BRAP ON, DIG IT AND WEIRD OUT: A psychodramatic odissey of Skinny Puppy performances

The forty-years-long saga of the great SKINNY PUPPY band ended with a farewell tour of the USA and Canada: all concerts are over, and the creative achievements of this unique project are now becoming the property of eternity. Although this is a bit of a sad event, now it’s time to start taking stock and try to make sense of SKINNY PUPPY’s place in art history.

As a modest attempt to approach the issue and pay tribute to the unique band, in this article we will take a trip through the history of their concert performances. After all, it was in live performances that their message was fully revealed, and even if some compilations or unrealized tracks are released, the experience of witnessing SKINNY PUPPY live will now remain only in memories and reflections.

Necessary note: all interpretations in this article remain on the conscience of the author, who apologizes for possible misconceptions and errors in facts. All photos were found in open sources, belong to their authors, at the request of the owners they can be deleted or links to the authors can be indicated. Links to the videos are also freely available, and everyone can find much more material here: https://www.patreon.com/cEvinKey

Author: Alex Ram Ibsorath

 

Prologue

in this barren land men become dogs dogs become wolves
in this place of empty shelters and blasted chambers
will you be my virgin? will you be the first in?
i need to have a secret

dog outside the door could this be my world?
 could this really be me? in thee body
dog outside the door could this be my house?
 am i really alive? in thee body
dog inside the door could this be my mind?
 is this really my flesh? in thee body
dog inside my room could this be my life?
 could i really be free? in thee body

in this barren land the holy are rendered fruitful
in this place without shadows time wasted is sleep
dog eyes glow

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, “In Thee Body”

There are periods of history when the visions of madmen and dope fiends are a better guide to reality than the common-sense interpretation of data available to the so-called normal mind. This is one such period, if you haven’t noticed already.

Robert Anton Wilson, “Illuminatus”

 

Their genre is often defined as “industrial”, but this requires additions and clarifications. Maestro cEvin Key preferred his own term – “audio sculpture” – which well describes the approach to building compositions in which it is easy to literally get lost (so one could say “audio architecture”). But perhaps the best definition would be how Genesis P-Orridge described THROBBING GRISTLE: abrasive psychedelia.

This is certainly psychedelic art, and it’s not only and not so much about music: SP is a multimedia art project with a whole philosophy and life story behind it. Brion Gysin, Myra Davies, Marshall McLuhan, William Gibson, David Cronenberg – these are the names of their compatriots that come to mind when you try to understand what it was all about. And even if it was often a bad trip, but it is bad trips, as we know, that can have a special therapeutic value.

Music that combines samples from TV shows and movies, fragments of noise, strange rhythms, interspersed with different genres (from pop music to punk, and heavy metal). Weird lyrics, reminiscent either poètes maudits, or Gysin-Burroughs cut-up method. The names of these songs are often a play on words and fancy spellings (Testure, Worlock, paragUn, Knowhere?, Circustance, Choralone, dOwnsizer, Tin Omen…). It’s as if these words live in a kind of twilight zone, like the experiments of other masters of magical and fabulous realities – Lewis Carroll, Forrest Ackerman, James Joyce. This is something that will forever remain in the band’s albums.

In their live performances, bizarre but psychologically powerful obsessive images – dolls, masks, cryptic gestures, mirrors, screens – played about the same role as words in Ogre’s lyrics and sound fragments in the music of Key and his colleagues. Borrowed from the lexicon of everyday life and passed through the creative imagination of the artist, they formed a dream-like narrative with significant psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic power.

Among the things that preceded their show, and perhaps influenced it, there are psychotronic performances of the mentioned THROBBING GRISTLE, the inflated self-presentations of Ian Curtis and Alan Vega, the apocalyptic happenings of SPK full of fire, rust and violent images, and and FAD GADGET’s concerts, reminiscent of a fever dream. It is also worth mentioning such things as Antonin Artaud’s theater of cruelty, the artistic rituals of the actionists and surrealists. The band’s performances can be compared with the works of Max Ernst, Salvador Dali and Hans Giger. Overall, the SKINNY PUPPY concert is a surreal industrial psychodrama, the spirit of which, to paraphrase Tim Leary’s famous slogan in SP–language, can be described as follows: Brap On, Dig It and Weird Out.

It is important to note the authenticity of these performances – SKINNY PUPPY always expressed what they really experienced, and the numerous personalities into which the Ogre was reincarnated were for him a means of exorcism or a kind of deep psychotherapy – through pain and trauma. Being an extremely empathetic person himself, sensitive to the suffering of others and at the same time “out of this world”, over four decades he has directed many dramatic plays reconstructing the reaction of an oversensitive and unstable mind to the overloaded media landscape of the late 20th century. Each of SKINNY PUPPY’s tours can be viewed as a chapter in some imaginary multimedia book, an attempt to find meaning in a world that seems to have lost it’s meaning.

This is an alchemical work at the junction of the external and internal – personal experiences, fears and affects are projected outward, and external events become the language in which the most intimate feelings are expressed. Therefore, their images should not always be taken at face value (“they extol violence”) – there is always an additional meaning, just as in Dali’s paintings ants symbolize decay, and the erotic fantasies of J.G.Ballard’s characters are projected onto drained swimming pools and concrete overpasses.

Despite the fact that Ogre and Key drew inspiration from horror films, their performances were never just creepy entertainment or “shock rock”. Elements of Gothic, science fiction and horror are just those sections of the dictionary that have proved relevant to current artistic tasks. The intensity and scale of the narrative also differed – there were extremely shocking and overloading shows in the SKINNY PUPPY history, and there were minimalistic ones, but no less powerful. The mentioned quality and authenticity have always remained unchanged, as, of course, talent and intuition, which have always helped Ogre adjust optic options, choosing what is more suitable now – a soft spoken or view so cruel.

