INTERVIEW: J. Citizen (Eye)

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Politics Can Be Fun - Vol. 1Producing some of the hardest hitting political music to come from Down Under, Eye's J. Citizen is also the brains behind the DIY underground's Blatant Propaganda. Keeping their eye (pun intended) turned toward the political machine of Australia, BP just released their second issue as well as their first compilation CD of Electronica/Industrial/Darkwave music featuring such artists as Eye (of course), Troll, Sterile, aya and a number of others. Also released is a full-length from industrial/techno artist, Eye, Politics Can Be Fun Volume 1, Citizen's work is a hard hitting barrage of finger pointing, noise and outright smacking to the Australian political machine.

Cornered on the Net by editor Pan, J. Citizen answers some questions about his upcoming projects, Eye's music, the zine and other politically incorrect propaganda.

What makes an organization such as that which is behind Blatant Propaganda and the group's other works keep on ticking in a world of near-fascist heavy-handed iron-fisted rule?

In regards to what has kept us going financially, up until the last year or two it was partially Government funding. Honest. Ironically much of the recording costs for EYE and aya (now re-named Earth Liberation Front) was paid for with government Arts grants! And I've just received another grant to produce a compilation of local Canberra music!

As to what maintains the motivation to keep ranting about various things, that's all part of my good behavior contract. Eight or so years ago the local government became intolerant of my walking naked through shopping malls waving placards like "The authorities lied!! Santa isn't real!!" and "The Muppets are Fake!" Thus, greatly alarmed by the increasing numbers of people I was awakening, and observing the fabric of society unwinding, the judiciary sentenced me to either a) set up as an underground subversive rockstar, who no-one would take much notice of, or b) go to jail. I chose to go to jail, but was surprised and quite upset when at the end of the day they wouldn't let me go home. The judges, reasonable people that they are, let me reconsider. Hence, after much mental torment, trying to deny the cruel hand that fate has dealt me, I find myself here, living the sad sad life of an underground 'subversive' rockstar.

And how long will it be before the assassination?

It was originally planned for April 27th 2000. But apparently they had a double-booking, so it was postponed until today. Unfortunately, the hitman has come down with a bad case of the sniffles. So it's postponed again. As you can imagine I'm pretty disappointed. I've looked forward to it for weeks, being the first time I'm assassinated and all. Oh well. Must have patience.

How long has the Blatant Propaganda group been active in Australian fringe politics and just what was it that threw you into the fray? Was there anything in particular that pissed you off enough to get you mad enough to react and get involved?

To answer the last question first, what threw me into the fray of Australian fringe politics? My parents did that. I wanted to play football at school and all the other normal sports, but my parents said "No, son, you must play Australian fringe politics." But I wasn't very interested in it. Not until after I left school did I really discover a passion and use for it. You know how it is, when parents force something on you, it's no fun.

What inspired me to become seriously involved? I was studying biology at university in 1992. There was a debate in the student newspaper about animal experiments. On one hand the researchers were saying: "We are going to save you and all your babies if you just give us more money and several more billion animals and we promise we'll eventually stumble on something useful." On the other hand the (naive, but well-intentioned) animal rights people were pleading "don't hurt the fluffy animals." It was the typical rigged debate of "Science Vs animal welfare." Anyway, I had just read some books by ex-animal researchers and doctors who explained that all the useful medical advances have come from observing people, and that animal research produces misleading irrelevant results; they lead medicine astray and are done mainly for commercial reasons - to create false illusions that drugs are safe for people and to act as legal alibis when the drugs are withdrawn from the market after killing and damaging people. As this all blew my mind, I thought I'd chip in my two bobs worth and write an article for the student newspaper, under an alias of course.

