Apocalypse Now (and Then)

Theme-based weekend on catastrophe in pop culture

In the current catastrophies and gobal events the far-reaching overall changes of the past 25 years become more and more acute. Depending on the perspective they are being interpreted as a crisis or a chance for a new beginning. We experience a boom in apocalyptic discourse on almost all levels of political, philosophical and artistic discourse.

Conventionally pop culture is seen as escapist and far from reality. Even prior to its birth in the 1950ies it was particularly close to the end. This could have a simple reason that its protagonists often forget about. Was the invention of rock’n’roll and of the teenager itself not an (unconscious) reflex on the manifold fissures in civilization during World War II and the collapse of a world order?
It seems to be worth mentioning that consequently pop has always had its strongest moments when a world fell apart. This was the case when the havoc of the Vietnam War fuelled the counter-culture of the Sixties. The apocalyptic attitude of punk was linked to a dawning end of industrialism, the decay of urban spaces and the downfall of an ideology of unlimited growth.
In the domain of Afro-diasporic music the “Armageddon” is ubiquitous in such diverse genres such as gospel and blues, in the jazz of Sun Ra or in the hip hop of Public Enemy and the Wu-Tang Clan. It reacts to the obvious fact that for the Black part of the population human trafficking and slavery were the entrance ticket to the Northern American society.
At the other end of the cultural and political range an array of songwriters with Jewish background can be found. They relate to the tradition of negative prophecy from the Old Testament. In his song “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” (early Sixties) Bob Dylan describes the nuclear fallout as Biblical rain. Three decades later Leonard Cohen laconically commented on the fall of the Berlin Wall with: “I’ve seen the future, and it’s murder”.
Not just since the nuclear explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki has culture in Japan been in the grasp of traumatic experiences. The Japanese language may not know a word that signifies “catastrophe”, but whether it is the folklore-art of mangas, Kurosawa’s samurai battles, the storm of noise by extreme musician Merzbow or the Godzilla-films: Japan has outsourced its knowledge of apocalypse into its culture.

With a three-day theme weekend Christoph Gurk and Tobias Rapp explored how pop narrates the end of the world. Against the background of current scenarios of crises cultural theoreticians and artists like Simon Reynolds (Los Angeles), Christina Striewski (Frankfurt am Main), Greg Tate (New York), Jens Balzer (Berlin), Dietmar Dath (Freiburg im Breisgau), Atsushi Sasaki (Tokyo), Tracey Rose (Johannesburg) or Diedrich Diederichsen (Vienna and Berlin) took a closer look at the traces of apocalyptic discourse in the history of this cultural formation which is now comprising 50 or more years.
Whoever approaches the codes of the catastrophic will learn a lot about the way in which pop culture refers to the world, even if it is only in a gesture of its rejection. Perhaps these visions of a fall want to tell us that the end is not near, but has always been happening. And that behind the recurring discourse about a dawning end it is fear that the past could repeat itself. In such a case the apocalypse would be, according to the cultural theoretician Hartmut Böhme, “the plague that it is talking about itself”.

The discussion programme was accompanied by concerts and DJ-sets.

Artistic director: Christoph Gurk; Curator: Tobias Rapp


Hebbel am Ufer

Stresemannstraße 29

10963 Berlin

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