November 19, 2012
Qveer Kvlt in Mvsic Cvltvre
“It’s bad enough you’re a fuckin faggot. Nobody likes a negative queen.” – Some asshole talking shit to Myles
Negative Queen’s short life started on December 18th 2010 and ended on September 1st 2011. The band was comprised of vocalist/guitarist/noise samplist Dylan Bennedict (Cull, Anon Remora), guitarist Ayla Holland (Disemballerina, Anon Remora, Malice Discordea), bassist Myles Donovan (Disemballerina, Myles of Destruction), and drummer Ashley Spungin (Taurus, Purple Rhinestone Eagle). The name of the band originates from the above quote – a line which was delivered as an immediate response to bassist Myles Donovan’s refusal to comply with the societal cluster of expectations and stereotypes that burden individual members of smaller LGBT circles (where the ‘L’ and ‘T’ matter just as much as the ‘G’ and ‘B’). For the short span of time they were around, the members dealt with a few years’ worth of personal pressures and group-based tension.
The members found themselves during a time when everything was falling apart and the only possibility of relief made itself attainable when the music was being played. This is a definite sign of a band that had a purpose and, by virtue of this, a band that needed to exist at some point in time. One can only imagine how the constant stream of friction felt and shared throughout roughly seven months of activity justified the band’s existence when those momentary lapses of release manifested themselves on stage, or otherwise.
Here is some live footage of “Mutiny” recorded at the Black Rose in Portland:
Survive My Heart…”
The band started out as a three-piece with two of the members of Anon Remora and Ashley Spungin. Marla (Fainting Room) nearly made it into the band as a keyboardist but the trio opted for a bassist instead. Myles eventually joined the band as Negative Queen’s first show was nearing and the rush of all the members having to adapt to themselves in a collective environment made itself quite apparent.
The first show happened on the winter solstice of 2010 and the beginning of the performance saw a spontaneous crow chant prelude sparked by Katherine (Sei Hexe, Nasalrod) with the intention of casting a dark blessing spell. For whoever is willing to believe in the unknown – the blessing may have metamorphosed into a hex by itself in the midst of spontaneity. The chant was opined by Myles as being something that provoked “a pretty bad ouija board feeling” – which instinctively prompted him to let his bass feedback over the residual echoes of the chant, perhaps to dampen the advent of other kinds of negative auras. Those auras still managed to make their way into the existence of the band as it started to develop a prolonged streak of what he referred to as “signature bad luck negative queen style.” A bad luck which inarguably heightens the mystique and mystery encircling this unsung project.
To paraphrase something Myles said in a trenchant response to my inquiry about the band, they destroyed, and involuntarily so, a friend’s van on a South-bound tour to California. They coped and got back to Portland with the help of friends from BRANES but the return to the rose abode was far from an easy one. Morale was shattered and bearings were lost. In another instance of misluck, Dylan was hit by a car right before the band’s last performance. He took it upon himself to perform with the others afterwards, after receiving a swift fix-up, arms in bandages and high on painkillers.
The sincerity in Negative Queen’s music stems from a direct exposure to the thematic depth that is musically explored by the band as an entire entity. The words for “Murder Suicide Pact,” for example, were written about an agreement between two friends on getting clean before one of them regrettably succumbed to an overdose. The band was often considered a goth band while it was active but the edgy inflection of the themes of death, hatred, separation, loss, misery and violence happened primarily in the context of slow, swampy and perplexing arrangements. Those arrangements have more to do with what the members felt like playing at the time than with the evolution of the forebears of the current ‘g-beat’ scene in the west side of the pond.
