Sharps & flats

Genaside II bring hard-ass thuggism to the paranoid visions of dark electronic music.

Published September 30, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Rumors of attempted murder, kidnapping a journalist and flipping off label owners might make an excellent P.R. campaign for a Norwegian death metal band. In the geeky realm of electronic music producers, however, these kinds of tales seem rather out of place. That doesn't stop the purported hard-ass South London thugs in the veteran electronic group Genaside II from upholding threatening reputations derived from those exact stories. The collective even goes so far as to mine that sort of bad behavior for artistic and comedic ore on their "hard-core reality" themed record "Ad Finite."

Welding together signifiers of apocalyptic doom -- Gothic opera vocal samples, shadowy minor chords, Wagnerian orchestrations, jolting beats, demonic heavy metal -- Genaside II build a set for a sort of street-smart, techno break-beat "Phantom of the Opera." The premise of the group's second full-length (after a string of singles that dates back to 1991) is fairly simple. Over comic-book instrumentation, both black and white MCs rhyme about -- what else? -- violence and being gangsters. Sure, at times the whole project is annoyingly silly, but behind the group's mask of adolescent horror there's a clever report on the state of electronic music.

Opening with a sound bite from the horror-viriti "Faces of Death" video, "Death of the Kamikazee" is a teenage techno-metal head's wet dream, complete with head-banging rhythms and a goofy vocal saying, "I'll fucking kill you." "Mr. Maniac," inspired by a bandmate who threw a bottle at a former stagehand, kicks off with a quivering whimper and an evil-sounding laugh track.

With more over-the-top tracks like "Paranoid Thugism," "Bulletproof Jumper" and "Bizarre Bleedin'," the album at times devolves into a lost hybrid of operatic theater and Halloween special effects. But colorful and weird theatrical performances transform the somewhat banal violence into serious subversion. Tricky -- the owner of Genaside II's Durban Poison label -- makes an appearance on "Paranoid Thugism," a mean, chaotic piece that builds into aggressive electro frenzy. And "Casualties of War," which features a vocal from what sounds like a depressed drunk, plays like a British pub song accompanied by hard-driving breaks, gloomy tones and spooky piano solos.

Throughout "Ad Infinite," Genaside II embrace the ominous clichis of darkcore, a type of drum 'n' bass that floats on testosterone and self-conscious creepiness. But the collective does it with such ridiculous bombast that it seems to be actually parodying those trends. Maybe it's because of the group's history. Head Genaside producer Chris Bonez is responsible for creating one of the earliest techno break-beat tracks, "Narramine," which helped prefigure jungle in 1991. That genre, after a brilliant beginning, quickly split into dozens of subgenres like darkcore, where hundreds of producers now try to capture doom and gloom with mopey minor chords and vicious rhythms. Genaside's significant historical role separates the group from the newer generations of techno and drum 'n' bass producers. And that seniority certainly gives them the authority to come down on some of the newcomers. That would make "Ad Finite" an elaborate joke, a satire complete with macho lyrics and aggressive, knucklehead beats. Either that or an absurdly violent video game with a killer soundtrack.

By Amanda Nowinski

Amanda Nowinski is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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