In the Spring of 2015 I first listened to the World/Inferno Friendship Society. I was fourteen years old and I did not realise how big an impact their music would have on me.
The song I heard was “Tattoos Fade.” It was sentimental and unusual. I did not know what the lyrics meant but I have a feeling I was more preoccupied with trying to figure out why the band had such a long name.
I now know that the World/Inferno Friendship Society is not a band but a gang. Gang meaning a lively network of musicians, united by a shared philosophy, rather than a knife-wielding posse of hooded youths. I believe that knife crime has never been on their agenda, as they have always been preoccupied with setting fire to things. Which I believe to be a more satisfying hobby. Knife-crime can get messy. They consist of a rotating membership of over 40 individuals, and they are based in Brooklyn, New York. If you are wondering, I still do not know why they have such a long name. I am guessing it has something to with signifying the magnitude of the collective.
I grew fascinated with them, and not long after I discovering them, I found out that they would be performing in Camden, UK. It is not difficult for me to get to Camden; the prospect of seeing them live filled me with a giddy excitement. I had never been to a concert. In fact, attending a concert had been one of the biggest items on my bucket list for what felt like a long time. It was something I fantasized about multiple times a day. Naturally, the idea of seeing a THE WORLD/INFERNO FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY seemed like the grandest way to fulfill that item on my bucket list.
I proceeded to listen to World Inferno nonstop – even before I asked my parents whether I could see them. I also proceeded to call them World Inferno for short. It just made things easier.
(If I added up all the time I had saved by referring to the group as World Inferno rather than the World/Inferno Friendship Society, I might find that I had reserved 53 minutes of spare time, which could either be spent staring into space daydreaming about joining World Inferno or doing something useful like playing my drum kit and guitar.)
Nobody seems to be able to agree what genre World Inferno is. Answers include mixtures of Swing, Ska, Klezmer, Polka, Cabaret, Gospel, Showtunes and Punk. One fan said in an interview, “They are a punk band, but not in the music sense, in just the sense of the word ‘Punk’ – about not letting yourself be told what to do.” If I had discovered World Inferno with no context of genre whatsoever, I do not think I would immediately have noticed the Punk in their music – but I certainly would have noticed it in their attitude. You could say they are Punk because they do not adhere to the typical musical formula of Punk. One of the great things about the group is that they increase my appreciation of different genres. I did not listen to any Jazz or Klezmer music before World Inferno, but now when I hear those or similar genres playing I can enjoy them because I have had exposure to them through the group. You would miss out on a lot as a band if you stuck strictly to one type of music. Human beings are not made up of one identity. We change the way we think of ourselves on a day-to-day basis, and our identity changes in relation to who we are with and what we have had exposure to of late. I believe that any one time we have several latent identities hiding behind the one we are embodying. Most bands can be viewed in such a way as well. I feel like World Inferno embraces all its identities concurrently and therefore isn’t limited by the usual restraints of genre-definition.
My first real favourite song by World Inferno was American Mercurial. American Mercurial begins with an excitedly sorrowful pulsing synth-y sequence, which weaves into a twisting, tension-building saxophone line, rolling out a carpet for the doleful, mischievous lyrics characteristic of World Inferno. I honestly couldn’t make out the words of the chorus, even after I had listened to it about twenty times. I find it hilarious that I didn’t realise that the main line of the song was “Little meteorite who wanted to be a star.” I heard it as something like “leeta mejearator a wan tabi a a shock.” Still, I enjoyed the parts I could make out: “You won’t get used to it, but you will live through it.” There was something oddly reassuring about that line. Along with the other lyrics, it spun a beautifully mournful, yet comforting, smashing, and grand sound unlike anything I had ever heard.
*Attention: You have now reached the average internet-user’s attention span cut-off point. Keep reading to find out my take on the point of life, and learn what a Temporary Autonomous Zone is.*
That brings me to why I love World Inferno.
World Inferno’s music makes me feel like I have the license to attempt anything. Everything will turn out fine because I’m doing what I want to do, and if things don’t go quite to plan then that’s okay because that has to happen sometimes: things will always work out in the end if you acknowledge your situation and keep doing what you want to do.
Things will work out.
Bad decisions may lead to awful situations, but as long as you stick to your view of the world, things will always, always work out. Never stop having fun or doing things the way you feel is right. Be reckless. It’s okay to feel the way you do. It’s okay to be the person you are.
