CHAIN AND THE GANG
There is no figure in independent music today more paradoxical than Ian Svenonius, whose latest project, Chain and the Gang, will be playing at Frank this Friday.
Svenonius is clearly a serious craftsman: in the last 22 years, he has released 17 LPs in addition to a slew of singles, EPs and compilations, all brimming with political fervor and earnest iconoclasm. Still, as devoted as he is, his music sounds at times so whimsical and ironic that it’s hard to know how seriously to take it.
To take another example: his motivations for fronting a band are obviously ideological, as evinced by the left-wing intellectualism permeating his catalog. He’s even published a collection of his political essays, “The Psychic Soviet,” which he wrote to “clear up much of the confusion regarding events of the last millennium — artistic, geo-political, philosophical, et al.,” according to the introduction. Yet in a move of involuted irony, he has cast his new band as champions of shackles and enslavement.
The paradox extends to his music, too. “What do I think about rock and roll in its current state?” asks Svenonius in “Interview with the Chain Gang” from Chain and the Gang’s debut LP, Down With Liberty ... Up With Chains!. The response, sung in typical Svenonian deadpan over an exuberant rock beat, is appropriately self-defeating: “I try not to listen. I find it in poor taste.”
Might there be something more meaningful going on with this act beneath all the contradictions? The band’s official biography at the K Records website sheds some light on their purpose: “So just as they call it ‘liberty’ or ‘freedom’ when war and greed stalk the land, Ian Svenonius calls his band: Chain and the Gang.”
Svenonius may be misrepresenting himself to the world with his tongue-in-cheek band concepts, but he isn’t just playing games. He’s using rock music to raise a profound (if a bit simplistic) point about the rules of global politics, which permit world leaders to distract from their unsavory actions by using euphemistic language (see: “enhanced interrogation techniques”).
So when you go to see Svenonius perform this Friday, don’t just expect 90 minutes of quirky K Records music. Expect to see someone who has turned his persona into performance art with a political purpose. Still, it doesn’t hurt that the tunes are catchy. Check out “Not Good Enough” and “Detroit Music” from the most recent Chain and the Gang LP, Music’s Not For Everyone, before you let the lead singer’s weirdness scare you off.
Printed on Monday, April 2, 2012 as: Ian Sevnonius voices politics through music