From the magazine, ISSUE 86, June/July 2013
When we meet on the street, the 22-year-old power electronics artist known as Pharmakon is wearing a black leather jacket and jeans, her blue eyes darting restlessly beneath a curtain of long blonde hair. Born Margaret Chardiet, she’s just spent a long, sleepless weekend shuttling between Brooklyn and Manhattan for the punk festival New York’s Alright, and though she says she’s exhausted, she wants to walk along the Greenpoint waterfront, past the jetties where the ferries and the tourists go, to the pier with the most poetry to it. It has pretty much sunken into the East River. Like the metallic clangs and throbbing bass tones that appear on her debut LP, Abandon, the spot has an ominous and industrial feel. Chardiet is a native New Yorker—romantic and precocious beneath a slightly protective exterior—with a local’s affection for more overlooked, out of the way places.
Until Hurricane Sandy ripped through the city, Chardiet, was living all the way out in Far Rockaway, at now defunct DIY venue Red Light District, which she founded with friends when she was still in her teens. The daughter of the kind of punk parents who would consent to such a move, she got hooked on “extreme music” at the age of 16, bowled over by its emphasis on the manipulation of “pure sound” and an inkling that it was “at once a medium of art and a genre of music.” Chardiet makes the kind of eardrum-demolishing noise that can feel initially alienating, but she has a knack for zeroing in on the way that extreme volumes and abrasive textures can be paradoxically engrossing. “Even though the sounds are electronic, even though they’re industrial and come from machines, they evoke something that is pulling at these base human emotions,” she says of her palette on songs like “Crawling on Bruised Knees,” which approximates the sound of a giant, mechanical insect careering repeatedly past your ear. “It just elicits a response immediately. You start thinking about how the body is physically responding, what instinctual response you have to the music.”
Live, Pharmakon is frightening. She paces slowly and deliberately around the room, as though she’s searching for something she’s lost, then comes to a sudden, mechanical-glitch-like halt, sinking her entire body into a horrifying, gut-spilling scream. “I get so nervous every time I play,” says Chardiet, looking out toward the water. “I get into this frenzy where I’m so racked with anxiety and it builds up this energy inside of my chest. It kind of creeps up throughout the day. And there’s something that happens where the minute that I hit the first note, it changes, and it goes from something that feels outside of myself and uncontrollable to something that is very much in my control and that I can manipulate. Everything just goes blank except for the music.”
By her own admission, Chardiet is “not naturally outgoing,” but inside a crowd, which is where she prefers to play, she walks straight up to spectators and exposes herself from angles that most people don’t care to share with their closest kin. “It’s a really vulnerable position to put myself into,” she says. “The times when the voice cracks and you can hear vocal cords being stressed or broken—those ugly, awkward moments are as important to me as the rest of the sounds.”