Interview: Kurt from xCatalystx

Q: Hi Kurt, when I first thought of the interview, I had one question in my mind. What was the main reason to bring back xcatalyst records? Are you happy with the reaction so far?

A: I think it was really a matter of the right things aligning at the same time. I had put the label on the back burner for years because I just didn’t have the time to dedicate to it to do things right, and I didn’t have the infrastructure set up to make it happen in a more time-effective way. Things calmed down a bit, and I was able to take the time to get a new site and shop online, find a new printer for merch in the US and someone to handle mail order for me – all the pieces kind of fell into place.

I’m definitely happy with the reaction, there was so much support from both people who had followed the label for years and from new people. The next step is to start refining the process and really get mail-order nailed down, expand the content for the site, get European ordering sorted, and start in on new releases.

Q: Yea it really takes a lot of time, expescially if you are doing everything by yourself next to your regular job. But I am sure we all appreciate it that you returned with catalyst. On another interview, you also explained the reasons why you started the label and why you named it catalyst. Do you think, we have reached now another period of time, where such a label likes yours is fundamental for the scene to move forward? Or would you say, with all the new vegan(edge) bands popping up, we are on a good way to spread the word?

A: I don’t necessarily think that Catalyst is “fundamental”, the hardcore scene goes through cycles like everything else so there are times when people are going to think a label like Catalyst is more relevant, and there will be times when I’m sure there will be a backlash against “conscious” hardcore (to draw parallels to the underground hip hop scene). For me, the job of Catalyst records has been to do my best to make sure that a specific set of values have a voice in the hardcore scene, and to amplify those voices if I can. I like the idea that there will be a place for those voices to be heard in the scene, regardless of how popular they may be at the time.

Q: What do you think could be a „root cause“ for those cycles? Is the market somehow saturated after a specific time when you confront the people with the same topics or just the course of things?

Raising your voice for the voiceless is definitely important! We ask our grandparents, why haven‘t they done something against the Holocaust before. And thats the reason why we have to stand against all the cruelty going on worldwide, before it is too late.

Is there something catalyst should change now in the hardcore scene in USA? Is there even place for all the compassion you as an individual have and transport into the label nowadays, with all the political shit going on?

A: I think the cause is just part of the nature of the hardcore sub culture, and honestly, our overarching culture in general. People are always searching for what feels “new and exciting”, and when what was once new and exciting starts to feel routine the subculture moves onto something else. Of course the hardcore scene is caught in a much smaller cycle and rotates through trends fairly fast. Which is unfortunate because ethics get entangled in that cycle along with aesthetics, but I have a feeling it’s all tied up in human psychology and how we form peer groups, especially in the age range that is most typical for the hardcore scene.

As far as the US hardcore scene goes, I will admit that I think any influence Catalyst Records can have here is fairly limited. There are a lot of factors that I feel make the US scene generally less conscious, political, and concerned with ethics than what I see in some other areas of the world. It’s possible that this will change a bit in the current environment, but there is a strong strain of conservatism that has always existed in the US hardcore scene, and which I think has also grown in the past ten to fifteen years as hardcore became more mainstream.

The question of “is there a place” is a good one. The current situation in the US (and many other places in the world) definitely makes issues that are being addressed (or as is often the case, not being addressed) in the hardcore scene seem a little less urgent, and a little less vital. With that said, I think we should take advantage of every avenue presented to push a message of compassion, rationality, and critical thinking – that energy is rarely wasted and I would much rather fall on the side of making an effort in vain rather than sinking into nihilism and not attempting to make a difference at all.

Q: So would you go that far to say, people within a group (in the hardcore scene) are influenceable by others and could therefore change their attitude, with „every new circle“? Like if Veganism is mainstream, everyone eats on a plant based diet, but this could change when people are getting older and grew out of that group or beliefs. Or is that too exaggerated?

It is good that you say that regarding do something vs. not attempting to make a difference. Was that also the trigger for starting your project: The Rational Vegan?

A: I think people are prone to being influenced by their peer groups (I would even call this a “tribal identity”).  I think there are a variety of different human personality types, some are going to be highly influenced by the beliefs of a group they participate in, and this will change depending on their current identity.  Some are always more influenced by mainstream cultural values. And I think some are what I would call “true believers” who though they may belong to groups, their identity and beliefs are more individual than group based, if that makes sense.  I think it would be great if everyone was more on the individual side of things, but human sociology, psychology, and biology work against that.

