Starvation Wages is self-described ‘Anarcho-Techno’,
a new protest music rooted in topical expression.
Jason Dean is soundtracking the twilight of late-period
capitalism and the beginning of an unknown future…
Innovation… and continuity.
A century of insurrection.
There are 1,276 critic-approved words to describe the sound of the electric guitar, used in various re-combinations since the dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Those permutations are now exhausted. Time to move on. Jason Dean is a long-time veteran of the Seattle music scene. Now he resides in Burlington, Vermont, and he’s become Starvation Wages, evolving at new tangents reconfigured with an arsenal of synthesizers and samples to target the mind and the body.
When the Dada artists’ manifesto proclaimed burning down Art Galleries it was intended more as a Year Zero symbolism rather than an actual threat, a provocative slogan, in the same way that the Sex Pistols didn’t really wanna destroy passersby. Although it’s a useful stance. Is the future dream really no more than a shopping scheme?
‘Marketplace Fear’ is the debut EP from Starvation Wages, evolved through live performance, honed during the height and depths of the pandemic years, as a project thriving in underground DIY spaces, illegal warehouse raves and dance clubs.
‘Starvation Wages is fusing together a variety of elements in the more marginalized and underground worlds of music and politics. Celebrating some of the past’s great innovators and putting my own spin on it here in 2023. Thank you for giving it a listen and for your thoughtful comment’ says Jason graciously. ‘I heard the phrase ‘starvation wages’ first from a speech by Martin Luther King Jr, but it was also picked up by Bernie Sanders during the 2006 campaign. I was attracted to it because it encapsulates much of our late-stage capitalist world.’
The semantichrist video for the track ‘Anatomized’ and its remix, crawls with images of resistance to repressive totalitarian, lines of Perspex riot shields and visored helmets. Judge Dredd and ‘V For Vendetta’. Batons, banners, a missile ascending, people in motion in grainy streaked animation. Protest and survive. The terminal countdown. ‘Ev’rywhere I hear the sound of marching charging feet… the time is right for fighting in the street… what can a poor boy do, except sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band?’
The music’s ‘focus on analogue sounds is a large component in the creation of tracks for Starvation Wages,’ he explains. ‘It’s a combination of samples from politically based sources acknowledging and expanding the radical nature inherent in the music. My influences for it were equally born in both marginalized and underground Black and Queer spaces in places like Detroit, as well as the charged political environment that gave rise to groups like Kraftwerk.’
Jason has played in various Punk and Indie bands, one of which – Mutiny Mutiny (including 2009s excellent five-track digital EP ‘Undefined’) was praised by post-Punk critic Jason M Heller at the AV Club, among other sites and zines. ‘Mutiny Mutiny was definitely on the more Indie side of things’ he recalls. ‘I’m incredibly proud of the band, but basically, our bass player was attending school and didn’t have as much time or focus for the band. We had a difficult time finding a consistent drummer. And it felt like the traction and notice we did get we weren’t able to capitalize on – as a band, with older folks who had more family and partner commitments. The larger interest kind of bypassed us at the time. But Mutiny Mutiny ended up lasting about eight years, after which it had run its course. A pretty great run, which again I’m really proud of.’
‘Meanwhile, I’d been interested in electronic music and producing electronic music for quite some time’ he continues. ‘At first it seemed a very computer-based largely digital world that had been dominant since the nineties, just looking at a computer screen, which I didn’t find particularly attractive. And analogue synthesizers were quite pricey. I was interested in doing a solo project where I’d only be tied by my own limitations regarding performing, touring, releasing music. Around this time, probably about 2016 or so, there were a lot of reasonably priced analogue synthesizers coming onto the market from the likes of Korg and other manufacturers. This led to a renewed interest in electronic music for me. The idea that I could buy a synth for maybe $300 or so and have a piece of hardware to manipulate and perform with also lended itself to a Punk Rock approach to electronic music. Essentially like buying a cheap guitar and starting to bang out chords and start a band. I bought these relatively inexpensive synthesizers and let them dictate a direction to a certain extent. Whatever I got out of them was going to be ‘my sound’ which of course was informed by my interest in the darker, noisier side of electronic music. It all started to coalesce in an exciting way.’
