SiCore: A Look Back
by Tim Kabara
“WE R RILLY NT INTRSTED IN WHT NRMS THINK. I WAS UP THR ROFL IN MY MIND. TNSION = PAYNE. PAYNE= LYFE. LOL.” – WX YZ
In retrospect, it seems obvious that the SiCore movement would have occurred, especially in the context of the various trends and concerns of the music underground of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Although it now seems obvious that someone could hijack a plane and crash it into a landmark, we must never forget the initial impact and shock of this event on a global scale. Was last year’s performance at the MTV music awards by Murmur of Wounds the 9/11 of the SiCore scene?
As the videos on Youtube and other social networking sites attest, the performance was indeed shocking. The four “musicians” of the group (GHI JKL on “guitar,” LMN OPQ on “bass,” and RST UVW on “drums,” WX YZ on “synths”) stood on stage, instruments at the ready, for three minutes and thirty three seconds. They appeared on the verge of beginning a song, clenched up over their respective instruments, lead singer ABC DEF staring out at the crowd, on the verge of singing something, saying something, doing anything.
As time passed, the crowd’s reaction varied as the tension did indeed build. After the initial applause at the band’s introduction, nothing seemed to happen. The SiCore fans were bunched in the front, their colorful outfits bearing the unmistakable mark of the scene. Behind them, the confused audience talked among themselves. Occasionally, someone in the audience whistled or broke out in a mock “wooooo!,” which was greeted by nervous laughter by the audience.
“I can’t understand why our scene is not respected or understood,” commented lead singer ABC DEF via notes scribbled on discarded fast food containers and left on park benches and dark alleyways. “Sometimes in life it is hard to know what to say. Sometimes the silence is better than what could be said. There is something there, and that something is nothing.”
SiCore, perhaps one of the most controversial and debated musical genres since Korecore, created a big quiet wave this past year in the popular music landscape. As one of the first to stumble upon this new brand in its infancy, I have since felt a degree of responsibility to check in on it from time to time. Yes, we may all have moved on to better and brighter things (like Brightcore), but the devotees of SiCore continue to make their presence felt in the larger underground scene.
“There could be something going on here! It may be important! Keep an eye on the ‘SiCore’ Google analytics, guys!”- Jimmy Iovine, Interscope Records Internal Memo
The year was 2008. I approached the Black Hole Rock Club around dusk. The forwarded e-vite had indicated that the show would start “when the last gleaming ember of light fades.” I found such a start-time to be a bit hard to nail down, and I was worried I was running late.
I assumed that I wasn’t missing much, as there were no loud rock thuds emanating from the club, the siren song of my lifestyle and profession. I did all the usual check-ins, ID at the ready, press pass in hand. I was checking out this show as a favor to a friend and hadn’t had time to do any research on the bands (Murmur of Wounds, Nil Mil, Sadness Fades), but the names seemed to indicate maybe black metal, gothwave, coldwave, sadcore… I was open to what the evening held, as I have a broad and distinguished taste in music.
I had noticed that the security guards and others were eyeing me up a little bit. As I pride myself in being neutrally dressed whenever on assignment, this surprised me. As I stumbled into the main room, I could see why. I stood out in my neutrality.
The throng gathered in the room was dressed in some of the strangest and ridiculous ways I have yet encountered in my many travels through the three rings of the rock and roll circus. The standard mode was Halloween-inspired, but only if Halloween happened on some other planet. Young men dressed in ruffled food-stained finery, entire miniature Christmas trees worn as hairpieces. Young women wrapped in garish Styrofoam containers, Thermos coolers stripped into pieces and repurposed as blouses and skirts. It was a sea of incongruous extremity. My black cap, khakis and t-shirt were clearly not the norm.
But however loudly their attire spoke, they said nothing. All were standing in orderly rows, facing the stage. Each was doing their best to ignore the other, the occasional glimpse down at an incoming text the only sign of life. As I took it all in on my way to the bar, I was struck by the vastness of the quietude. There was no house music on the PA, no chatter among those gathered. As I stumbled over a youth dressed entirely in fused-together Gatorade bottles, I excused myself.
For the first time, the concert-goers were aware of my presence. Many in my immediate vicinity shot me the stink-eye. A few made the “sssshing” sign without making the sound. Hands bearing Sidekicks shot up to chest-lever, fingers flying furiously over keypads.
“He used to say things under his breath, but he quit that.” – David Jenkins
David Jenkins, 45, of Timonium, has become concerned about his son Darby’s involvement in the SiCore lifestyle.
“I mean, I don’t know what to think. All he does is sit in his room with his stereo on. He will just sort of slump there at stare at all those weird posters he’s got, zoning out and noddin’ his head. But the thing is… I can’t hear anything! I mean, my parents used to tell me to turn down my rock and roll, you know? Now I want to tell him to turn it up!”
What is it that Darby Jenkins is hearing? Is there anything on these SiCore recordings to hear, really? Murmur of Wounds’ most recent release, When It is Clear that This is the End…, which clocks in at exactly sixty minutes, was released with elaborate deluxe packaging by WEA Universal MCA earlier this year. Each CD came with a hand-carved miniature coffee table. The LP version pressed on clear vinyl, the silence broken up over four sides, fifteen minutes each.
“Whn I listn 2 SK, I can hr myslf,” claims Darby via Facebook chat. This is his preferred method of communication.
“He hasn’t spoken to me or anyone else in the family for months now,” says David. “He used to say things under his breath, but he quit that. We’re getting real worried he’s got a disease or something.”
