An Eagle rises from the ashes of terrorism

Eagles of Death Metal at the Commodore Ballroom, 2009
Eagles of Death Metal at the Commodore Ballroom, 2009

By

“My socks and underwear, I like to keep them clean
It’s so easy without complexity…”
Eagles of Death Metal, Complexity

Eagles of Death Metal were hardly the most talked about band a week ago when they played Newcastle’s 02 Academy. As the above lyric demonstrates, they are not the forefront of western intellectualism. The band are, in essence, extremely silly. So the fact that there are now calls to make their new album, Zipper Down, a Number One in the Charts (debuted at 32), and that the BBC are running an article entitled ‘Who are Eagles of Death Metal?’, means something must have changed.

That something happened Friday night in France. Playing Paris’ Bataclan venue, lead man Jesse Hughes and co. froze onstage as shots rang out through the theatre. Audible above the guitars, amateur footage captured the exact moment of the attack. The experience is indescribable. Islamic State has subsequently taken responsibility for the terrorist atrocities of Friday, November 13th. In the simultaneous targeting of multiple sites, through three coordinated attacks featuring seven suicide bombers, such coordinated, strategic planning bore the signature of IS. The intended ‘headline’ attack was the Stade de France, where President François Hollande was watching the French football team play Germany in a friendly. However, it was Bataclan that witnessed the worst of the human cost, where over eighty people were killed.

If, indeed, IS are the overarching force behind this complex act of terror, it will prove a singular success on European soil. In the combination of the larger scale, more ambitious project – the Stade de France, where three suicide bombs were detonated – with the smaller scale, less secure simultaneous targets – restaurants and venues – they have discovered a successful method for murder. While the football stadium, especially with the President’s presence, will have seen higher levels of security, the other attacks were random and unpredictable. In the case of Bataclan, they found a ready-made hostage situation, complete with noisy distraction and low levels of security ideal for such a threat. Security is largely non-existent at gigs, barring a cursory glance in a lady’s bag or the confiscation of a sealed bottle of water by a haphazard steward.

Live music is a society of sacrilege. In the eyes of IS, it is an act of heresy that has displaced faith as a mobiliser for the collective on a societal level.

Attacks on the western world often provoke a self-reflective reverie in response. Why us? Why France? Why now? ‘Why music?’ is another valuable addition to the debate. Now, we don’t for a moment believe Jesse Hughes and The Eagles of Death Metal were the target of an international terrorist organisation. Barring any reference to Hughes’ ‘liberal’ lifestyle and Republican sympathies, they were a tragic party caught in the wrong place at the worst possible time. But this was no mere logistical target. For the terrorist cell, probably an internal operation functioning in France, with well-coordinated cross-border contacts, mass murder was the modus operandi. The attack blended logistical strategy with ideology.

The gig is a relevant ideological target for IS. A largely young, white western crowd troupes en masse to see their favourite acts perform live. It represents a kind of pilgrimage, as the collective then seek a sense of communal epiphany to lose their sense of self amidst the sweat and sound. There is the spiritual level of ritualistic worship for the onstage preacher and, in the case of electro-bands, a kind of warped altar behind which they proclaim their message to the masses. We witness the formation of a cult. Live music is a society of sacrilege. In the eyes of IS, it is an act of heresy that has displaced faith as a mobiliser for the collective on a societal level.

Not that IS are too concerned with the dwindling role of the Christian church to formulate communal society and identity in the western world. But, like the bright lights of museums that bring the masses of largely elder visitors to worship the idolatrous exhibits of cultural significance, gigs are a religious force for the younger generation. It is a signifier of western society that is anathema to IS ideology. Like the destruction of what we, the west, hold of civilizational import in Palmyra or Hatra, the targeting of a gig is a form of societal iconoclasm. It is an attack on the heart of western culture. Whereas ancient ruins come under the category of cultural heritage, the gig-goer is part of a socio-cultural movement.

Be it indie, metal, or rock n’ roll, these subsets are the sects to which youth clings in order to formulate his or her identity. Each comes with its own set of representative codes or ‘ethics’ that bind a follower of the cult, often values that are maintained for the rest of life. Be they manifest in garish clothes, long hair, veganism, leather jackets or velvet suits, each attribute is central to the creation of an identity that distinguishes each stratum from the other. They are the binding principles through which we create, practice and entrench cultural distinctiveness. Music becomes the broad, encompassing vehicle that defines this manifold world of different, distinct categories within the encompassing sphere of music. Thus, we evolve the theory of music as religion.

So, if we are to learn anything from the attacks on Paris and more specifically on Bataclan, it is this. Music is at the epicentre of western society. Music has a religious force within the western world, in its formation of collectives through shared features and, by extension, the cultivation of otherness through the creation of distinct identities. It is fundamental, a building block for societal construction.

The world of music needs to find its own solidarity in coming together to continue in these days of threat. Without a single definitive sound or image to unite music, we call on a spiritual leader, a messianic figure. And that comes in the face of Bono.

IS have successfully disrupted this cultural institution, with the likes of Motorhead, U2, Rudimental and Years & Years all cancelling French dates. In the case of Foo Fighters, the international terrorists have cancelled an entire European tour. From pop to rock, heavy metal to dance, IS have successfully destabilised the migration flows of bands that form the cult calendar of the musical year. Like Christmas, a Leap Year or a World Cup, you know a band will tour every year, biennially or once in a blue moon, but the structure of this culture has shifted in the wake of Friday’s attack. IS have disturbed the fabric of the cultural calendar.

In response, we are wont to flee to the safety, security and solidarity of collective society. The French come together as the world unites in tricolors of unity. From Sydney’s Opera House to London’s Tower Bridge, from Singapore to Belgrade, the skies have been lit up in red, white and blue, while Facebook has transformed into one big French flag. La République is a refuge in times of chaos. It is significant that fans escaping the Stade de France were recorded singing La Marseillaise – the sound of the nation state.

The world of music needs to find its own solidarity in coming together to continue in these days of threat. Without a single definitive sound or image to unite music, we call on a spiritual leader, a messianic figure. And that comes in the face of Bono, who has stated “It’s very upsetting. These are our people.” Quite what he means by “our people” is uncertain. U2 fans? No, this was for the world of music as a whole. “This is the first direct hit on music that we’ve had in this so-called war on terror.” And that is exactly the kind of coherent rhetoric we need to apply in the face of international terrorism eroding our cultural institutions through socio-cultural iconoclasm. John Kerry, take note. Perhaps Bono was finding inspiration in the lyrics:

“It don’t take nothing fancy, it’s just ABCs;
It’s so easy without complexity…”

The only certainty in the coming days of complexity is Eagles of Death Metal publicity and sales are likely to soar. An Eagle rises from the ashes of terrorism. Never mute music.

Photograph: SylviaBoBilvia via Wikimedia Commons

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