So let’s remember all the main performances of the band. To emphasize the holistic and timeless nature of SP’s work, I will try to arrange them not in chronological order, and even more so not “from worst to best”, but (very subjectively) from the most concise to the most exciting.

Let’s go, back and forth!

BITES TOUR (1985)

An old and crumbling parapet
Arouse out of the dancing sea
And on it’s top there sat a flea
For reasons which I quite forget

But as the sun descended, and
The moon uprose across the sky
We were alone, the flea and I,
And so I took it by the hand

And whispered: “On your parapet
D’you think that there’d be room for me?”
“I cannot say”, replied the flea,
“I’m studying the Alphabet”

But that was long ago, and Saints
Have died since then – and Ogres bled.
And purple tigers flopped down dead
Among the pictures and the paints.

Mervyn Peake, from “Complete Nonsense”

 

If we don’t count first 1984 performance at the art gallery, this tour is where SKINNY PUPPY’s theatrical odyssey began. Many of the signature elements of their performances are not yet presented here, and some are just emerging, but one can already feel the seriousness of their intentions, the depth of their message, and the power of their talent.

Background: synthesizer racks for cEvin Key and Bill Leeb (who started his career in this band). These workstations are decorated with steel strips and other details, as if found in a scrap yard or abandoned factory – a feature that would be part of almost all of the band’s shows from then on. While Key and Leeb are constructing the soundscape, Nivek Ogre is settling into the role of frontman trickster – and is already trying out the signature elements: there’s a bloody knife, and props of skulls smashing into each other, and some happenings (once the artist even received a dose of electric shock because of the failure of stage tricks).

And there are towering columns topped with television sets, so the whole thing makes such impression as if we were parishioners in a strange industrial church. Gothic aesthetics and ideology, transferred from the world of the 18th and 19th centuries to the wastelands and catacombs of the technological landscape of the 20th. The three band members fit this mood perfectly, like post-punk ravens ready to croak their “nevermore!” to the hostile world of urban alienation.

https://youtu.be/IvoxQrnQNsQ (New York, 12/12/1985)

 

DOWN THE SOCIO-PATH (2015-2017)

Justification is one of the roads of Hell. It runs parallel to another road in Hell called Blame, which is the detonator of all evil.
And man carries a candle to light his way. And so as man believes he is moving forward, he moves in a state of illusion. The candle lights his way in Hell, so that he can pretend he is in Heaven.

Robert DeGrimston, “A Candle in Hell”

 

The penultimate SKINNY PUPPY tour before the farewell, and the last one that embraced not only North America but also Europe. A sort of “finding closure from the past”, this is something like a quarter-century postponed tour in support of the long-released album The Process and so the setlist consists mostly of guitar riff-laden compositions from Rabies, The Process and VIVIsectVI.. But there seems to be no processean symbolism or complex narrative.

The show is built on the interaction between Ogre and his assistant Dustin Schultz:  dressed in a futuristic suit and mask, Dustin gradually sticks one giant syringe after another into the frontman, who looks like a top manager of some bureaucratic-religious cult. Ogre, as energetic and charismatic as ever, manipulates his vocals with the help of a special unit on a rack (as in the beginning of his career), manages to change a couple of masks and a military helmet along the way, and finishes the performance, as usual, with his face and suit completely covered with blood, paint and other colored substances. The whole thing is illuminated by video projections, this time quite abstract.

If anyone found this insufficiently meaningful compared to the band’s other performances, just try to change perspective. As Burroughs said, when you cut into the present, the future leaks through, and watching recordings of this tour now, it’s hard not to see in the figure of Ogre, stacked with giant syringes against the screen (which was made triangular for part of the tour) a grim prophecy of the impending age of covid, conspiracy, surveillance, and other social upheavals to come in just a couple of years.

https://youtu.be/OXK_HAT0aTo (Prague, 06/06/2017)
https://youtu.be/DV8HREY79Po (Dallas 11/07/2015)

 

DIG IT BIGOT / MIND:TPI TOUR (1986)

Very funny this terrible thing is. A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air as inexperienced people endeavour to do, he drowns — nicht wahr? . . . No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up.

And yet it is true — it is true. In the destructive element immerse.

That was the way. To follow the dream, and again to follow the dream — and so — ewig — usque ad finem. . . .

Joseph Conrad, “Lord Jim”

 

It was on the joint tour with SEVERED HEADS that almost all the basic elements of SKINNY PUPPY’s performances came together. It can be considered that the classic period started full scale somewhere here. Judge for yourself.

The place of Bill Leeb, who left to find the sound of his famous FLA project, was taken by the brilliant musician Dwayne Goettel, who for many years became the main associate of cEvin Key not only in SP, but also in many other projects. In live performances he took over the main work on the electronic synthesizer part, for Key took the place behind what later became known as drumasaurus – an analog-electronic percussion kit, a prominent element of which was, among other things, disused metal oil drums.

In the meantime, Ogre completely revealed himself as a multifaceted and very distinctive performance artist. The lyrics of the album Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse, which this tour was in support of, increasingly address social issues – and the frontman, wandering like a modern Melmoth through the decadent landscape of a sick society, seeks and finds various ways to express his rejection of what is happening.

Entering the stage wrapped in plastic sheeting, he then bursts out of it like in some perinatal distress, and then interacts with an eerie structure resembling an insect shell. There will be stage blood, a severed head, candles, and multiple projecting screens – the main one with a video cutout of all sorts of creepy shots, and additional ones for slides. There are also a couple of executioners, one of whom smashes a bottle over the singer’s head, and the latter convulses in an extremely realistic way – however, from the very beginning Ogre behaves as if torn by inner demons, either throwing himself back against the stage, or cutting himself with a knife, or lulling one of the TVs and then drenching it with blood from a hamburger being devoured.

Other shows from the same year were less intense in their theatricality, and more like the Bites tour – but there was room for bowls of mud and bloody masks, too.