Thus, I created a storm at the university. The Biology department was furious that the newspaper published an article criticizing vivisection on *scientific* grounds. They didn't know what to do. On the other hand, the animal rightists were furious because I detailed how many of the world's largest animal rights groups and executives are funded by the pharmaceutical lobby to be a wimpy and easily debated "ethical" opposition. The animal researchers at the university were upset about my article because they knew how to argue against the ethical animal rights argument, but they couldn't counter the medical arguments against animal research. So instead of democratic debate, they tried their best to censor the newspaper. They didn't succeed that year, but they managed to bribe the editors in the following years who obediently published the typical "science Vs Animal welfare" rambles but nothing about the real issue that is "true science (i.e. useful relevant medical research) Vs scientific fraud (vivisection)."

As to the formation of the various projects: "EYE" began meekly in 1992 under the name "Aphazia" and was a 4-track hobby for a few years with sporadic performances as well as doing soundtracks for several theatre productions. However, this was back in the ancient days before affordable digital recording technology, so up until 1994-95, it's all on analogue 4-track. "Earth Liberation Front" was initiated in 1996 to be the showcase of the "dancier" instrumental acid-techno-electronica after I paid in an outfit at the Sydney "Big Day Out" which is a huge summer music festival. E.L.F. was known as "aya" until mid-1999. The umbrella label and zine name "Blatant Propaganda" was adopted in 1998.

Or was it a gradual descent into the underbelly of the machine that occurred?

While the above saga of writing about vivisection was what really sparked me off into studying little known viewpoints, I was kind of somewhat active for many years before that on issues to do with sexism, racism and homophobia. As a teenager, I was a very androgynous pretty cyber-muppet-goth and I experienced a hell of a lot of prejudice as a result. So I got to know what it's like to be a target for people's fear of "things different." So from an early age I've been fully aware of what insecure fear-driven and nasty creatures many people are. I'd also like to state, that after 12 years experience in the gothic-industrial-scene, I feel pretty-well qualified to state that many people in it are just as "look-ist" and prejudiced, very often even more so (myself included at times), than the average Joe Sixpacks...wearing conformist uniforms and make-up doesn't make someone "better" than anyone else. Of course, it didn't take me 12 years to discover that, only a few months in the late 80s as a teenager who was searching for open-minds, but I thought I'd throw in that figure to be somewhat pseudo-impressive.

ELFHow have politicians from Australia reacted against such finger pointing as that which is done in the BP magazine and in Eye's Politics Can Be Fun Volume 1 release? Anything scary in those reactions? I.e., after printing a political-tinged essay in Legends many years ago, I found myself taking, shall we say, a rather bad smack-down at my mail stop one day. I would figure that with the material that Eye creates, and the inclusion of such suppressed information that you bring to light, there would be at least something of a threat from somewhere. Piss anyone off lately?

By "smack-down" do you mean physical harassment? [Ed. Actually, to make a long story short, I got my ever-lovin' ass kicked…] Gosh! So far we've managed to avoid nasty things like that because of the music or the zine. That's because I stay as anonymous as possible. I began doing that when I wrote the above-mentioned articles in 1992. History is full of examples of people being persecuted for saying something new and different. Nevertheless, despite general anonymity, I was chased and almost caught by a bunch of neo-nazi skinheads about a month ago while I was putting up posters for EYE. That was a real surprise as I haven't seen anyone like them in Canberra for about 10 years. And there they were one night, like something straight out of a movie or cartoon. They were out to hurt someone and it seems they didn't like the EYE posters with pictures of nazi rallies and slogans such as "Join consumer youth today! It's fun! Exciting!" nor the one with Australia's PM John Howard with a Hitler moustache.

As for institutional kick-back against EYE, the most significant thing of recent was the decision by the government youth radio station, to not play Mandate! because they were worried about being taken to court by the Government due to EYE's samples of John Howard. While that seriously limited EYE's radio access to the kids, it also protected EYE from being heard widely by politicians. So in effect, EYE is spreading the propaganda out of their hearing range. I think that's the most intelligent thing to do on any issue - why alert your enemy as to what you're doing?

