Arrington De Dionyso Talks #Pizzagate and His Response Project, This Saxophone Kills Fascists

Lena Shkoda
"They say don’t feed the trolls, don’t respond to them, don’t address it,” Arrington de Dionyso tells us on the phone while talking about This Saxophone Kills Fascists, his latest project. “But I’m an artist, I’m a musician with a higher profile. That tactic isn’t going to work for me.”

The it the Olympia multi-instrumentalist is referring to is the infamous #Pizzagate. A right-wing fever dream of fabricated child sex rings and Satanic rituals, #Pizzagate was certainly one of the strangest and most disquieting pieces of misinformation to emerge from 2016’s brutal campaign. The idea that leading Democratic officials would orchestrate something as monstrous and preposterous as a pedophile trafficking operation out of a pizzeria was bizarre enough; the fact that underground artist de Dionyso became a part of the controversy made it even more surreal.

de Dionyso was already a well-known and respected figure before #Pizzagate shined a spotlight on him. As a musician, his groups Old Time Relijun and Malaikat dan Singa mixed together psych-rock, jazz, and Indonesian trance music to create a beguiling curry of mind-expanding sounds. His artwork, replete with ecstatic and primitive figures that recall the wild & child-like styles of Henri Rousseau & Henry Darger, has adorned concert posters, gallery walls, and even Yves Saint Laurent backpacks. His art also decorated the walls of Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria, ground zero for the #Pizzagate hysteria, making him a target for deranged right-wing conspiracy theorists.

It's why de Dionyso is putting his latest rock album aside to tour as the explosive free-jazz experience This Saxophone Kills Fascists. Playing with a different group of local musicians in each city, de Dionyso brings saxophone, bass clarinet, Indonesian wind instruments, and other percussive instruments together to make a different kind of protest music.

"When you think of protest music, you think of the '60s - Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez," de Dionyso said. "But those aren't really songs for right now. We need to build a contemporary protest music.  We've got to broaden our palette because our demographic is really different than what it was 50 years ago. We're dealing with some of the same problems in many ways, but we got new issues to address."

Using free jazz as a mode of protest music is an unexpected choice, considering protest music's close association with folk music and lyrical content, but that's exactly why de Dionyso is drawn to it. "I'm using the spiritual legacy of free jazz to form a new voice for protest music, using abstract music as  a form of protest.... With all this stuff about the media and fake news, any words you put out there can just be twisted and turned around."

de Dionyso is deploying the pure expressive qualities of raw sound to move people to resist the way Bob Dylan used to with a six string and a mouth full of Wobblies poetry. The yearning, spiritual qualities of free jazz also gives him an alternative tradition to build from: the manic crying to Heaven that can be heard in the later works of Coltrane and Albert Ayler. It's music to wrestle angels to; the sound of earthly men trying to bring the planets themselves down to their level with their squealing tones, as unrestrained and all-encompassing as a supernova.

"I'm not a politically adept person," he adds. "I'm a musician. I think everybody has to make their own contribution, offering up resistance to this regime in whatever way they can.... I don't really believe that if a really racist rightwing person heard my music, that it would change any of their opinions. But what I do think is that people who are interested in fighting this mess need something to energize them, because we have a really long struggle ahead."

For people who need that energy, de Dionyso will bring the free jazz thunder on Friday, March 10, at The Trunk Space. It will be the first time that the Trunk Space has used Grace Lutheran Church's sanctuary space for a show, giving this collaboration between de Dionyso and local performers (including musicians from Afghanistan and Iran) even more weight.

"I feel like the music we play is a reflection of the type of social structures that we're hoping to achieve," de Dionyso said. "Each voice, each instrument, is coming to this as equals. I might be the bandleader, in a sense, but I'm not the conductor. I'm not the dictator. I'm not telling people how they should play. We're going to direct our energies towards a vision of society that has room for all of us."

This Saxophone Kills Fascists will perform with Sunn Trio on Friday, March 10th, at the Trunk Space in downtown Phoenix.