Maybe not everything in these shows is perfect, and many of the images are too straightforward, but the seriousness of intent and uncompromisingness is already quite clear, and in just one year the world will shudder to see one of the band’s most striking and unlikeable mystery performances.

https://youtu.be/u4IH41nfzLw (Vancouver, 05/09/1986)
https://youtu.be/hCJxTeFegV0 (Vancouver, 31/10/1986)

 

MYTHRUS (2007)

Fiction is a branch of neurology.

Planes intersect: on one level, the world of public events, Cape Kennedy and Viet Nam mimetised on billboards. On another level, the immediate personal environment, the volumes of space enclosed by my opposed hands, the geometry of my own postures, the time-values contained in this room, the motion-space of highways, staircases, the angles between these walls. On a third level, the inner world of the psyche. Where these planes intersect, images are born. With these co-ordinates, some kind of valid reality begins to clarify itself.

Neurology is a branch of fiction: the scenarios of nerve and blood-vessel are the written mythologies of brain and body. Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?

J.G.Ballard, “Notes from Nowhere”

 

The band begins their performance with the noisy and violent Anger, and Ogre is behind the curtain screen, staging a shadow play – an obvious reference to the 1987 Ain’t it Dead Yet tour. As twenty years ago, the vocalist appears from behind the screen, covered in fake blood – but this time his character is not ritually organic, as back in the days of AIDY, but literally industrial: all entangled with hoses, wires and pressure gauges, as if his  circulatory and nervous system were externalized.

As McLuhan and Ballard constantly reminded us, in the modern world, external and internal reality are changing roles, and the question becomes relevant: who creates the myths in which we live, and who is trying to use them to exercise vampire control over our lives? And Ogre hides behind his bloody screen again, remaining in the form of bizarre projections of his inner world. It seems that even life’s troubles, such as an eye infection, because of which he spent a significant part of the tour covering one eye by blindfold, suddenly fall into place, as if one of his eyes is looking out and the other is looking in.

But the main emphasis here, perhaps, is on the musical side of the performance – this tour has a very powerful setlist, the perfect combination of songs from Mythmaker album with band’s backcatalog for a quarter of a century. Therefore, apart from Ogre’s signature gesture and bizarre mask in the form of a metal mosquito head, the show could be called minimalistic – if not for the intense video projection, flooding the entire scene with bright and rapidly changing images. But this is, so to speak, the calm before the storm – just two years later, fans of powerful visual stimuli will receive one of the best multimedia performances in the history of SKINNY PUPPY.

https://youtu.be/hhcwme71EZw (09/08/2009 multicam fan DVD)

 

HEAD TRAUMA / VIVISECTVI (1988)

Love casts out fear; but conversely fear casts out love. And not only love. Fear also casts out intelligence, casts out goodness, casts out all thought of beauty and truth. What remains in the bum or studiedly jocular desperation of one who is aware of the obscene Presence in the corner of the room and knows that the door is locked, that there aren’t any windows. And now the thing bears down on him. He feels a hand on his sleeve, smells a stinking breath, as the executioner’s assistant leans almost amorously toward him. “Your turn next, brother. Kindly step this way.” And in an instant his quiet terror is transmuted into a frenzy as violent as it is futile. There is no longer a man among his fellow men, no longer a rational being speaking articulately to other rational beings; there is only a lacerated animal, screaming and struggling in the trap. For in the end fear casts out even a man’s humanity. And fear, my good friends, fear is the very basis and foundation of modern life. Fear of the much touted technology which, while it raises out standard of living, increases the probability of our violently dying. Fear of the science which takes away the one hand even more than what it so profusely gives with the other. Fear of the demonstrably fatal institutions for while, in our suicidal loyalty, we are ready to kill and die. Fear of the Great Men whom we have raised, and by popular acclaim, to a power which they use, inevitably, to murder and enslave us. Fear of the war we don’t want yet do everything we can to bring about.

Aldous Huxley, “Ape and Essance”

 

If we really want to use the term “industrial” in the context of SKINNY PUPPY’s work, then it is most deservedly applicable to the tour in support of the VIVIsectVI album (although the main elements of the show were originally presented before the release of the record and using old tracks during Head Trauma leg of the tour). And it’s not even about the shape, the abrasive synth-punk sound of the album, full of percussion, radio noises and mechanical rhythms (by the way, the then little-known NINE INCH NAILS performed at several concerts as a supporting act). It’s all about the content: this is a story about how a ruthless and soulless mechanistic world grinds living and intelligent beings. The quintessence of this nightmare is the cruel experiments in which the unfortunate infant apes were placed in a hellish mechanism that crushed their skulls. This image became central to the stage play (hence the name “Head Trauma“).

Unlike many other tours, there is almost no surrealism here – rather, extreme and ruthless realism, and carefully thought-out drama.

The darkness is interrupted by strobe flashes and illuminated by video projections and slides showing the horrors of vivisection and technology. To the roar of percussion and the rasp of a synthesizer, a deranged Ogre in a punk outfit appears on stage, resounding the hall with loud screams – something similar to the violent early performances of, say, SPK, but with a strong theatrical narrative. Here the frontman puts on a lab coat and gloves, here he proceeds to vivisect the dog’s body lying right on the dissection table. This stuffed pet named CHUD became part of the infamous incident when the band was arrested for animal cruelty on stage. Of course, later Ogre noticed the bitter irony of fate: while he was gutting a fake body, real, live animals were suffering in the laboratory literally on the next street, undergoing painful experiments.