What are your goals with BP and Eye's music?

My philosophical goal is to spread information that I've found empowering and of interest and also to have fun doing so. It's also largely a cathartic release too - a way of getting out emotional ya-ya's.

Is it only to provide knowledge, or to somehow become a direct force in the political changes you believe are necessary?

Both. I think that by providing knowledge and stirring up thought, one is a direct force in political change.

In other words, do you want to just sow the seeds, or become the plant?

EYEI just want to sow the seeds. I don't want to be a plant. I don't particularly want to have my leaves and flowers ripped off by those who can't handle new information and views. I don't want to be a leader or celebrity or anything like that. I certainly don't want people treating me like some wanky guru like they do with other dodgy musos with something to say. I want people to stop following leaders blindly and to question them and make up their own minds via a scientific process. That is, to gather information from a variety of perspectives and to avoid dogma.

You open Politics Can Be Fun Volume 1 with samples from the likes of John Howard and other politicians. Any problems with the usage of these samples, and has John Howard himself said anything of you and yours?

The main problem was having to listen to his voice over and over again. He-he. There haven't been any problems with using the samples except for the radio more or less boycotting the tune because they're worried about being spanked if the play it. Most (real) alternative media have supported it though.

As for John Howard, I doubt he's heard it. Even if he or his disciples have heard it, I think they'd steer away from doing anything about it. For that would bring lots of public attention to the issues EYE cover. There's a lot of cynicism and hatred in Australia for the major parties (even though many still mindlessly vote for them) so I think they're cautious to not add fuel to that sentiment. They certainly wouldn't want to bring attention to something that says: "kick the parties out, let's have real community democracy."

I know some of the other politicians, independents and minor party candidates, that EYE have sampled favorably on the disc have heard it. While not being their kind of music, I gather they enjoyed and approved of the content.

Besides yourself, are there any other artists we are hearing on Politics?

Well industrial music was originally very political, eg. Test Dept, Laibach, SPK, Consolidated, some Skinny Puppy. But that content seems to have died out during the 90s. The only striking exceptions that come to my mind are Australian bands Snog & Insurge. Each has their distinct style. EYE gets a lot more specific on issues. However, I've just received a great compilation called "Resist the Command" from a Californian label called Dystopian Records. It has 13 bands ranting intelligently about this, that and the other. Highly Recommended from me!

Where did the bulk of samples come from? Just where do you get your information from?

On the Politics... vol.1 CD, most of the dialogue samples were from the news and current affairs shows. For some of the earlier tracks, like Herd Under Social Hypnosis (which was first composed in 1993) some samples were from videos like Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky & the Media. EYE tend to take samples from "underground" info videos or cassettes cause they have the best info. Also, I expect they're keen to get recycled and not likely to sue! As for information sources, the references for my early 1992-97 articles and music propaganda were books in the university library, mail order books from small indie publishers, scientific journals as well as various magazines which focus on alternative perspectives. In recent years I've obtained some stuff from the WWW, but the WWW can be overwhelming.

I would expect that such statistics, such as found in your last CD track on Politics, that 90% of your country is owned by transnational corporations who pay less than 8% of tax there, is not something you can find in your local library.

Funnily enough that's where the info can be obtained from! From reports by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). I didn't dig that info up myself but from newsletters and books by people who did, a group called Austand (not that I share all their views). But the ABS reports are in the reference section of my local state library. Although, some of the exact info on foreign ownership is now harder to track down as the previous Prime Minister, Paul Keating, apparently put a halt to the publishing of such statistics...knowing full well that the public wouldn't be too happy about how the major parties have sold, or rather, given-away, Australia's assets to overseas big business.

You seem to hit three main political points: the destruction of mandate-style (fascist-style?) government; taxation, especially the Goods & Services Tax and the Transnational Corp. taxes; mining practices especially Uranium mining (and even name the culprit: General Atomics). There are others, but these seem to be the main three. Care to take some time to give these a talk without the music behind it?

