The intense experimental artist overcame bodily trauma with her exploratory and intense new album. She explains why it's all about catharsis
Taken from the autumn/winter issue of Dazed:
“Some throw their bodies around and scream,” says new noise artist Pharmakon of the reaction to her searingly personal live performances. “Other people are like, ‘What the hell was that?’” As a veteran of NYC’s experimental scene, the 24-year-old is used to pushing her audience into visceral new directions. Born Margaret Chardiet in Bushwick, as Pharmakon she translates personal trauma into mercurial compositions that throb with an unrelenting force. On her new album Bestial Burden she screams, growls and hyperventilates as if her life depended on it – and you feel it might. Yet it was recorded in a place that sounds practically angelic: Brooklyn noise sanctuary Heaven Street.
How do you fit into the noise scene?
Pharmakon: Well, I think that the thing that’s so exciting about noise, or experimental, or industrial, is that there is no one creed. Everyone has their own artistic agenda and very different ways of stylistically going about it. It’s essentially a genre without genre.
Doesn’t the name Pharmakon come from Ancient Greek culture?
Pharmakon: Yes. Let’s say there was a drought or some sort of hardship, they would choose one person who would be considered unnecessary to society and they would become the scapegoat (pharmakos). They would sacrifice him and send him into the woods to die alone. This was seen as a cleansing for the hardships of society.
That’s really fucked up.
Pharmakon: It’s an extremely fucked-up idea! But it’s also this deep-seated thing in humans – the need of catharsis. (The Pharmakon project is) about connection with what is deeply rooted within human nature, accosting people with these dormant feelings in order to make them truly feel something.
The cover for your debut album Abandon depicted you with a crotch full of maggots. How was that?
Pharmakon: There were literally a thousand maggots, and they moved much faster than we anticipated! I’ll never forget the sound they made crawling on top of each other. I would never put anyone else through that; it was personal to me and had to be me. That record was about the destruction of a very intimate relationship, so of course sexuality featured prominently.
“There were literally a thousand maggots – I’ll never forget the sound they made crawling on top of each other. It was personal to me and had to be me. That record was about the destruction of a very intimate relationship, so of course sexuality featured prominently” – Pharmakon
Your new album was inspired by a spell in hospital. What was that time like?
Pharmakon: It was really strange because it was really unexpected. Four days before I was about to leave for my first European tour they found that I had a large cyst and I had to have an organ removed. The idea that my body was working against me sort of morphed into the record.
Are you interested in philosophy?
Pharmakon: Yes, definitely. I have been reading a lot of Bataille over the last couple of years, and Antonin Artaud and his ideas about the Theatre of Cruelty. Actually, someone recommended Artaud to me because of what I was doing with Pharmakon.
Do you find the noise and industrial scene to be male-dominated?
Pharmakon: That’s sort of true but if you look at the history of industrial music, women have always been involved in the most influential bands. Throbbing Gristle basically created industrial music. There are plenty of influential projects from individual women in noise. I get a lot of women who come up to talk to me after shows to talk about how it affected them – more so than men, usually.
What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up?
Pharmakon: Classic punk stuff like The Ramones, Iggy Pop, and Sex Pistols, but also Nirvana and Hole. My parents were punks so that was my base level – that was their music. When I started getting into weirder things it took me a while to find other people interested in that.
How did you find a community?
Pharmakon: I happened to be incredibly lucky to live in New York City at a time when there was Hospital Productions, a record store on 2nd Street between first and second avenue in Manhattan, run by Dominick Fernow (aka Prurient). I could say, ‘Hey, I really like this Anenzephalia record, would you recommend me something similar?’ Through that, I started going to shows, and there I met the people in these bands – Halflings and Yellow Tears – and we all ended up starting this house and venue together (The Red Light District in Far Rockaway). Through having a place for bands to play that wasn’t a club, we met people touring from across the country.
Your songs create dark worlds. What’s your favourite sci-fi movie?
Pharmakon: The Thing by John Carpenter – the original sci-fi movie. It’s about a group of scientists in The Antarctic who discover something in the ice that has been dormant for many years. It’s a physical virus that copies its host. It sort of mutates, consumes and copies the organism it takes over, so it could be one of your friends. The thing that is so powerful to me – the thing that makes people so fascinated with zombie films – is the idea that the human is the monster. There is no other monster than can possibly be as scary as mankind.
Bestial Burden is out on October 13 on Sacred Bones Records