CVLT Nation Interviews MARNOST
What does MARNOST mean? And what made you start a black metal band, even though all of you have a hardcore/punk background?
Marnost is a Czech word that refers to something that could probably be defined as a combination of futility and emptiness. It’s a feeling that whatever you do will not change anything.
Well, I don’t know if we are a black metal band, but for sure black metal is a great influence on us. All of us are in hardcore bands that record and release records, tour and so on. With this band, we primarily wanted to try something else, experiment more with atmosphere and, as I am a bit of a gear nerd, I’d say also with sound. We wanted to create a different kind of energy than we are used to from hardcore/punk. I’d say that mainly the blastbeats and walls of sound that can bring a sort of trance feeling are the things we took from black metal.
In the beginning, we didn’t even plan to be a band. Two of us just went to a rehearsal room and were in the mood to create something atmospheric, something that would come out of that particular moment. We didn’t want to rehearse songs like with our other bands, so we just jammed and recorded it. We liked the results, so we asked our other bandmates to add their tracks to what we recorded. This is basically how our first two records (Pukající svět demo CSS and a split LP with our friends SEEDS IN BARREN FIELDS) were created. We just came to our practice space, made a nice atmosphere and recorded what we played without any previous preparation. Although black metal was a huge inspiration, we really wanted to keep the spirit of what our ideas are about, so instead of writing about demons and darkness we started to use poems of old rebellious/anti-authoritarian authors as lyrics which I think fit the concept of the band.
At first, we didn’t want to play shows, because we do enough of them with our other bands, but we made a compromise and played a few of them. However, we always made sure they were special in some way, mainly in terms of place – we really don’t want to play in clubs and so on with this band.
Do you feel comfortable being called black metal? Or do you have issues with it? Is there a black metal scene in the Czech Republic, and what does it look like?
So, Marnost is a concept band, using the lyrics of these authors? Which authors? And what makes them special?
I think we don’t care what people call us. However, I observed some discussions among metal fans who oppose calling bands with hardcore/punk roots “black metal.” I think there’s quite a strong black metal scene in Czech Republic, but we are not insiders, so we can’t really judge. As I said, we are rooted in punk. What I can say is that tolerance for nazis is widespread in the Czech black metal scene, which is a thing that we strongly disagree with. We are wholeheartedly opposed to oppresion based on race, ethnicity, gender or other social constructs. I think this is one of the reasons why we never attempted to get closer to the metal scene. On the other hand, there are plenty of good metal bands that are on the same page as us, and I think an alternative wave of punk-influenced black metal is being formed lately. I can mention PUSTINA (wild black metal with members of LAHAR or THEMA11), SMUTEČNÍ SLAVNOST (depressive black metal), DOPPELGÄNGER OF DEATH (raw black metal with members of TOMORROW’S HELL and MASS GENOCIDE PROCESS), LICHENS (primitive black metal with members of V RUKOU OSUDU and KOBRA XI) or ██████ (post-black with a touch of screamo, like DEAFHEAVEN).
I wouldn’t say we are a concept band. The only concept involved is that we steal lyrics. Otherwise, we are quite open to anything. At first we used William Blake’s lyrics. Probably everyone knows him. Then we found out that we actually like the idea of using lyrics from authors such as Jiří Wolker or S.K. Neumann, who wrote some amazing stuff before World War II. Both of them were heavily inspired by emancipatory movements of their era, and in some of their texts they flirted with communist ideas (or rather, anarcho-communist), so after the revolution in 1948 (by then, both of the authors were already dead) their texts were misused by the criminal Bolshevik regime for propagandist purposes. However, we used some pre-WWII poems, that are, for some surprisingly, quite touching, as they are able to point out the misery of life under oppressive conditions – hunger, poverty or even hatred confronted in everyday life. Paradoxically, some of the poems could easily be used to describe the life under Bolshevik regime and they are still relevant today. I think we partly use these authors because of some kind of controversy that is related to them, but the truth is that you can really read a lot of urgency and passion in these poems, and in my opinion, they are really helpful in getting to a deeper understanding of the history of the 20th century, especially in our geographical area. I would encourage everyone who is interested to try to read some of their stuff and think about it in the context of the era when it was written.
Once we also used a drama from German author Heiner Müller. He’s also very inspiring in the way he uses text to make the reader question things around him/her. We used a part of his drama Die Hamletmaschine for a song that we made for an independent dance movie based on the drama.
