Anamanaguchi: Nostalgia as Religion
I’ve made plenty of remarks over the past few years about contemporary party culture and the Dionysian. The one Nietzsche talks about in The Birth of Tragedy, which he cites as everything abstract and subjective, mystical and of music. About how partying, drinking, drug use, raves – the modern orgia – and the general chaos of being young (or acting young) and being bad (or acting bad) is directly related to the ancient Greek rituals of Dionysius, the god of debauchery and license. By losing one’s self and merging with the collective spirit, one is able to transcend physicality and consciousness and possibly encounter something mystical. This is how the ancient Greeks saw it (and I guess Nietzsche and Wagner – I’ll get to them later), anyway, and I’m hard-pressed to disagree.
Last night, I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite bands, Anamanaguchi, in concert. It was pretty great. While the band played chiptuned guitars, a holographic montage of bad media and 90s computer graphics splayed behind and around the stage, a neon and aggressive altar. The crowd raged, pogoed, drank, crowd surfed, danced, and generally had a good time. At one point, a member of the band sent a prominent fluorescent neon light into the audience, which proceeded to be raised by the crowd, kids riding it, a modern horah.
For many of Anamanaguchi’s fans, the music is nostalgic. To claim that the band’s music is simply old video game nostalgia would be a disservice to the band and its music though. There’s many layers at work here. The NES inspired and powered music does not emulate what a video game sounds like, but instead incorporates that sound with elements of power pop, indie rock, surf rock, and new rave sounds. Visuals are also incorporated into the Anamanaguchi experience, from album covers to the band’s website, a hodgepodge of Lisa Frank colored social media and totally tumblr 90s computer art and design. Not to mention their music video for “Meow,” a hyperactive and visually stimulating homage to Saturday morning cartoon blocks, Chuck E. Cheese, Japanese culture, and growing up and being twenty-something in 2013. It’s like living in the internet and surviving off Pixy Stix, pizza, and sound waves. The visuals are in no way necessary to understanding and appreciating the music, but they do elevate the experience.
There was a moment during the concert where the audience began chanting the word pizza. It was at this moment that I noticed something mystical beginning to happen. I’ve been to plenty of concerts, from local synth rock gods Vice Grip, to the Rochester Philharmonic, to fucking Macklemore. One of my all time favorite concert experiences (this is pretty funny) was seeing post-hardcore pop punk Senses Fail in Syracuse not too long ago. The crowd was intense from years of listening to the band, everyone knew every word of every prom queen killing song, and there was a real high energy of eighth grade, 2004 nostalgia. Most people would probably disagree with me, but there’s certainly something religious about a hundred kids screaming “Just like the lady in the blue dress/you’ve got cigarettes on your breath/hair spray and some cheap perfume.” That kind of energy, no matter how goofy it might seem, shouldn’t be dismissed.
The Anamanaguchi concert was on a completely different level of mysticism, however, and this is the essential argument. Since the songs don’t really have lyrics, there were moments of crowd chanting (like during the song “Prom Night”). But possibly more important is what was happening to the bodies of the audience. There was not a moment of idleness from the crowd, which quickly delved into a semi-religious ecstasy. Describing Anamanaguchi’s sound is difficult. It’s both otherworldly and intensely human. It takes the life affirming and fun nature of pop and rock music and applies it in a way that is so harmonious, dramatic and simple, tragic and blissful – it’s all-encompassing. I’ve always toyed with the idea of God being related to sound and waves (probably too much Xenosaga for my own good), but the music of Anamanaguchi is the sound of God, the band members a humble and young Jesus spreading love and good times to wayward sheep, aka me, my friends, and other kids my age.
What was also striking about the concert were the visuals – the neon altar behind and surrounding the band. Everything and all things were being displayed on the screen and the holographic cubes – pizza, game graphics of a castle, anime girls, a glitchy video of a kid doing skate tricks, pixelated cats, growing flowers, a globe transfixed on a floating cube, a car graphic, a neon pink rotating Buddha statue over a mishmash of other google images – the list is wild and never ending.
