By: Eric Greenwood
Since the unexpected demise of Newgenics (a heavily-hyped, short-lived amalgamation of notable local musicians that put out one seven-inch on Level Plane Records), Columbia, South Carolina's Chris Bickel has kept a low profile. Well, low for Chris Bickel. Bickel still has a weekly karaoke stint, Mr. B's Goodtime Karaoke Explosion, and he has reunited sporadically with his infamous gay metal cohorts in Confederate Fagg, as well as fronting a Motley Crue tribute band. But, as far as the public release of original music is concerned, Bickel has been uncharacteristically unprolific the last few years.
All of that is about to change, as Bickel has just put out the first of an open-ended series of extremely limited edition, vinyl-only releases from his experimental pseudonym, Anakrid (the name of which stems from an ex-girlfriend's mangled pronunciation of Arachnid, which Bickel found ironically amusing since she prided herself in her pedantic, flowery vocabulary). Bickel fist began experimenting with compositional music in 1989 (with limited cassette-only releases debuting as early as 1990). Those familiar with Bickel's musical pedigree will note a significant duality in his modes of musical expression. As a dynamic frontman, he's always been heavily steeped in punk rock, but his solo records consistently veer more towards the esoteric.
Bickel says, "I got into stuff like that through punk rock, which led me to stuff like Throbbing Gristle, and that actually led me to a lot of 20th century classical." Bickel points to '50's composers like Stockhausen as references to what inspired this form of experimentation. I asked whether fans of his more traditionally "punk" bands like In/Humanity or Guyana Punch Line would be able to make the leap into appreciating Anakrid, which Bickel says is "hard to say", even though he views this music as a logical extension of punk's ethos: "I sort of see it as a part of punk rock that has nothing to do with punk rock."
And listening to it, one certainly would be hard-pressed to make the connection- at least sonically. This first Anakrid LP, Father, is anything but easy to describe. It's eerie, tribal, almost polyrhythmic yet not improvisational in the least. Bickel doesn't view his music as an excuse to wank off. It is deliberately composed. He eschews the use of conventional instrumentation, preferring found sounds, home-made instruments and pretty much anything that "makes a sound that can be sculpted and manipulated". I hear the abstract surrealism of Nurse with Wound or Current 93 in the creepy, industrial soundscapes, but there's certainly a thread of Stockhausen's electronic period, though it's not nearly as mathematical.
Bickel says he has hours and hours of music on tape that he pours over for new ideas: "A lot of the stuff that I work with is stuff that was recorded to four-track six or seven years ago, and I'll find maybe a one-second snippet that is really awesome and I'll sequence that in some way or loop it or manipulate it." If there is ever a normal instrument audible, it's certainly not played in an orthodox way.
Realizing that the audience for such challenging music is limited to say the least, Bickel has only pressed 350 copies of Father (featuring one of his notoriously "finished" paintings on the cover) on pristine 180 gram vinyl with no plans to repress. He has previously used grant money from USC to fund his Anakrid releases, but he plans to fund this vinyl series himself as long as he can afford to.
For those anxious for Bickel's less abstruse musical endeavors, he plans to fly out to San Diego in August to reunite with In/Humanity guitarist Paul Swanson "just to see what happens." Originally, Bickel and Swanson were asked to play as In/Humanity at a music festival in Philadelphia in late summer, but things fell through. Bickel is excited about the prospect of playing with his estranged friend again after so many years of no communication, but like anything in Bickel's illustrious career predicting a normal outcome is ill-advised.