What attracts you in these texts about totalitarism or authorical regimes and the living conditions under them? And do you think that one could also take these poems or texts to describe conditions nowadays? With the rise of the new right-winged parties all over Europe and the more and more authoritarian governments, like in Hungary for example? And do you see these tendencies in your country as well? How did people, especially in the DIY scene, react to such things like the wall around the Sinti camp in Usti (In 1999, the city of Usti built a wall around the part of the city which was mostly populated by Sinti and Roma people)?
These texts were written in a particular historic era and they are strong in how they express a huge amount of desperation and hope at the same time, which are related to power structures and way of life as it was back then. They are strong in the way they express these moods that were widespread across society. One can still trace similar feelings and moods in today’s society. There’s still so much suffering and pain related to the abuse of power and to oppression. Only the forms and experiences of oppression and abuse have changed. You still have people dying of hunger, having no shelter, no decent life, but most of us who live in the so called “developed world” have only a peripheral experience of such people – we either see them on TV, meet them in shady parts of cities or on tourist trips. There might not be large masses of people working their asses of in factories in Europe anymore, or at least not as large as in the 1920s, but pressurized work is the issue facing so many people right now. And I could go on like this forever. Basically, you still have so many people who are desperate and searching for decent life.
That leads me to the second part of your question. The economic crisis deepened the desperation and unrest within society, at least if I am to speak about the Czech Republic. This went hand in hand with a boom of populist parties that offer their “really working” solutions for the crisis. These parties partly adopted right wing politics and partly stole agendas from extreme-right parties connected to nazis. Their solution is usually based on blaming the most socially de-privileged groups, usually the Roma people. Myths about the Roma people, who are thought to misuse social help, make money by having many kids etc., are circulating in society and are presented as one of the main reasons for the lack of money in the state budget. Obviously, this is just fake bullshit, but people tend to believe easy solutions instead of thinking about changes on the level of a whole system. Also, for the lower-middle clas,s it is still relieving to know that there is a group of people who is lower on the social ladder, so they fight to keep this distance by pushing the lower strata – Roma people, homeless people, immigrants – even lower.
It is interesting that you are aware of the case in Usti. Actually, it wasn’t a wall built around a part of the city, it was a 100m wall dividing two parts of one street, but in principle it was the same. The wall was torn down in the end after a year or so. The reaction of punk/anarchist scene wan’t big. There were mainly NGOs and media involved. Unfortunately, the stance of the majority towards Romani people is getting even worse lately. In last few summers, there were pogrom attempts against Roma in some parts of Czech Republic, mainly in the former Sudetenland, where there are high poverty rates (due to the history of the area). In all of the cases, there was a catalyst in the form of some fight that was taken by the media and presented as racial violence from Roma against ethnic Czechs. These seditious media campaigns resulted in marches of hundreds of local people trying to attack social housing areas where many Roma people live. There were not counter-demonstrations because the attacking masses were too large. So the activities of the anti-racist movement were mainly focused on showing solidarity to the people living in attacked areas – staying there with them, organizing activities for the children, showing that they are not alone etc.
So what is it in today’s society in middle Europe you’re screaming these lyrics against? What is it that makes you so angry to write such gloomy music? I know you consider the band to be anarchist, vegan…what else do you think is important to stand against nowadays?
I could spend a whole night naming things that are fucked up. But if I should point out something, it would for sure be the widespread indifference and passivity. People seem to be mentally detached from the consequences of their actions and tend to cut themselves off from any kind of responsibility. Remember the last question when you asked about Czech racism, and I was talking about the wave of populist parties? The fact that people would rather accept those “easy solutions,” that are obviously total bullshit, is a sign of this indifference, passivity and indolence. But even trying to change this in your own mind is often challenging and painful. For all of us, playing in a band is some kind of outlet for inner pressure, frustrations, anger and so on. And speaking about the roots of these feelings is a natural part of it. I never liked happy music and I think the rest of the band feels the same. We play dark and gloomy music because we need to do it, because there’s so much stuff to deal with inside our heads.
