Interviews

Whom to Love and Whom to Hate in War and Film? Interview With 'Land of Mine' Director and Cast

Joel Basman and Louis Hofmann (IMDB)

"I have always been drawn to the flip side of the coin. My other two movies are also about the demons, the hate, and the betrayal," says Martin Zandvliet.


Land of Mine

Director: Martin Zandvliet
Cast: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman
Release date: 2015-12-03 (Denmark)

Martin Zandvliet's Second World War set drama, Land of Mine casts its eye on a forgotten chapter of history, which delivers an unsettling reminder that innocence and morality are bloodied even after the fighting has ceased.

Land of Mine is the story of the relationship between a young group of German prisoners of war and veteran Danish Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) who is tasked with clearing the western coast of Denmark of its two million mines. Planted by the German forces during the occupation these young prisoners of war are promised their freedom and safe return to Germany once they have diffused and removed all two million of the mines.

Zandvliet and his cast craft a piece of filmmaking with a mature historical perspective that refrains from simplifying the morality of its characters. Instead, the film, which is unafraid of asking uncomfortable questions, explores the complexity of human emotion and morality within this tragic chapter of history, where hate and anger, friend and adversary, past and future bleed into one another.

In conversation with PopMatters, Zandvliet and Møller, alongside Joel Basman and Louis Hofmann, two of the young cast-members who play POW’s Helmut Morbach and Sebastian Schumann, reflected on their individual creative aspirations and the beginnings of the film that forged their collaboration. They also discuss the filmmaking process and its ability to create a greater sense of self-awareness, and the difficulty of separating a film from its authors both in front of and behind the camera.

Why a creative career? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Martin Zandvliett (MZ): As a director you don't make a lot of movies, but as an actor, you do a hell of a lot of movies. I might do 15 movies in my lifetime if I'm lucky, and I would like to be proud of all of them -- to look back at my legacy and say: “I chose well; I did something that I felt was important.” And if possible to never sell out and make films for the money. It should be a story that deserves to be told because it gives me something.

Joel Basman (JB): I totally agree with Martin that you want to do movies that you are proud of -- telling a story that you want to tell, not a story that you are forced to. Of course, as an actor, there are some things that you do that you try to forget about, but that's part of the job. This project was something that you did because you wanted to be a part of telling the world a story that people maybe don't know about, or that they haven't seen from this point of view before.

I have never fitted into a normal school nor a working life, and I have been acting since I was 13. I'm now 25 and for me, it was the best way to get to know myself. Of course, that wasn't the thought when I was 13 -- to be free and do what you really want. Right now I can say that I can more or less live from this and it’s nicer than I could have imagined for my life. There is still so much that I want to see and do, but for me, it's the pure satisfaction of doing what you really want. I always had a problem doing things that I didn’t want to do. I don't have a problem when my director says: “Don’t do it like this; I want it like this.” But generally in life, I like to do what I want, and for me the best way is through acting and making films.

Louis Hofmann (LH): I agree with both Martin and Joel, but I think it's also important to not only talk about the work. I have finished school and so it's becoming a real job, and as an actor, you cannot always just play roles. To me, it's important to live, to be who I am and then to get out of that, because when you play a role, it's always a bit of yourself. Okay, you can get some things, but that's why it's so important to gain life experience in order to act -- it’s important to care about this.

Roland Møller (RM): Well it was always there, but I never saw it myself. Way back in school I was not the kind of guy who could sit still, but in drawing class, I had this ability to tell stories. Everybody was always: “Roland tell a story” and I would just improvise one while I was drawing.

I just got into this eight years ago, when a friend of mine said: “Come on, I want to try out for some of these things”, and I suddenly realised that what I do is I don't act a part, I give a piece of myself. Old friends that have known me for a long time, when they saw me in my first movie said: “Roland you are not acting; you are just being yourself.” But I don't think you can deliver a role without putting something of yourself into it, and I just realised that everyday we do a little bit of acting.