“th nly dis-ease I have is xD @ this so-Si-it-ee.” Darby seems adamant on this point, following this chat with a combination of exclamation marks and emoticons which I did not fully understand.
“Q: What’s the best part about beating up a SiMo? A: No matter how hard you hit’em, you never hear have to hear ‘em scream!”- joke posted on the Google group IH8SIMOS
As we all know, the music lifestyle brand has become the one with the shortest shelf-date. Today’s buzzband becomes tomorrow’s has-been with a blinding rate of turnover. In breaking as big as it did, SiCore had little chance to develop. The fact that the music was so easy to make lead to many imitators and replicators, the most notorious of which being the group 4’33.
Of course, it is impossible to discuss the band without noticing the knowing wink to John Cage inherent in their choice of name. This sort of joke is unfortunate, as it sullies the reputation of a true master of modern music, a man whose genius the average SiCore fan can barely comprehend. It is interesting to note, however, that John Cage recordings have become increasingly popular due to this connection. At one point, his recording of “4’33:I- Tacet” was a top ten download on iTunes.
To bring up 4’33 on the many message boards and Google groups associated with the scene is to lead to many a frowny-face emoticon. Some claim that 4’33 was created and formed by the major labels, others question their integrity. A source of continual and almost universal disdain would be “the clap.”
At the exact center of the forty-three minutes and three seconds of the silence which comprises 4’33’s debut album, Enjoi (Interscope), there is a single hand clap. This clap, heard ‘round the SiCore world, has lit up their cyber-community, leading several to call for their banishment from the scene. Their name became a trending topic on Twitter shortly after the release of the album, the band name often being featured in Tweets wondering why they were a trending topic.
“4’33? bullshit. sellout.” says Murmur of Wounds’ GHI JKL, his preferred method of communication being wing-dings punctuated by words sent in letters by certified mail.
Sadly, the members of 4’33 have taken SiCore as a complete lifestyle vow, and do not communicate with the press. According to their Interscope publicist, they live communally in a cave in the Swiss Alps, sending their master tapes and ornate album artwork to a contact in the town of Murten, who then forwards the materials along to the label. Since the group has only performed a handful of times and all band photographs are abstract blurs, some doubt that the band exists at all.
“When listening to a SiCore album these days, it’s hard to hear what everyone was so excited about in the first place.” – Hester Arrington, Scene Report, www.musicisstupid.com
SiCore has gone through the usual cycle: the hot new thing on the rise, the big brand breakthrough into a full market penetration followed by the fall from grace, all without the benefit of a single note to hear or a single lyric to decipher. Album art, clothing choices, and lifestyle branding proved to be ample topics for discussion in its stead.
The major record labels could not have been happier with the movement. Concern was placed on the elaborate packaging that the members of the scene preferred. This jacked up the retail price, and putting out multiple limited editions of each release and applying the appropriate “invisible hand” of marketing push became the main concern. There were no album leaks to worry about, no files of consequence to be traded. The labels knew how to market brands, and SiCore was a market quietly waiting to happen.
My august brethren in music criticism had little trouble handling SiCore, since their reviews had long ago shifted away from discussion of music and song lyrics. Most reviews focused instead on scene politics, blog buzz, geographic distinctions, and other such topics of discourse. One famous series, written by Carles Huntington and published on his blog MUSICDURRDURR, involved listening to various SiCore releases in different settings, rating each based on how one’s impressions of the environment were affected. He gave great praise to Nil Mil’s I Feel Violent, I Feel Alone album (Wind-Up Records), but only when listened to in an abandoned and decaying sawmill (the cryptic cover art for this masterwork of the movement, created by artist Alex Worthington, accompanies this piece and is available in a higher resolution here).
The shift from positive to negative among the critics was perhaps aided and abetted by the lack of music or lyrics, providing an obvious bone of contention when the time came. The usual contrarian hipsters began their field day with SiCore shortly after Murmur of Wounds’ appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards, early adopters disavowing enthusiasm, knives out as the tide turned.
So what now for “SiMos”, as some call the fans of this musical brand? From the watershed of this past year, the practitioners and fans are clearly heading in different directions, factionalizing and subgenreing at the blinding pace of the modern age.
“We don’t need a label 2 du this,” says Wiglaf Unfurth, the mastermind of Nil Mil via ICQ , an instant message service preferred by Canadians. “I can Si-OUT all bi mysslf.”
Wiglaf represents the first wave of what is being dubbed “Alonecore”, a musical and cultural subset of SiCore in which participants sit in their rooms alone all the time and don’t do anything.
Others have adopted a more guerrilla approach, throwing shows in warehouse spaces which are sparsely advertised outside of the inner sanctum of the scene. The shows occur in complete darkness, their fact of existence rarely stumbled upon. There are apocryphal accounts of someone stumbling into such an event and being “scared to death” by the sudden appearance of so many silent, gaudily dressed people after flipping on a warehouse light switch, but this legend remains unconfirmed.
Others have decided to “norm out,” becoming completely normal people in all respects, holding jobs and starting families and shunning all the former trappings of the movement. When questioned, they often reply that they are still “silent inside,” but many in the community believe that they were the usual posers following a trend.
There is no doubt that SiCore was the most important musical movement of the twenty-first century, at least in terms of the past few months. It was the first time that that age-old accusation could be answered with great confidence.
Q: I thought it was supposed to be about the music, man…