Amber Asylum’s “Songs of Sex and Death,” The Gault’s “Even as All Before Us,” Diamanda Galás’ “Saint of the Pit,” White Hex’s “Heat,” or the gut-wrenching intensity of Swans’ “Filth”-era output all come to mind as the hazy layers of vibrations are devised between a cohesively sustained melodic personality and fragmented slabs of sound. The band conveys portrayals of beauty and ugliness, vacancy and longing, violence and fragility, reproaches and melancholies – imagery and sound both share this strange, conchoidal sense of duality. The 3-track demo offer a complete oeuvre with a well-defined sense of transitional movement existing in and out of compositions. All the songs in the demo complement each other well by striding in the same musical direction and by allowing motif variations to occur naturally. Nothing is forced. All is sullen.
The cassette liner reads: “this is qveer kvlt. fvck you.” The term implies a relative deviation, and perhaps even a departure, from the queercore punk subculture movement that sprouted in the mid-1980s and experienced more exposure later on by an expansive upheaval of DIY output and musical acts like Mukilteo Fairies and Limp Wrist. ‘qveer kvlt’ is a necessary answer to a question that was brought to my attention recently, “what do you listen to when you are gay and suicidal?” It is a radical complement to the culturally prominent exercise of raging out against repressive cultural intolerance and bloc misconceptions about patterns of queer identity and trans-identity (and the skewed social construction of ‘gender identity’ as a whole). Both approaches appear to be exploiting the possibility of subversion roomed by what Judith Butler termed as “new gender politics,” and both merit consideration in a post-out-of-the-closet environment of fast-encapsulating undoes and goings-on. ‘qveer kvlt’, in this sense, provides a method of social reform by taking a hand in recoding a dehumanizing cissexist system of normativity and essentialism – art with a purpose. What do you do when you cannot go on but you have to anyway? You either turn inwards, or you deconstruct. Things will get ugly before they get better, just as they should in asinine times of bigotry, “Kill the Gays” absurdity and transphobic marginalization. Although not all members of the band are gay, Negative Queen existed explicitly as a queer band to make a poignant counter-cultural statement, one which seeks to transcend fashioned identity and invisibility, as artists like Diamanda Galás, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson have done in the past.
There is no doubt that some artists are profoundly honest when they attempt to externalize their own individual reactions to unlivable moments in their lives. Those reactions would perhaps be cruelly isolating if suffering should find itself privatized and left unwoven into personal expression. However, many do not allow themselves to be sensitive enough to the subtlety and nuance that this practice requires. Negative Queen’s music manages to capture those qualities and attune them to the droning space in which the songs grow and vanish quietly when the minutes granted to them dissolve into a silence that is increasingly tragic and meditative.
There is a generous amount of space within passages. This room to breathe is precisely what causes the listener to be enveloped in the uncomfortable, abruptly and violently. This is hardly a genteel submersion into enjoyment but it is an immersive experience of engagement. An engagement with the uneasiness of misery, the realities of dysfunction and the crises that are naturally composed beneath the harsh layers of decline, all of which bleed through dramatically. The music provides a space of confrontation – a world is being confronted, and the meaning of this face-à-face is never truly eclipsed by the captivating and intimate presentness of the musical contributions oozing from every angle. This lulling assemblage of what-breaks-a-conscious-being isn’t without a stab of douceur — patience often tends to lure it out as the listener journeys through barely surmountable landscapes of chest-beating morosity.
The pace remains steady throughout the sterling demo tracks. This creates a pensive sentiment of hypnosis which weanedly enraptures the listener in a feverish dream decorated with meandering withdrawals of reality. Dylan’s fragile and fractured delivery of hymns often finds itself enmeshed in bass-leading structures that murderously mature into a mating ground for incisively imbricated, reverb-soaked dual-guitar interplays. The lyrics are textural — they are conducive to mood creation and a brooding sense of time. At times introspective (“You were my compass. I fell into the darkest eyes.”) and at others, feral, the mood vascillates between bitterly tinged avenues of memory.
The percussion work is creatively concise and minimal as it feeds the bass structures with just enough room to thrust entire songs into overwhelming momentum changes. The drums billow like widows in a synclinal march to an unappeasable void. The impulsive and lush quality of the music are malleated in absorbing ways and it works. It works because there is a real sense of rhythmic confluence marinating within the capacities of the quartet. It absorbs and it affects, as it intends to.
