Burial Wreaths (BW) is a passion electronics duo based in San Diego, California. While BW would most definitely be categorized within the Power Electronics genre, they have chosen to identify themselves under the concept of “Passion Electronics”.
BW definitely share a soundscape with other industrial, experimental, noise, and power electronics acts like Croatian Amor, Puce Mary, Nurse With Wound, Coil, and Throbbing Gristle. And visually BW have developed a strong, consistent aesthetic online and on stage. They explain how their use of extreme imagery is not for “shock value” but is coming from an “alarmist standpoint.” Like so many today, they feel we’re “on the verge of fascism” and that the imagery they use is “to serve as a reminder of the tragedy fascism and extremism have caused people in the past.”
One of the main members in BW used to be an acoustic guitar-based solo artist and was also involved in, as he puts it, a “collaborative band very similar in structure to BW”. He has explained how the guitar style he played — a style created by John Fahey, founder of Takoma Records — is “frustrating and very physically demanding and most people cannot play like that…” So he later sought a new artistic direction. A creative aim that is very much the “direct reaction to making that music.” Thus BW was created as a project where he could “make music that literally anyone can make should they wish.” Overall, his creative focus shifted from making music that is “more demanding to listen to than to make.”
On BW’s newest tracks, “Tendrils” and “Shallow Breath”, there is a softer, ambient quality. They are thoughtfully methodical, yet free flowing, almost meditative. Both songs screech and hum with industrial machine soundscapes. Yet I easily find myself fully absorbed in each track, floating along till the end. Frankly, after listening to them, I was inspired to ask for an interview with one of the members. He agreed so I sent him 5 questions to answer. I deeply appreciate that he agreed to the interview and that he sent back very informative, thoughtful answers.
I have also respected his request to remain anonymous for this interview.
Q1: The jump from acoustic folk music to hardware based electronic music is a big change. My interpretation of this shift is that you wanted to be free in many ways. Free in how you created and played music; free in how you expressed yourself visually. I can see how an acoustic guitar in one’s lap could feel constricting at times; weighed down by so many cultural stereotypes and expectations. As I mentioned above, BW has a viewpoint on social and political matters and I am guessing your need to explore and express those views is part of why you chose this direction. You and the other members have also made the decision to remain masked and anonymous so that you may speak and express yourselves in a more open and frank manner.
So I am curious to know if BW has an overall social/political purpose or mission. If there is what is BW ultimately looking to say and do through their music and visual presentations?
BW1: I don’t think we have a codified mission politically. We are more interested in agitation at this point. I am disappointed that politics has taken a decidedly right wing turn during my lifetime, one example is that each candidate for president has been more conservative than the last regardless of party affiliation. Technology and fear have brought us here in various ways. The election of Trump is akin to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. He is slowly eroding democracy. Attacking the balance of power until the executive branch is essentially the last standing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fox News become state sponsored in the future. Discrete legal changes lead eventually to the failure of the judiciary enabling martial law.
One way we push back against that is by releasing limited physical formats where the end user must make some sort of real contact to attain the music. Even if it’s via the internet — listeners have to contact us. There’s no automation to get physical formats from us. Hopefully those kind of direct connections give a human face to resistance.
I’m torn on extremism. On one hand I feel it’s lunacy and in an enlightened society there’s no need for that. But on the other hand we apparently aren’t living in rational enlightened time so the other part of me is saying arm the left and hope for some sort of coup to end the insane predicament America is in.
Q2: You have expressed a dislike of the LA “scene” calling it “pretentious in an ironic way.” You also explain that you see the power electronics genre to be “pretty loaded.” Obviously there are things about the genre and scene that frustrate, annoy and disappoint you. BW seems to be responding to that by distancing yourselves through referring to the collective as passion electronics. I see the act of replacing the word “power” with “passion” as quite significant. And to call yourselves this seems very conscious and intentional — a kind of protest. On a personal note, being a woman, the “power electronics” genre and scenes could sometimes come across as hyper-masculinized, macho and therefore fairly off-putting. So the idea of passion electronics really intrigued me.
So would you explain further the idea of “passion electronics”. Was this purely BW’s idea? Or is this concept already growing somewhere?
BW2: Haha! Well, I wouldn’t say I dislike what’s happening in LA. In a lot of ways, I love it. Some insanely good music is coming out lately. Drab Majesty, High Functioning Flesh, Youth Code, HHL, etc. The main frustration is the pretentiousness. It’s hard to explain without naming names but there’s this attitude of hierarchy. Certain venues only book their friends or popular artists whom they want to be their friends. Audiences tend to stick to one venue or another, with the attitude that “those other people aren’t really into this” when really they’re just missing out on really good stuff. The exclusionary attitude signals to me that if you say “those people aren’t really into this…” you’re probably the one not really into it. Does that make sense?
Some of these venues are 20 minutes apart from each other, yet there’s not a lot of cross pollinating, it’s complete insanity. That’s why a lot of them are starting to close. It feels very cliquey and that’s unfortunate because at the end of the day we’re all a bunch of degenerates playing noise music anyway. I see a lot of the same shit in tattooing or tattoo culture, that’s why I’ve never participated in conventions and why I stopped working at street shops and opened a private studio.
