Bishop points out that this was not just a working-class phenomenon, but members of the upper and middle classes also took part, coming to the seratas with rotten eggs and tomatoes, cowbells, whistles and banners. The aim was to create the opportunity to participate in “total destruction, in which expressions of hostility were available to all classes as a brutal form of entertainment” (Ibid, p. 46)


Marinetti arranged these gatherings both before and after the First World War. He introduced the seratas as a counterpart to what he saw as an outdated and bourgeoise culture – “Articles, poems and polemics were no longer adequate. It was necessary to change methods completely, to go out into the street, to launch assaults from the theatres and to introduce the fisticuff into the artistic battle” (Ibid, p. 44). The serata was less about the works in themselves than it was about what effect they would have on the audience, and with swearing to and from the stage, fights would break out. With this, the audience was taken out of its traditional and passive role as a group of observers and, to a great extent, transitioned into a role as participants in the serata – which is what the Futurists saw as the true work of art. The Futurists could sell ten tickets for the same seat, give free tickets to people they knew were irritable or “unbalanced”, put glue or itching powder on the seats – all to stir up the violent atmosphere. At Teatro Verdi in Florence in 1913, Marinetti was handed a gun by a member of the audience and asked to commit suicide on stage. The Futurists sought out and created dangerous situations. There was no question of presenting artworks which communicated or represented danger. The seratas were unrepresented violence and danger which played out there and then.  


In the 1960s, music and danger came to be a part of the Fluxus movement when Dick Higgins composed a number of works he described as “Danger Music”. Even though it was not the first time that music had expressed danger, it was Higgins who first introduced the term as a genre concept. Higgins’ work involved short sentences written on what were known as “event cards”, where there might be statements like, for example, “Volunteer to have your spine removed” (Danger Music No. 9). In the same spirit, Nam June Paik in “Danger Music for Dick Higgins” (1973) instructed the performer to “creep into the vagina of a living whale” and Phil Corners wrote in 1968 “One antipersonnel-type CBU bomb will be thrown into the audience”. These works were conceptual and not meant to be put into practice. 

It is easy to see the appeal that these works had for an art movement like Fluxus, which often wished to transgress the boundaries of what art could be, and preferably create a debate. In retrospect, however, this side of Danger Music’s history seems to be somewhat of a gimmick. It represents some of the least interesting aspects of Danger Music. Where Higgins, Paik and Corner wrote about representative danger and symbolic danger, I wish to investigate the artistic practices which present real danger. 

I would like to believe that Honningbarna, HANATARASH and Yeldham share some ideals concerning what a musician’s role has the potential to be, and perhaps also a reckless relationship to risk. Nonetheless, whilst I think that HANATARASH’s and Yeldham’s audiences would be aware that they were witness to a performance or perhaps also an artistic project, a high proportion of of Honninbarna’s audience would likely find such a context alien and unwelcome. So what is it that separates us? Probably several things. First, the role of Honningbarna’s audience as participants, rather than spectators. There is such a thing as an expectation surrounding responsibility, ownership and the power to define the concert. Following this, our music is simply not that “weird” (and perhaps also the band members’ marked distaste for the artist myth, the “weird artsy artist”). But I also believe that a division exists considering the expectations as to what, fundamentally, delivers when it comes to representation. 


Where it would have been natural, and space would have been provided, for both HANATARASH’s and Yeldham’s watching public to ask themselves what their projects represent, what they mean or are indicative of, Honningbarna’s concerts are meant to override exactly those kinds of questions. Representation must give way to sensory intensity which answers for the here and now alone. We, and what we communicate, are not “the work” – it is rather the unpredictable, chaotic and inclusive meeting with the audience that is. The moment that we or the audience distance ourselves from this, a kind of breach of contract will have come about. 


As far as I can see, there is also a difference between us and HANATARASH or Yeldham in terms of how we see our audiences. In one’s meeting with HANATARASH and Yeldham it is difficult not to think of the anecdote about Arnold Schönberg; somebody stopped him on the street and asked: “Are you Schönberg?”. He answered: “Yes, that’s me. Somebody had to be.” Well, perhaps Schönberg could permit himself to think of himself as a misunderstood artist, and a small audience a criterium of quality – a “badge of honour”. We might possibly consider that HANATARASH or Yeldham do the same, but for most, such a mixture of defeatism and narcissism is simply sad. Like the Futurists, or ABBA for that matter, we want to reach out to many; we play on larger stages like Roskilde, Way Out West and Øya, and participate in national and international mainstream media. For our part, the desire for a large audience does not come from commercial, but rather political and artistic motivations. For us, who are musicians more for what music does than for what it is, there will always be a question about taking part in life out there. There, on good nights, chaos and bruises are created, as are friendships and the feeling of being part of many, just so as to not be alone - a community which represents and alternative way to be together, even if only for three quarters of an hour. A community with the aim of creating something real, something we can understand in an outside world which seems intent on concealing it.