In such darkness, it is not always clear what Ogre has in his hands – a dead rat or a rag, a syringe or a knife. By the middle of the concert, when the title song of the album, the great hymn Testure, sounds, the frontman is already soaked in dirt and blood, and a huge sharp shard of mirror or glass appears in his hands, with which he cut himself. He becomes entangled in bloody rags, as if in a placenta, and turns from an executioner into a victim, appearing in one of his trademark nightmarish masks – a soldier’s helmet with a monstrously distorted face: half his own, half a mutant monkey. Finally, faceless torturers-lab assistants strangle him and tie him to a giant torture chair – as a result, he turns out to be the same unfortunate ape, tipping over and dying with a fractured head.

https://youtu.be/JBKMXqUolfo (Toronto 06/11/1988)
https://youtu.be/0_ekPt3bIZY (Chicago, 20/10/1988)
https://youtu.be/UOcmdT3O_y4 (Washington, 30/10/88

 

THE GREATER WRONG OF THE RIGHT (2004/2005)

…and in their lonely fortresses they pray to the false moon. And they bind themselves together with an oath, and with a great curse. And of their malice they conspire together, and they have power, and mastery, and in their cauldrons do they brew the harsh wine of delusion, mingled with the poison of their selfishness.

Thus they make war upon the Holy One, sending forth their delusion upon men, and upon everything that liveth. So that their false compassion is called compassion, and their false understanding is called understanding, for this is their most potent spell.

Yet of their own poison do they perish, and in their lonely fortresses shall they be eaten up by Time that hath cheated them to serve him, and by the mighty devil Choronzon, their master, whose name is the Second Death…

Aleister Crowley, “The Vision and the Voice”

 

The first tour after the “second coming” of the band. Unfortunately, now without late Dwayne Goettel. But with a new – and great! – album. As on the album, SKINNY PUPPY returns to social criticism in live performance, temporarily moving away from the introverted psychodramas of the previous era. But for all devoted fans, this is the real return of the heroes. Ogre’s T-shirt is covered in dirt, flour and blood again. Again, as a decade and a half ago, television screens are placed on the stage: on them, as on the main screen, all kinds of chronicles of the human depravities flash, from war and the inevitable G.W.Bush to the rushing shadows during Inquisition (this looks like a flashback from Last Rights tour). cEvin Key now takes Dwayne’s place, conjuring behind a multi-tiered electronic soundboard which looks like a rusty cage. The wonderful new band member Justin Bennett is behind the drum kit. And William Morrison, Ogre’s longtime conspirator from the days of Too Dark Park and The Process, not only developed new backing film, but also provided guitar support.

Ogre this time offers the audience not so much a consistent narrative, as in the VIVIsectVI tour, as an anthology of vivid and sarcastic grotesque sketches. The most famous of them is that blood–smeared “industrial-Qabbalistic” costume, which at the same time resembles a plague doctor, the Egyptian dog-headed god Anubis and a firefighter, and has become one of the popular mascots of the group. Other spawns of the bizarre Ogre’s imagination also stick in the memory: take, for example, that shamaniac outfit with a mask made up of half a military helmet and half a wolf’s head pierced with a huge cross, used later in the European part of the tour (if we are correct, for the song HardSet Head, maybe as a callback to the works of P-Orridge and the mythology of TOPY/Process). Or the caustic hit Hexonxonx: to this song, an Ogre in another militaristic mask staged a video game, wielding a huge refueling pistol spitting mud – until he was interrupted by two executioners, who eventually turned out to be George Bush and Dick Chaney.

As in the promo photo, where the soiled Key and Ogre smile with bouquets of flowers in their hands, this time the artists allow themselves not only anger and rage, but also a fair share of humor and self-irony. Add to this the classic “turn the stage into a dump” routines or simple but powerful tricks, like a yellow police tape, which the restless frontman stretches across the arena – and you get one of the exemplary performances of SKINNY PUPPY, fortunately released as official DVD.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=nWa9DNSGz6M (Montreal/Toronto, 9-10/11/2004 official DVD)

 

LAST RIGHTS (1992)

By degrees we beheld the infinite abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city; beneath us at an immense distance was the sun, black but shining; round it were fiery tracks on which revolved vast spiders, crawling after their prey, which flew, or rather swum, in the infinite deep, in the most terrific shapes of animals sprung from corruption; and the air was full of them, and seemed composed of them. These are Devils, and are called powers of the air. I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot. He said: “Between the black and white spiders.

William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

 

A crazy, desperate, tragic, strange and hallucinatory tour that marked Nivek Ogre’s painful return from the personal hell of twisted relationships and drug addiction. The performance was noticeably less dynamic, but psychologically much deeper than the previous Too Dark Park: the artist embodied a martyr immersed into the most destructive element – his own mind.

This was literally a bad trip,  emphasized by the abrasive psychedelic crescendo of the Left HandShake., This track was the same for the Last Rights as Testure was for VIVIsectVI: in fact, the title song, summarizing the overall concept. Unfortunately, this masterpiece was not included in the official edition of the album due to the copyright issues with Tim Leary’s samples.

The performance of this composition, constructed as a dialogue between a psychedelic guru and Ogre, responding to Leary’s instructions  from a state of complete despair and doom, was finishing the story. Ogre went on stage in a monstrous costume called Guiltman, the epitome of despair, self-abasement and addiction, reminiscent of images from Ken Russell’s psychedelic movie “Altered States”. The show was generally rich in cinema associations: one of the central stage structures, Tree of No Cares, with chains on which scary masks, torture instruments and porn magazines dangled, resembled nightmares of “Hellraiser”, the other – a VR helmet illuminated with a bizarre multicolored light, sending frontman into the world of ghostly shadows spinning in the TV snow on the main projection screen – looked like something from Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” or, say, “Lawnmower Man”.

Another, small television screen towered on a column above Dwayne’s synthesizers, scrolling surreal cartoons. This time, SKINNY PUPPY did not use shocking video clips, because all the pain and sorrow were now concentrated in the Ogre’s soul. The stage decorations represented projections of his psyche: in the light flickering as Gysin’s Dreamachine, rotten nets and bandages were visible, which hung on “antichristmas tree”… fragments of a mirror mounted in the vocalist’s arm, syringes, a bleeding crucifix with a copulating couple… images of biomorphic horror in the spirit of Francis Bacon… A sign of a mental cataclysm, the frontman’s face was split in two– one side black as night, the other pale as death.

