Music, Technology & the Future PART 1 : The Carousel of Modern Culture

Levine

Artwork: close up from Chris Levine‘s ‘Geometry of Truth‘ – like in music, the focus shift towards technology is occuring in art too 

The entire history of music (and perhaps all of culture) boils down to just three things: 1.) cultural roots; 2.) socio-political circumstances and 3.) technology. It’s probably no surprise that cultural roots and the changing socio-political environment in which these roots germinate and mutate have been our blog’s main concern since the beginning. But since at least two years of shaping the direction of this blog, I’ve noticed the centre of gravity shifting ever more towards technology, and not just because of my personal obsession with the post-internet underground or the avant-garde club movement, which likes to wrap tracks into pictures of robots, computers or shiny sports tech. There’s something much more substantial to it that has even brought me to places where I’d never think I’d end up for this particular blog. Starting out in squatters’ clubs or large event halls dancing to live cumbia bands, ending up in museums and even churches for the most experimental avant-garde sound art and ambient performances. And yet it makes perfect sense. I will explain why.

Take the history of bass music, rooting in the soundsystem culture of Jamaican reggae and its inseparable Afro-diasporic cultural & political DNA. The heavy soundsystems not only enabled low frequencies to be played at these unprecedented volumes but also came with the cultural use of heavy bass as an artistic way of channeling fear, which eventually opened the way to the elaborate sound design at the low frequencies in dubstep: the most perfect example of cultural heritage, socio-political circumstances and technology influencing each other in every direction.

Another example is the most far-reaching transforming force that has occurred during the 90s and 00s, which is what I call the democratisation of electronic music production technology. In the earlier decades of electronic music, going back to the electroacoustic tapes and synthesizer pioneers from the mid 2th century, electronic music was a poorly acessible activity that required specialised knowledge and, above all, sufficient money to buy gear. Following the DIY attitude of punk and hiphop, increasing access to electronic music production has increased the pool of creativity to new music movements and subcultures that has made many turn-of-the-century genres into what they have become. Pirated cracks of the most popular programme, Fruity Loops (now known as FL studio), which pooled together sound design, midi sequencing and audio sampling into one user-friendly interface, have circulated online for free since the beginning. Being so accessible to young people anywhere in the world without the privilege to buy fancy stuff, Fruity Loops has turned out to be be the decisive tool in the development genres such as bubbling, grime, dubstep or 3ball.

The third example is another transforming force, of equal importance and inseparable from the above one and it occurred for a large part in the same period (the 00s and 10s of the new milennium): the democratisation of music sharing on the internet. In earlier times of the internet era, bloggers with pre-internet experience could still nostalgically long back to the romantic experience of record digging at obscure shops and pirate markets in countries around the world. The web changed all that into the solitary experience that I myself know so well: sitting behind a computer, scrolling through endless Soundcloud lists, wandering not from record box to record box or alley to alley but from link to link and comment to comment. Especially Soundcloud, the place where DIY producers from all over the world could now instantly share, access, sample and remix anything on the same platform, generated an unprecedented hive-like ecosystem in which obscure new sounds and hybrids could suddenly go viral overnight.

The fact that anybody anywhere could now access anything with just a mouseclick, also squeezed sounds out of their localised context and the shared social, cultural and political experiences that so often underlies music movements and subcultures. The influential music forum Hollerboard where the early Diplo and other like-minded DJs and producers pioneered with blending sounds from not only different genres and subcultures such as hiphop and rave, but also different (Western as well as non-Western) cultures, was a build up for the blogosphere that specialised in digging up unique new flavours from all around the globe to support them and present them to new, interested audiences.

The internet has not only squeezed 3ball out of its Mexican context, it squeezed EDM back in (which can, like ‘Elements’ from DJ Giovanni Ríos, certainly lead to very good music)

In the now no longer accessible post from MTV Iggy, the one that popularised the term ‘global bass’ as the ultimate umbrella genre, the question was raised whether the enthusiasm with which the blogosphere and its corresponding club nights blended genres like cumbia, balkan beats and baile funk, heralded the advent of a utopian, unified global dance future. It didn’t happen. Not at all. In stead, the attention of innovative tastemakers became dominated by an obsession with alienating, recontextualised 90s cyberculture, dystopian corporate accelerationism and eventually, plastified virtuality and present-futurist reflections. What happened? Especially, what has happened to the rhythms and flavours from the marginalised neighbourhoods from cities like Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro or Lisbon that were once praised as the forefront of innovation? With some exceptions, they are all in stormy weather and, especially in the case of Mexican 3ball, the web is to blame. The delusion of international fame and big success has driven many producers to incorporate successful formulas while at the same time allowing EDM to defeat its thousands. As a response, producers responded by either reveling in romantic memories from times before the hype, or by abandoning the genre altogether.

The democratisation of music production combined with limited communication created the unique diversity of the 90s

3Ball is no exception. Subcultures as a whole are dead. It is claimed that, at least in the West but probably anywhere, gabber (I might actually challenge this claim and say ‘cybergoth’) was the last ‘true’ subculture in the sense of a solid and all-encompassing identity that fundamentally separates the people sharing it from the ones that don’t. Everything that originated after that such as emo, scene or even something like reggaeton was much more fluid, ambiguous and interconnected with a myriad of other identities and styles. Paradoxically, the democratisation of music production combined with the relative isolation due to limited communication (think about physically circulating records, tapes or local pirate radio) created the unique diversity of the 90s, in which the Jamaican soundsystems became UK-bass in London and reggaeton in Puerto Rico, or Miami bass hiphop, transplanted to Brazil, evolved into baile funk. The democratisation of music sharing instead has resulted in the volatile whirlpool of cyber-deconstructionism we’ve been seeing since the 10s.