I'll try and keep it brief! Actually the fundamental thing for me on that CD, as expressed in the tracks Party Politicians Part 1 & 2, is putting forward a more democratic alternative to the party system. That is, a system where voters nominate non-party candidates from within their local population. Consider that we presently don't really choose who we can vote for. This is already done for us by the private mafia-like political parties. So we end up having to choose between people we don't want to choose from. We KNOW they're going to break their election promises, ignore the voters until just before the next election when they'll lie merrily again, give their primary loyalty to the party-line, and that the major parties are pretty much the same - puppets of big business.

In the community-controlled parliament model the loyalty of the elected delegates will be foremost to the voters, not to a political party sect or those interests who shape the party line. These delegates can also be withdrawn if needed by the local community.

I'd also like to see Citizen's Initiated Referendum whereby the public can introduce laws or repeal them through a referendum. The referendum is initiated by obtaining the signatures of a certain percentage of the voting population. Some countries like Switzerland have this, as well as some U.S. states I gather.

Overall what this means is pulling power back from "leaders" and institutions to the grass-roots community level. It also means (shock! horror!) that we need to be more mature and involved in the decision-making that affects our lives.

The other stuff on the CD is kind of used as examples of how patronizing, authoritarian, anti-people and somewhat fascist our present party system is. For instance, the John Howard Coalition government retained power in the last election with a minority of the vote and is now imposing a new tax system and other major policies against the will of the majority of Australians. Another example is that foreign investors own most of our productive capacity yet pay very little tax while Australian businesses and the average person has to. I'm not xenophobic about this, I'm not against some foreign investment, it's a good thing in measure, but it's gone too far and is now an unlevel playing field.

EYE AgainWhat other main themes can we expect to hear about in your upcoming Politics Can Be Fun Volume 2? When do you expect this to be released?

As to whether that will be the next release or not - isn't certain yet. EYE have lots of material in the wings, versions of which are available from http://mp3.com/eye Also, Earth Liberation Front almost has an album ready for release and I'm keen to get that out too - time is the limiting factor! Nevertheless, Politics...vol.2 is shaping up to be more global in content. If there is a federal election later this year, then Politics 2 will most likely be released to coincide with that as there's a song on it called Fight Organised Crime - Abolish Political Parties that EYE wrote in 1996 and was meant to be on Poli...1 but I wasn't happy with that version. I'm keen to throw that one out into the public spotlight when everyone's in election fever.

Another thing you rail against - corporate music involvement. You offer your CDs for a low price that barely covers production costs. Have you had any dealings with corporate record labels or distribution groups that made you decide to go the self-distro route with your music and zine?

The only time EYE have approached a label and asked, "would you like to release or license this CD?" was to big Australian labels with the song Mandate! in early 1999. We said "we're going to release and promote this, but if you could do something better for us, then let us know." A few labels expressed interest while the bigger labels showed no interest, as all that they release is generic dance music, generic teeny-punk-pop or top 40 stuff.

EYE decided that we could do a better job of promotion and distribution than the labels who showed interest. For all they do is send out lists to record stores about their new releases and then if stores want them, then they'll send them. I'd call that passive distribution. So that means your CD just sits on a shelf gathering dust and you can't do anything much to get it into stores. So EYE self-released it, did the leg-work and managed to have the CD stocked in about 5 stores in every major city around the country. Meanwhile bands I know who brag "we got distribution with such and such" have got their CDs sitting on a warehouse shelf.