“Indictment” starts with a wavering and quaint spoken word prologue punctuated by the echoes of percussive throbs and bass-line nuances which bear a slight resemblance to Lorrain Rath’s enchanting work with Worm Ouroboros. The guitar melodies twist and churn their way through in a pervasively tentacular way – sharper minor key notes latch on birthing grooves . The latter half of the song sees Dylan venting spleen and screaming “Coward” repeatedly, like a wounded and resentful animal, after bare-handedly lifting reflections on guilt and ruin from a movingly venomous stanza, which reads: “My lungs are so full of stagnant hate. I can’t find the breath to curse your name.” It is a merciless, almost Baudelairian, atmosphere that this song creates — scenic climates are unveiled to the listener through repetition, discordantly squeaking noise scrapes, and a harmonious blend of instrumental reaches.
The music isn’t flawless. It harbors the same flaws that make Nico’s “Marble Index,” Coil’s “…And the Ambulance Died in His Arms,” or Worm Ouroboros’ “Come The Thaw,” to name a few, special mood recordings in their own right. Those are formidable heart-breakers, where perfection would only hinder the searing flow of emotions that clings to the crystalline textures of sound congealed. Negative Queen falls under this aegis and squarely on the bottomless side of a contemplative and engaging musical venture. Textures are often gauzily crescendoed over long and plodding pieces. The approach to songwriting is inherently different, in so far as it veers towards the more oppressive side of the musical template, but it is, in essence, a dream-like excursion into melancholia, with a sensibly restrained but no less fiery delivery. This immeasurable quality transcended the messy demise of the band and was naturally adopted by two particularly distinct two-piece projects which seem to be evolving as polar opposites — with Negative Queen acting as a sort of vestige in between diverging sonic climates.
The band’s last show saw a proposition for a split record with fellow Portlanders Atriarch but it happened at an inopportune time when the Queen was readying herself to fall apart. The Queen’s death saw the emergence of two sublime acts. Myles and Ayla moved on to pursue the majestically heart-wrenching force that is Disemballerina, along with cellist Melissa Collins (Malice Discordea, Discharge Information System); and Ashley now embodies half of the surrealistic, unique-sounding monolith that is Taurus next to Dark Castle’s Stevie Floyd.
Disemballerina is an open ‘Trauerspiel’ exercise in capturing the visibility and presence of death and dolor through the elegiac weight of acoustic instrumentation – in a way that is not dissimilar to releases by the likes of Amber Asylum, Hala Strana, or the Nick Cave & Warren Ellis pair. Its formation precedes that of Negative Queen.
(Disemballerina; Photo Courtesy of Justine Murphy)
It also represents continued efforts by Myles and Ayla to perpetuate the nurturing of the ‘qveer kvlt’ idea that characterizes acts like Negative Queen and Gloomweaver. Taurus, on the other hand, is pure tranquility and bliss transmitted through pulsating walls of ambient feedback and drone-drenched tonal cosmoses. Taurus’ debut, aptly bearing the title “Life,” can be streamed below. Merch is still available, after a seedful Summer tour in direct support for Agalloch, and can be purchased here.
(Taurus; Photo Courtesy of Veleda Thorsson)
The Negative Queen demo was recorded live by Radio Sloan (The Need, Ce Be Barns Band, The Circuit Side, Mocket, Fact or Fiction) and was kindly uploaded by Ayla for the purpose of this article. You can download it here.
Dedicated to all the queens out there seeking liberation from unending cycles of negativity. Please bend your ears and let your heartbreak resound. Fuck the hostile world.
Physical copies of the demo are still available at Linear B.
All photos courtesy of Jacqui Rae Meadows, unless otherwise noted.
My thanks to Myles for sharing the life of the band.