I think here are also some personalities that gravitate towards counter cultures when they are young, but lose that urge as they grow older, and would rather assimilate into the overarching monoculture.

Bringing that to the concept of veganism becoming mainstream – I think there is a very real danger of a loss of ideology when ideas become mainstream or the “norm”.  Mainstream cultural ideas are rarely questioned by most people, and are therefore more susceptible to being diluted, changed, or reinvented in ways that do not stay true to the original intent.  As a student of the history of religion, I feel that the history of almost all mainstream religions give us prime examples of this.

I do think that my creation of The Rational Vegan project plays into this.  Both because of what we talked about previously – making an effort even though it may be futile, and because I think holding the vegan scene (and the left in general) accountable, and questioning irrational dogma and in-scene mythology is part of what can keep an ideology consistent, rational, and relevant.  Humans have a terrible habit of engaging in confirmation bias, but giving in to that only makes our positions weaker rather than strengthening them.

Q: My experience with the individual identity was, that sometimes people do not understand the small difference between questioning things and criticize something or someone. Just because you do not agree with everything others do or say, does not mean you are against them, but thats their problem not mine. But this could sometimes end that people follow others instead or finding their own way, just because it is easier.

I totally agree with your standpoint regarding the mainstream veganism nowadays. Thats also the reason, why I for example differentiate being vegan and eating on a plant-based diet. Mainstream „vegans“ just eat plantbased and compassionate vegans live vegan as good as possible.

Are there new episode planned in the near future and if you, can you already teaser some topics you want to cover?

A: I think that’s an important point, there is very little growth outside of critique, and it’s often necessary to have our ideas challenged in order for them to evolve and refine. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who see any criticism as a personal attack, which should not be the case. Critique, if used properly, makes us all better.

I am definitely planning new episodes for the future, with a slight format change. I think the next episode will be concentrating on PeTA and some of the claims that people use to attack the organization. In this episode the plan is specifically look at the charges of sexism often leveled against PeTA campaigns, which I find very interesting considering that (from my understanding) PeTA is a largely female run organization. It will be interesting to dig into these criticisms and see which are valuable and which are irrational.

Q: I am really looking forward into that episode as it will show some prejudices against the organizations which are not true. They also got sued in Germany for a campaign which compares animal exploitation with the holocaust. It is kinda interesting, that in Germany every non-jew gets a complaint if you compare it, because you are not allowed to say such things. But when I check out the Israeli Animal Liberation movement, they do that too and there it is okay „because only jews are allowed to talk about that“.

Is that also a topic which gets discussed in USA? Or is there another focus?

A: I think that issue is very interesting, especially when relating to Germany and German culture.  Especially since the term most often used, “holocaust”, has origins directly relating to the sacrifice of non-human animals.  It’s definitely a touchy subject, along with comparing the way we treat non-human animals and chattel slavery in the US, which PeTA has been guilty of in the past.  On one hand I find the arguments to be totally rational, but on the other sometimes being rational isn’t the only thing that matters – it’s a difficult thing to balance, and the strategy of groups like PeTA has always been to use their campaigns to get as much media attention to the plight of animals as possible.

What I also think is interesting is that people are usually only prone to see the angle of “comparing humans to animals”, but from my perspective the object isn’t to lower humans to non-human animal status, but to use these injustices as a way to show people (albeit in a painful way) that we should be uplifting non-human animals to the same consideration we give humans.  And of course the idea that it’s inherently “anti-semitic” to portray the holocaust in such a way is challenged by the work of groups like 269 Life in Israel.  I think many of us in the West have a habit of seeing other cultures only in one stereotypical lens and not realizing that that is unfair to the diversity of the culture we are trying to defend.

As to what is discussed in the US, it pops up a bit, but I feel like it’s been a lot quieter recently as other issues have taken the front seat, recently revolving more around people of color, inclusion, representation, and intersectionality. Of course the US has a very different (though still very troubling) history with anti-semitism than Germany, so it’s natural that the topic will be more at the forefront in German than here.

Q: You say, that is more of that we should uplift non-human animals to the same level as humans. I find this interesting, because in certain circumstances, non-human animals get treated like humans by law, when it comes to attacks and they should get put to sleep. But then on the other side, non-human animals „are just objects“ in the eyes of the law. I mean how can a sentient being be an object?

It is like Gandhi said: “The size and moral progress of a nation can be measured by how they treat their animals.“ And if we look around, everyone, doesn’t matter if vegan or not, should see, that what we do to non-human animals is wrong.

