This interview with Astral Noize Records alumni and Issue 5 cover artist Jamie Christ was originally intended for our sixth print zine, now delayed due to personal issues and Covid. It was written several months ago and references events that were postponed as a result of lockdown. Enjoy!
The term ‘creative’ is a loaded one – arguably marred with the reek of patronisation when used by society at large, it seems to minimise effort and ability, to commodify the results into a product. Although Jamie Christ is a creative, perhaps a better word to encompass the scope of his endeavours is ‘multidisciplinarian’.
Internationally renowned for his blackwork tattoo artistry, Christ is also the vocalist for genre-melting Edinburgh noiseniks Sectioned. His work as Christwvrks unites many facets of his creative persona under one banner. “Christwvrks is an umbrella term for my output, regardless of what it is. So, I am Jamie Christ as a man, but the name for my work is Christwvrks; tattoo, drawing, illustration, videowork, anything like that. I’m just obsessed with making stuff,” he explains. “I want to keep pushing myself to come up with more ridiculous ideas no one else is doing; that’s my main goal, whatever guise or form of media that comes in, I’ll keep pushing it further.”
Part of this constant pushing of the limits and direction of his creativity seems to be leading Christwvrks into an altogether different reality – a virtual one. “I have a background in 3D modelling, and I have ideas to do with VR environments – I have ideas for an art experience within the universe that is the Christwvrks universe, obviously with a soundtrack. I want to create an environment for the user to be put into that’s less narrative driven. It’ll be one song length’s worth of stuff happening – in lieu of a music video it’ll be an experience, a microcosm of the Christwvrks universe, the universe my drawings exist in. It’ll be one step up from making a short film.”
“It’s the kind of thing you’d put on at an art gallery,” he continues. “You’d screencap someone using, and then that video itself gets pushed around. That takes a vast amount of time, so that one’s going to be a few years away. It’s the most ostentatious thing I can imagine being able to do. Being able to pull it off is my current long term goal.”
There’s a deep vein of pitch-black despair that runs through Christwvrks’ creative output – typified by track titles from 2019’s industrialised, noise/drone monolith Teeth Fall From The Open Eye including ‘Plagued By Suicide And Death’, ‘Longing For Release’ and ‘My Spirit Will Free Itself From These Binds’. Christ is clearly channelling personal trauma and feeling through his work; “I’m normally talking about it from deep within the worst times, so it’s much less like about the conquering of it. With Sectioned I talked about the conquering of that stuff and coming out the other end a better and stronger person. When I started Christwvrks, I was in a bad time and I wrote about that. When I’m going through a bad period, it drags me back to the worst times of my life.”
“Moving forward I want to try and write more about conquering the darkness and how to empower yourself, to be able to expand your consciousness and take control of your life and not have the worst parts of you take dominance over the good parts of you,” Christ explains. He believes it’s important that mental health is spoken about openly and with frank honesty, but is conscious of how it can still have a pervasive effect on how sufferers view themselves. “There are two prongs to the way mental health is talked about in the modern world. It’s good that we’re much more able to talk about it, but because we’re more able to talk about it a negative thing that can happen is that people can define themselves by their illness.”
“When I hit bottom and I had been for years, when I had the turning point was when I realised, do I want to be defined by the worst things about me or the best things about me?” he says. “That’s not a difficult question, but I worry that people who have worse problems than I have, their perspective gets narrowed and narrowed until they can’t see anything else. If you look at Twitter, everyone has to push themselves into these restrictive character posts, and people have a narrow view of themselves, so when the avenue for moving out of feeling bad comes along people are still entrenched in a very negative view of themselves.”
“One idea I want to push for is that people should look to try and define themselves by the good things about them,” he elaborates. “I feel like at least for myself I created some methods and ways of thinking that have really dramatically changed my life and I really want that for other people. My former life is inconceivable to me now. So I definitely feel like it’s my responsibility to pay back to the world and do something good; the thing I know most about and have most experience with is that stuff, so that’s why I’ve given all my donations on Bandcamp to Scottish Mental Health. It just makes sense to me to do that.”