Things will work out.
As the lead singer, Jack Terricloth puts it, “Everything is gonna be okay even though everything is terrible.” He also says, “Life is good. The future is unwritten. Live it up while you can.”
And as one Infernite (which is the name for a hardcore fan of World Inferno) puts it, “The lyrics have this sense of ‘We’re going to break everything and it’s going to be okay.’ And there’s this joy in destruction. And it’s a freedom because there’s joy in destruction because you can break everything and you don’t have to put too much hope of faith or trust in anything because there will always be something else.”
I agree with that. Sometimes when you embrace a situation you cannot change you realise that there is more freedom in it than you thought there was. You do not have to fear destruction any longer – instead, you willfully take part in it – and in taking part in it, you let go of your fear of it. It is through this release that you discover a new perspective.
When I say destruction I refer not only physical destruction but the destruction of limiting ideas and false barriers. You may very well find that the act of physical destruction also leads to the mental release of limitations.
I also absolutely understand what Jack Terricloth means when he describes the music of World Inferno as,”The music of the joy of your heart breaking. With a riot going on outside.” World Inferno acknowledges pain and panic, and in acknowledging it, turns it into joy and excitement. There will always be a riot going on outside.
In my opinion, the most important aspect of World Inferno is the absolute rejection of boringness. They create a space where reality and fiction meld, and real people have a chance to express the side of themselves that is as interesting as the fictional characters we read about – the side that is muted by the mundane society we are surrounded by in everyday life. World Inferno tells us that real life can indeed be filled with intriguing escapades. It will, if we just dive into it.
As somebody who frequently feels frustrated by other people’s lack of enthusiasm and ambition, I cannot say how much it means to me to discover a group of musicians who sum up what I believe to be the point of life.
What do I think is the point of life?
I think living, in its most basic form has the potential to be… excruciatingly uneventful to the ego. YOU have to make it interesting. Otherwise there is no point. Let us imagine for a moment that everybody in the world shared the view that it was up to them to make their life interesting. In this completely hypothetical scenario, we would all wake up one day with the realisation that it was possible to live as eventfully as our favourite heroines and heroes. We would understand that adventure is preferable to office jobs, and can be seeked out. We would be bursting with joy! Every day would be a new mission with exceedingly entertaining challenges and frolicsome occurrences. We would sing and dance and run around, unable to contain our elation. How would we regard our existence but the manifestation of a divine gift?
Strangely, nobody around me appears to feel this way. When I say “nobody appears to feel this way” I am not pointing to occurrences of war or terrorism and suchlike, as those are things so beyond my comprehension that I cannot attempt to complain about them. I am speaking about the more common seeming monotony of people’s everyday lives. Yes, I speak very subjectively; it is likely that it is only to me that other people’s lives appear monotonous. But I am still in awe at how they seem content doing things that I would find boring. Let me make this clear: I think office jobs sound boring. I think just staying indoors all day can be boring. I think going to the supermarket is boring. I think signing forms is boring. I think when your only source of fun is seeing your friends at the weekend or watching movies, then you are wasting time you could be spending in a more adventurous way. I guess that is what it is: the lives of most people I meet seem to lack adventure.
The reason why I say “other people’s lives” without including my own life is because I am 15 and have not yet had an opportunity to create my own life. It is not a judgement of people, but a bewilderment at how exactly they think.
I believe that the point of life is to acquire as much knowledge as possible and have as much fun as possible. I don’t see the point of us wasting time, when every minute is an opportunity, a blank space to fill with meaning! I have said this already in another post, but I will go into more detail here. I believe in making up your own challenges and following whims, as these will lead you to discover something outside of your everyday life. Ideally, you would not have an everyday life because life simply has too much potential for you to do the same thing every day.
To me, World Inferno sums up this reckless readiness. The World/Inferno Friendship Society are idealistic, and they acknowledge the frustration of living in a world frequented by people who do not share their enthusiasm, and the times when enthusiasm is not enough – the times when compromises must be made.
As one of the members puts it,”World Inferno is about the world the way you with it was – sort of capturing that moment and preserving it.”
World Inferno describe their performances as Temporary Autonomous Zones. For the uninitiated a Temporary Autonomous Zone is a concept written about by the anarchist writer Hakim Bey, that describes a space that eludes social norms and formal structures of control.
