Snapshots of a Surveillance Manifesto – Hungarian Cyberpunk

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Damage, aka Máriusz Bari, is a Hungarian cyberpunk novelist, journalist, and musician. He is best known for his novel, Damage Report (which you can download for free here if you speak Hungarian), and as the editor for The Dose, a short lived cyberpunk/goth subculture magazine. He currently maintains a blog called Planet://Damage and is creating music under the same name.

The Dose Magazine
The Dose Magazine

Neon Dystopia – What got you into cyberpunk?

Damage: There was a Hungarian print magazine about computer games back in the early 90s that published a frenetic and raving review about the Neuromancer PC game made by Interplay and that got me hooked instantly, especially that it mentioned that the Hungarian translation of the source material is to be published soon. Bought it, read it in one sitting, changed my life. That was also the time when I was watching a lot of independent music videos on MTV’s show “120 minutes” and my classmates were also listening to a lot of that stuff, so that’s how I got into Kraftwerk, Front 242 and Front Line Assembly. Then I started working on the first Hungarian internet radio broadcast Pararadio and, man, the net had EVERYTHING back then – Hyperreal and the WELL and rec.music.industrial and all that, I don’t even want to get started on all the rest.

As for inspiration: all forms of media did have powerful sources of inspiration but if I had to pick one and one only, it was music: Front Line Assembly, Mentallo & The Fixer, Headscan, Clock DVA, Skinny Puppy with its mad sideprojects or oldschool Leaether Strip were the bands that had all the moods and words and flashes of inspiration no forms of literature could have ever put in my neon brainmeat.

Pre-internet times obviously inspired me with industrial music mixtapes, discmags with loads of texts taken from USENET about music reviews or then-contemporary things like Hyperreal nootropics FAQs and materials on phreaking and blackboxing and TAZ and urban survival (and if I mentioned discmags, I have to mention all demoscene-related stuffs as well as the demoscene way of making music in trackers and a lot of demo aesthetics did help me become the guy I am today). And books, obviously, I’m still a sucker for the Mirrorshades group and their oeuvre, Gibson primarily, of course. Post-internet times, the biggest inspiration was coffee and the anger-filled gonzo of Warren Ellis and a longer visit to Ars Electronica, one of the best cyber arts exhibitions in Linz, Austria.

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Damage’s most recent EP is Planet://Damage: Snapshots of a Surveillance Manifesto. The EP deals with themes of “constant, pervasive surveillance” and each track on the EP “approaches that very thing, only from different angles.” Damage says on one of the Production Diaries that is included with the EP that, “Cyberpunk isn’t the future scenario anymore. It is pretty much the present we live in and cold war paranoia is even making a comeback with the constant debates about privacy and surveillance.” Snapshots of a Surveillance Manifesto certainly manages to capture the Cyberpunk Present that we live in.

Damage: There’s always a contradiction to resolve in all these tracks, in terms of meaning – I’m never sure which is worse, the System or the people who very, very rarely use their brains.

Lensjammer is the first track on the EP. The atmosphere in this track is almost cosmic, but perhaps in the cosmic sense of navigating the deep parts of the internet rather than deep space. The digital pings and numbers add to this atmosphere by creating feeling of looking at code or encryption.

Damage: “Lensjammer” is about confused, expectant lingering, the same emotion I had when I wanted to implement a series of crypto-puzzles in that very track which I never really managed to do. (Though info@planetdamage.com is still waiting for that string of characters you end up with after solving all phases of the puzzle! I already have two good replies, if it’s any motivation.)

The second track is Firewalls. The opening sample paints the listener as a kind of human computer, whose firewall is always at risk from con men and criminals attempting to take advantage of any available exploit. The opening lines of the lyrics (you can see them below) accuse those of us who  fall prey to these con men of failing to protect our own privacy and to not fall prey to the attractive “legend of reprieve, propaganda cocaine, and diamond disbelief” because it will allow “them” to hack our brains. The music is our Firewall shocking us in to remembering that we can be exploited. There is music out there that is also malware lulling us back into a state of easily exploitable, that is best to be avoided.The line, “As the drone blade goes chop chop chop chop,” is a reference to Gibson’s Neuromancer.

Damage: As for “Firewalls”, that comes from the same side as “Another Brick in the Wall”, dancing to the tune of our own slavery to omnipresent eyes. Once you lend rhythm and lyrics to it, it’s pretty danceable.


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The third track on Snapshots of a Surveillance Manifesto, and my favorite, is The Mark. It continues the kind of themes of the brain as computer vulnerable to human exploits (social engineering attacks) that are portrayed in Firewalls. It opens with a sound sample from lhasa Mencur inspired by Mr. Robot that perfectly places us as simple parts of the larger societal machine. The opening lyrics (you can read them above) that follow cement this feeling, but offer a hopeful spark in that there are those that are “frail” but still active “underground” and in “fast frantic alleys.” Us. The Cyberpunks. But it isn’t an easy existence because we are all “The Mark,” and our “point of view” is worth shit when our apocalyptic existence asks us to acquire “gas, rations, or IQ,” and to escape from the “atemporal game show.” We are “cyberpunks on autopilot,” living in a illusionary world. “The Matrix was right all along.” “We’re agents of our own accord,” on the verge of waking. But until then we “are part of that system,” “devices for ears, mouths, and eyes” of the surveillance state we live under. And then the track ends with my favorite line since “The sky above the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel,” to describe the feel of living in a cyberpunk world: “Omniscient bugs under black scrambling skies.”

Damage: “The Mark” is more like a resigned sigh when you realize it’s been our very own laziness and desperate search for comfort that turned ourselves into our very own monitoring agents and there’s a reference to all the subversive industrial musicians out there who constantly taze you to keep your head ahead above water and stay sober and vigilant.

Come Home Traitor is the last track on the EP and possibly the closest to home. Thematically it explores the reality of how revelations of truth are met by a society that thrives on illusions and propaganda to survive. It liberally samples from the documentary Terminal F and how John F. Kerry condemned the actions of Edward Snowden, who in return has something to say that is far more damning – the truth.

Damage: “Come Home Traitor” takes a more political angle with speech samples from Edward Snowden and John F Kerry, it’s an anger- and paranoia-ridden rush through an airport with no gravity but way too many dead ends with the System breathing down your neck.

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Snapshots of a Surveillance Manifesto acts as the “taze you [need] to keep your head ahead above water and stay sober and vigilant.” It is an import musical exploration of the surveillance society as it exists today and the glimmer of hope that shines through the “black scrambling skies.” This is the kind of album that reminds me of how important it is to adopt the cyberpunk attitude and question everything. To deconstruct our reality until you find the morsels of truth, even the uncomfortable truths. The reality that we are a large part of allowing the world to fall, but we are also the ones who can save it. And should that prove impossible, at least we can save ourselves. You are the Mark. Raise your Firewalls.

You can download Snapshots of a Surveillance Manifesto (with all the extras) for free here.

Planet://Damage will be releasing his next album in November 2016.

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