For the past couple of years, Jackson has been pushing his way into prominence within the noise world due to his recordings as Herukrat. Over the course of a few releases, Herukrat’s works have shifted from aggressive wall noise collages to a form of passionate and forceful power electronics. With his most recent release on Total Black, I Bear Witness, he channels his research into and conversion to Islam as a source of inspiration. With songs protesting terrorism, exploring personal depths, and even documenting his own conversion (with samples from the actual ceremony), I Bear Witness takes on a decidedly more grounded and human form than previous Herukrat releases. With hoarse vocals calling out on songs like “My Hand Belongs to the Creator of the World” and “QSIS (Traitors),” this could easily fall into generic territory but there is such an emotive and strained characteristic here that it lends legitimacy and pain to these songs. With such a strong offering and such personal depth, I felt it was important to augment my own experience of the album with a few short questions for its creator. Jackson was thorough, thoughtful, and precise with his responses.
BM&B: Your focus as Herukrat has always been personal, but the last couple of releases have leaned heavily towards matters of Islamic faith and your studies and growth. In a scene where anti-religious hate is common, especially towards Muslims, where do you feel you fit in?
Herukrat: As far as extreme music goes, I think it will always have to be firmly grounded in some kind of extreme ideology, and I accept any spectrum of that. I grew up on a background of black metal before I had ever approached any kind of religion, and certainly embodied all the anti-religious hate that went along with that scene for years and years. These days as historical black metal bands and aesthetic fade into the distance you see more and more projects moving away from the traditional extreme themes of “church burning, frigid winter, spiked leather gauntlets” into expanded and personal themes. Look at labels like Colloquial Sound Recordings and Crepusculo Negro. People like them have been on the forefront of expanding what extreme music can be for years now, and I think a lot of it is moving toward a more personal expression, and thus, can carry with it a sense of spirituality. Now in the world of noise and power electronics that migration to new ideas hasn’t been made as much, but it certainly exists. The noise and PE aesthetic is obviously narrow sometimes – bondage, giallo, violence, samples from serial killers, etc.. Don’t get me wrong, this is part of what I love about noise, I think these repeated themes make up a strong sense of identity. At the same time they still allow room for expansion. Sam from The Rita for example is focusing purely on ballet right now for his recordings – the obsession of nylon and tights can be still found here, but it’s moved into new territory. For me, Herukrat has always been a vehicle to channel whatever my interests or life is fixated around at the time of writing and recording. The project has grown with me through a few different stages and ideas. The past two releases had a noticeable Islamic touch to them, but they were coming from an angle of politics, having to do more with military occupancy and America’s involvement in Middle Eastern conflict. Herukrat moved with me alongside my growing interest in Islam, and now this year, my actual conversion into the religion and becoming Muslim myself. This album is a diary of my journey into Islam, and all the extremity and passion coupled with it.
BM&B: The song “QSIS (Traitors)” is clearly titled in a way that marks your disdain for those who use a faith of peace as a justification for violence (like QSIS, popularly labeled by the media as ISIS). Can you elaborate on your thoughts on those who act out cruelty from the same place you find mindfulness and beauty?
Herukrat: I refuse their self-proclaimed title of the “Islamic” state, and choose to use the acronym “al-Qaeda Separatists of Iraq and Syria”, because I, and most of the Muslim world, completely reject these groups having anything to do with real Islamic spirituality. Their entire ideology is built up on ideas that go against the core ideology of Islam when examined from inside the religion, and instead, firmly grounded in the intrinsic human desire for power, infamy, and violence. I believe groups like these will always exist, and would exist despite having a faith to loosely ground their beliefs into.
BM&B: Herukrat has been a primarily instrumental project in the past, with occasional vocal flourishes, but this newest release is dense with vocal offerings. Is this because you have a strong lyrical message to send? What has prompted your shift from harsher wall noise to the current power electronics-inspired sound of I Bear Witness?