Against this background, reminiscent of a futuristic delirium of, say, Jeff Noon’s “Falling out of Cars”, an absurdist-expressionist stage play is being played out. The narrative begins with a dive into the abyss of addiction, then goes through a confrontation with the outside world and the collapse of personal relationships (Tin Omen, Worlock, Knowhere?). The Anger videostorm is a mental breakdown; followed by a physical mutation (VX Gas Attack, Second Tooth), and here on stage is a nightmarish three–armed creature in the vein of Dali’s “A Premonition of Civil War”. Finally, the total existential collapse and the Guiltman manifestation. But after the darkest night, dawn comes, the exorcism session ends successfully… maybe .

Unfortunately, this tour was the last for the beautiful soul Dwayne Goettel, and, as it seemed at the time, for the SKINNY PUPPY band in general. The next time, the surviving founders will come together almost 10 years later to finish the last phase properly and grope for the future…

https://youtu.be/467DNv0KU7c (Dallas 26/06/1992)
https://youtu.be/iqSrpXf60NU (Miami 18/06/1992)
https://youtu.be/WweeEVxF7Qw (Chicago 21/07/1992, incomplete)

 

LIVE SHAPE FOR ARMS / EYE VS SPY (2014)

As things stand now, the geniuses of computer technology will give us Star Wars, and tell us that is the answer to nuclear war. They will give us artificial intelligence, and tell us that this is the way to self-knowledge. They will give us instantaneous global communication, and tell us this is the way to mutual understanding. They will give us Virtual Reality and tell us this is the answer to spiritual poverty. But that is only the way of the technician, the fact-mongerer, the information junkie, and the technological idiot.

There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory.

Even the humblest cartoon character knows this, and I shall close by quoting the wise old possum named Pogo, created by the cartoonist, Walt Kelley. I commend his words to all the technological utopians and messiahs present. “We have met the enemy,” Pogo said, “and he is us.”

Neil Postman, “Informing Ourselves to Death”

 

At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, SKINNY PUPPY released a new – and, sadly, the final – album Weapon, preparing a fullscale tour in support of it.

This new stage show is another aesthetic turn: there is almost no bloody mess and gore imagery of concerts of the late 20th century. And no straightforward socio-political satire of the 2000s (there is, however, satire, but rather grotesque and phantasmagoric, like of Bradbury or Vonnegut,). Expressive means have become more abstract and metaphorical, but this is a perfect example of the Ogre’s creative power: with the help of massive scenery and costumes, he sends us on a surreal trip through the modern world, radiated and feeling baked by various manipulations and dirty tricks. In a sense, this show (especially it’s “director’s cut” from the second part of the tour called Eye vs Spy), can even be seen as a twin brother-antagonist of, say, Last Rights: like a strange and spectacular mystery, a psychoanalytic session in the Church of the Final Cataclysm. But now it is not the frontman’s mind, lost in the abyss of addiction, that is being subjected to exorcism, but the entire Western civilization, poisoned by politics and hallucinating on overdoses of the mass media.

The central part of the stage is Pandora’s box, which opens and transforms into a shaped projection screen. On the stage, illuminated by images from it, as well as from the back screen and a large CCTV surveillance monitor, SKINNY PUPPY performs a perfect mix of old and new compositions, while Ogre changes one person after another: there is a radioactive futuristic Grim Reaper at the beginning of the performance, then an animalistic coyote-like shaman, then industrial warrior striding towards death to the funeral march of First Aid

A stylish sculpture in the form of, yes, skinny puppy (this is no longer CHUD but Cedric), a strange biotechnical microphone stand, something like an altar with an inverted process cross, a glowing blue-green futuristic pedestal on which rests a vessel with poison that the vocalist drinks during Hexonxonx… Vintage floor lamp and armchair give the interior a touch of Lynch films… Or, maybe, “American Horror Story”? – however, this is what it is! The result is a powerful and exciting theater, surreal pop art in the spirit of Paolozzi or Warhol’s “Death and Disaster”, projected into the criminal age of Fukushima and Guantanamo.

https://youtu.be/GEpSPr3dTuY (Feb 2014 fanmade bootleg)
https://youtu.be/F2Y0rT7-1eg   (Montreal 16/02/2014)
https://youtu.be/BivOcy30nGA (Toronto 18/02/2014)
https://youtu.be/rgZEi6w7MSE (Montreal 29/11/2014)

 

AIN’T IT DEAD YET? (1987)

Thus one day, weary of trudging up the steep pathway of the earthly journey and of passing, staggering like a drunken man, through the catacombs of life, I slowly raised my mournful eyes, ringed with great bluish circles, towards the inverted bowl of the firmament, and dared to try and penetrate, young as I was, the mysteries of heaven.

Not finding what I was seeking I raised my staring eyes higher . . . higher yet . . . until at last I perceived a throne built of human excrement and gold upon which was enthroned with idiot pride and robed in a shroud made from unlaundered hospital sheets, that one who calls himself the Creator!

In his hand he held the decaying trunk of a man and he lifted it successively from his eyes to his nose and from his nose to his mouth, where one may guess what he did with it. His feet were bathed in a vast morass of boiling blood to the surface of which there suddenly arose like tapeworms in the contents of a chamber-pot, two or three cautious heads which disappeared instantly with the speed of arrows; for an accurate kick on the nose was the well-known reward for such a revolt against the law, caused by a need to breathe the air, for men are not, after all, fish!

