Brutal Praise & Preach [2013-07-02]As a person of faith, Jim Baptizer is a marginal figure in an already marginal noise community. Not just a set of guiding principles that he keeps to himself, his politics and religious views are a large part of his power electronics project Baptizer. Jim’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever cross paths with, but when he performs, it’s a furious assault on the senses. Agree or disagree with his worldviews, there’s no denying that he’s a fascinating character. I appreciate Jim taking time to talk about his faith, politics, and the theatrics of his live performances
m[m]:How did you become involved with noise?
JB I first got involved with noise and experimental music after listening to projects such as: Throbbing Gristle, Controlled Bleeding, Zoviet France, and several others at about the age of fifteen. I thought I would try to dub some recordings of my own to tape and try to sell them at two experimental-friendly stores- one in Burlington, NC, and one in Greensboro, NC- at about the age of fifteen, so that was around 1990 or so. I called myself “Fading Light.” Nothing much became of that.
m[m]:You said Fading Light was your first experimental project back in the 90's. What was the genesis from this project to your current work as Baptizer?
JB When I started Fading Light, I was very much influenced by the acts I had been listening to early on: Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Nurse With Wound, and a handful of others. But it was a given that I would start developing my own style based off the sound sources I was using and the way I recorded. I did a lot of recordings on a cheap stereo that I discovered would play the auxiliary channel and record player at the same time, so I would multitrack in a sense by manipulating the records and running another device through the auxiliary. I managed to get a hold of a four track cassette recorder not long after and that of course opened up other possibilities. It was with the four track (and the layering possible with it) that actually helped me make things noisier at that time. I had yet to get into the kind of gear typically used by experimental and noise folks. So on Signs ov Apocalypse you will hear probably what will remain the greatest concentration of early recordings from that era. There was actually not a lot of use of what people consider typical noise and PE gear. It was largely the result of my earlier recording methods. Since the release of that CD (on Blondena Recordings), the sound of Baptizer has been changing because I do not simply rest on those archives, but constantly explore new sound sources as time allows. I guess I could briefly mention that I did two comp tracks under the name "Oswulf" before my conversion, but that is really the only thing I did under that name.
m[m]:Speaking of gear, what is a common setup for Baptizer?
JB The setup is constantly changing, but I like to break out the 5u modular system and larger pieces of metal, when they can be transported effectively. However, I'll probably only use the modules locally at this point. As I've said, each set is unique, and I have literally used every and anything including the kitchen sink as a sound source. Perhaps the only piece of gear I have used in almost all live performances has been an ancient Stanton DJ mixer because of the quickness with which I can switch channels, but I've considered retiring it for the next few performances to use a mixer I record on at home.
m[m]:You recently released Mind Kampf on TYP tapes. What is the inspiration or themes behind this release?
JB It is all about mental conflict- mind struggles! But those private mental struggles with frustration, anger, and alienation are not as private as they first appear. In Mind Kampf, such internal conflicts are connected with means of economic and political control that are ultimately amoral. Thus you'll find a statement in the zine insert that came with the tape that reads, "A climax in the struggle of the two natures within man is inevitable in the midst of a Dark Age that usurps Divine Tradition."
m[m]:You’ve said that for many years you operated in “artistic isolation”. Though this year has seemed pretty busy for you: performing in Austin at the Sux by Suxwest festival, doing a short tour through Florida, and getting higher profile shows in your home state. Do you still feel isolated?
JB No, not at all. The isolation that I once experienced was largely due to institutional and chemical confinement.
m[m]:I’ve seen you perform 3 times now. Each set was memorably full of onstage theatrics, from pelting the audience with raw meat to showering the audience with fake blood. Have these theatrics always been a part of the Baptizer live performance?
JB Not at first. It was after my first live performance that I realized I wanted some element of interaction with the audience. That gradually led to the use of different items such as those you've mentioned.
m[m]:I guess there’s a fine line to tread between doing things for purely “shock value” and doing things that have a specific purpose and meaning. What are your motivations for the theatrics and what have been some of your more outlandish performances in recent memory?
