at the center of the discourse’s high-fidelity. After all, the individual artist’s own labor can become competitive with the machines that produce our most grandiose sci-fi. Finally, there can be indistinguishability between the sheer productive capability of capital and the loner armed with vision and software — one of the dreams of electronic music all along. This exchange between subject and massive infrastructure, between personal will and infinite resources, makes the space of Piteous Gate similar to a public space structured like a collection of multiple private domains. But, isn’t that just cinema, blown away/disappointed people sitting together alone in a public space?
M.E.S.H. knows full well the allure of Machinic Eros, as Felix Guattari calls it, “the desire to be in the thick of things.” Piteous Gate’s title comes from Gene Wolfe’s science fiction tetralogy The Book of the New Sun, a sweeping universe that turns a guild apprentice named Severian anon to a host of mermaids, dark lords, resurrected grandmothers, cyborgs — all of which at one point or another get ambiguously rammed through a space traffic portal called the “Piteous Gate.” In a way, the Christ/Apollo journey Severian embarks on speaks to the same one that the pithy, contemporary artist makes when they jump into a storm of futuristic tendency in an attempt to embrace the inherent cinema of cybernetics, live leak, and Bitcoin: or as M.E.S.H. himself stated for FACT (echoing Guattari almost verbatim), the drive to be the “receptor for constant information overload.” As such, the individual will itself becomes just like the Gate that serves as the record’s piteous namesake, the same piteousness that exists when the individual operates within cultural oversupply, the same piteousness that makes this record a subtle masterpiece. This is the state of “meaningful” electronic music, perhaps a science-fiction unto itself — a discourse that constantly fluctuates in between using the attractive and fashionable to publicize deeply personal, spectacular visions. Thankfully, with his debut, M.E.S.H. makes the much-needed statement that the assumed fashion occurring throughout his music doesn’t matter much when compared to the beautiful therapy that an individual can demonstrate through their artful treatment of universal themes: apocalypse, disenfranchisement, decay, the promise of utopia; or: a giant dinosaur, a dark lord’s mermaid army.
Piteous Gate doesn’t employ the directly disruptive tactics of his similarly cinematically-oriented peers. Lacking the liberation-as-embodiment strategy of Gatekeeper or the socially empowering politics of Janus-associate Lotic, M.E.S.H’s approach seems to reflect the exhaustion of not having a cause to fight for outside of yourself, a condition reflective of the inward turn Wolfe probably made when he wrote his massive sci-fi tomes. In a recent interview with The FADER, M.E.S.H. spoke at length about the desire to create something with personal efficacy, even speaking on attempts to avoid problematic territories of cultural appropriation, stating that “the way out of that conversation is to recognize your own specificity, and build on your own voice.” Of course. And while that may seem like a reduction, he seems to be stating that this voice is to be trusted in order to reach those peaks of vision that allow for the creation of something beautiful, so to speak. Perhaps that’s why he recently delivered a crucial re-upload of 2014 Tinsahe edit “Vulnerable (DAW is my Sewer),” a gorgeous track that dives headfirst into those cultural tensions avoided on Piteous Gate — the track seems to self-critique with the accompanying tag “#no.” Avoiding this kind of direct cultural commentary, his debut contains movements toward truth as they exist existentially for the individual; yes, but they also function as statements of “power” publicized in the form of our modern era’s big-budget, HD achievements, ones that often just re-render texts written by anti-social maniacs in dusty apartments. Ultimately, the record serves as a testament for the will to achieve an intersection with the forces that often oppress it, no matter how subtle.
Given 2015’s insatiable palette for mixes that celebrate the freedom and surreality possible from collage and plunderphonic approaches often synonymous with DJ skill-sets, Piteous Gate stands apart, even though it uses similar materials. Despite M.E.S.H’s often amorphous sonic identity — a sort of hybridized force swimming through the deep choirs of Fatima Al Qadiri as well as the semi-formal darkness of the entire PAN pantheon — his work has uniqueness through its striking orientation for tonal complexity and compositional intentionality, skills that don’t solely rely on just making opportune references. Instead, there’s real cinematic affect. The album’s title track trudges forward with a repetitive, sludgy synth that marches into a sandstorm, kicking up rust while dripping acid rain onto deserts that froth and harden into green glass. Here, it’s easy to compare the phaser tonality to Arca’s organic, bioluminescent soundscapes, and yes, theirs is the very language M.E.S.H. also commands. Despite these tonal similarities, any reference is not used to assimilate or differentiate himself from any other artist or culture; they are only used in the interest of their actual, material potency.
In this way, tracks like “Thorium,” “Epithet,” and “Methy Imbiß” speak to his relationship to Janus, specifically Lotic. They recall the fragmented rhythmic structures and metallic aggression of DAMSEL in DISTRESS, as well as Heterocetera’s more sullen tendencies. “Epithet” is an obvious show-stopper. Its floor-driven power evokes its title — the epithetical as the glorification and common usage of the “futurist” mindset to arrive at catharsis. These are remarkable, anxious tracks that skirt away from legibility as soon as they lock into definition. Powerful moments sit well next to calmer ambient pieces such as “The Black Pill” or “Kritikal & X,” moments that expand the palette into mutated Vangelis environments. Any conceptual dimension of the “renaissance” and/or “feudal” tones that creep into the tracks are totally lost within the album’s phenomenal tumult. While they may have a clear place in M.E.S.H.’s mental scheme, their reference is opaque to the listener; the sounds are just another coloration within the field of sounds that whirl by like asteroids denting the hull of a ship.
Yet, it’s obvious that Piteous Gate’s use of the Machinic impulse isn’t anything new, and some might ask for more in regards to its conceptual “agenda.” A demanding listener could insist it to be more dialectical in motion as forging a new territory for the futuristic discourse to swallow and consume. And yes, this comes back to why utopia is often a bad concept and why the future can’t be “now” when described in terms of the culture machine’s ability to falsify and recapitulate the notion that there will forever be a sense of aesthetic “newness” to be owned, bought, and sold. M.E.S.H. described this as “fighting for scraps” or the often undeniable urge to joke within art-making, defense mechanisms left over from that dialectical machine’s demand for the new, that “Machinic Eros” that places capable artists like M.E.S.H. at the alter of the Piteous Gate. You can tell that the guy pays attention — not just as an artist, but as a consumer of culture, as a designer, as a creative person living in the world. As such, having multiple roles within a complex culture obscures the simple will to create. Given this, the primary triumph of Piteous Gate is its awareness that the pursuit of the cinematic isn’t the desire to turn the artist into a superhero to be marveled at. Rather, the pursuit can be as simple as internalizing the action of creating “something beautiful” that sits at the intersection of culture, but outside of the assumption that the product must be different rather than just important to its maker and the few (or many) that are moved by the work. With Piteous Gate, you hear an artist becoming strong to themselves, not as a strong icon or representation, but as a capable force across industrialized identities, one who extracts dances from the cosmos, like the always amazing qualities of the cinema, like the giant genetically-modified dinosaur ripping human dialectics and negative commentary away from culture through its sheer presence on the screen: powerful, noble, imperial.