Doing it ourselves saves 25% of the wholesale costs which normally goes to distributors. Also, not being on a label, means we save a huge chunk 25-40% which is what they normally take. So instead of selling the CD for a normal retail price of $25, EYE can do it for $10. From a $10 retail price EYE receive about $4 after pressing costs, store commission and postage. 99% of bands who are released through a label and whose CD sells for $25-30 get about $1 back per CD. And from that $1 they have to repay their recording advance, and pay for lots of the promotional costs anyway. The public assumes that bands who are top of the pops are rolling in money. But the reality is that even some bands who have sold hundreds of thousands of CDs, the band members are lucky to make about $20,000-30,000 Aust. which equals about $11,000-$16000 U.S. which isn't much. Nevertheless, IF the label promotes the band properly, then they have a much greater chance of getting known and selling more units than someone like EYE - doing it ourselves.

It's hard to know what to try and sell a CD for. I wanted it to be cheap to encourage people to buy it and so students could afford it. But then you get the Catch 22, that people prefer to buy something that's got a huge price on it from a bigger label because they think "it must be better." That's why EYE specified on the CD cover "stop corporate rip-offs pay no more than $10 Aust for this CD" so that people would know it's cheap because EYE wanted it that way. The CDs have sold like hotcakes in Canberra and other parts of Australia. But that's involved so much promotional work and costs that EYE will probably just break even. The trick is to find the right balance between overhead costs - to get enough exposure to get people to know who you are and buy the CD - and the incoming revenue. I'd say self-released future CDs may be around $15 to $20 so as to actually make a bit of money to fund other projects.

Mind you, while I think anyone who just jumps into a label contract and sells away the rights to their creations (and future) without much thought is an idiot, EYE isn't opposed to signing to a label. I'd much rather be making music than doing all the promo and distribution work. It's exhausting and very time-consuming. So if EYE can find a label, and negotiate a satisfactory contract, I'm all for that. Moreover, I personally just don't have time over the next 12 months to do any of that nitty-gritty work. I have to concentrate on my day job to pay the bills!!

Your compilation release; I have yet to hear this one. Is the music here politically tinged or simply a darkwave/industrial release with no themes other than to promote the included artists?

The only politically-tinged song is EYE's Logo Identity (kill koka kola, annihilate muckdonalds). I s'pose Sterile's song Control is political too. I was with them in 1993 during their transition from being a metal-oriented-mega-cliched-lyric synth-metal band to become a somewhat political synth-industrial outfit.

Are all bands represented on this compilation Australian? Any favorites among them (besides Eye/aya of course)?

All the bands except 2 are Australian. The other 2 are Testube and infused from DSBP Records in the USA. As for favorites, I actually like all of them, but I guess I'd have to say my fave bands from it are Bride of the Atom and Fate Razor. I'll send you a copy soon! I'd love to put out more comp CDs, ranging from gothic & industrial through to electronic and ambient, as I'm sent lots of awesome self-released music through my radio shows and the zine. But there's never enough time to do everything I want to.

What's next for you and the rest of the BP group?

Well both EYE and the Earth Liberation Front have just released new CDs with Audio and MP3 files care of http://mp3.com/eye and http://mp3.com./elf respectively. Overall, the next 12 months may be fairly quiet. I'd love to get stuck into doing live stuff and releases but my life situation demands I concentrate on my day job (as much as I hate that I have to do it). However, Jane Citizen may have more time on her hands to keep the ball rolling. I'm going to concentrate on polishing up some recordings and approach some overseas labels for licensing. I'll personally be relatively free again in mid-2001 to get really stuck into it.

When's the third issue of Blatant Propaganda Zine out?

Hopefully in about July-August 2000. It's actually finished content-wise, just a matter of finding time to print it and put on-line too.

And what we've all been waiting for - how long do you think you have to live before your highly publicized political assassination at the hands of…well, whoever you pissed off the most?

Well, years ago I started to write a song called Assassinate me! but I kind of freaked out thinking about playing live after releasing that. It would attract loonies I'm sure. Then again, I recently finished an Earth Liberation Front track called CIA hypno-programmed robot assassin and a few friends are saying "Are you going to release that? You'll attract mega-paranoid loonies!!!" So, I guess it's just a matter of time...depends on when that aforementioned hitman recovers from the sniffles.

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