It seems to me as if this unwitnessed mark of quality for those in the know becomes, in the best case, wishful thinking, and in the worst an admission of failure. I applaud the artists’ courage in challenging their contemporaries with the risk of becoming unpopular (I hope that I am one of them), but the idea of the lonely artistic genius is, for Honningbarna, just a sigh – a pretentious, dull and outdated fever dream. 


When Danger Music first emerged as a term, it was not because I was out looking for it. I was, together with the rest of the band, rather too caught up in the creation of Honningbarna’s practices to occupy an overview position or that we could distance ourselves enough to be able to put them into context. Moreover, we were ignorant of the fact that danger in music had already been conceptualised as a musical genre, and were at any rate uninterested in “belonging” to any of these categories. Nonetheless, a certain curiosity did arise in terms of listening to the experiences, objectives and ideas of others. Did we share any of them? And did we share any of these very particular experiences of bodily perceived truth and “zen”?


It emerged rather quickly that, although “Danger Music” is an established concept, there is little available literature that describes the genre comprehensively. On the internet, as in the case of Oxford Music Online, for example, and in books with related themes (Thompson & Biddle, 2013; Hegarty, 2008; Jasen, 2016; Douglas, 1999), elements of danger are described, but never with specific depth or analysis of Danger Music’s genre characteristics, ideas and practices. Some literature does exist in David H. Cope’s New Directions in Music (Cope 1981, pp. 273-276). The way that Cope describes danger music – “Often Danger Music is not sound; it is philosophy” (p. 276) – does nonetheless pave the way for a struggle for the power to define the term:


In Wikipedia’s article on the subject, the following is stated: Danger Music “is based on the concept that some pieces of music can or will harm either the listener or the perfomer” (Danger Music, 2017). In Dan Wilkinson’s (2014) interview with David Cope in Noisey’s article “Is Danger Music the Most Punk Genre Ever?” David Cope replies when asked to define it: It is “music that possesses a real danger to its audience”. However, he follows this up by saying that “Danger Music ideas are often more philosophical than actual”. The nuance here concerns whether Danger Music represents conceptual danger, or actually real, felt danger. Danger was part of the vocabulary of a number of avant-garde movements throughout the twentieth century (I will come back to this), from the Italian Futurists’ homages to war and violence, to the Fluxus movement’s more conceptual work, of which the majority of examples were never intended to be performed. For my own part, I would like to investigate Danger Music not only when it is conceptual, but also in terms of what happens there and then during concerts - a bodily experience in which musicians and/or the audience experience that danger is present.  

Danger Musics history

Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty

Antonin Artaud’s essay collection, The Theatre and Its Double (Le Théâtre et son Double), was published in 1938. In several of the essays, Artaud discussed his thoughts on a new kind of theatre, the “Theatre of Cruelty”. This was something that Artaud wanted to function as a community in which the actors, together with the public, carried out a magical exorcism – a kind of driving out of demons. Gestures, sounds (loud!), unusual scenography and lighting were to “form a language, superior to words, that can be used to subvert thought and logic and to shock the spectator into seeing the baseness of his world” (Antonin Artaud, 2018). Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty was to create “cruelty” not first and foremost as physical pain, but rather as violent, sensoryexperienced pain that would shake the participants out of a reality dominated by what Artaud saw as the tyranny of meaning. Artaud was, as Hans U. Gumbrecht expresses it (I will come back to Gumbrecht), “accusing Western culture of having lost touch with the human body” (Gumbrecht 2004, p. 46). Language as a tool for carrying meaning was understood to be a dead end for the unimparted sensory experience, including that of terror, which the theatre could provide. This approach shattered the traditional theatre’s dissemination strategies. The theatre producer Tiril Bryn writes: 

In The Theatre and Its Double, Artaud also describes how he would like stage venues to appear, which suggests an affinity with Danger Music:

Artaud wanted to have the audience in the middle of the theatre, surrounded by what he described as the scenic “whirlwind”, always in transition, never static long enough for the audience to get a foothold and become passive viewers of the actors’ alternative language and screams, and ritual materiality that warns of danger.