These visuals work on two levels, the first being nostalgia. This nostalgia for 90s culture, the childhood of the band (I’m assuming) and its fans. This nostalgia fuels our tumblr generation. While some outlets could dismiss this as mere hipsterism, I would strongly argue for the importance and cultural significance of contemporary youth trends, in particular our quest to collect and display nostalgic imagery (even if that nostalgia isn’t really your nostalgia). The second and probably more compelling level is the idea of the all-encompassing. While the imagery has aesthetic motifs, a lot of it does seem to be picked at semi-random (don’t read too closely into any of it), but there is a definite totality in its diverse subject matter and presentation. The video loop of the kid skating at night which opened the show, for instance, covers a lot of ground in terms of a world and cultural narrative. It’s a real video of a real kid doing skate tricks at a skatepark at night. This juxtaposes with the clip/video game/CG art to create a fully fleshed out zeitgeist (oh boy) – our spirit of the age. These visuals celebrate all aspects of life in a neon tinted, hyper-paced, loud motion. It reflects (and allows us to reflect on) our tumblrite notions of interacting with the all-encompassing as we struggle with self and identity in the internet age.
The language of tumblr is inherently all-encompassing and therefore carnivalistic. Carnivalization equates to polyglossic language and imagery. Anything and all things important to the culture (our culture) are included and worshipped. Tumblr (a microcosm of the internet) is an online festival and celebration. Festivity is closely related to religiosity and spirituality. Tumblr has become a virtual cathedral where everyone is her or her own leader and savior, roles that are interchangeable with the ease of a clicking on a link or a reblogging. The imagery, actions, and music of the Anamanaguchi concert embody and center around this festival.
It is important to address why nostalgia can become religious ritual, as well as to address why Anamanaguchi’s music can become God. This again can be related to Nietzsche and in particular Wagner. Richard Wagner, German opera composer of the mid-nineteenth century, was both a composer and a philosopher. He sought to combine all arts into one gesamtkunstwerk – a total work of art that would be moving, ideal, and in relation to the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, which he thought were perfect pieces of art. Wagner felt all other contemporary opera was a joke and essentially immoral. He wanted to turn the theater into the new church, make art the new, incorruptible religion. Of course Nietzsche, the eternal adolescent, loved this. God was dead (duh), after all, in Nietzsche’s time, and the trend of secularization continued to expand exponentially through the twentieth century. Wagner was not an atheist by any means – art was his religion, he himself the prophet. While his operas are insidiously powerful, and certainly had an extreme impact on modernism, Wagner never quite replaced all religion the way he intended.
So, why does internet culture become religion? In part because our generation is probably the least god-fearing group of yolo escapists western tradition has ever encountered. God is dead and his grave plot long forgotten. Spirituality has been reduced to an ironic joke to the ill-informed, a distant goal for a select few. Social media has placed the everyday on a holy scale, liberating man to an almost diminishing level. This is not negative criticism, but observation and record keeping.
Without a ceiling deity, and this has been happening for centuries really, man becomes his own god. Kids of my generation post on social media. They scour the internet all afternoon, looking for GIFs. They eat pizza because they love pizza and all that it entails. A person’s subjective reality is made up of their past encounters. Kids are built of their own nostalgia. In placing 90s memorabilia on one’s tumblr, one is asserting the significance of one’s self. By worshipping this nostalgia, one is worshipping one’s self. The sounds and the total experience of Anamanaguchi embody these themes, in a lively and frankly fun, convincing way. Anamanaguchi brings order where there was no order. It promotes life and love in a possibly otherwise egocentric environment.
When the fluorescent light tube made its way through the crowd during the concert, kids climbed on top of it and rode it while the crowd held it up. At first one person did it, then a few more. At one point, three boys sat on it at once. It bore an inscrutable parallel to Jesus and the events surrounding the crucifixion. The cross, now a neon tube of color, is held up by the entire room rather than simply carried by Jesus. His suffering has been forgotten (at the moment, anyway). There is no suffering. It is turned on its side rather than stood upright, so that people can sit on it like a ride rather than be crucified upon it. Kids take turns riding it, and more than one can go at a time. Everyone in the crowd instagrams the scene, the music still overwhelming the tightly packed room. Rather than the crucifixion of Jesus, which is arguably the most important moment in human history, with its themes of death and atonement, this scene at the Anamanaguchi concert signifies a different kind of rebirth of spirituality, a more contemporary version, a version that could only be possible after the twentieth century, after God died, after the World Wars and Vietnam, after 9/11. It is a highly contemporary version of the Dionysian ritual, a letting go of the self and becoming one with the whole of humanity, whether its the entirety of the internet or just all the kids in Water Street Music Hall. It’s of high importance either way.
Kick-ass show btw-