Isidore Ducasse, “Maldoror”

 

It was during this tour that talented post-punk artists from Canada were finally reborn as international gods of macabre industrial performance. All those components that their fans appreciate so much in the band’s concerts are used here uncompromisingly and in perfect combination for a primal screaming therapy. Surreal scenery: from a Rosemary’s baby carriage and inflated medical gloves to a monstrous totem idol in the center of the stage, all covered by rotten root crops, with a lopsided cross topped by a flickering TV and a broken swastika, along with a military helmet dangling right there and a dismembered corpse… Mannequins, blinding dirty money, the gallows and gunshots…

Furious Ogre, smeared with blood and dirt, dancing like a crippled doll, unfolds a mystery drama, changing creepy masks in a series of strange rituals. The show begins with an eerie shadow theater: creepy images, sort of “Eraserhead at the Dr. Caligari’s office”, rush in strobe flashes across the blood-stained screen. Sparks pour in from the angle grinder, cEvin Key bangs on iron barrels, Dwayne’s synthesizers on a rusty podium burst with layers of noise and samples, the vocalist distorts his voice in clouds of smoke by a special device on a stand  where a candle is burning… And now the baby cradle explodes, the swastika burns like a Bickford fuse, while Ogre performs his pagan rite, throws himself every now and then on the stage and eventually drops dead, shot from a gun by merciless executioner.

This is the peak of their “gothic” phase and at the same time the crushing start of the most shocking, weird and scary era: the theater of cruelty for the industrial people. SKINNY PUPPY concert from this tour has been released as an official video – and this is one of the most impressive documents in history of avant-garde performance art.

https://youtu.be/XsMekJzDsFc (Toronto 31/05/1987 official DVD)
https://youtu.be/-FSUCBXQpf8 (New York 14/06/1987)

 

IN SOLVENT SEE (2010)

Into the Interior: a vast subdivision, antennae of television to the meaningless sky. In lifeproof houses they hover over the young, sop up a little of what they shut out. Only the young bring anything in, and they are not young very long. (Through the bars of East St. Louis lies the dead frontier, riverboat days.) Illinois and Missouri, miasma of mound-building peoples, groveling worship of the Food Source, cruel and ugly festivals, dead-end horror of the Centipede God reaches from Moundville to the lunar deserts of coastal Peru.

America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.

William S. Burroughs, “Naked Lunch”

 

A perfect example of how to achieve the strongest psychedelic effect and sensory overload almost without using a bloodbath and horrors. No, let’s not confuse you – of course there is a place for fake blood and a couple of spooky masks. But the main narrative device this time is carefully thought out fancy costumes and multiple video projections, flooding the entire stage with flashing and constantly morphing images which, together with a battery of LCD monitors, turn a rather intimate show into a Kafka’s LSD trip.

Ogre enters this stage in the role of a crazy dervish-like imp with a high conical cap, and vague images of the culture madness from, say, Linda Sibio’s performances or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s movies stir in our memory… During the development of the narrative, there will be smoke from the top of the hood, as from a factory chimney, and our frontman will wave his crab-claws (or are these oven mitts? maybe he is a stoker on Nova Express?) inside a glass cube… and under  crazy paper mask there will be an even crazier one.

By the way, this is a perfect case file record of the surrealist dream-logic in the SKINNY PUPPY performances: images amaze our mind and intrigue us, but we need to think for ourselves what they tell our consciousness – or the unconscious? Maybe, we can assume that this is a kind of psychoanalytic examination of American culture. A faceless mask, a hole under a grinning paper one, could be a powerful metaphor for primitive fear hidden under assumed aggression; the cone cap gives rise to associations with both the Ku Klux Klan and the image of a dunce or a doll… The crab mitts seem to be a sign of an ancient, insect evil, and the glass house indicate alienation. Senile’s walkers fall apart and fold into a gnarled cross – Jesus wants to be ugli! The rotten core of religion? Exorcism of xenophobia demons? Dissolution (in solvent sea) of the surface armor to show us the ugly truth?

And all this to the accompaniment of an incredible setlist – the stunning beauty and power of psychedelic arrangements of old (including rarities that had never been heard before) and new songs . This alchemical amalgam was released later as official live CD. It is a pity that the band did not release a similar concert video, but there is an excellent DVD made by devoted fans. May Goddess bless their souls!

https://youtu.be/0sR8yBZdnYc (Budapest 19/08/2010 fanmade DVD)

 

TOO DARK PARK (1990)

Man is a bad animal because he kills not only his own kind but any and all other animals, wantonly. … Man is not only a bad animal, he is crazy, irrational, wanton, wasteful .above all wasteful. Man is the only animal who destroys his own nest, his own environment and he is getting ready to destroy his one and only livable planet. No fish ever polluted the sea. No bird ever polluted the air. No other animal ever took slaves and waged war.

A bad animal is an animal who destroys the visible world around him. He is not even conscious of the invisible world yet he invents absurd religions whose tyrannical powers are said to derive from the invisible. All religions  ought to be taxed out of existence.

I think it’s obvious to all of us that man is about to destroy the planet and that there are not any energy commissions or, uh green leaf ecologists who are going to stop them. Man is a greedy destructive animal. We have to go much lower (or what we have been led to consider as much lower) in the realm of creation, into the insect world, before we find anybody that behaves as badly as we do. And there we find that our most, our closest comrade is really the ant…

Brion Gysin, “Here to Go: Planet R-101”

 

The Unholy Grail for every SP fan: sacred initiation for some, and irreversible neural damage for others.

This is the only tour that has remained almost completely not documented on video. All we have are: a short cut released in 2005, a couple of microscopic clips, a lot of photographs and eyewitness accounts (and as it seems, the vast majority of whom attended these concerts were tripping on acid).

If on the album and on the VIVIsectVI tour the band treated animals like humans, then now the planet Earth itself is humanized or, say, spiritualized. The entire stage show is a psychopathic anthem depicting the sufferings of the macrocosm – Gaia, poisoned by the activities of a distraught humanity, and the microcosm – an individual who has become a victim of all kinds of addictions – whether chemical habits or religious ones.