All of us in the band can be labeled as vegans, as we can’t stand the feeling of taking part in murder, rape and abuse on an industrial level, so we live our lives according to this attitude. Veganism is the least a person can do. However, we don’t understand it as a diet, but more as one of the things that one can do to contribute to a more respectful world. There’s a nice quote from Sartre that describes it precisely: “I am obliged to will the liberty of others at the same time as my own.” Animals are “others” too. We don’t care if it’s written in some book that a Man is on the top of the pyramid. I, as well as the rest of the band, find it really important to question the term “others” all the time and all over again – once it didn’t even include women or people with non-white color of skin. Yeah, you can frame this attitude by the term “anarchism,” but it needs to be understood that this term can’t be interpreted as a set of dogmas that were at some point written by old guys with amazing huge beards. Rather, in my view, it is some kind of framework that reminds you that acting against oppression, questioning “truths” and aiming for dialectics is what can push things forward.
Do you think it’s sill possible to reach people by playing music? Do you think music can be an instrument to spread ideas like anrchism, veganism etc? Or do you use it more as some sort of outlet for yourself, as some sort of therapy? By using texts and poems from well-known writers you take on some responsibility, as it might give your music and lyrics a special meaning – do you think people recognize this ?
Well, I’d say that mostly we play music because that’s what we love. At the same time, our feelings that are transmitted into the music are rooted in the world that we live in, and of course we want to share our feelings about the world with others. I wouldn’t speak about music as an instrument to reach people. I’d rather speak about it as an impulse. An instrument implies that you use it to achieve some goal. In this sense, you approach people as objects. If it’s impulse, you approach them as subjects with their own feelings, will and so on. I think music can spark some new thoughts in other people, and maybe also to help them understand our standpoint and the reason why we think about the world in a way we do. But, honestly, I don’t think it’s just the music, I think that the whole presentation of the band, and personal relationships of people to the band as a complex, is much more important in this regard. But maybe I see it too much from the punk point of view and judge according to my own experiences.
On the other hand, we deliberatively run the band in a way that in some things it creates certain tensions. For example, we refuse to take part in projects in a scene that tolerates racism, nationalism or fascism and we are vocal in this direction. We had a long discussion with one Czech promoter of a very interesting underground noise/metal event that invited us to play there. After realizing that one of the bands that were supposed to play there had a split with a very strange “Slavic pride” band, we of course refused. The promoter just couldn’t understand why we refused to play there – he saw some distinction between tolerating nazis and being actual nazis. For us, it is in the end the same thing. But we were quite happy about this confrontation and the many mutually exchanged e-mails, as we think that this is the kind of self-reflection that especially the metal scene (that is for some strange reason largely infected by the NSBM plague) needs.
Actually, we haven’t received any feedback on the lyrics yet. So I don’t know how people understand them. Of course, we think about it a lot, mainly in terms of how these authors were used by the latter Bolshevik regime, and we try to make sure that people reflect on our critical approach to these lyrics. At the same time, it is true that we partly chose these lyrics to bring some kind of controversy, in order to show that sometimes, even some good ideas and texts can be misused by bullshit totalitarian regimes, and as a result, these ideas are despised and hated, no matter what their initial context was. This is, in particular, a very common thing in post-communist countries. Of course, people hate the Bolshevik regime, we do as well. But on the other hand, so many interesting and good things get a bad name just because someone is able to label them as “communist” or “social engineering.” You want to regulate the number of cars in city centers? Than you’re doing social engineering. You want to develop a system of social housing for the socially weak? You are fucking commie and deserve to be jailed. It’s just nonsense. You know what I mean?
I get your point. I know you said you don’t play that often, but do you plan to maybe tour one day, or start playing regularly? So more people get the chance to see and meet you …and do you have any more releases coming up? Or maybe some more art projects like the hamletmaschine stuff? What’s going to happen with Marnost?
We really don’t know at this point. As I see it now, it is very difficult to find time for touring, even with our other/main bands (work, children, studies… usual stuff) so I don’t think we will plan a tour in the near future. Maybe some weekends or something. We have some offers, but it’s even difficult to practice for shows, so it seems that we will continue as we have until now, that means a few shows a year. As we all have more active bands, Marnost still stays a sideproject, at least in terms of time reserved for live shows.
We had some plans to connect our live shows with the live painting of our friend Musa, who used to be a well known tattoo artist but now focuses on huge atmospheric paintings. He came up with this idea some time ago, but I really don’t know if it will ever happen.
Now we will focus on preparing a new set for a few shows in the autumn. Maybe some synths/noise will be involved, because we feel we want do some more experiments. Next month we need to record one song for a compilation of Czech metal bands in support of a nazi-free metal scene, but that song is more traditional.