The sounds of violence

Nikhil Singh’s music is mysterious, mischievous, enigmatic, strange and beautiful. He is the lead singer of indie art-pop act The Wild Eyes, but it’s his two solo albums released on One Minute Trolley Dash records that are the focus of this feature. The first, Rock Tock Tick, is a stream-of-consciousness psychedelic blues album comprising songs that Singh made in his bedroom between 1999 and 2002.
The second, brand-new collection called Pressed up Black is a more polished affair recorded with a host of collaborators and full of subversive pop gems. “We collected pearls on a deserted beach and then spent nine months making a necklace,” he says of the album’s working process.

The most striking theme evident on Pressed up Black is a dichotomy between violence and beauty. This is apparent in the song titles, such as Milk Slavery, Panzer Pink, Nagasaki Nikita, Eightball Hemorrhage and One Hundred Dead Horses. Singh’s lyrics are full of violence, but rather than violence in the heavy metal sense, this is violence rendered as something sublime.

“One likes to think of a kitten playing with a ball of string. One doesn’t like to think of the same kitten toying with a bird it has just killed,” Singh explains. “Cats, in this way, physically embody the duality of nature. A tiger is as beautiful and attractive as it is dangerous. The fact is that violence as a facet of nature has a dual aspect of beauty. If one could slow down time long enough to witness the biblical splendor of a whirlwind or a tidal surge and stay somehow safe, one would see it for the beautiful thing that it is, as energy in motion. Our tendency is to view violence as something that is a threat to us. Many cosmic forces are a threat to us, yet are incredibly beautiful. Love, in this sense, is a force that can be incredibly brutal and destructive. I once called this album a bandolier of post-apocalyptic love songs. And love songs are not necessarily sweet ... “

Which all sounds very serious, but both Rock Tock Tick and Pressed up Black are hilarious at times. “I find most things in this life absurd,” Singh explains. “And I think this translates into almost everything I do. Humour is the frontline against death. It is the last bastion of civility in a universe of incalculable fury.”

Aside from the music, Singh also happens to be one of South Africa’s most unique and talented visual artists, responsible for the comic book that came with The Constructus Corporation’s The Ziggurat as well as his own album’s artwork. He has contributed to countless graphic novels. Where does he find time to channel this seemingly endless flow of creative energy? To start with, he tends to go on work binges in which he doesn’t sleep for days.

“I once didn’t sleep for seven days after reading the Sumerian legend of Gilgamesh,” he volunteers. “Gilgamesh attained immortality after seven days of wakefulness.” What do seven days of insomnia do to a person? “Things become very blurry on the third day. One’s emotions are activated by a hair trigger. The wrong shade of blue can make you cry. Motor control is a thing of the past ... one reaches for the door handle and it isn’t there. Every time you sit down you are almost out. Then, you get into it and hit a sort of stride round the fifth day. Things get really crystalline. You can see through every­thing around you”. Unsurprisingly, Singh concludes “It was difficult to get back into sleeping regularly.”

Singh’s vision is so psychedelic that one would expect him to be on a cocktail of mind-altering stimulants for much of the time. While Rock Tock Tick was made under the influence of natural psychedelics, Singh became a vegan and eschewed all substances for Pressed up Black. “The effect, after a while, was like upgrading a home-entertainment system,” he says. “Quadraphonic sound and sudden high-definition colour. The universe is a pretty psychedelic place. And I feel that our sense organs are far more effective if allowed to develop naturally within time and space.”

Singh describes his art as an attempt to “fish dreams from the rivers of eternity”. While this sort of statement would seem outlandish coming from many mortals, it fits his aesthetic perfectly. On a purely practical level, though, I have to wonder how Singh manages to get his uncompromising art to pay the bills. He seems unperturbed.

“I work hard at producing items of quality. Most people sacrifice quality, which takes time, for consumer-friendly concepts. Standards drop. But artisan-like art will always have a place and a market”, he says. Summarising the method to his musical madness, Singh adds, “If you’re going to do something wrong, you might as well do it right.”

Singh’s music makes me want to transcend space and time, laugh at violence and give up sleeping. I think I’m in love.

Pressed up Black and Rock Tock Tick are available at selected CD shops. For more info on Singh, go to www.nikhilsingh.com.

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