*You have now reached the attention span of the average reading enthusiast. If you’re really hardcore, stay to find out why I had a brain freeze and hear about what it’s like to see someone you weren’t sure was real.*
For a while I have had this dread of growing up and being expected to experience, what I call, a boring existence: That whole 9-5 groceries and paperwork no-fun thing. To fit in with people I do not understand. I have tried to hold tight to my own idea of what I believe living to be about, but there has always been an insecurity surrounding how possible that ideal is. World Inferno has massively reinforced my belief that I can indeed live the way I want to. They have made me a happier person and changed my life with their music.
Now, let me return to almost a year ago when I asked my parents whether I could see World Inferno. I still remember sitting at the table in the living room and dropping my request as unassumingly as possible. Remember, this would be my first concert.
To my surprise, my mother did not seem reluctant at all.
She said she’d consider it.
It was quite a few days later that we booked our tickets, after a lot of reminding on my part. As soon as our booking went through, I felt a rush of anticipation. I was actually going to attend a concert. Me, A CONCERT. I was actually going to see World Inferno. Me, WORLD INFERNO. I was actually going to see Jack Terricloth and Sandra Malak.
I did my “homework.” I read the history of the band – sorry, gang, on their tumblr. I watched interviews with them and started reading The Temporary Autonomous Zone, which I hadn’t heard of before reading their history. I read their Wikipedia article and watched “M,” a film starring an actor called Peter Lorre (whom they have written a whole album about owing to Jack Terricloth’s fascination with the man.) I watched their music videos and looked up the names of the past members. I listened bands that they mentioned in interviews and made sure that I was able to match as many names to faces in the group as I could. I sung along to their songs in practice for doing so at their performance. I read Sandra’s tumblr. I was determined not to miss any references the musicians or audience would make.
I would tell you about more of the members, but that would result in you not remembering who was who, so I will give you a very quick profile on two of the members that are at the forefront of my mind: Sandra Malak and Mora Precarious.
Sandra Malak is the bassist, and she sings as well. Here is her tumblr: smalakinferno. She is also an artist/painter. Oh, and she has cool hair.
Mora Precarious is the drummer. I love how she plays the opening to “Tattoos Fade.” Mora is recognisable by the pigtails and the hat she often sports (ooh, and that waistcoat.)
Remember that. Sandra: Bassist, artist. Mora: Drummer, waistcoat.
World Inferno dress classy, in suits – and often ties as well – which looks very fun. (By the way, owning a suit actually happens to be on my mental bucket list. I should add it to the bucket list I have on this blog.) When dressing for performances they keep in mind that every show is a special occasion.
Anyway, the day of the concert drew nearer.
I lowkey fretted about what to wear to it. It had to be something smart that would be comfortable and withstand any moshing that might take place (“Go in a mosh pit” was another item on my bucket list =D)
I messaged a friend for advice and revised the rules of a mosh pit.
I thought about World Inferno so much that I literally had a detailed dream about seeing them live, in which there were multiple supporting acts; I had a wardrobe mishap that stopped me from moshing and there was an intermission that I arrived back late from. What a relief to wake up and know that I had plenty of time to prepare for seeing the WIFS. Oh yes, now I have progressed to the stage of calling them the WIFS. (I wonder how much extra time I’ve acquired to practice music by that.)
It is worth mentioning now, in case you have not gathered, that Jack Terricloth, the frontman, is an incredibly captivating character. Half make-believe and absolutely sincere, he speaks engagingly in interviews and always manages to respond interestingly. He is a bit like an imaginary friend that is always there for you even when you can’t see him. What is even more agreeable about him is that he is a really nice person. Despite his mythical-seeming character, there is something immediately present and relatable about Jack. Maybe it is because of his mythical-seeming character. One thing I can tell you is that he is more likeable than any musician in the any of the other groups I listen to. For starters, he doesn’t have that stand-offishness typical of musicians in interviews. He never shows impatience at being asked the same questions; he just finds new ways of answering them. He always seems like he wants to be there. Any arrogance manifests itself as witty, youthful jauntiness. He does not seem like he thinks he is better than his fans. In short, there is something genuinely friendly about Jack Terricloth – something more welcoming than what I see in any other musician I know.