There are striking resemblances between what the Futurists and Artaud wanted from their projects. Both wanted to shake up the audience and reach beyond the notion that art should represent something which is not already “here and now”. Whilst the Futurists explored and used physical danger as a tool, Artaud expanded what was psychological. Both of them investigate the conditions for danger and fear in art.

Mosh pits in punk/hardcore/metal

In contrast to the examples above from Danger Music’s history, moshing is not a particular arts-historical movement, but a dance that a number of music styles have adopted since the 1980s. Moshing’s origins stretch back to the first wave of hardcore punk in the USA, at which point “pits” started to form during concerts – groups in the audience where people jumped into/onto each other in improvised full-contact dance. In the middle of the 1980s, moshing had become a regular fixture at concerts, and bands like Anthrax wrote “moshparts” into their songs (Mosh, 2015). Music scholar Erik Hannerz writes in the book Performing Punk (2015):

“To mosh [...] was articulated as the legitimate way of experiencing the music”. Moshing had therefore become not only a dance to the music, but its highly intense bodily aspect was the legitimate way, both for artist and audience, to participate in creating the concert and the musical experience.  


In the article “Mosh Pit or Death Pit” (sic!) from Abcnews in 2008, Bamboozle Festival in New Jersey is mentioned, where 50 people were injured after a mosh pit “got out of hand”. “There is no way to crowd surf [be carried/pushed out over the audience] or stage dive [jump out from the stage and into the arms of the audience] safely consistently”, said the safety representative at the festival. Later in the article, it is explained that around 10 000 people have been injured during the last decade, and that there were 9 deaths from 1994 to 2006 in mosh-related accidents. James Chippendale, the president of a concert insurance firm, adds that the “main problem” with the mosh pits is their unpredictable nature – they can appear whenever and wherever. They are not controlled by either the artists or individuals in the audience – they grow out of a commonly felt atmosphere amongst a number of concertgoers.  


Chippendale’s concerns about mosh pits are suggestive of the paradoxical situation in which what is, on the one hand, the most troubling aspect of the concert, is on the other the most central and characteristic component for the participants. And it is, as Hannetz writes, also that which divides the “the deep and active [concertgoer] from the shallow and passive” (Hannetz, 2013, p.247).

A description of Danger Music through two examples of artistic practice 

The richest and perhaps most important way to attempt to delineate an area for the phenomenon Danger Music is by describing some contemporary artistic practices which can be named as such. Take, for example, the Japanese band HANATARASH’s concert at Shibuya in Tokyo, 1985. 



In the video, we see a vocalist, Yamataka Eye (born Tetsurō Yamatsuka) on a stage surrounded by barrels, the front bumpers of cars and piping. Eye throws the barrels out at the audience over intense noisemusic. Whilst he balances and jumps from barrel to barrel, he falls down, but finds a cymbal fastened to a chain and begins to swing it around him. After a time, one can see Eye throw himself into the barrels and then just smash his fists into them. He exposes himself to danger and fear. Everything looks to be highly spontaneous, and he improvises his way through the half-hour long concert/performance.  


In the film clip below we see the Australian artist Justice Yeldham. Yeldham has greased a glass plate with lubricant and attached a contact microphone, and uses it as an instrument. Yeldham is standing alone and presses his face towards the glass to make an aggressive sound effect. During the course of a few minutes, the glass plate and his face are covered in blood. Yeldham himself says, in the same video, in response to what kind of reaction he has received, “Ah, you know, it’s so mixed. Some people are just petrified and don’t want to look, I’ve had people crying hysterically, but you’d be surprised the amount of people who have told me it’s the most amazing musical performance they’ve ever seen in their lives”.

In an interview I have had translated from Japanese by Johanne Øra Danielsen, Eye replies in answer to the question as to what Hanatarash is: “If I am to say it with words, it would have to be ‘noise’ then. Even though I don’t think it is noise at all. It is a kind of trance. So, I make sounds and I walk out in a trance”. Later Eye explains that these “trances” are something that he goes into during concerts and mentions that he was, without a doubt, in one when he almost cut off his foot with a chain saw in 1983. He continued the concert, but had to have twenty stitches. He also relates how, at a concert in 1984, “I went into a trance when I was driving a bulldozer too. Perhaps it all came out of the excitement? It can rotate 360 degrees, you know, so I drove back and forth at the club and demolished everything while I was in a trance”. In another interview from 2006 in Japantimes, Eye goes into more detail about the bulldozer concert: 

Eye received a fine of around 45 000 NOK after the bulldozer concert. At the next concert, in an attempt to repay the fine, Eye chose to sell entrance tickets for 7500 NOK with the enticement of an “all you can smoke” marihuana offer. Unfortunately for Eye, no tickets were sold. 