JB My motivations are religious and political. It probably goes without saying that blood can be symbolic of many things, but for me it is usually a way to symbolize the blood of the innocent and, more specifically, the blood shed by the United States empire and the global oligarchs behind it. Then of course there is the blood shed by Christ for the sake of this fallen world. Although the things I make use of are perceived by some as random at times, they are never combined in a random way.
JB The most outlandish moments during Baptizer sets, in my opinion, happen when members of the audience get involved to the point that they have fully thrown themselves into the experience. There are a couple of performances that stick out in my mind- when the spectators have accepted my offers to take up the tools I have brought in order to unleash destruction. A piece of junk metal became the platform of catharsis for several spectators at one show on the coast of North Carolina. The change in their moods was extremely intense. At another show at which I opened for Eugenics Council in my home state, it was thrilling to see a relatively mild-mannered friend lose his composure when wielding an axe on my pretend ballot box. Other audience members wailed on sheet metal to the point that fake and real blood flowed together. I do not endorse the intentional drawing of blood, but I also recognize that it happens- I have drawn my own as well- but although I do not endorse any sort of self-mutilation, it IS evidence that those involved have immersed themselves in the moment. At that show, although I also became immersed in the moment, I remember how great the separation of passive observers and active participants was. It was like the parting of a sea. Heh heh.
m[m]:Is there ever pressure to try to one up yourself for every performance?
JB Only in terms of the set itself. I don't do real, extensive tours because of other obligations in my life, so each live performance means a lot to me, and I always do a different set each time. So in that sense I do put pressure on myself. I want each live set to be unique.
m[m]:I’m sure you must have pissed off some show organizers along the way. Do you warn them in advance?
JB About 80% of the time, I do let them know I might get a little messy, but I guess it's getting to the point that people expect me to do something a bit unusual.
JB To my knowledge, I've only truly pissed off one venue owner, but he was quite frankly an idiot, allowing a noise fest at his venue and then getting offended by the volume level of almost every act. Luckily, Youthful Masturbation Techniques went on after me and offended him even more!
m[m]:Before ever hearing your music, I had heard you described as “Christian Power Electronics.” Do you feel that’s an accurate description?
JB I think that depends on people's perspective. I am Christian, but some Christians and non-Christians alike seem to disapprove of the mixture of religion and political motives that is inextricably linked to Baptizer. The position of "don't mix politics and religion" is a very misleading and illusory stance to take. It's inevitable that one's political views be influenced by one's moral code.
JB Also on the negative end of the term is how dismissive it might be for some. I won't be one to say that categories and labels are all bad. They can be useful. However, labels can be a source of overgeneralization just as the term "fascist" can be. It is a way to write off a wide array of belief systems and atrophies depth of thought. As a dismissive term, I've noticed some use it to make assumptions about me and what I believe. I have been called "conservative," for instance, because of my position on abortion, and in turn others assumed I am as a whole a neo-conservative when in fact that label does not apply.
JB Nevertheless, I can see the term "Christian power electronics" as useful in that I will not hide my religious beliefs, so it lets people know a little of what I'm about and it is sort of expected that a person involved with power electronics will be exploring modes of thought that are not always looked upon in a positive way anyway. Those who are familiar with power electronics can expect some form of unsavory content as a result. As far as accuracy goes, "Christian separatist power electronics" or "theocratic decentralist power electronics" might be better, but that's probably too nit-picky!
m[m]:As far as Christian noise or Christian power electronics goes, is this a large or burgeoning scene? I think everyone is familiar with Clang Quartet and yourself, but are you guys alone in the world or is it a bigger genre than people might be aware of?
JB I think it is a little more widespread than people are aware. It is really only recently that I have been contacted by quite a few people who are Christian and into these genres, so even I was not fully aware of how many of us are out there! I would simply prefer to not be in a clique of some sort (the downfall of early, genuine punk in my opinion). As I've said, many of the projects I enjoy the most are not Christian. I'm fortunate to have played and worked with some artists that I actually listened to for years while in those periods of isolation, and it didn't matter at all that their perspective on Christianity was different.
m[m]:How much does your faith inform your art? How would you describe your faith or religious philosophy?
