What Side Are You On?

I looked around, and I don't know why, but I assure you that never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness.

— Joseph Conrad

This is probably all bullshit. But this is what we were told. This guy is in a band—is the band, since he's apparently the only member—called Fast Forward. He dresses up in peaked Klan-kleagle-sort-of robes—except they're yellow or black, not white—and he delivers $25-per-minute shock performances to wormy little coils of hipster kids like he's rolling a flash grenade into a hostage situation: as soon as the drum machine gets the go, he's shoving through bodies like Ruby after Oswald, shrieking "WHITE POWER!" or somethhing similarly abrasive as he claws over backs and shoulders to get up in the rafters, running out into the street before anyone can put a mark on him. Longest set: Eight minutes, at Chain Reaction. Shortest: maybe 20 or 30 seconds, in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he demolished an auditorium full of folding metal chairs.

He has two albums of conventionally abrasive robo no-wave that's like the Screamers mechanizing one level closer to Big Black, but he never plays live anything he has ever recorded. In Manhattan Beach, he trapped about a dozen high school kids in a blacked-out garage, fireworks and degraded lo-fi drumbeats driving everyone to the concrete floor. Then he smashed a watermelon on their barbecue grill and fled into the street.

This is probably all bullshit. But this is what happpened. We met on the Queen Mary—he didn't like an interview on U.S. soil, maybe? It was a full moon; he arrived alone. A description, in case someone needs to find this man for questioning: short, stocky, face flat and impassive, dark hair swept up like he'd just pulled off a helmet. Wearing all black. No distinguishing characteristics. Dump a body like this and you'd frustrate the cops for days. When he checked his watch—which he did often—he'd snap his wrist out of his jacket sleeve with military quickness. This would be the "most authorized" interview Fast Forward had ever done, he told us.

He would not give us an ideology, an agenda or a philosophy. In fact, for the entire interview, he denied that he had ever appeared in the Fast Forward hood at all—insisted that he was merely a representative of a larger organization, for which the Fast Forward performances (presumably by other operatives) were simply recruiting rallies. This organization is called Forward Youth, a morass of Mai-Soixante-Huit crypto-politik that realistically amounts to nothing but a Los Angeles P.O. box, some supposed literature we never see, a "next man back" he identifies as "John Conrad," and an endless mess of fog.

We asked for his name. He gave us a reading list: Eldridge Cleaver, George Lincoln Rockwell, Mark Twain, Ragnar Benson, Andrew McDonald, Desmond Morris. We asked for something else. He thought for a moment, then said his favorite food—he said "dish"—was catfish. It was the only thing we'd written down that didn't come with a question mark after it.

"Talking to you right now is something I personally didn't want to do," he said. "It's not paranoia. Not paranoia."

Is something going to happen to you, we asked?

"Forward Youth will ensure nothing happens to me," he said.

Is something going to happen to . . . us?

He didn't answer. But that was the answer. Every Fast Forward show we'd ever seen—two, but that's probably more than most of you—left us hurt. At the first, a Forward Youth whipped something into our gut and we crumpled backward, panting against the wall, thinking DON'T-GO-DOWN-DON'T-GO-DOWN-DON'T-GO-DOWN. Got a bruise or two at the next show, knocked into little boys and girls like only one of us was getting on the last chopper out of Saigon, and got a photo, too: a shot from a gun camera, Fast Forward's hood like a shark's fin cutting through the crowd and, front and center, a studded-fist salute. There are not many photos of Fast Forward. There are no extant interviews that we could find. There was video footage, until Forward Youth (he tells us) had it quashed.

So there are only the albums and the performances that have nothing to do with the albums. The album we heard—the first, on Vermiform/King of the Monsters—is strangely listenable, at least for something by a band that has hit us in the stomach. It's mean drum-machine shut-in punk put through a wormhole of distortion, alternated—yes, every other track—with muffled ambient rhythm breaks like something pulled off an informant's snitch wire. If you didn't know better, it would really fool you. He explains that the albums are supposed to be the second step—in what he calls "indoctrination"—after the live performances, which he tells us to refer to as "rallies." We erred by listening to the albums first. This is part of our problem.