The infamous Chair of No Cares, this torture stump with spider limbs, syringes and a television screen at its head, was just one of many ways to humiliate Ogre’s person on stage. Arriving with his head bandaged and almost to the touch, he pulled out his bloody brains during a VX Gas Attack, stabbed himself with an ice pick, fell to the floor drenched in gallons of fake blood. He was beaten, he vomited blood, he opened his stomach and pulled out his intestines (they say the smell was very natural). He used intimidating masks, including something like the head of an “industrial horse” with a camera built into it. And another camera was built into the blinds in front of Ogre’s face on the chair – while he sat being tortured, the faces of the audience or the singer, captured by these cameras, were projected right onto the huge screen behind the band, mixing with synced cut-up footage from thousands of horror movies and disturbing newsreels (of which the famous Worlock video was also a part). Ogre painstakingly assembled this video collage with William Morrison for many weeks – and back then there were no computers and video editing programs!

But even that’s not all. In addition to the main screen and slides with projections of various images of decay, many TV-sets were installed on the stage, with shocking footage from the Japanese pseudo-snuff “Guinea Pig” displayed on them. Some viewers felt sick at the sight of these fake shots – will they eventually experience catharsis? And will they notice, for example, that the frontman is mutilating himself with an ice pick for real? A rather brutal experiment on himself and the audience, quite like Ballard’s “Atrocity Exhibition”… As we know, devoted fans not only drew attention to such self-sacrifice for the sake of art, but also sincerely asked their favorite artist not to do this to himself. May Goddess do bless all their souls!

Dwayne was hiding behind a dozen gnarled branches stretching out of his synthesizer rack covered with sheets of torn iron, while cEvin was at his drumosaurus with trademark oil barrels and a deck of hi-hats-triggered radios, and you can only try to imagine the overall effect of all this with an extremely loud sound. The climax of the show was the famous Stiltman during Spasmolytic – a Cronenbergian cripple with four collapsing pneumatic legs and blood-dripping mask, one of the most powerful images born of the bizarre Ogre’s mind (and, yes, later borrowed by Marilyn Manson).

An incredible and brutal journey into  dystopian Burroughsian world of addiction, perversion and pollution, the price for which turned out to be as great for Ogre as for the author of the “Soft Machine”: he was literally devoured by his own ugly spirits.

https://youtu.be/7LH0xn7gotY (short cut-up of archival footage, from TGWOTR official DVD)

 

DOOMSDAY (2000)

Erect and sublime, for one moment of time.
In the next, that wild figure they saw
(As if stung by a spasm) plunge into a chasm,
While they waited and listened in awe.

“It’s a Snark!” was the sound that first came to their ears,
And seemed almost too good to be true.
Then followed a torrent of laughter and cheers:
Then the ominous words “It’s a Boo-“

Lewis Carroll, “Hunting of a Snark”

 

Perhaps this is the show which deserves the epithet “apotheosis”. Their most ambitious, massive and uncompromising performance, and also unique, magical experience. This concert was not part of the tour – it was planned as a one-off event, a reunion of the band at the Dresden festival Doomsday. After all, since the tragic departure of Dwayne and the release of the long-suffering The Process  (as it seemed at the time, epitaph for our beloved puppy), cEvin and Ogre almost did not communicate, each doing their own business. And now, eight years later, they are back on stage together – and what a scene, what a trip!

Two video sequences full of trademark shocking visuals – one on a giant screen behind the stage, the second on four walls-screens of a sliding cage folded into a semblance of a processian symbol. Four more rusty process crosses with either springs or electrical wires hang above cEvin’s drum kit, surrounded by a cemetery fence, on which all sorts of debris of industrial world are emblazoned. Then, a kinetic biomechanical artifact created by artist Thomas Kuntz, with an Ogre’s head and insect limbs, one of which has a vagina-shaped shield with a squeezed phallus-“sword”, the other has a crooked blade for self-decapitation. This goat-legged fornicator-robot-demon, sort of atavistic Austin Spare’s nightmare, sits on a trapezoidal pedestal covered with occult symbols. Another automated prop created by Kuntz also recalls alchemy: a kind of crucible, a copper cap over which can lift, uncovering a creepy  Ogre’s head that switch it’s three faces in colored flashes during the opening epic Choralone. The sparks of an angle grinder, a metal stand with a cadaver in the corner of the stage, gleaming bonfires: everything looks like an apocalyptic play born of the creative union of August Strindberg and SURVIVAL RESEARCH LABORATORIES.

First several tracks Ogre is not on stage: he hides inside his screen-cage, but appears from time to time both on video projection and in the form of his scenic avatars – not only the mentioned biomechanoids but also his doppelgangers running onto the stage and falling dead from rifle shots. And here he finally comes out, during the great and insane Worlock, – then there is blood everywhere, pieces of meat, funeral pyres… Ogre smashes the head of the hanged cadaver, he transforms the screen structure, he climbs onto its skeleton, sings, hanging upside down, and falls from a three-meter height… And in the finale, when he and cEvin had already smoked their joint of peace and performed the famous Smothered Hope as an encore… burst of thunderclaps! No, not pre-recorded, but from real dark skies, with pouring rain – and everyone understands that this is a sign and a blessing from Dwayne, that  he is also there, witnessing this great mystery.

This is the true end of an era that began in 1987: the show combines the elements and approach of the Ain’t it Dead Yet, Too Dark Park, Last Rights tours, complemented by immense stage props, pyrotechnics and the participation of artists such as the famous Jorg Buttgereit. Doomsday remained one of the greatest works of transgressive apocalyptic art, an expressionist psychodrama at the turn of the millennium, summing up the band’s past era and, as it turned out, giving rise to a new, no less beautiful one.

https://youtu.be/eqK8f-IKmHA (Dresden 20/08/2000 pro-shot record)
https://youtu.be/LHfM0zojxGc (additional materials)
https://youtu.be/5mIXKb3RpaA (incomplete footage)

 

WHEN NOTHING IS TRUE… EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE (2023)

Don’t believe nothing you hear. Trust what you know. Remember it’s all just a mirror we made to see ourselves in. And when the archons come and it all turns inside out with scary miracles, it’s only all the things you left outside when you were building your little house called “me”, ey?