JB My faith is definitely a major aspect of Baptizer; hence the name of the project. Specifically, I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian. However, in identifying myself, I feel I should insert a disclaimer here that many- or perhaps most- of my brothers and sisters do not share all of my political views. As an American convert who was zealously anti-Christian, my political views have been shaped at various stages by such theories as left Marxism, syndicalism, and radical traditionalism. Still I consider the beliefs I hold to be compatible with Traditional Christianity. Christ did of course die for all, but it has also been written that not everyone will accept Christ. I do not look down on anyone who falls into the latter category, but I do feel that the faith deserves to be defended, and the idea of decentralized, small, yet culturally cohesive communities allows for this. So just as I viewed political and economic centralization as a major enemy of the human race as an anti-Christian, I still do, but through a different lens.
m[m]:Given your religious inclinations, do you ever feel alienated from a scene that’s largely apathetic if not openly hostile to religion? Have you ever been denied a show because of this?
JB I don't think I've ever been denied a show because of that and I don't feel alienated at all! I've been listening to and identifying with the spheres of industrial and noise for many years, so I really feel no different within those spheres now than when I first became involved with them. With the exception of very few, the people I have met since starting Baptizer have all been really cool. Most of the people that I listen to are not exactly friendly to Christianity anyway! If the sound is good, the sound is good! Likewise, if people are civil and open-minded, it doesn't matter to me what their worldview is. And anyway, I didn't enjoy stuck up, self-righteous people before I became Christian, and I still don't, so I would rather not become one.
m[m]:Sticking to personal philosophy, you’ve been described as a “militant survivalist.” What do you believe we should be preparing for?
JB Global capitalism is destined for disaster. No system is forever and it is naive to think that our own civilization is somehow invincible to the divinely ordained laws of nature. In the midst of our comfort and convenience we gradually become more dependent on the Beast for life's necessities, but at the same time most in turn are becoming more and more ignorant of how to acquire those necessities themselves. It is inevitable that this system will break down, so if people are concerned for their families and others, they should at least take steps toward preparing for that breakdown. The steps they take might be small- a little at a time- but if individuals reclaim skills associated with survival and homesteading, the next generation has something to build on if social and economic turmoil has not completely unfolded yet. This is something I have to remind myself of. Ideally I would be farther along in regaining the knowledge of deceased elders, but the modern world places limitations on all of us.
m[m]:In addition to a noise artist, you’re a family man. Is your family supportive of your artistic endeavors? And what do they think of your “music”?
JB Yes, my family is supportive. My wife has helped in a few behind-the-scenes ways with Baptizer, such as occasionally contributing vocals. The boys have also contributed vocals, but you will also hear their guitar experiments in the background on an upcoming compilation track. Although they like some noise and power electronics, they seem to prefer neo-folk and black metal....for now!
m[m]:In your regular life you’re a teacher. What grade do you teach and what made you want to pursue that vocation?
JB I prefer not to get too specific about professional tasks, but yes, I am in academia. That is another experience that has shaped my political views in many ways! I chose to pursue it out of trial and error- I've worked in quite a few different jobs, from manufacturing to more "white collar" jobs. Education turned out to be my station in life!
m[m]:What’s on the horizon for Baptizer? Releases? Shows?
JB There might be a lull in live performances for a couple of months, which tends to happen, but if those with labels continue to take an interest, I am ready with over two decades of artillery at my disposal. There are a couple of releases being finalized right now as well as some compilation appearances I'm happy about. While the internet still functions, we'll use it to disseminate more information about these upcoming works. Check the usual avenues such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp. And then of course there's Facebook. I know it's a cesspool of narcissism, but the Baptizer page is still free to maintain for now!
Thanks again to Jim for taking some time to answer my questions.
Baptizer Selected Discography:
Instructions for the Removal of Malignancies - Pro CDr (Open Wound Network System)
Baptizer/Christopher Feltner/Clang Quartet “Vessels” ý- CDr (Seven 1878)
Inter Uterine Asphyxiation - Digital Release (Seven 1878)
Mind Kampf - Cassette (TYP Tapes)
Signs ov Apocalypse - CDr (Blondena)
Baptizer / Carl Kruger - 3” CDr (Petite Soles)
Contact: hereHal Harmon
Samples of his music can be found here: http://www.blondenamusic.com/baptizer.html