Herukrat: The dense and constant vocal hammering doesn’t have as much to do with the actual theme and concept for the album, but more just my inspiration from some other noise and PE projects. My main inspiration for the sound I want to capture has been Machismo’s Severe Disconnect ever since Omar released that album last year, it’s easily my favorite noise/PE album, and the most extreme thing I’ve probably heard. Other notable sources are of course Koufar, which my sound gets compared to with good reason. I’ve had the pleasure to become pretty good friends with Mack over the past year and he’s a really outstanding guy whose sound has influenced me even long before meeting him. So, the vocal treatment of Machismo and Mack’s various projects, (Disgust, Koufar, Terror Cell Unity) have been a very big inspiration into how I can incorporate my own vocals.
BM&B: When creating for Herukrat, you are responsible for the sound, art, and everything else. Because you are facilitating the entire artistic experience for the listener, you hold pure control in a way many musicians don’t. Is this an important part for you or is the artistic involvement simply because those skills were already at your disposal? How necessary is the visual side of music to you in both your own art and that of others?
Herukrat: I think everything coming from my own hand is an important part of this project, I’ll probably continue to do all my own design and art for future releases. For this album in at least once instance I moved toward using personal samples too; the sample in the last track, “Taking Shahada” was the actual audio recording of me making my official conversion into Islam (called taking your Shahada) at the mosque I performed the ceremony at. As for visual art I think the art coupled with noise releases is often just as important as the audio, especially when the releases are non-lyrical. Sometimes the artwork that comes with a cassette is the only thing that informs on the intent and concept of the release. That’s one of the things I like the most about noise, being linked and supported so much by the visual aspect gives it a big appeal to actually get the physical release rather than just listening to it on the computer.
BM&B: 2. While you’ve released a handful of tapes in a relatively brief time, your output is far more controlled than many artists in the noise and power electronics communities. Is this an effort to maintain quality over quantity, or simply just you working at your own pace? Do you feel that scarcity adds to mystique and appeal? I notice that many of the artists you follow most closely tend to be removed from the “one release a month” schedule of many of your peers.
Herukrat: Yeah, I think quality over quantity is important for this project at least to a certain extent, and if I could go back I’d probably take back at least one of the releases that’s come out that I wasn’t as happy with. Since Herukrat is usually pretty personal I think it’s good to let the ideas stew inside me and become fully fleshed out in my head before rolling them out. I don’t necessarily think this is a more superior way to approach noise though. There’s a ton of artists that I admire that just blast out release after release, I love it, some of those dudes are the most hardworking and special guys in the scene. Take Roman Leyva and Ethan Ebeling for example, those two guys have been unstoppable the past couple of years.
BM&B: Sexuality (typically in a nonviolent, almost beautiful way) appears as one of the unifying themes in most Herukrat releases. In noise, it often seems that sexuality is expressed in violent or destructive terms instead of reverent or delicate. Is this part of Herukrat’s purpose as a companion to your life experiences or has this been an intentional expression of a theme?
Herukrat: Yes, sexuality has been an important part of Herukrat in a lot of past releases, but not so much at the moment. Those releases were focused on the impact of a few different particular women in my life, and the ways that I perceived them as empowered, strong, and beautiful. I think this approach to sex and women is under-represented in noise but isn’t non-existent, Crown of Cerberus approaches this theme in the exact way I do – honor and reverence.
BM&B: Finally, is there a message you’re hoping to convey to listeners or is enjoyment of this as a piece of art enough on its own?
Herukrat: I don’t know if there’s a real message in this album for others to take away. For me it’s very personal, and I’m not sure how far that will extend into listeners. I’ve had a few people who have been very curious about my interests in Islam and wanted to learn more, which I think is great; we’re in the middle of a vital period of trying to understand something that is very “Other” to Western culture, especially with Islam in the current news and the way it is portrayed to us. I fully support people wanting to get a better understanding of Islam, but this is not necessarily my intent nor what the aim of this album. Herukrat is not a pro-Islam project. I absolutely believe Islam is not for everybody. Hopefully the people that listen to this album will be interested in it for what it is – a piece of harsh noise/power electronics. If something below the surface of that clicks with them on an emotional level then I will be humbled, but it is not necessary for listening to the album.
Many thanks to Jackson for his time and thoughtfulness.