Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Kvlt Hypocrisy

"Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul." -Mark Twain

In the black metal world, there is a strong focus on being “kvlt”. For those who don't know, to be “kvlt” means to be as obscure and underground as possible. This usually involves refusing to go on tour, refusing to distribute your music online, and printing up only 100 copies of your album and releasing it through vinyl-only labels. The exact characteristics of “kvlt music” vary from person to person, but they usually involve lo-fi production, abrasive musicianship, strict adherence to the Norwegian sound, and a misanthropic philosophy. If any band dares to stray from this strict dogma, if they dare to use cleaner production or experiment musically or distribute their music online or delve into topics that don't involve Satan or death or murder or the like, then they are declared “unkvlt” and cast out of the community. The black metal community takes the concept of “kvlt” very seriously. Anything less is heresy.

How seriously can one take the concept of “kvlt”? Consider Vothana, a one-man black metal band from Minnesota (though the frontman originally came from Vietnam). He takes the “kvlt” concept to absurd levels of seriousness. Like many other bands of his type, Vothana limits his albums to around 100 hand-numbered copies, the production is extremely lo-fi, the music is abrasive, the philosophy is misanthropic, and he utterly refuses to distribute his music online. The last point is most relevant to the topic at hand. In 2007, Vothana released Hoang Gia, a two-song EP limited to 100 copies and sold only to those he deemed worthy. One of his customers happened to have a vinyl ripper and a fast internet collection. He adored the album, so he ripped it onto his computer and shared it with his friends online. Vothana eventually learned that people were downloading his music for free, and instead of doing something reasonable like printing up more copies to meet the unmet demand or selling digital copies of his music through legitimate sources such as iTunes, he destroyed the remaining physical copies of the EP, as he felt the “plebeians” on the internet weren't worthy enough to listen to his music.

Herein lies the “kvlt hypocrisy”: if you don't want those you deem “unworthy” to listen to your music, then why are you making music in the first place? Creating music and not letting most people listen to it is just absurd. I can understand printing up an extremely limited number of albums if there's not much demand or if you can't afford to print up more, but to print up very few albums just so the “unwashed masses” won't hear it reeks of a brand of elitism too obnoxious for words. Not letting anyone consume the fruits of your labor is wasteful and foolish. It's like painting a beautiful landscape and refusing to put it on display because you don't think the world is “worthy” enough to see it. Furthermore, you cannot stop people from sharing what they believe is great music. If art is good, someone will tell their friends how good it is, and from there the word will spread.

Luckily, more and more black metal bands are abandoning the “kvlt” dogma. They no longer care about being “kvlt”, they just care about making good music. Since they're not bound by dogma, these bands are able to do so many wondrous things with black metal. They now have the freedom to experiment and take the genre to bold new places. They are taking advantage of the internet to spread black metal across the world. They know that in this day and age, it is foolish to rely solely on physical music sales. They know that staying “kvlt” is a fool's errand and will get them nowhere.
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1 comment:

  1. Now that's just silly. If you're going to make music and not let anyone else listen to it, why would you even publish it in the first place?

    I have a 20-second "song" on my computer that I recorded a few years ago while trying out some new recording device. I didn't make it with the intent to release it to the public, so don't expect me to put out 100 copies of it on vinyl any time soon.