Nomadic War Machine’s new EP finds an audience

FEAR NOT: Nomadic War Machine's EP “Are We Not Monsters” has been finding its audience. The collection's tracks “come out of love songs from and to trans people," says musician Margaret Killjoy, pictured, a trans woman and activist. Self-portrait by Killjoy

Although the EP Are We Not Monsters is the latest output from the prolific local artist Margaret Killjoy, it’s just one of many creative ventures the musician, writer and activist has been at work on.

“I’ve been doing this thing where I’m engaged in a million different projects in a million different mediums, functionally, my entire adult life,” Killjoy explains. Her Patreon page lists stories, podcasts and a “zine of the month,” as well as music. “I write books and short fiction. I tend to write about squatters, travelers, queers, anarchists, criminals and rebels … people like myself or my friends who aren’t represented often or well in fiction,” she pens on her crowdfunding profile.

Killjoy started SteamPunk Magazine “before steampunk became a thing” and also ran a publishing company that produced fiction and nonfiction. Her books include an anarcho-punk fantasy series following the heroine Danielle Cain and the utopian novel A Country of Ghosts, among other works. Killjoy is also a member of the atmospheric black metal band Feminazgûl.

“Now, when I finish a project, I have to think about how to make it matter to people,” she says. “I don’t want to create art in a vacuum. … I want to say something and have people hear it, and I want people to hear it who it might resonate with.”

Are We Not Monsters, released earlier this summer by Killjoy’s solo project Nomadic War Machine, is possibly her most accessible album to date. The synth sounds are crisp, the melodies inviting and the musician’s haunting vocal pulls listeners into to the poetic writing. “I want your claws to cut me,” she sings in “I’ve Grown So Fragile,” the pop-noir lead track. And, on the prophetic-feeling “The Flood Came Over Me,” she chants, “I cannot find the way/It’s gone, it’s gone,” over a wash of shimmery keys and tart percussion.

“I don’t find any particular value in having the form of my art be outside of the mainstream,” Killjoy says. Earlier Nomadic War Machine output was a lot more experimental, she reveals, adding, “I don’t play black metal to be edgy. I play it because I like it.” But, “I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to do with the new Nomadic War Machine to move in a more consciously pop direction.”

Reaching that pop sensibility, she says, required growth in her skills as a musician. It’s a challenge to make one’s creative work approachable, she points out, but notes that “it’s not fun to be misunderstood. … I value clarity in terms of my art.”

There is still room for misinterpretation, though. On June 12, Skyline News posted on Facebook about a music video in which “Killjoy is seen … participating in some type of satanic ritual.” The story drew mixed reactions from online viewers.

Killjoy reports that she received death threats following the article, but — as someone who honed her resistance skills during Portland’s anti-war movement in the early 2000s — she’s weathered worse. “I’ve been an anarchist activist for a long time. [I’m] used to having the enemy be the state and global capitalism. … I was followed around by an SUV full of feds when I was 21, in Portland,” she says. “Some [people] who don’t like me — that doesn’t bother me.”

She continues, “I’m proud to have created ‘Satanic Panic,’ not that I’m a satanist. [But] I really like leveraging Nazi hate and transphobic hate for fame. … Not that I want fame, but I want them to know that them going after me helps me.”

Indeed, Are We Not Monsters has been finding its audience. The collection, she says, “comes out of love songs from and to trans people.” A trans woman, Killjoy speaks to how those in the trans community are viewed as frightening or undesirable. The sensitivity and rawness of her writing, for those willing to listen, shines truth, humanity and a deep desire for connection.

There’s also something of the universal in Are We Not Monsters. Though crafted as dance music, its darkness speaks to this moment of uncertainty and loss; to revolutionary thinking and dismantling of outmoded systems. But when asked if she feels her experiences as a protester and anarchist have positioned her as a leader in the current social climate, she demurs.

“I do feel in some ways positioned to use my platform, but it’s complicated by my whiteness,” she says. The necessary focus on equity for Black and brown people means “I should not take on any leadership roles in the struggle.”

Instead, to effect positive change, Killjoy has been tying her musical projects to fundraisers, in the form of benefit compilations and donations of sales from Bandcamp Fridays (when all proceeds go directly to the artists) to Black-led grassroots organizations.

“As an anarchist, my goal is not to tell people what to do or think,” Killjoy says. “I try to be useful. I think everyone should look at their strengths and apply them to the current struggle.”

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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