Death Threats Inspire Arrington De Dionyso to Tour This Saxophone Kills Fascists

Arrington De Dionyso will present This Saxophone Kills Fascists at Mutiny Information Cafe.
Arrington De Dionyso will present This Saxophone Kills Fascists at Mutiny Information Cafe. Suzy Poling
Arrington De Dionyso is on tour performing This Saxophone Kills Fascists, his homage to the spirit of free jazz and a mobile protest against the cultural and political times in which we find ourselves. De Dionyso, perhaps best known for his noise-jazz-rock band Old Time Relijun and his Malaysian music and performance project Malaikat Dan Singa, unwittingly ran afoul of so-called alt-right white nationalist conservatives for his painting inspired by Goya's Saturn Devouring One of His Sons, which depicts Donald Trump's head cast in the role of the god Saturn.

De Dionyso posted the image to his Instagram account and encouraged people who wanted to print it as a poster to get in touch. Not only was his imagery lost on many, but he was targeted in the Pizzagate debacle after conspiracy theorists discovered he had performed at Comet Ping Pong, an all-ages music venue in Washington, D.C.

After incurring harassment and even a death threat, De Dionyso decided to attempt to address that negative energy with creativity and turn it into a traveling musical project. At each show, where possible, De Dionyso arranges ahead of time to incorporate local musicians to join his performance as more than a nod to the folk-music tradition of Woody Guthrie, whose guitar bore the phrase "This Machine Kills Fascists."

Ahead of De Dionyso's performance at Mutiny Information Cafe, we caught up with him to discuss the inspiration for This Saxophone Kills Fascists.

Westword: Some people like to make really weird art, and it's not necessarily about evil – literal or otherwise. You don't ask Stephen King if he is secretly a serial killer, because we recognize it's fiction. Some creative work can just be pieces of art.

Arrington De Dionyso: In this day and age, it's almost like now we're in a phase where nothing is just art. The energetic flow of culture is pushing us in this new direction. If we're people who are making art, it's not enough anymore if we're making just art. We have to be really clear and conscious about the larger implications of the art we're making. I've been pushed in that direction from the other side of it because of the harassment I've been experiencing and these mis-implied implications of what people are associating my imagery with. I feel like I have to step it up and take it even further than where I was as an artist.

It's like the converse of the same sort of imposition. It can't just be art anymore; it's got to be something really dedicated to fighting fascism and toppling this dictatorship that's trying to take over our country and every other country in the world. It's like a call to arms for every artist in the world. You've got to consider the broader implications of what you're making and putting out into the larger consciousness. It doesn't mean that every piece of artwork has to be explicitly political in any way. Much political art isn't very good. But we have to consider what we're putting our creative energy toward.

This perspective directly informs your new project.

That's the genesis of This Saxophone Kills Fascists. I'm kind of tapping into this heritage, free jazz. At the time it was being created, in the mid-1960s, a lot of those musicians in interviews and lectures, they were being caught in this awkward position of not wanting the music to be labeled explicitly as political. They didn't want the sounds to be like Albert Ayler: You play your saxophone really loud with this guttural tone — is that because you're playing in protest? You listen to his interviews, and he didn't want his music to be associated with protest. He wanted it to be an expression of his spirituality. He wasn't playing that way because he was angry; he was playing that way out of love and trying to extend every possible sound. Every sonic wave that came from his horn was an extension of himself and his love for creation. But in this day and age, I feel like that position is ipso facto inherently a political statement, because we're forced to assert that anything for the sake of creativity and creation and for the love of a spiritual expression – that becomes a political statement. We're forced into that position by this fascist ideology that's taking hold.
You're referencing Woody Guthrie directly with the name of the project. But the impetus behind what you're doing addresses the bigger picture of the country, and not just the stuff that happened to you specifically – which is a symptom of a larger problem.

The stuff that happened to me...not to shrug it off and say it's no big deal — any time you're getting a death threat on Twitter, that's a big deal. But I don't know. It got me down for a week or two right after the election and Ghost Ship. But there are people being deported for dropping their kids off at daycare. My right to paint a weird-looking mural that got painted over five or six years ago pales in comparison to that. Getting thrown into detention – who knows where you'll wake up in the morning? Maybe six months later? Stuff like that's happening everywhere right now. I'm lucky to have people talking shit about my artwork. I'm not being gang-raped or hung from a tree because of the color of my skin. I feel like anyone in a position to have power to say something and anyone is listening – we have to be saying it right now. This is wrong, this is not normal, this is not where we need to be from an evolutionary perspective, and we could all be doing better.

What will the music for this tour be like?

[I am] putting more emphasis on the actual instruments for this trip. This is kind of where I'm at now, [with] tenor and baritone sax and bass clarinet, and Bromiophones [a wind instrument made from PVC piping]. It's almost more like the raw sounds of the instruments is closer to what I want to be saying with my music. I have an entire new fourteen-song album that's all finished, mixed, ready to be sent off, and I pulled it from release. With all the kind of bad political stuff going on, it was a bad time to put it out. I didn't want to have another album of Old Time Relijun music. I'm not ready to support or release that music, because what has to happen now is something more immediate and visceral.

Arrington De Dionyso's This Saxophone Kills Fascists, with Becca Mhalek, David Mead and Adam Baumeister improvising, Denizens of the Deep and Animal / object, 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Mutiny Information Cafe, 2 South Broadway, $5-10303-778-7579, all ages.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.