When you talk with your mother you are one person; when you go to the bank or you're with your girlfriend you are another person, and that's the way I act. Then for me, it's important that I trust a director and as soon as I do, as soon as I feel comfortable with him, then I pull something out of myself that I didn't even know I had inside of me. That’s what I like about this job. I feel very blessed that I am sitting here right now talking to you because I never saw it coming. People around me saw it, and so I am blessed that they saw something in me.

What was the genesis of the project that led you to this particular post- WWII story?

MZ: It has always been more popular to tell those stories of what a healthy nation we were, and it's no different in Denmark than it is in Britain or America. We like to show these images of us being a helpful nation and I have always been drawn to the flip side of the coin. My other two movies are also about the demons, the hate, and the betrayal. I like to tell those stories and I think they are very important.

So when I started researching I knew that I wanted to do something about the Second World War, and I knew there were a lot of stories. But it surprised me when I found out that we forced Germans to de-mine the beaches and it especially surprised me that we used boys. I like the dilemma the story tells because I would have chosen Germans as well, and I totally understand the hate that Carl (Møller) goes through. But I also think it's important that as humans we change, and we behave the way that we would like others to treat us. After that, the research just started -- finding out how many guys, how many mines.

When you three first read the script, what was the appeal of both the characters and the story?

LH: Well when we first got the script we didn't know which role we were going to be playing, or which role we'd audition for. So the first time I read the script was without focusing on only one character. When you finish reading a script and you realise that you didn't think of anything else, that you were just focusing on the script and were caught up in the story, then that's when I am amazed. I got goosebumps reading a few scenes and I thought that if I already had goosebumps while reading it, how was it going to be in the movie. So I totally wanted to go to the casting, and I was even happier when I got the part of Sebastien.

JB: Let's say you watch a war movie from the Second World War, it's not that hard to see a movie about a concept. It’s not that hard to hate the Nazis and to wish for the Jew to escape and to survive. In this film you don’t know whom to hate and whom to love. But on the other side, you know whom to hate and whom to love, and I think that's what I like here because I don't need a moral. I mean, war is shit -- we all know that. It's not so easy to just say: “That’s the good and that's the bad.” It's much more complex, and after reading the script I didn't care what Martin wanted to do with me, I just wanted to be a part of the movie.

RM: Martin called me he asked if I spoke German. I learned German when I was a little kid from my grandma, and I said: “Yes, I speak German. What do you have in mind?” He told me: “Well I have you in mind for this leading role.” I was quite intimidated because it was the first time I’d had this big responsibility, and I thought: Wow, does he really trust me that much? He told me that I could not say yes to anything else if I wanted to do this, and when I got the script I immediately felt a connection to the story.

Louis Hofmann, Roland Møller

What I find interesting with this character is that there's an evil thing going on inside of him, just like normal human beings, but it’s not the Hollywood stereotype that you see in many Hollywood movies, where the bad are really bad, and the good are really good. Here the fight is inside of him and I can relate to that in my own life. I know that is how people are and I found that very interesting to work with. But also until now, I have only played the villain, and so the big challenge here for me was, could I touch people in this way as well?

I like a good challenge, and I always think that I perform best if challenged. Martin certainly knows how to challenge us, and not only with the kids, the animals, the weather, the water and the sand, but also with the acting itself. At the same time, he gives a lot of space to us, and I feel comfortable in his hands. So I was very happy that I got this role.

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Film by its nature is a vast collaborative enterprise. In past interviews, filmmakers and actors have spoken about how you discover the film as you go along. In the beginning, you don't know what the film is going to be, but rather it takes shape through collaboration of the director and the actors, which is then reshaped in the editing room. Could you discuss how your individual relationships shaped Land of Mine?

MZ: Filming is a process, first the script, the finance, and the producer's script. Then there's the script that you send out to the actors, and then there's the script that evolves on-set. We re-wrote many scenes on the set, as well as came up with new scenes. The moment when the one character picks up the ball with his mouth, we came up with that the evening before. We talked a lot about what we should do and then how it should be done with Roland, and the things with the beetle and the twins were never a big part of the script. They grew on me and so they grew in the movie.

RM: They grew on every one of us.

MZ: What's most important as a director is you should be present. It's not just a script that you need to film. You need to always be ready to change things because it's like when I met the boys and I found out how they would react to the dialogue. Does it even work when they say it? It's a long process and in the editing room, you make a totally new movie.

