Ashley Reaks – If I Hadn’t Become An Artist And A Musician I Would Have Been A Serial Killer Or Killed Myself

Posted: 7 June 2016 in Albums
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Christopher Nosnibor

The phenomenally prolific Ashley Reaks – musician and collage artist with a left-leaning anarchic streak – follows up Cultural Thrift (September 2015, with Joe Hakim) and Compassion Fatigue (February 2015) with what you might rightly call a concept album. True, the aforementioned releases from 2015 were both marked by thematic unity, but this approaches things from a different angle, with each song being about a different serial killer.

That serial killers inspire a certain morbid fascination cross many sectors of society requires little qualification: the popularity of both real-life crime and fictional crime TV and literature speaks for itself. Serial killers are, in truth, extremely rare.

The industrial scene’s fascination with serial killers feeds into the broader picture of a fascination with inhuman perversions and brutality of every shade: Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Very Friendly’ is anything but, and Whitehouse’ early career was largely based on an obsession with sadism and serial killers, notably Peter Kurten and Dennis Andrew Nilsen, to whom their fourth and eighth albums respectively were dedicated to; but then there were also tracks like ‘Dedicated to Albert de Salvo’ and ‘Ripper Territory’ (that’s the Yorkshire ripper, Peter Sutcliffe), and ‘Fritz Haarmann’.

Ashley Reaks is no purveyor of industrial noise or one to employ base shock tactics. His weirdly psychotic collages are shocking enough, while the music on his latest album presents his now-trademark multicultural mash, with a heavy leaning toward anarchic dub reggae and post-punk. And in terms of his subjects, he’s shown a lot more imagination than most, drawing inspiration from an array of lesser-known killers. Should we be impressed by his research or concerned by his dedicated research? Probably, yes.

There’s no mistaking the fact Reaks is a complex character and an intriguing, multi-faceted artist, and as much as the album’s title caries an element of humour, it may equally carry more than a grain of autobiographical truth. Suffice it to say more troubled individuals of no artistic bent commit suicide than become murders. And Reaks’ interrogations of socio-political situations seems to be the primary motivation here. Curiosity, rather than glorification is what this is all about. And it’s a great album.

Over shuddering, throbbing dub basslines and some fairly easy-going grooves, Reaks explores the backgrounds and circumstances of a range of men – all men – convicted of heinous crimes, more often than not with a sexual element.

Amongst them, James Gregory Marlow, aka The Folsom Wolf – a white supremacist drug user with a body count five in a spree which ran from July to November 1986, and Robert Black, aka Smelly Bobby Tulip, a Scottish serial killer and paedophile convicted of the kidnap, rape, sexual assault and murder of four girls aged between 5 and 11 in a series of killings committed between 1981 and 1986, and suspected of 12 other unsolved child murders committed between 1969 and 1987. The album by no means glorifies any of its subjects, and instead serves as a narrative exploration.

The blurbage points out that the album features the improvised Eastern-tinged vocalizations of Norway’s Maria Jardardottir, prog-punk polyrhythms, as well as a guest solo from Jackson 5 and Commodores trombonist Frank Mizen. This is significant, not because of the namedropping it facilitates, but because of the artistic connections it highlights: Reaks has enlisted some admirable artists here, and the end result is quirky but accessible. Indeed, the sonic vibes stand at extreme odds with the dark and disturbing subject matter of the songs. But this is precisely how Reaks excels artistically. Balancing darkness and light, concept and execution, he leads the way through a warped alternative world of his psychic creation.

 

 

 

Ashley Reaks - Serial Killer

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