To address your comment about the macho aspect, I agree and disagree. Clearly the word “power” conjures some cultural heteronormative dynamic but the genre has totally flipped since it’s inception, I would argue that the two most profound artists in the genre currently are females: Military Position and Puce Mary. You could include Pharmakon in there too but I’m not interested in splitting hairs about genre labels. More to that point is the reasoning behind the “Passion Electronics” tag. I wanted something that was new and stood alone but was obviously reminiscent of an existing trope. But I wouldn’t say it’s a protest. However there is a certain band that refer to themselves as ‘alpha males’ and I cringe everytime is see someone post about them on the internet. Luckily they’re not very popular. Haha!
[Was this purely BW’s idea? Or is this concept already growing somewhere?] …yes this was a singular idea by us. I think other people fall into this category but didn’t know how to express that. Croatian Amor, Puce Mary, etc. Also, I didn’t want to be solely “power electronics” it’s so narrow. With the addition of Michael (also of Vom, Semen Sundae, Business Lady) it was imperative to have room to grow. We’re now incorporating much more melodic structures and danceable drum beats. Much more electronic body music (EBM) influence at the moment. Part of that has to do with new gear/instruments. We gone from using MS-20’s and boutique synths to the Eurorack format in the last year and that has opened the door to a lot of different choices sonically.
Q3: Now to focus a little bit on you. You come across as aware and knowledgeable of the power electronics genre — speaking about such artists and acts as William Bennet, the founder of Whitehouse, a pioneering power electronics band — and sharing your opinions on the power electronics communities in Southern California. I do want to acknowledge that BW does reach beyond that specific genre (like you mentioned, calling yourselves passion electronics is a way for BW to explore other influences and genres). However, power electronics is essentially what BW is — it’s the heart of the collective’s sound.
How, where, and when did your interest and involvement in power electronics begin?
BW3: Sorry, I’m kinda blurring the lines on these questions, but yes power electronics was kind of the launching point. It was a way for the two of us (two original BW members) to say “this” is the context to start.
I’m not really sure when/where I first got into power electronics specifically. I grew up listening to Throbbing Gristle (TG). They’ve been my favorite group of musicians since I was about 13. They were my first intro into punk I guess. My mom was involved in the 1980’s hardcore scene in San Diego. So as a toddler I was living in squats like the Battalion of Saint house and she was taking me to Bad Brains show at 5/6 years old. But TG was the first thing that really spoke to me. They were my mom’s records. She had tons of amazing shit. I got into Chris and Cosey, Skinny Puppy — really anything you can think of that way. There was a period maybe 12 or so years ago that Ilya Monosov from Mountain Home was listening to a lot of shit I wasn’t aware of.
Keji Haino, White House, Les Realize, and Flower Travelin Band, come to mind.
Then a few years ago maybe mid 2014 Kenny and I started kicking around the idea of doing some sort of noise project. That really took shape when he was my merch guy for the last couple solo guitar tours I did. The shows were poorly attended and it just felt dead, so we started taking BW more seriously. Now that Kenny’s dropped from the collective line up, being the other founding member, I decided BW should stop being a collective and get more focused. I think from here on out Michael and I will form the core and we will continue to have friends collaborate.
Q4: You have a history with Ché Café, a social center and live music venue located on the University of California campus where notable acts like Rage Against the Machine, Rise Against, Unwound, Acid Mothers Temple and more have played . You mentioned that you have been playing there, in various bands, since you were 16 years old. And that Ché Café is a “very important place both to me and to independent music in San Diego.” This place has most definitely had a profound impact on your development as a musician and as a person.
Would you elaborate more on how Ché Café and the San Diego/Southern California indie music communities affected you, as a person and as a musician? And, more specifically, how they may have influenced and shaped BW?
BW4: Too much to say here, so I’ll kinda skip it. Michael and I met at first as teenagers by both being involved in the Ché — booking/volunteering and just going to pretty much every show in the late 90’s. It’s funny, you mention the Acid Mothers show too because I opened that show. Really good show.
Q5: Okay. Being a musician myself. I am always curious as to each artist’s and band’s process when writing, recording, producing, and performing music.
How do you approach creating songs? And how does everyone involved in BW write songs? Are the songs primarily created by one member and the others add a little to them? Or does BW take a more collaborative approach where everyone is equally contributing to the creation of songs?
BW5: The first releases are mostly improvised. Kenny and I would gather a few sounds we liked then piece them together taking turns doing the chant like vocals. The most recent tape is two songs that were written by the two of us but he had departed by the time Haley were recorded. Because of that I recorded it with a musique concrete approach. I recorded samples of some synthesizers and patches, dumped those samples onto a drum sampler then played a rhythm on the pads. So that tape could be viewed as a solo instrument performance. Right now, I’ve been really focused on my Eurorack setup. I’m not using traditional drum modules for rhythm instead using wavetable and FM modules to make noise based rhythms/beats and classic VCOs to make basslines. Over that Michael is playing a polysynth and doing the singing. So the backbone is done when Michael comes in, shaped in a way to highlight his particular talents. I’m sure this will also morph into something new as my rack grows and as we incorporate more of Michael’s instruments.
Along with BW performances, Michael and I are doing some more power electronics/noise oriented shows under the name Vom. In addition to that I have a duo with Preston Swirnoff called Paradiso that we’ve been compiling songs for, which has a few show booked this summer. Then there’s Active Shooter a power electronics collective that includes the boys from Reaper.
I’ll be in Portland, Oregon around Halloween for a visit. I’ll probably play while I’m up there. I have some instrumental modular music that I’m working on but doesn’t have a distinct shape yet, the closest I could say to describe it would be close to Muslimgauze with a lot of black metal influence. Working title for that is “osh blatkv”. Still hammering out the kinks. Hopefully that covers everything…