I get the impression Jvnko is a little blindsided by her success. As are most of us. She went from making albums only her friends would hear to making the most anticipated jungle record of 2020 overnight. If you look at her twitter right now it's mostly her screaming at racists & antisemites from 4chan, the website much of her fanbase seems to come from. She changed the cover of one album about six times, and removed one of her albums from her youtube & bandcamp in response to complaints about its disturbing content, but then returned it, then she said "people will complain if I keep it up, and they'll complain if I take it down."
As Spider-Man tells us, with great power comes great responsibility, but becoming a viral internet star must feel like great responsibility coming with no power at all. It remains to be seen if Sewerslvt's algorithm alms will translate into industry success and financial stability - it didn't for Mia Khalifa (who didn't make any money from being pornhub's #1 most searched actress of 2014), or Porpentine (who still lives on the breadline). But while Porp became a media darling (because back then being a trans was edgy, which, to her frustration, was all they wanted to talk about), the music press doesn't seem to have touched Jvnko. And we're not surprised - where would they put their hands? Morally complicated work doesn't look good on glossy pages. While most people got the picture that Laibach weren't fascists after a few years, it turned out that Death in June really were, and the music press developed a nervous tic about the ambiguities of the 80s & 90s underground. Who are we promoting? More importantly, how will it look? So the same liberal humanism that made transsexuality acceptable made transsexuals off limits, because trans girls tend to be homeless or traumatized and talk with their fangs. The only way someone like Jvnko gets name recognition today is the way she did: through the psuedorandom operations of an algorithm.
The difficulty of her work is something I haven't seen really addressed directly. The fact is that Jvnko's work is really tough. I've been listening to underground black metal, darkbeat, dark ambient, whatever, for over ten years, all genres which have a reputation for extreme content. Black metal singers boast about how they write their songs with the intention of encouraging their fans to kill themselves, when they are not actually torturing and murdering people and serving prison sentences for it. There are bands out there who aren't just 'edgy' but really mean it, who really want to make their music extreme and traumatizing. None of them have ever gone as far as Jvnko. You just can't listen to someone kill themselves on any other record. The samples she uses on Don't Be Afraid of Dying and Drowning in the Sewer - actual snuff - arent available anywhere else on the internet. Mayhem got close with Dawn of the Black Hearts, having the cover feature Dead's body cradling the shotgun he used to kill himself, but it doesn't include a five-minute recording of his family's lamentations as they watch him die. This stuff is pretty much unprecedented.
So if Jvnko is doing what Abruptum only played at, why don't more people address it? I think there are two reasons. The first is that most of us are 4chan-socialized and don't find it surprising. Gore playing over a picture of an anime girl is a scenario you've rehearsed. That it's accompanied by music this time just isn't all that outside of your frame. This is the milieu that Jvnko comes from and, prior to Mr. Kill Myself, beleived she was contributing to. The other is that I think they do address it, but indirectly. The fingerprints of that exposure are detectable on almost every review and comment. Most tend to follow an etiology typical to exposure to disturbing material. To illustrate: when I was in highschool a video of a man castrating himself was being shared by some of the kids, and each of us had one of two reactions. The first was to simply express disbelief, which quickly becomes some kind of disavowal. They conclude that the guy is 'just crazy'. Sometimes they were angry at him - why would you do this to yourself? Why record it? This is a very common reaction to someone's suicide: they were a 'fucking idiot', and an 'asshole' for making their family grieve. Many reviews of Jvnko's music do precisely this: the samples are crass, the titles obscene, the art immature, and beneath this distressing surface "all you get is boring badly produced dnb."
The other reaction was to laugh or strike a posture like you were unphazed, and people who had this reaction tended to giddily inflict the video on others. Likewise, many guys on the internet brag about how 'desensitized' they are to this kind of thing. They relate stories about how they scroll through gore sites without flinching. 'Something must be wrong with me,' they weakly muse. (You can see this kind of braggadocio on full display under the pinned comment of the youtube upload for Don't Be Afraid of Dying where Jvnko announces she removed the sample.) This is, perhaps, reflected in all of the self-styled jungle experts dismissing her as a derivative and amateurish poseur (an analysis which is not widely supported by jungle fans outside of RYM: if you search her name on r/DnB, for example, every mention of her music earns enthusiastic praise). They 'see through' what she's doing, and won't be 'taken in'. They see others are unduly praising the music because of the content that troubled them.
So most reviews handle the material in the form of a 'return of the reppressed'. You don't want to discuss the terrible feelings Jvnko's work gave you- you don't want to seem weak, or, you don't want to give them what they want- so you only talk about the music. But when you talk about the music, you find yourself only talking about the samples.