At the rallies, the sound doesn't even register until later. It's industrial in the basest sense of the word, piston-on-hammer-on-cable-on-iron: an ocean liner's steam-age engine room, a Panzer division lurching forward, a set of clamps clanking off an ICBM. No wonder Big Black sang about slaughterhouses—gun a drum machine into the red and that's all you can think of. He still remembers the look of doom on the faces of those Manhattan Beach high school kids as the garage door slid down, he says. He smiles—per Conrad (Joseph, not John), as if at some quiet joke.

"What Fast Forward does is within the singular moment," he says. "If people try and investigate, they can only investigate within the context of Forward Youth—after the moment. Any outside criticism? Doesn't matter."

But Forward Youth?

"I can't talk about anything to do with Forward Youth," he says. "We can focus on the strict political side, but we can't do anything personal because there is no personal. We can't talk about personal taste in music...or genetics."

So why do you do it?

"It's my job—I'm out there to collect bodies."

But why—skepticism shelved for a second—try to anchor a fifth-column movement to five minutes of funny clothes and rotten over-beat rhythm track?

"It's a spectacle. We realized we wanted people who are attracted to a spectacle. They're the bravest members of society."

Spectacle junkies?

"Whatever brings in the fish," he shrugs. "Some need earthworms, some need those little jelly sparklers, some need—what are those spinning things called?"

Lures, we say. He nods.

This is probably all bullshit. But it doesn't matter. The question isn't Does he mean it? The question is Does he need to believe it? Because there are and always have been lightning strikes in art and music when the gimme-danger rhetoric finally ignites into action, when circumstance whips back on itself, when the situation sinks its fangs into the Situationist: the murder during the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" at Altamont in '68, the rapes during Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" at Woodstock '99, the litany of torture-suicides since ever. There is a real and vicious black-eyed animal way down in the pit at the bottom of rock & roll, and the more you try to invoke it, the less safe—and the more exciting—you become.

And so it doesn't matter if Fast Forward or the Forward Youth or their secretive crypto-politik is for real or not, in their own minds or otherwise. Circumstance and situations have piled up behind them for years and years and they could become real, if not under this name, then another.

And if any of this intrigues you, you desperate spectacle junkie, you are already a member of Forward Youth. You have been waiting for this moment. You probably didn't even know it—then again, in a way, you probably did.

And the spectacle itself? The riot cops and soldiers and hoods and nightsticks (and that Star of David on the back of the first LP—this is what Boyd Rice used to call jamming the circuits) and pseudo-para-crypto quotations about power and authority and death? It's not ideology, it's simple violence: a pointed hood to slash the eye and WHITE-POWER to spike the ear, a savagely animal complement to sum the totality of a savagely animal performance—because fascism and authoritarianism are the vocabulary of the human as animal, the individual (Forward Youth values the individual highly, he tells us) as alpha wolf.

Fast Forward doesn't advocate, he only illustrates. A true artist. He mentions In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, a book by an author with the unlikely, Dickensian name of Michela Wrong. He has certainly read Heart of Darkness. The costumes and the lights and the drumbeats and the rallies and the overamped screaming usually get wild fearful grins, angry confusion and nervous laughter from kids who want to be in on the joke. We do not think to ask if he ever worries that one day he'll provoke something else, if he hasn't already. Because, you know, it's probably all bullshit anyway. It's just the underground music world, he says. The theater he works in. His exact words.

"There is no opposition," he says. "There are no allies. There's no specific philosophy we can align ourselves with."

We stop before assigning a question mark to that one. We are thinking of something on Fast Forward's first album that suddenly makes a lot of sense. The A-side label on the LP is U.S. Gen. George S. Patton; the B-side is Adolf Hitler, both with the Fast Forward logo (the same as on your tape deck) triangled over their eyes. The dead wax around the label asks the question we never did: "What side are you on?"

It's the most coherent, clear and potent statement we will ever get from Fast Forward. And it's obviously a trick question. That's no choice there at all.

Fast Forward performs with Year Future, Nubbchuck, Days End at Koo's, 540 E. Broadway, Long Beach. Koos.org. Sat., 8 p.m. $6. All Ages.


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