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Sugarbread and Whip

The austrian artist Soap&Skin makes highly dialectic music. In her self made video with grainy black-and-white images of the song «Sugarbread» she invokes nothing less than the cleansing power of the apocalypse. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).

Soap&Skin produces enigmatic music experiences that ruthlessly reveal psychological landscapes. Her haunting compositions are saturated with Björk, Aphex Twin, Arvo Pärt, and Franz Schubert, and stand in stark contrast to the current bombardments of «feelgood» social formations. Valid comparisons can be drawn between the Viennese 1980s Gothic/Electro all-women band Astaron. Apart from this, Soap&Skin has no dealings with Austrian sensibilities; she has always been part of the international avant-garde.

Soap&Skin’s music videos are often marked by unsettling inscriptions onto the artist’s body. The «Sugarbread» clip, which she created herself, borrows scenes of doom from documentaries and feature films. This points towards a transubstantiation which may also be viewed as a «sonic flow» (as the scholar and composer Michel Chion would call it) or a game of deception with pop-cultural references.

In this mania of images we catch glimpses of Vredens dag by Carl Theodor Dreyer, Luis Buñuel’s Simón del desierto, David Lynch’s The Alphabet, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, amongst others. Water turns into blood, religious symbols recur, we are shown ecstatic gestures and vomiting, and eyes as the mirrors of the soul. Educational films present scenarios in which civilization has morphed into its own nightmare.

«I do not feel myself any more», she bawls in the song’s intro – a line that releases a bloodcurdling urgency. Yet, it cannot be understood by the listener because it is recorded inversely. In grainy black-and-white images we see a radar device and an oscilloscope scanning space with martial precision. But just when this fragmented frontal assault on the senses fades into black, the soundtrack rises in choral singing. «Sugarbread» is no chamber of horrors of human cruelty. Rather, it is a labyrinthine catharsis, where Soap&Skin evokes the search for an everlasting light («lux perpetua luceat eis»): a requiem mass that invokes the cleansing power of the apocalypse.

«Sugarbread», the title of the piece, is probably no coincidence: in German, the concept of the «carrot and stick» approach is utilized by an expression that literally translates as «to use sugarbread and whip». For don’t we often sugar coat the stick into a carrot?

This text was published first in the second Norient book «Seismographic Sounds».

Published on March 01, 2017

Last updated on April 05, 2020


Heinrich Deisl is a Viennese music journalist and pop culture theoretician. He is editor in chief of skug – Journal für Musik, produces broadcasts for Radio Ö1, and is writing his PhD thesis on sound topographies of Viennese popular culture.
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