Zoft - Electrically Haunted

For me, avant garde music is a thorny topic.  I studied music at a university that was obsessed with the stuff, and have many memories of lessons that were a little like having my eardrums sandpapered. In one classic incident a new teacher asked for our initial opinion to one particularly hideous piece to which I curtly replied “I think it’s pretentious bollocks”, only to find she had composed it herself. Surprisingly, however - despite my calamitous slagging off - I am actually a big fan of experimental music. I love dissonance when used in the right way, I love chaos and unpredictability and I love music with an intellectual stimulus, as long as there is also a visceral, expressive ingredient.

Zoft are a brutally non-mainstream two-piece from Brussels, whose debut album ‘Electrically Haunted’, a jagged fusion of math rock, musique concrète, black metal and minimalism, is in many ways the musical equivalent of a Saw film. From a loose rhythmic framework they dip into utter chaos, spiralling into a beserk, tormented frenzy but asserting their control at all times. They slacken the chains on their inner demons just to seize them back again – much like the tension and release of the aforementioned movie. Also similar to cinematic horror, the bloodcurdling chaos of ‘Electrically Haunted’ is convincing at times but ultimately synthetic, constructed for effect, meticulously calculated. Its abrasive, atonal riffs embrace only the most dissonant intervals, unlike something truly chaotic like serialism or Cecil Taylor’s free jazz. They’re wilfully unpleasant, more akin to black metal than typical avant garde. Bars are typically stretched to unusual sizes like 9/8 or 13/8, filled in with mathematically pondered syncopation. The whole thing reeks of intellectuality, of mechanism.

But perhaps there is meaning in the method in the madness– the title of the second track, “L’Homme Machine” is a reference to a text by the 18th Century materialist philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie, who argued that humans are like machines: robotic and soulless. Zoft’s music is designed to sound more chaotic than it actually is – perhaps ‘Electrically Haunted’ is an articulation of Mettrie’s theory, a claim that all human chaos is pre-programmed - no expression is free. Or maybe they just like making a racket.