When I start the edit I always say I throw it all away and I never have a script. I try to imagine that somebody forgot and left behind a hard disk full of material, and I'm lucky enough to go in there and cut the pieces together as well as I can. So I'm not: Oh, it should start like this or because it says this in the script… It doesn't matter! The audience will never know and it's only important to give them the best possible movie.

I think I'm the kind of director who listens a lot. We had a lot of discussions about how to do things and a lot of the time the actors were right more than I was. The director of photography will also say: “Maybe we should do this” and so it is teamwork; I'm not a magician. There is no way I can try to pretend that I don’t oversee it all, but it's a team effort with us all joining forces together the best we can, to try to get the best out of it.

RM: I translated the script, which I think was written in Danish to English, and then into German. Martin didn't have a problem with that at all, and it calmed me because I could then make Carl into my own character. Martin always takes the time to listen, and if there's something that we don't understand, he will take the time to explain it. That makes me comfortable, and so then I'm ready to give something back.

If he gets a crazy idea -- and he gets a lot of crazy ideas -- then I say: “Okay, I'm not going to ask what it's all about, let's do it.” He pushed me a lot and I had a number of scenes where I was screaming really loud, and I didn't have any more anger left in me. I was drained of anger and yet he somehow got me mad again. I had some aspirin and then we did it one more time, and then I had some more aspirin [laughs].

Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you're not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive a transformative aspect to the creative process? (Risker, Paul. Interview with Christoph Behl. FrightFest Gore in the Store, 24 April 2015.)

JB: You shoot this and it always has something of yourself -- sometimes it's more and sometimes it's less. I think after the shooting it depends on who your character is. You definitely learn something about yourself, or you get to know sides that you knew you had, but you had never activated or triggered in a way that allowed you to let them out. Bad and good, all of this is in all of us, and after shooting Land of Mine you definitely changed inside -- changed your view of things, of yourself... But you definitely meet another side or a quarter or ten percent of yourself that you had an idea of, but never really knew about.

LH: That's actually a good example because there's one fight scene between Helmut and Sebastian, it's not in the movie but... [laughs]

JB: You still cry about this.

RM: Come on get it out. Yeah, we are going to talk about this later.

LH: Whatever… We had this fight and Roland pushed me deep into that scene, which helped a lot. After the scene, I had tears streaming down my face. I didn't know why it had happened, but Martin came up to me and said: “Louis, it is because you went to places you have never been before.” And that's so damn true because I have never experienced anything like that. Louis is not the guy who fights people and builds up so much anger within himself -- that's Sebastien. Still, it's Louis who experiences that situation as Sebastien and thank you (to Rolland) for pushing me into that.

RM: I'm proud of you.

LH: But I also appreciate that I experienced something like that, and it’s why I love acting.

RM: You push your limits, and now you know you can do stuff like that.

LH: Yeah.

MZ: I don't believe I change as a person, but there's so much of me in that movie. I chose that he should lie in front of the boys because I'm a liar. I have so much hate in me, but I also have a lot of love. I always try to make sure that if nothing else comes out of it, if it becomes a shitty movie, then at least I would look at it that it was a part of me, and I learned a little bit about who I was in the process. Maybe I do change, but on the other hand, we should give as much as we can to it, and it is not because I suddenly think that I can change the world.

RM: No, I don't think I change, but it definitely makes me aware of some of the things that are inside of me. Actually, because I have played a lot of villains up until now like I told you before, I put something of myself into these roles. So when I see myself on the screen I'm more aware of when I'm like them in real life. I can feel it. That's the character you play; that's the guy you don't want to be. So I'm more in control of it.

I also write a lot, poems and such, and when I look at it the next day, I can analyze what the problem is and find the solution. It's the same when I watch myself on the big screen, but first, my vanity has to go away and so I have to watch it ten times. But when it has gone, and I don't think my nose is too big and everything else, then I start analyzing, and I think it helps me to become a better person.

Land of Mine is distributed in the UK by Thunderbird Releasing, and following its theatrical release will be available on DVD from 9 October 2017.

Culture

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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