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Reference Points: Xiu Xiu

Reference Points: Xiu Xiu

05 March 2014, 11:00

In this week’s Reference Points, where acts talk about something outside the world of music that influences them as musicians and people – we talk to Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu.

For a band that have so consistently pushed the boundaries of their art, veering from the intense shock of their latest video – described as exploring “racialized sex, double suicide, double penetration, criminality, fear of physical harm” – to the drily amusing quips of their outsider status, an article about guitar shops or woodwork was always going to be a little out of the question. And true to form – Stewart delivered the below piece (complete with photos) about the Santa Muerte worship prevalent in his local neighbourhood, and the death-worshipping connotation of their associated candles, that he has begun a collection of.

The neighbourhood I live in, MacArthur Park is one of the centres of Santa Muerte worship in Los Angeles. There is a temple two blocks from my apartment and 7 botanicas that focus on the religion encircling the junkie, gang member, homeless person, dusty Evangelical, garbage, cormorant and mango pit engorged park.

If you are unfamiliar, Santa Muerte adherents worship death as saint in the form of a variously coloured grim reaper. My tacit and outsiders understanding of it is that it is an amoral philosophy. You can ask for anything that you want or need, there is not good or evil. There are associated votive candles that have a prayers on the back to help focus you in your quest. Since moving here about a year ago I began to collect them. Some of the wishes include: shut up, controlling, tied up and nailed, despair, blacklist condition, death against my enemies and your lover will hate you.

My religious background having been of the fairly middle of the road Lutheran ilk, I find it both wonderful and horrifying to have God at your behest with no strings based on right thought or right deed attached. However, I am also unnerved by the awful beauty of the candles and their potentially lethal power. I have never and will probably never light them. Other people believe in them and that may be enough. (But maybe now I have to light them? I think now I have to.)

The phrases of the prints on their glass led to direct cribbing into lyrics. Their expansive and chaotic spirit both cracked and opened my musical life to try to dive into frightening sounds more deeply and less intellectually than I had before. They led to initially questioning the right or wrong of timbres and words and then finding in a FFFFFFFFFFlickering FFFFFFFFFlame that it was irrelevant.

Some photographic examples of Jamie’s collection:




Xiu Xiu’s latest record, Angel Guts: Red Classroom, is out now on Bella Union. The band are set to embark on a Spring tour of Europe and Russia this April – head to their website for more information.

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