With Jvnko there is a third type of reaction, an interesting one which I haven't seen anywhere else. This reaction is a sort of bonding, the way an infant does with their mother. This reaction is the most common reaction. The comments of her videos are full of expressions of gratitude - how much her music helped them, how she brought them face to face with reality, and how much it forced them to grow. Jvnko becomes a kind of sitter, a therapeutic facilitator of retraumatization. This response has highs and lows. tezukababe's relationship to Jvnko's work is, perhaps, the noblest expression of this reaction (although she claims to have arrived there by the force of the music itself, so perhaps belongs in a different category.) The most regrettable expression might be this one, where a reddit user posts a song they made with the title "I just released a song that Sewerslvt liked!" and then appends, unprompted, "proof that Sewerslvt liked it" (a screenshot of her tweeting "not bad").
But if Jvnko is including extreme material in her music, the question opens up: what does she say by doing so? Why does the music contain this material? We pose a slightly different question, here, than 'why does Jvnko use this material?', which has received a fairly explicit response. When one anonymous user of CuriousCat asked her why she took the name of Junko Furuta, a teenage girl who was tortured for over a month before she was murdered, she wrote that "the pain and suffering described took its toll on me". She said that while she could understand why some people might find it offensive, "that’s sort of the point, it’s a vulgar display, it’s a reminder of that pain & suffering." While there was significant public outcry in Japan after Junko's murder, during her life, in those "fourty four days in hell & back", over 100 people knew what was being done to her and where she was but did nothing. While (some of) the perpetrators were arrested, nothing in particular changed about society.
Similarly, when Shuaby livestreamed his suicide (the audio of which appears at the end of Drowning...), the video was scrubbed from the internet, but nothing changed about the internet. There is some evidence that he was being abused by people he met on /r9k/ and discord, and apparently one of them was mocking him and goading him on during the livestream (which might be why his friend, through sobs, says "you guys fucking killed him.") These people are still using /r9k/, a board which persists with much the same attitude towards human life and dignity. In light of this, how can we regard this scrubbing of the record as anything but a cover-up? Without Jvnko's "vulgar display", who would remember it? Who would talk about it?
But if her intent can be simply treated, the function of the samples, the titles, and the art, cannot. From the comment sections of youtube and rym, at least, we can tell it has often been taken otherwise. As we mentioned, for many it serves a personally therapeutic function. The comments of Don't Be... are full of people relating their memories of finding a relative's body and the trauma they endured which the album brought back up, while others relate their suicidal ideation and how they plan to overcome it. This is something healthy and beautiful and quite apart from the way that, eg., PowderedHammer describes it in the rym comment box, as "tasteless ... shock value shit". Others see it pragmatically, like the youtube user disconnect who writes that the intro is necessary because "the album is extremely comforting in a harsh world" - the album would be robbed of its meaning if it didn't immediately follow the sample.
This last point is interesting and worth exploring. Somewhere else on the video TheDevon commented that "the intro combined with the second track worked really powerfully with each other." Semioticians with strong stomachs could likely do productive work analyzing the way that the effect of listening to the horrific 911 call that opens the album bears on how the listener interprets the following song. Everyone can answer the question, "what does this song mean to you?", even though it's hard to conceive of how the song might really enact these meanings. Do high-pitched, tremolo picked guitars of themselves convey freezing cold and bitter agony, the way that black metal fans like to put it? Or are they given this meaning by contextualizing phrases and imagery? Peter Barry (1980) argued against what he called the 'enactment fallacy', the tendency in criticism to ascribe more signification than is plausible to meter and rhyme (absent of the meaning of the words actually used), using music as an example of an abstract expression, asignifying. For Barry, a sudden change of meter does not, of itself, represent a beheading, but occuring in a line about a beheading it might take on that meaning. Similarly, a fast song made up of chaotic drum breaks does not, of itself, convey torture any more than it might do flight, but when placed in a song called Pressure Torture alongside samples of women crying it comes to bear that meaning. [For a similar treatment of this subject within musicology, see Temperley (1987), an ambiguous review of Leppert & McClary's Music & Society, which makes a similar argument about the relationship between music and ideology.]
With all this in mind, Ecifircas acts like something of a manifesto for Sewerslvt's whole project. Let's take a look at it.
The track opens with four musical elements sounding simaultaneously: a sub-bass which plays a note and sustains it until it decays; a sawtooth pad which plays a kind of inharmonic effect, like a crash cymbal or crashing waves, with a delayed attack but which quickly fades out; a sample of a bell which continues to ring until it fades out at the end of the bar; and an airy synth playing a two-note interval. The interval is an A and, down a fourth, an E; the bass plays a B (down another fourth, plus an octave). For reasons that will be clear later, we'll analyze this as an A9 chord, omitting the third and seventh notes. The harmony is therefore stable but ambiguous - it has neither a major nor a minor colour, and has no internal tensions waiting to resolve, and the notes all relate by way of the stable fourth interval. The bell rings a B, doubling the bass, but high up and adjacent to the synth so it sounds as a major second, a bright and unique interval.