The Italian Futurists

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote the Futurist Manifesto in 1909 as a homage to all that was modern, both culturally and technologically. The manifesto described the industrial city, aircraft and the car as the technological triumphs of mankind over nature. Marinetti and the Futurists, as staunch patriots, wanted to re-establish Italy’s greatness as a land of the future, and wrote with derision of the current state of affairs –“down with all rules and traditions, to hell with museums and bureaucracies”. 
It was not only in rhetoric that Marinetti was militaristic. In the manifesto, it is stated that 

“we will glorify war - the world’s only hygiene - militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers” (Marinetti, 1909) – and this was something they did make good on; when the First World War broke out, many of the Futurists joined up to fight on Italy’s frontlines. In diaries and letters from the front, the Futurists began to write, inspired by Marinetti’s poetic form, “parole in libertá” (words in freedom). Parole in Libertá is a kind of poetic form without syntax or grammatical structure, with extensive use of onomatopoeia, mathematical symbols and typography intended to be read/performed as sonic phenomena in which the logical composition of the texts was subordinate to the experience of the senses. Parole in Libertá became a way to describe and note the sounds and noises of the new Europe. Together with the industrialisation of Europe, there was also the industrialisation of European war. Tanks, aircraft, submarines, poison gas – all new and violent technological weapons, and the sounds that they created could make up the origins of a cacophony of “destructive gestures” – a sound the world had never before heard. The Futurists lay in the trenches and noted them down with the intention of performing them at their seratas.  


The Futurists were not the only ones to have written music to recreate the noise of war in the twentieth century, but where other works did this alone as re-creations or representations of danger and war, the Futurists took these elements along with them to their seratas. The serata is something close in essence to what we would, today, call “performance”. The Italian word actually means a “party in the evening”, and such gatherings presented short contributions including the reading of artistic manifestos, recitations of political slogans, newly composed music, poetry (parole in libertá) and exhibitions of visual art. The first in a long series of seratas was held in 1910, and in the space of a short period of time, these became established as areas for chaos and violence. Claire Bishop (2012, p. 45) writes that the participants at seratas “became directly antagonistic, with performers and audiences making direct attacks on one another, frequently culminating in riots”. The visual artist and journalist Albert Gleizes wrote:

In The Theatre and Its Double, Arnaud describes this thought about the common and bodily experienced aspect: The states of mind it attempts to create, he writes, the mystical solutions it offers, are put into motion, stirred up and realised without hesitation, without any diversions. “It is reminiscent of a conjuration of the devil which aims to get our demons to SWARM TOGETHER” (Artaud 2000, p.56, Artauds original capitals). Jon Refsdal Moe (2007) sums up Artaud’s contribution to the arts field as a will to break through the classical theatre’s representative reality, that it is possible to stage a radically different state “and it is in the theatre, where reality doubles and is put out of contention, that Artaud is seeking to realise this state”.


The Theatre of Cruelty is hard physical work for the actors because they are working with their bodies. The work with the body means that the actors have to open themselves up more, they become more vulnerable. They become exposed. They are not just talking heads. I want the actors’ expressions to hit the public physically. The body on the stage must communicate with the bodies of the audience. The theatre should not be intellectual alone. In normal theatre, everything revolves around the word as the means of expression. The body can, in itself, illustrate a narrative, it can tell its own story, about longing and loss (Tiril Bryn, 1995, my translation).


People struggle at the door to get in, they discuss and argue in front of the pictures; they are either for or against, they take sides, they say what they think at the tops of their voices, they interrupt one another, protest, lose their tempers, provoke contradictions; unbridled abuse comes up against equally intemperate expressions of admiration; it is a tumult of cries, shouts, bursts of laughter, protests. (Gleizes cited in Bishop, 2012, p. 46)

We abolish the stage and the auditorium and replace them with an integrated room, without partitions or barriers of any kind, which by its nature makes the theatre into a place where action takes place. Direct contact between the audience and the actor will again be created as a result of the fact that the actor is placed right in the middle of the action, and is surrounded and shaken by this (Artaud 2000, p. 86, my translation).


I drove a bulldozer into the side of a live house, one of those bulldozers that rotate 360 degrees. So I approached [the live house] when I was spinning it around and broke the side of the wall, making a huge hole. There was a lot of dust and because it was so dangerous everyone disappeared. I had prepared Molotov cocktails and I was thinking of throwing them [into the live house] and had them lined up. [But] when I went to pick them up I was stopped from behind. (Okazaki, 2006)