November 5th, 2006


Fawkes Noose Network

In Britain tonight people will be burning effigies, building bonfires and releasing fireworks in memory of a failed terrorist plot; back in November 1605, disgruntled Catholic terrorists planned to blow up the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder. The scheme was discovered when one of the gang betrayed the others, including the notorious mercenary Guy Fawkes.

Although bonfires will be lit this evening across the UK, ostensibly, to celebrate the survival of the king and parliament, it's not hard to see some subconscious identification on the part of November 5th revellers with the fundamentalist extremists. After all, rather than celebrating the non-detonation of those 36 barrels by, say, extinguishing fires, we detonate gunpowder in a controlled way.

Larger-than-life criminals like Guy Fawkes are all-too-easy to identify with. They capture the public imagination. We like to narrate their crimes (I wonder why there's no Shakespeare play about Guy Fawkes?) and even re-enact them, albeit in safe, controlled conditions.

I wonder if one day there won't be popular celebrations involving Bin Laden? Will tiny sparklers impact tiny World Trade Center models made of cake, toppling them and smashing them into bite-sized chunks which children dressed as Osama will cheerfully devour? Perhaps it's already happening somewhere. Jeremy Deller may well have documented it.

Today will see sentence passed on Saddam Hussein, another "monster" we feel ambivalent about. (Yes, let's kill the man who seemed capable of doing what we can't: keeping fractious Iraq running relatively smoothly.) Will Saddam hang, as Aum Sect leader Shoko Asahara has been sentenced to do in Japan?

Believe it or not, Asahara was something of a kitsch cult hero to me and my then-wife Shazna ten years ago. Not for his sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway -- that was a terrifying and utterly pointless crime. But for the tinny, trivial little songs his sect circulated to keep up morale. On our Mac desktops we kept a file of a cute little song celebrating Asahara and the Aum Sect. It sounded like a national anthem played on a Casio, sung by a happy children's television presenter. It was stupid, sugary and sinister all at once. It undoubtedly influenced the ticky-tocky toytown style I came up with a couple of years later and called Analog Baroque.

The other day I discovered a webpage which collects dozens of Aum songs. Like Charles Manson, Shoko Asahara (real name Chizuo Matsumoto) fancies himself as something of a songwriter and poet. At first, Aum Sect music was exactly the sort of deeply sinister, cultish nightmare chant-fest you might expect:

An early piece which seems to say "We are very scary people indeed."

The introduction of the corny-fascist synth music and unabashedly bad singing which would become the hallmarks of Aum Sect music.

Can we really hear an Ennio Morricone influence in this one? I suppose the celebration of outlaws does bring us inevitably to spaghetti westerns. But drop the tone-deaf monk, guys.

Aum pays tribute to that other sinister cult, The Carpenters.

Friendly radio commentary from an Okinawan matsuri festival.

I swear this is an out-take from one of Robert Wyatt's worst albums.

A sort of War of the Worlds narrative followed by a very badly-sung solemn folk ballad. May contain not-so-hidden messages instructing you to kill people. After all, the title does sound a lot like "sarin".