The day of the concert finally came. My mother and I arrived an hour early -just in case (because not only was it my first concert, but it was hers as well!), and were told to come back later. So we walked around Camden for fifteen minutes, bought iced drinks, and then arrived 45 minutes early. There was a lot of waiting around. Not many people were there. I was very cold. This was partly from the fact that I had just slurped up my iced drink so fast that I had a brain freeze, because the bouncer would not allow us into the venue with our drinks, and partly because they had some seriously hardcore air conditioning.
Once inside the venue I could not stop looking around at the other fans. There appeared to be very few of them so far (We WERE 45 minutes early, remember), and they appeared to be milling around rather than partaking in whatever mysterious pre-concert ritual I had imagined concert-goers to partake in. And then I saw someone who looked familiar. Any guesses who?
JACK TERRICLOTH. Well, it certainly looked like him… But was it? I looked again. I was sure… 99 percent.
I cannot tell you how bizarre it was for me to see him in real life. In real life. After seeing pixellated images of him on the internet. It should not be a surprise to see somebody at their own concert but to me, seeing Terricloth managed to be a shock; I’d expected him to remain backstage till the show started, and not to talk to people like it was normal. Despite what I said about him showing no signs of elitism whatsoever, I still can never comprehend the fact that musicians are capable of doing normal things. No, it was more than bizarre – don’t get me started, don’t get me wrong, but it just seemed completely and utterly totally bloody weird. It was just the fact that he was real, really.
I shan’t pretend that the fact that he was real did not make me slightly uncomfortable. The singer was NOT just a google image made out of the pixels of light on my computer screen. Nor was he a spark of the material of my mind. This was the person whose voice I’d been listening to whenever I clicked play on a song by World Inferno. I’d read Wikipedia articles that mentioned him. He even had one of those mini profiles that pop up on the side when you search for him.
Each time I looked away I had to look back to see if he was still there, and still real. All the while, this Jack guy, of course, was just going about his regular everyday life, having no idea what impact seeing him was having on me. He was just talking to the bartenders, walking around the venue, checking on the merch table and things like that. All the while I was thinking, “Is it him?… Yes it’s him… He’s real… What if it’s not him?” over and over again. No-one else seemed as excited to see him. I didn’t notice anyone paying him as much attention as I was. “Maybe it’s a faux pas to bother a musician when they’re hanging around before their own concert,” I thought. But then I saw a fan starting to talk to him. And he was replying. In his distinctive Jack Terricloth voice! Just like I’d heard him talking in interviews. He was so bloody real that even his voice was real! Of course, I was “reaching my hearing out,” (which is the surreptitious equivalent of craning my neck) to listen to what he was saying. In the same way that I’d been grinning whenever Jack Terricloth (yes, Jack Terricloth! Jack Terricloth) walked past. I must have looked like an idiot.
I sound like an idiot.
After a while I walked over to the merch table to see what was on offer there. And guess who happened to be standing by the merch table? Jack Terricloth! I stepped forward to see the T-shirts and records. He looked in my direction, making eye contact and said, “Hey, how are you?”
“I’m good, thanks” I replied with a smile, but quietly. I would have spoken louder with more detail and included an “and you?” at the end, but I didn’t because there was a tiny possibility that he hadn’t been talking to me. Now that would have been SO embarrassing, if he hadn’t been talking to me, wouldn’t it?! So Jack Terricloth, if you’re reading this, I didn’t mean to be rude; I really was feeling wonderful (very excited to be attending my first concert) and I did want to inquire after your well-being, only I was worried that you might not have been talking to me.
He remarked to me and the people standing around me on the items of merchandise that were for sale, which made them 100 times more interesting. I asked him what time the music would start and he told me it would begin at seven. I spoke with Jack Terricloth! He went to have a drink. I went back to my mum. The place started to fill out.
I will leave you with this:
I sung along at the top of my voice. I danced which is something I seldom do, I danced amid a group of people I didn’t know and I knew nobody there really cared about the fact that I looked stupid. I went in a circle pit. Yes, I, Jamila Smith went in a circle pit; I ran around as fast as I could with a load of Inferno-loving strangers all running around as fast as they could, to music we all listened to as much as we could, to lyrics that told us that we could do anything we wanted. And I did feel like I could do anything, because I was at a World Inferno concert.
I went to bed. I kept waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of ringing in my ears, and whenever this happened I’d recount the events of the evening to myself because I was terrified that my tiredness would make me forget them.