A constant strain on mental health for many, especially those dwelling in the creative and extreme music spheres, is the current political climate – spurred on by a suffering-obsessed media, there’s a background throb of existential dread and fin de siècle anhedonia that has settled into the cracks in our shared cultural psyche. For many artists, politics is a motivating factor for their expression, or a backing to the feelings they express.
Christ is no exception. “I’m a G antifascist punk; I remember going to see Oi Polloi every time I could when I was a kid,” he explains. “As I’ve gotten older, I realised being really deeply entrenched in politics and what other people are doing with their lives was making me really unhappy and stressed, so for a number of years I completely disengaged with politics, purely from my own mental health, because I was trying to recover from a bunch of trauma. I only really took more of an interest since Brexit, but I still keep political stuff at arm’s length and view both sides of stuff.”
While Christ professes to having taken a step back from overt political opinion, he still holds a dim view of right-wing extremity. “One thing that really fucks me off is when extreme right-wing people try to take the moral high ground of looking down on Antifa for being violent. Extreme right politics is almost exclusively enforced by violence, so it’s dumb to take that attitude,” he says. “When there’s a far-right demonstration they’re the first to hide behind the police. It’s just like, grow some balls; you’re there espousing a belief system that’s entrenched in genocide, so to say you’re supporting non-violent demonstrations is just fucking so oxymoronic and asinine.”
“I’m not opposed to political violence at all. Zizek was right when he was asked to justify his claims that political violence is necessary. He said look at how much violence is already used to keep things the way they are. The powers that be have so much of a grip on the world around us, that to dismantle that there’s no way to do that other than violence,” he summarises.
While Christ might (rightfully) take opposition to the hard right in a political context, he believes that ‘no platforming’ bands might simplify a more complex issue. “I think the older you get you either become more entrenched in what you believe, or what you believe to be wrong. When I was younger I was utterly convinced I was definitely right about everything. I definitely take things on a case-by-case basis these days,” he explains. “I don’t like the idea of people shutting bands down, but if an out-and-out Nazi band is going to play a gig on my turf, they shouldn’t get upset at me turning up and cracking some skulls. But I don’t think people shouldn’t be allowed to play.”
“People don’t accept the reality of how complex these issues really are,” he continues. “There’s only one right answer and there are infinite wrong answers, and it’s so difficult to say the right thing. But if you’re going to go round painting swastikas on yourself, you’re going to have to face the consequences of that, because you’re a coward as well as a wanker.”
Christ isn’t a man to undertake something unless it’s at maximum intensity. Album releases and existential VR experiences aside, the next project in his upcoming cycle is characteristically ambitious – a live tattooing event, straddling the line between body and performance art. “It’s now booked in for 12th June in Edinburgh at the old veterinary college,” he explains. “All the lecture theatres are as they were in Victorian times, and the bed will be lying there right where a dissection would have been happening.”
Naturally, music is a core component of the experience. “The band will be behind me, and we’ll be playing a composition of mine, except expanded over the process of a tattoo,” Chris explains. “It’ll start with the tattoo being drawn on live and then they’ll lay down, the tattoo will begin and the orchestration and composition will fit what’s happening directly. There are things like that that have been done before; there’s a guy called Sevalio, who works at Old Habits in London, and he works with a noise artist called Hex. He attaches a contact mic to the tattoo machine, and then they make ambient noise music from that whilst tattooing.”
“My approach is that I want to give the recipient the ultimate experience of rebirth, of what getting a tattoo is,” he explains. “When you stand up your body, regardless of how small the tattoo is, is 100% different and I want to extrapolate on the idea of what that can mean to you. It goes back to the old Norse culture – how they had songs for everything, giving birth, getting married, going fishing. I wanted to create a piece of music that’s the ritualistic sound of getting tattooed.”
Teeth From The Open Eye is out now on Astral Noize Records. Order here. New album Messiah Complex is also out now and can be picked up here.
Words: Jay Hampshire
Photos: David Bell (@davidbellllll)