The bell fades out leaving only the synth and the bass, the synth sustaining its interval while the bass decays and then repeats on the first beat of every bar. This continues until bar 5 where the bass descends a fifth, to the E. This reduces the chord (the A9 - A, E and B) to a simple fifth (A, E) - more stable but with greatly reduced harmonic content. These two instruments vamp between the A9 and the fifth until the first rest. This is an interesting musical effect; there is no chord progresson, but a tonally ambiguous chord which has elements subtracted and replaced, like "a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness", as Shelley put it. On the 8th bar (and subsequent multiples of 8), between playing the E and moving back up to the B, it plays a G, a minor third above the E as a passing tone; this brief, insignificant note finally signals that the key is A minor (being the 7th of the A minor chord), establishing the most remote harmonic tension. This brief gesture which, outside of the first section, is never recapitulated, does outsized work for the track's colour. The bell sounds again when we return to the A9.
On the third repetition of the vamp we get an Amen break. A very complicated, heavily syncopated version of the break. A little later we get the sample which is going to carry the rest of the track: a fabulous rant from Clay, voiced by Scott Adsit, the father from the Adult Swim stop motion show Moral Orel. He's talking to a barmaid and he begins complaining about his job, and gets increasingly irate - its never enough, they never get enough - then his family - sacrifice! I sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice - until the break cuts, leaving us with the synth and the ring of the bell - I'd do it again, too. I'd do it over and over again. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and "alright, I get it Clay" NO. YOU. D the sample ducks to the bass as the break reenters, and it overwhelms it. We only hear the 'dont' in the echo, which doesnt duck to the bass. I'm sorry but... this is just a masterclass in using a sample, guys.
The Amen here is simpler, more stripped down. The new bass is very loud, louder than anything else in the song. It's a dub bass, deep and wide, built on a sine wave, and seems to swallow up the track, or that the track comes out from under the bass. The synth repeats the vamp but the bass is different. It plays the A, emphasizing the key, making the first part of the vamp the less harmonic. It sustains its note for the first three beats but syncoates around the last (bummm, ba-dum bummm, ba-dum bummm; we are in dub rhythms, here). On the 5th bar after it enters it moves down a major 7th to a B - the inverse of the bell & synth's major second and a very distinct sound with no parallel in music. This interval delivers on the the strange colour of the harmonic content up to now, exploiting its tonal ambiguity to make the motion feel estranged, diagonal and lateral.
The track is just gorgeous. I think people tend to underrate what Sewerslvt is doing because they don't tend to pay attention to this stuff. They just hear amens repeating 20 times with occasional rests for samples and say 'yeah, jungle, seen it.' You haven't seen it. The attention to detail here is breathtaking, and her use of the material is very economical and controlled. The richness of the harmonic content is unusual in jungle and is why people tend to describe it as 'atmospheric dnb', jungle's harmonious house-influenced stepchild; but the tonality is effaced, ambiguous. It sets up a stable harmonic structure of perfect fourths and fifths and then destabilizes it with prominent seconds and sevenths, without ever giving up the crucial third. This is why its as 'dark' as it is, and why people also call it 'breakbeat'. It's using the conventions of both styles as well as dub, and it does this without ever seeming forced, without anyone really noticing. While we don't have any reason to believe Sewerslvt is musically educated she, like many great artists, has an inuitive ear which she exploits in deviously original compositions.
This is the simplest and most efficient track on the album, both tonally and structurally. It's accessible, and that's part of why we call it a 'manifesto.' It can act like a kind of hermeneutic key to the poetry of Sewerslvt's whole project, but its also indicative of how the project has changed between the previous releases and this one. The sample is, first of all, not from videogames or gore (as it almost always was before), but from a late night tv show. Elsewhere she samples retro cult movies (My Sweet Satan on Swinging in his Cell) and other, more obscure and original material. The cunning the samples are deployed with is most evident here, lifting the track to unique heights, and are a clue to how and why she uses samples. Clay's rant is about the misery of everyday life, ennui and isolation, suffocating in public. Two rants are brought together here - the 'Sacrifice' rant, about being out-competed in sexual selection by dominant males (sacrificing for dominant jack-offs who feed on you), and the 'Work' rant (about sacrificing everything for your family) - in a way that changes their meaning. While in the show, the former rant is meant to paint Clay as a kind of unstable, villanous incel, drunk on ressentiment, here the references to tits and hot girls are removed and its directly connected with the family and work content of the latter. This time the dominant jack-offs feeding on you are, simply, other humans. Clay is made to express what Jvnko always has, to put "how fucked we are as humans" on vulgar display, how we "take someone innocent & cherish & destroy it in every possible way". This cruelty and disregard are located in the family and work enviornments that crush all of us under their heel. The role of power here is made a little more obvious in Swinging in his Cell which builds off of a sample of a prison guard taunting an inmate over his friend's suicide.
This places it in a somewhat different camp to most other music that deals with this material, not throwing its hands up in dismay at the evil core of human nature that we can never fully restrain, but refuses to be "daunted by the enormity of the world's grief." It manages to articulate a meaningful, plainspoken critique. This is perhaps why so many people detect a kind of optimism and sincerity in the music and why it's been able to inspire a community of care and vulnerability around itself unlike, say, death industrial or black metal. Jvnko loves you.
We love you too, Jvnko. Here's to you.