Are animal rights even a topic, which gets discussed by politicians? Because here in Germany at least, this topic pops up every now and then. And other countries are improving their laws to protect non-human animals in different ways. Or is the fucked up government in US far away from taking non-human animals to their agenda?

A: Animal rights are very rarely discussed by politicians or the mainstream public at all in the US.  I think the ultra capitalist mindset of the mainstream politicians in the US (both conservative and liberal) tend to prevent discussions about the way we treat non-human animals in the political arena, probably in large part because there are other huge human issues that are being ignored.  The most movement you’ll see here is locally or regionally with some cities starting to ban circuses or sea mammals in captivity, etc.  But this is way more common in the more progressive areas of the country and mostly absent in the more conservative areas.

Q: Do you think our society needs to improve human rights first before they see the cruel against non-human animals? Or even if we would live in a perfect world regarding human rights, non-human animals would still get treated the same way as today?

A: I don’t think that we should create a hierarchy of injustices on that order. I think it is clear that rationally non-human animals are the most disadvantaged and most oppressed group of beings on our planet currently. This isn’t to say that any other groups facing injustice are also not oppressed or suffering, and I would encourage everyone to work on fighting whichever injustices they feel the need to devote their own energy to, but I don’t think we can argue that any population is more vulnerable, is more exploited, or has less agency than non-human animals.

I also don’t think that it’s safe to assume that once we “solve” the issues of human to human injustices that non-human animals would be treated better.  It’s wishful thinking, but the evidence I see suggests that the struggle for the freedom is not guaranteed if only humans get their shit together first.  For example there are many organizations that are very progressive and egalitarian on human to human issues that still have no problem serving the bodies of tortured, murdered and dismembered non-human animals at their meetings or functions.

I think if we wait for human issues to be solved before we work on helping non-human animals we are falling prey to the bias of thinking that humans are more important, or suffer more, and in the end it becomes merely an excuse to do nothing for animals.

Q: I totally got your point and I am with you here. People often ask me, why I fight for non-human animals more than against fascism, homophobia etc. It is exactly what you have explained. Do you think or believe that a real change is within our society possible, how we treat and look at non-human animals, or is the only way direct action right now, to help and save as many lives as possible from our greediness?

A: I think widespread change is possible, but I also think it has to be seen as a long term goal – possibly one that sustainability issues will force humanity into.

I also believe that the greatest and most effective “direct action” each human can take is to live vegan, and to live as an example to others.  If we consider that one meat eater kills about 7,000 animals in their lifetime (and this doesn’t include the huge number of non-human beings that are also imprisoned and tortured in the dairy industry per human) the greatest impact we can individually make is probably going to be in influencing other people to adopt a plant-based lifestyle.  It may not always be the most gratifying, but rationally I believe it is the most effective in the long term.  I think it’s really a numbers game and I know that, for example, if I can influence three people to eat a plant based diet that will be vastly more animals (21,000) than most of us can ever hope to save individually in a lifetime.

Honestly, although I don’t like to admit it, I also think a great hope for the future is lab-grown “meat”.  Mainly because I believe that so many humans are either selfish or apathetic and the ability to produce “animal” protein without exploiting a sentient being is probably one of the most viable solutions for the future.

Q: Yea each of us has an impact on our environment and how we treat animals. Are there any special „tactics” how you are trying to influence others for becoming vegan? Or are there any good resources people should check out if they want to live vegan?
I still have issues with lab-grown meat, as it is still animal flesh/protein. Doesn‘t matter if we would get it without harming millions of animals. But I know what you mean. It is like people, who live vegan and eat vegan chicken nuggets because they loved „the real ones“. I for myself can not eat something which looks too similar to an animal product. Especially because I am vegan for ethical reasons. But I prefer people who live vegan and eat „animal-like“ products, than sell out and eat again non-human animals, just for the taste.

A: My overall philosophy is just as simple as trying to live my convictions in my every day life, and try to lead by example.

Other than that I would say a couple of strategies that I like:
1. Not falling into the pattern of constantly pushing vegan apologetics – I think taking the approach that it’s necessary for vegans to always be reaching out to other people and say “vegans can be healthy too” or continually explaining “why I am vegan” puts the philosophy in an inferior position.  Vegans have already done a lot of thinking about these issues, so instead of continually trying justify the ideology and to prove that “it’s ok to be vegan” I think we should be putting more effort into asking non-vegans to justify their own practices.  Most of the time they can’t, because it’s merely a default rather than something they have thought about or made a conscious decision to participate in.