Starvation Wages began from the ethos that – explicitly or implicitly, all techno and industrial music is protest music that expands into the wider discourse of the twenty-first century. It takes cues from the likes of Alec Empire’s Atari Teenage Riot, the personal politics of groups like Throbbing Gristle, and the explicit takedowns of the Bush administration by nineties era Ministry. ‘Yes, big influences for me are the early wave of EBM bands, Frontline Assembly, Front 242 and the like. Throbbing Gristle as well. The early industrial wave. Coil, so many pioneers. I just watched that Killing Joke documentary (‘The Death & Resurrection Show’, 2013, reissued 2020), of course they’re more on the post-Punk side, I think it came out several years ago, but I missed it at the time.’
‘Vermont has a pretty great music scene but is dominated by a lot of Punk and Metal with a decent amount of jam bands mixed in. This is where Phish got their start’ Jason explains. ‘The New England area also has a pretty thriving noise scene as well. Although finding an audience for the industrial techno/EBM (Electronic Body Music) side of things can be a bit difficult. Montreal is close by and the scene for that is much more active. I’ve been working on trying to find an entry point into the community up there. But Vermont is probably the closest place I’ve been in that actually has what I would call a ‘scene’, especially in the Punk/Hardcore/Metal community. There’s not a lot of bands but everyone shows up for the shows regardless and you see pretty much the same people at all of them. It strikes me in a similar way as a lot of people talked about Seattle before the Grunge explosion (I was a bit young to be active in the Seattle scene at that time).’
‘Marketplace Fear’ is both a statement against the cut-throat dystopian free market, and a synonym for agoraphobia, a condition from which Jason suffers – ‘agora’ is a Greek word that means ‘market place’. He composed all the music and plays all the instruments on the album, in Seattle and Vermont, mixing and mastering it with Brandon Busch (of Sojourner, Mutiny Mutiny, Detroit Breakout!).
The intention was to create an album giving voice to ‘Anarchists and critics of American imperialism’. And Jason’s Punk take on industrial techno is the perfect format for songs like ‘Exarcheia’, which was ‘inspired by a trip to Greece not long after there were protests and riots in response to the austerity imposed there when it became financially troubled.’ There are sounds of panic, foreign-language voice samples, stabbing electro, the ‘black-&-red star of the anarchists’, both left-wing, countercultural and highly danceable. ‘I happened to be there right between a couple of the more active periods, and during that time the tension was palpable. They had the Riot Police lined up around Syntagma Square and stationed in Exarcheia. Seemed like they were just waiting for the next round of actions. It took me back to the days of WTO in Seattle (the waves of World Trade Organisation anti-globalisation protests). I love Greece and it’s heart-breaking to see what the country has been put through with the austerity packages imposed by the IMF (International Monetary Fund), but the people there have a strong spirit. I found it very inspiring, like I do a great number of protests and actions that typically take place outside of the US.’
The first single, ‘Anatomized’, fades into a head-kicking rhythm track, then quotes Allen Ginsberg in a context of how America wages war on both its own citizens and those abroad. Ginsberg is the Beat Generation poet with a penchant for sitting cross-legged naked armed only with his Buddhist finger-cymbals. Ginsberg’s poem ‘America’ (Berkeley, 17 January 1956) catches the total flavour of 1950s Cold War nuclear paranoia, ‘I can’t stand my own mind, America when will we end the human war? Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb’ (from ‘Selected Poems 1947-1995, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2001). ‘Though the Cold War is considered history and the atomic threat somewhat diminished since Ginsberg wrote that iconic ‘go fuck yourself with your atom bomb’ line, which is sampled in the track, America continues to use the equivalent of this most destructive of weapons on its own citizens every day. The damage caused by the consolidation of wealth, omnipresent racism, inequality, and the anaemic funding of social services compared to military defence budgets is the new atomic bomb and it still begs the question, ‘America, when will you end the human war?’.’
