Jamie Stewart was born in 1978 in Los Angeles. He began Xiu Xiu in 2002 and began to waste his life.
About two years ago, I saw Pharmakon play in Beijing at a music festival. The festival took place on a massive green field with low, rolling hills. It was so spread out that it was difficult to tell how many people were there, but it seemed like tens of thousands, maybe. Mostly, there were Chinese bands and solo singer-songwriters, but Liars, Pharmakon and Xiu Xiu also played. It was an unusual mix of music.
The promoters were hoping to expand the scope of what a festival audience typically would see, but the festival audience was more or less into what they wanted to listen to, as you might expect. And what this audience wanted was very soft, very pleasing, very cogent — essentially, easy listening or light folk rock.
One of the aforementioned American bands would play and then a Chinese band would play. Although no one left, the audience seemed quite bored by the American bands — and incredibly excited by the Chinese bands. But it was still, of course, good to play for the couple of people who dug it. Everyone was treated especially well by all involved; the backline was well appointed, the PA was as loud as God, and of course it was a privilege being so far from home.
Pharmakon played on a stage flanked by about forty or fifty policemen and soldiers.
Pharmakon played on a stage flanked by about forty or fifty policemen and soldiers. They were supposed to face away from this stage to keep on eye on the crowd, but they were all turned around and watching Pharmakon. By this time in the evening, there were not a lot of people still there, but the uniformed heavies were all about it.
It was magnificent to see Margaret Chardiet scorch, thrash, envelop and rabidly carouse about the stage with a group of professional murderers staring at her, motionless. The sound killed the grass, flattened the hills and changed the musical taste of this massive military and police force. She threw a piece of metal onto the ground over and over while a camera on a huge boom crane enlarged its bending and disintegration onto an enormous screen. The corpsmen did not clap much, but they never turned away.
Chardiet’s new album, Contact, marks the tenth year of Pharmakon, it should be, I suppose, obligatorily noted. But that, as context, makes it even more of a delight to listen to: it’s a delight to be injected by a band’s unhushable focus and drive up and into a singular feeling. There are times when, as noted, one just wants what one wants. You want what you like. I like horrible sounds. I like PATENTLY terrifying vocals (holy fucking cats, they are the best part of this record). I like unapologetic atonality. I like intensity with purpose. I like disrespect for comfort. I like being transported into a freakishly frank realization of death. I like to not understand. One will, I suspect, always and thankfully get this from Pharmakon.
Dull-witted music writers may find her remaining faithfully herself distressing.
Dull-witted music writers may find her remaining faithfully herself distressing. They may feel the need to insult her because the dull-witted are generally afraid of loyalty to a faith, a devoted open heart and genuine genuineness. Dark music fans, I do not doubt, will put on this record and sigh, THANK YOU UNIVERSE, I AM MADE OF THIS AND THIS IS MADE OF ME.
A lyric from the song “No Natural Order” (“Despite all our scrambling rejections/we cannot transcend all of our instincts”) is delivered like a dying baby. It wants to live? But it only kicks you in the face before vanishing and then leaves you feeling baffled by the baldness of humanity’s inherent, total loss. It seems to say to us what we already know: that we are doomed, that we want to be doomed, that we are doing everything we can to ensure that doom reaches us as soon as possible.
But then later in the same song she also states, in a shriek that is of Galasian virtue, “No divine law, escape!/No positive law, revolt!/No natural law pertains/Only empathy, untamed.”
Perhaps as we spin off on a desertificated hunk of our own furious design, we will finally and truly hold each other in withering and dehydrating arms. In our untamed erasure, we will finally and truly be what we could not otherwise be for one another in a “civilized” format. We can only empathize as our social, physical, philosophical and spiritual organization is reformed in the chaotic moments before our extinction. Reformed into a moment of Contact.
It is uncomplex in that one could listen to it once and be fulfilled, or listen to it over and over and over and be fulfilled.
In the midst of such weighted sound and propulsion, there is a directness to this record as well. It is short, about half an hour. It is repetitive in a conscious way, in the way that Steve Reich is repetitive or that a trance requires repetition. It is uncomplex in that one could listen to it once and be fulfilled, or listen to it over and over and over and be fulfilled.
Few records can do both. I think that is what makes Pharmakon an important and long-lasting band. It does so much without trickery or obfuscation and trusts the listener to believe. The heart of what this record is becomes apparent in the first seconds of hearing it. In those first seconds it then becomes all you want to hear for that following thirty minutes if you press play once, for it tells you what you already know but cannot admit. If you press play again and again, just imagine what else it could tell you.