2. Not relying primarily on appeals to emotion when discussing veganism:
Though emotional appeals definitely have a place in the vegan argument, they are easily countered because so much of our emotional responses as humans are perception based.  I think it’s very important to focus on rational arguments along with the more “feel good” approaches.

Q: I couldn’t agree more on your first point. I ceased to count how often people try to offend me with arguments, that even vegans are not the best people in certain scenarios, but they never reflect, what they (non-vegans) are doing to animals and how they destroy our planet. I mean I am not here to justify my decisions against omnivore people.

It is like when people try to apologize to me for not being vegan. I just tell them: Do not say sorry to me, say that to all the innocent victims are killed with your diet.

As you recently announced that you will do a one-time reunion show with Birthright it will help you to spread your message and ideology with the crowd? Or wasn’t that a reason for the show?

A: I have a feeling anyone interested in the Birthright show will already know what the message of the band is, so I honestly don’t think we will have a big impact in “spreading the message” in 2018.  I’m not generally a fan of reunion shows, but after being asked about it so much decided it might be either fun or meaningful for some people, and that Fluff was the place to do it.  Another thing is that I wouldn’t call this a “reunion” since I’ll be the only actual member.  For me what us more important is that we are playing those songs with a line up of xvx people who all believe in what the band represented/ represents.  I didn’t want to organize a reunion like so many other bands, playing songs about issues that the members don’t even believe in – Birthright was always about the message first.

Q: I think you could have an impact, because there do not exist that many bands which are still vegan straightedge after all those years, doesn‘t matter if it is the original line up or not. I am sure it means a lot for the community to see you again. And especially younger people can now finally see you. Because as you said, so many other bands wo came back recently no longer truly believe in what they sang 10-20 years ago.

As you said, Birthright was always about the message, what was the exact reason for choosing Fluff as the festival you want to be on stage again for that show?

A: There were a couple of reasons for choosing Fluff Fest. The most important is that I think it’s one of the best DIY hardcore events in the world, and I make it a point to try and attend every year.  I truly think it is something special that maintains the spirit of diy hardcore while it often gets lost in other places.  It’s such a great international gathering, and continues to be very ideology-focused, including making sure the food vendors are all vegan, and using the fest as a way for local animal rights organizations to raise money.  Fluff exemplifies the kind of hardcore I want to be involved in, so I decided if there was going to be a Birthright show it would be best at an event like Fluff.

Q: Fluff is definitely the best example, that even a „small“ festival can have a big impact within a scene. I mean everyone involved into vegan or straightedge hardcore knows the festival and most of them was at least once in their life there. I really like the idea to keep everything simple and diy.

Can people also expect some cool merch or repress of Birthright?

A: We’re definitely planning on having both some merch designs (one or two) and hopefully a repress of the first EP if there is time for it!  Stay tuned for more info on that!

Q: Thats some great news for all the fans out there! Are there other plans as well regarding the label? As there are more and more bands getting formed with a vegan (straightedge) attitude, I am sure you will be busy over the next few months/years with new releases. Or is that not your main focus?

A: New releases are definitely a big focus right now and we’re currently talking to a few different bands right now about upcoming releases (as well as the XVX comp coming up shortly).  2017-2019 will end up being one of the most active and productive periods of the label as far as release frequency is concerned.  Of course the trends in the hc scene come and go, but hopefully the rise of so many xvx bands recently continues to be a positive trend that gets the message out about important issues to more people.

Q: I guess thats a good point to finish this nice interview. Do you want to go a little bit deeper into your message for the people and what do you wish for the hc scene and animal liberation movement in the near future?

A: I think the real goal for both the hardcore scene and the AR scene is to continue to progress, as well as to struggle maintain a rational approach to trying to make positive change in the world. It’s easy to fall prey to the allure of easy solutions, or to merely succumb to tribalism as the path of least resistance.  But I strongly believe that understanding contexts, and taking nuanced, rather than binary, approaches are in most cases the best way to achieve goals.

Also, if we are not spending more time and energy engaging with allies and helping them move forward than you we criticizing and/ or sabotaging them or engaging in infighting, it might be time to re-evaluate our priorities.  There are times to draw a line in the sand and there are times to build a broad consensus, the hard part is finding that balance.

Lastly, the left has to be more than an inverse image of the right.  If we aren’t providing answers that go beyond a reflection of the practices of the right we have already lost – we can’t just define ourselves by being the opposite of someone else, it has to be an engagement of core beliefs and principles, and putting them into practice.

Thanks again for the interview, it’s been very interesting!

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