This writer loves Ginsberg’s poem ‘America’. Has it been a favourite of Jason’s, or did someone else draw it to his attention? ‘I’m a long-time Ginsberg fan’ he enthuses. ‘I met him in 1994 at a poetry reading and he signed my ‘Collected Poems’ book which I cherish. Ginsberg was very sweet. The whole poem is brilliant, but that line really jumps into your consciousness.’
Is it a direct lift of Ginsberg’s own voice used for the sample? ‘Indeed it is! That is actually a sample of him reading, but it has some processing on it so that might have thrown you off.’
The next track, ‘Occupy-Revolt’, detonates distortion and clean dancefloor beats, with swimming voice-samples from the Occupy movement that brought cities to a halt, machinegun etiquette style. ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ samples a certain Mr Zuckerberg, in ways that Sheffield experimentalists Cabaret Voltaire once did with ‘Spies In The Wires’ on their 1984 ‘Micro-Phonies’ album (the Cabs also quote Beat writer William Burroughs on their ‘Do Right’). Words are noise, as Mutiny Mutiny once pointed out.
‘Awesome’ Jason enthuses. ‘I do know Cabaret Voltaire but I definitely need to dive deeper onto their catalogue, thank you so much! Burroughs is such a great source for samples. Oh Wow! That’s tremendous! That voice!’
And Mr Zuckerberg? ‘I use social media kind of sparingly, especially Facebook’ he admits. ‘Chris (Estey, PR) and the publicity folks wanted me to set up pages, I don’t know. I’m not super-thrilled about having to partake in that whole area of being an artist today that. I definitely appreciate the direct engagement that is possible with fans on social media. It’s the establishment and the push to find those people that can be a bit of a slog in our saturated world.’
In total, there’s positivity to the message ‘Another world is possible!’… that the future is up for grabs, that we can shape a better tomorrow through our own strivings, that ours is a ‘late-stage capitalist world…’ This writer approves of that a lot. ‘I do too!’ says Jason. ‘I think it’s an important way to frame… I’m not entirely sure what I would call it now, the struggle, the resistance, the revolution? It is foreshadowing because we are in the throes of late-stage capitalism, and it is important that we ask questions of what the next world should look like. Because the collapse is inevitable and as more and more people really begin to realize it, we can’t be defeatist or become victims to futility and passivity. The tipping point is not far off. We really seem to be past the threshold of any sustainability in regard to the current capitalistic system. The late-stage is playing itself out and the segment of the population it is affecting – the precariat class is growing quickly (the precariat is a social class comprised of people who are in a state of precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, McJobs, zero-hour and short-term contracts, minimum-wage), and the younger generations have realized that the current system has nothing to offer them. I like to think that a meaningful segment of people are just going to start saying fuck it, this is broken beyond repair so what are we going to build next?’
‘Thank you so much for your interest in my music’ he winds down. ‘Right now I’m going to be heading out for the evening. It’s the one-night-a-month Goth night here in Vermont. It’s a small but mighty group of folks in the Goth community here. Which kind of dovetails back into your first question…’
Starvation Wages is self-described ‘Anarcho-Techno’, a new protest music rooted in topical expression. Jason Dean is soundtracking the twilight of late-period capitalism and the beginning of an unknown future. ‘Dystopia or Utopia, we’ll decide,’ he says, ‘in the meantime, the long-time Anarchist slogan provides constant inspiration – ‘Another world is possible!’.’
Innovation… and continuity.
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
‘Marketplace Fears’ by Starvation Wages
(1) ‘Exarceia’ 4:18
(2) ‘Anatomized’ 4:31
(3) ‘Occupy-Revolt’ 3:52
(4) ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ 4:13
(5) ‘Anatomized’ 4:31
Produced by Jason Dean, mixed & mastered by Brandon Busch at Sound Media Pro
Limited edition twelve-inch clear vinyl
Don’t Quit Your Day Job (2013)
Stranded At The Drive-In (2013)