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Frataxin Takes A Nuanced, Disturbing, And Personal Cue In Power Electronics

Photo by Belltone Suicide

Very soon after I connected with Joe Satkowski of the crude power electronics project Frataxin, he asked me to put out a tape on his label Uninvited. We had talked about Cormac McCarthy, Sam Delany, and other favorite authors of ours, but fairly quickly got into deeper, more personal waters – Satkowski’s Friedreich’s Ataxia, a neurodegenerative condition that impacts physical mobility and functions. When performing live, Satkowski wields mic feedback, screams, and grunts from the floor, beginning in a seated position often before transitioning to writhing on the ground. We get into the details of how Friedreich’s Ataxia has affected Satkowski’s life and art, but not before touching on his journey into the underground and transgressive, and which artist “kicked [his] ass ideologically.”

Additionally, Frataxin has just released a new cassette on the mighty No Rent Records. Check it out!

Jordan Reyes: Tell me about how you got into noise, industrial culture, and transgressive art? What about it drew you in? When did you begin creating within that realm?

Joe Satkowski: I started with noise, sort of glazing over industrial. Now that I’m older, I realize how foolish that was: I’ve been trying to get into industrial a bit more at this point certainly. My first proper noise album was Ejaculation Generator by Masonna, which really made me fall in love with harsh noise, although admittedly it took a few listens for my teenage mind to really grasp the album properly. Then Merzbow of course, C.C.C.C. and other Japanese noise at a young age really got me heavily into the culture. Whitehouse is responsible for drawing me in to the realm of transgression through confrontation. They were certainly the first, but watching videos of Con-Dom live and listening to his work more or less non-stop for a few months really kicked my ass ideologically: I knew this was something I had to pursue to my own end. I was in a noise rock/generally fucking weird band with my cousin for a few years. I wanted to take the sound more in the vein of Power Electronics, but she did not agree. We parted ways, and I started Frataxin in the summer of 2015.

JR: Can you explain a bit about your disorder Friedreich’s Ataxia – how it progressed over the course of your life, and how it has affected you?

JS: Friedreich’s Ataxia is a neurodegenerative, genetic, life-shortening condition, namely characterized by severe gait disturbance, imbalance of the trunk, severe Scoliosis, fatigue, and urinary incontinency, along with hundreds of other smaller symptoms. To put it simply, I am unable to walk unassisted. I use a wheelchair to get around more easily in public, but I am able to get out of the chair and remain mobile, with assistance of course, to get into a booth at a restaurant, for example. I was born with this condition. I am 25 now, and was only properly diagnosed at 16. I started to notice walking was becoming more difficult after my first spinal fusion when I was 13, I’ve had two more of those surgeries since then. I saw pretty much every neurologist in the tristate area (NJ/NY/PA) and all of them, in NJ and NY at least, misdiagnosed me at least five times. A neurologist in PA finally got it right, and I had my diagnosis.

JR: Why did you decide to call your project Frataxin? It’s an overt reference to your disorder – did
you want people to have to wrestle with that?

JS: I was looking for a fairly original one-word name for the act, and thus Frataxin was born. It is an overt reference to my condition, yes. At first, I think I wanted people to grapple with a cripple screaming about past and present personal trauma. Now, my goal is to speak from a sort of Fascist body politic perspective: that is to say, Frataxin (or FXN) is the main mitochondrial enzyme that I am deficient in. Let’s say a normal person has 500 million of these enzymes, someone like me has less than 100. In essence, Frataxin has turned into this pompous neurological bully of a character, a Fascist-type supporting eugenics and anything to revolt against the inclusivity of disabled people in the modern world.

JS: To be clear, I don’t intend to support any political ideology with this project. I just find it funny that if a vast majority of people were truly honest with themselves, they’d admit that disabled people are not worthy of belonging in normative society.

JR: How do you write your lyrics? They’re very personal, and I know that I have personally been moved by them. What goes into the words, and what do you hope comes out of hearing them?

JS: Lyrics really just come to me. I’ll think of a concept, a framework of what I want the track to deal with. As I said above, earlier on the lyrics were more inwardly focused, now they’re more outwardly focused, attempting to produce more of a mirror for society. I want them to make people think.

JR: Can you tell me a bit about your label Uninvited Records? When did you begin the label and why? What goes into determining whether a release fits onto the label?

JS: My involvement in the label started as a partnership with several other people. The label was previously based in Queens, but my friend was having trouble getting to the Post Office regularly, and handed the distribution and creative control over to Kayla and I four years ago. We started the label with the hopes of releasing our own material and that of friends. As long as Kayla and I like the material, we’ll usually release it.

JR: What’s up with gorenoise?

JS: Good question. I understand that it’s not for everyone, and I like that I can do smaller editions of those tapes. It’s just a perfect blend of all the stupid shit I’m into: namely goregrind and noisecore though. Thematically, it really interests me, because it promotes a degrading medical reductionism, it’s also ignorant and disgusting.

JR: What’s it like working with a partner on the label aspect? How do you guys divide up the responsibilities? Does Kayla make music, too?

JS: I enjoy working as a partner on label stuff. Kayla does a little bit of everything, but she’s mainly responsible for the visual side of things. Kayla doesn’t currently make music.

JR: You’re a pretty big reader, something we’ve talked about at length – what are some of your favorite books? You’ve been on a little bit of a gothic kick lately, right? With Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Island of Dr. Moreau (two of my all-time favorites, I’ll admit!).

JS: Some of the best books I’ve read in the past few years are The Monk by Matthew Lewis, Thirteen Girls by Mikita Brottman, The Willowbrook Wars by David J. Rothman, The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung, and The Sluts by Dennis Cooper. I’ve been finishing up some course work for a class on Gothic literature, not such a big fan of the earlier stuff (with the exception of The Monk) but after some of the more overtly romantic novels, it interests me more certainly.

JR: What all is in the future for Joe Satkowski and Uninvited?

JS: I would like to continue recording regularly for Frataxin, as I’ve finally found a good studio space to record at: I want to continue playing shows, but it’s nice to release material that I’ve had written for a while with no effective means of recording. As for the label, I just hope people remain interested.

JR: Anything else you’d like to say?

JS: Thanks for asking me questions.

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