Grant Morrison, “Invisibles”

 

Finally, here is the last and highest point of our journey. Not only chronologically (alas, alas), but perhaps also according to our  “conventional ranking” too! And while there are no immense screens and flames of Doomsday, the harsh cruelty of VIVIsectVI and TDP, the psychedelic overload of Life Shape for Arms or In Solvent Seas – but there is something other, and, we think, much more precious and important.

In this farewell tour, the band offers us a kind of overview of their long creative path. There is, of course, an amazing setlist, one of their best, if not THE best: compositions from all (except one) albums, gorgeous arrangements by cEvin Key, powerful improvisations by Matthew Setzer and Justin Bennett. Unique SKINNY PYPPY sonic sculpture sounds strong, dense and beautiful like maybe never before.

The wise and unusual story told by Ogre is also a perfect match for this last rite – especially in its updated version from the second leg of a long American-Canadian tour. His character, like a Man who Fell to Earth, is being captured by the sinister Tormentor, and then subjected to all kinds of vivisection, measurement, video- and syringe shooting, suppression, exploitation, control – and in this last drama we can see many familiar tropes from the band’s previous shows.

As has happened more than once, everything starts with the shadow play, and we witness the appearance of a multi-armed creature – is it a Western mutant or an Eastern deity? In the foreground, the familiar figure of a dog is the same Cedric from the 2014 show. The “technotronic cage”, behind which the octopus-like cEvin shamans over numerous synthesizers and on which the figure of Andy Warhol is visible is the same one that decorated the stage during the tours of the beginning of the century. The Tormentor performed by Dustin Schultz, sticking syringes into a test subject – hell-o to the performances of the Down the SocioPath, and the poisonous green blood of the Other also looks familiar. And torturer’s Kabuki Theater may even remind old fans of creepy samurai from Japanese horror movies during the Too Dark Park tour. Then there is a mutant child resembling the Maldororesque phantasm from Ain’t It Dead Yet? and into this realm the withered rope of the gallows pulls us together with the frontman in the grand finale, while child continue to dangle on crooked stand just like that cadaver from Doomsday.

And when Ogre is tied to a chair where his skull is crushed, this, along with all the medical entourage, immediately takes us back to the days of Head Trauma and VIVIsectVI. Even the pillar pedestal looks familiar: in the very first round, almost 40 years ago, a similar thing was crowned by a television screen, but now our hero’s isolated brain is located here.

But this is not just an anthology of familiar images – on the contrary, it is an independent and integral work of art, a story about alienation, about splitting and attempts to reunite the torn. Is it true that this time the artist is just referring to the dictionary of images of popular culture, conspiracy theory and fiction (and the image of an alien can easily evoke such associations)? If true, then not completely – because the Alien is the Other, and sort of projection of our unconscious (as Carl Jung, J.B.Priestley, Timothy Wiley and many others reminded us). Crowleyan LAM, appearing in the video sequence, also suggests interesting thoughts. Here, the “introverted” and “extroverted” sides of Skinny Puppy merge together – this show can be perceived both as a story about social phenomena, and as an internal drama, the interaction between parts of the psyche.

Yet there is another point: the fans of the band, the SP family, become important participants in the performance. It’s not even that the faces of the audience continue to fall into the projection on the stylized screen – this trick has been tried more than once, at least since the TDP. It’s about the interaction, the “energy exchange” between artists and the audience, which is stronger this time than ever. To someone impressed by the grand mysteries of the 1990s or 2000s, all this might seem too concise for a farewell show – but it’s not like that at all! Even through photographs and videos, this performance makes a strikingly strong impression, and I, without a doubt, put it in the first place in our peculiar rating. A great band is leaving at the peak of its development, at its best. I am sure that this is due not only to the artists, but also to the devoted family of fans who return all their love and appreciation to the band for a long and incredible journey back and forth. May Goddess… well you know!

https://youtu.be/FlqY1YzQUj4 (San Francisco, 27/11/2023)
https://youtu.be/IsoI3WH_xjA (Philadelphia 19/04/2023)

 

EPILOGUE

The symbols of the divine show up in our world initially at the trash stratum.

Philip K. Dick, “Valis”

All life starts with death
All death starts with life
Ever circles back again
Never falls to regain

All life is with hope
All hope is to know
Righteous places righteous times
Even though we live to die

Nivek Ogre, “jaHer”

 

Love and appreciation. That’s what the messages and discussions on the Web are filled with now, every meeting with fans and every encore. Even those who could not get to the farewell concerts feel this. Perhaps, this is exactly what abrasive psychedelia, macabre expressionism, dope surrealism, bloody Gothic and industrial pop art have always been about – even if they explained it to us “from the contrary”. Love and appreciation. Well, now this story has come to an end.

SKINNY PUPPY is an archetypical example of what Burroughs and Gysin called “The Third Mind”. The core of the project has always been the collaboration of two geniuses, two Kevin’s – Key and Ogre. They were helped by many talented people, and what turned out in the end turned out to be an independent entity, in no way reducible to the sum of the parts. Yes, the “Third Mind”, and the downside of this is the necessity to overcome differences and contradictions, given the strength and strangeness of their personalities. And we all know that the fact that SKINNY PUPPY had been around for four long decades is a real miracle.

The name of the farewell tour clearly refers to Hassan-i-Sabbah and the same Gysin and Burroughs, but do not look for hope for the future of the project in it. This is end of SKINNY PUPPY, the final narrathon from here to mythernity, but both core members remain here to create – each in their own way, to make their own new projects. Yet maybe new SP archives will appear, and for sure there will be new research, new interesting books… This amazing story definitely deserves it – and it ends after all optimistically and on a high note. As the repeatedly mentioned William Burroughs once wrote:

A tree like black lace against a gray sky. A flash of joy. How long does it take a man to learn that he does not, cannot want what he “wants?” You have to be in Hell to see Heaven. Glimpses from the Land of the Dead, flashes of serene timeless joy, a Joy as old as suffering and despair. … Shadows are falling on the mountain. “Hurry up please. It’s time.”

 

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