This whirlpool too has its own vital organs, Soundcloud being one of them but even more important are the image-sharing platform Tumblr, forum-for-everything Reddit and the controversial messageboard 4Chan. In previous posts, I’ve called them the ‘grinding mills’ of culture: devouring chunks of digital information (sounds, imagery, ideas) on the once side while churning out seemingly random amalgams on the other. In the context of post-internet culture we usually think about witch house, seapunk, vaporwave, ocean grunge or health goth, but ‘global bass’ hybrids such as balkan-cumbia, moombahton, trap-bubbling or zouk-bass are essentially the product of exactly the same process. The only essential difference being that the first movement searches for information vertically, in the obscure archives of Western pop-culture, whereas global bass’ orientation is horizontal, focused on stuff currently produced but all over the world. The ‘temporal’ and the ‘spatial’ are equally important pillars of cyber-deconstructionism, but we’ve only just started to realise it now the two are increasingly coming together: the flavours and rhythms of the global bass genres so ubiquitously feature in avant-garde club music today that the movement itself almost seems like a second round through the mill.

Elysia Crampton‘s unique take on the ‘epic collage‘ style is one of the artistically most advanced examples of cyber de- and re-constructionism involving non-Western cultural elements. The sounds of baile funk, 3ball and trap in ‘Petrichrist’ are so finely ground, so thoroughly detached from any fixed reference frame, that the full resevoir of emotive energy contained in them is released in purified form, acquiring a powerful, spiritual force.

https://soundcloud.com/gxstxvx/passinho-do-macintosh

Other attempts (usually those meant as a joke) are on the opposite end of the spectrum, barely ground, lumping together two obviously recognisable genres. Yet a ‘second round through the mill’ nonetheless: ‘Passinho do Macintosh’ by the Brazilian post-internet producer G X S T X V X.

As cyber-deconstructionism is coming of age, it becomes apparent that both the spatial and the temporal pillars have faced the same delusion: the triumphalist capitalist promise from the 90s that globalisation as well as the internet would quickly lead to a world of total unity and total equality. Hailing ‘global bass’ as the soundtrack into a utopian, unified world village reflects the same old neo-colonialist globalisation narrative that was already dead. And if globalisation is dead, naive cyber-utopianism, the narrative of the internet as a radically egalitarian place where it no longer matters who you are even if you’re a dog, is dying rapidly. Where globalisation and migration in a changing economic and political world already stirred a renewed attention for identity since the early 00s, the often uninhibited hostility of the internet, and the fluid way in which people can select their own information environment, did that even more. Bosah Ebo (1998) juxtaposes naive cyber-utopianism with the ‘cyberghetto perspective‘, in which real world structural oppression and segregation along the lines of racial, class and sexual identities are replicated online, if not amplified. Even though Generation Bass’ cyber ghetto collab has come to an abrupt end after the night in Antwerp, the concept continues to fascinate me. Ruth’s idea of recontextualising stigmatised “ratchet” imagery from 90s ‘ghetto’ culture into a positively charged, androgynous aesthetic trend, blended together with styles like grunge and Japanese kawaii, is the inseparable mirror image of Ebo’s prediction of the current online culture wars. Not surprisingly, the grinding mill websites have become infamous places where issues concerning race, class or gender are fought out: Tumblr being the motor for a whole new subculture of uncompromising social justice activism, countered by Reddit’s and 4Chan’s neo-reactionary trolling.

BabyBitch

Cyber ghetto: grinding mill aesthetics raise questions about the significance of race, class & gender on the internet

If globalisation is dead, naive cyber-utopianism is dying rapidly

From these questions of identity to matters of privacy, cyber-paranoia about New World Order conspiracies, blurring lines between real and fake or the coming of artificial intelligence, the way in which technological innovation shapes the world has become the principal socio-political circumstance for a generation. And this is giving significance to music in the same way as themes like the American civil rights movement, industrialisation, the War on Drugs or the economic uncertainty of the 80s have done before.

Just like the worldwide local interpretations of hiphop, reggae and electronic music, popularised by the global bass movement, turned out to be too tied to their geographical socio-political contexts to be transplanted easily into the West, the reverse applies to the post-internet movement. Vaporwave‘s reflection on the 90s’ corporate promises of history evaporating into an eternity of pleasure shopping and fears of Asian technological superiority, only resonates with the collective memory of the West, even most specifically the American white middle class. Meanwhile, large parts of the rest of the world were suffering from the exploitation and political destabilisation caused by the corporate pursuit of making these vapid dreams come true. Movements such as NON Worldwide, Afrofuturism or avant-garde club, at least as I interpret them, are essentially about exposing and reclaiming technology, the tools by which natural environments are redesigned for human purpose, as a socio-political phenomenon in itself asking: whose purposes? benefiting whom? at the expense of whom or what?

At the same time, they represent an attitude of embracing instead of than rejecting or demonising technology. It is a direct countermovement against ‘indie’ culture‘s romantic obsession with imperfection, organicism and the authenticity (whatever that may be) of the past. But it also goes beyond the recent revival of neo-cyberpunk and apocalypticism found in genres like witch house and vaporwave but also EDM trap’s dark underground. Where once the hippies tried to escape from modern technology as a threat to their romantic concept of nature and humanity, cyberpunk and the industrial music movement of the 1980s sought to expose the invisible megamachine as the evil totalitarian enemy that could only be resisted by ‘hacking’: smartly adopting its material to turn the system against itself. In the 90s, cyberpunk’s increasing fascination for computers morphed into Thimothy Leary’s “turn on, boot up, jack in” ‘cyberdelicism’ and ‘cyberfetishism‘: reveling in sexual-spiritual dreams of ‘becoming one’ with technology. In the last half decade, that cycle has repeated (interestingly, roughly five times as fast: 1968 – 2001 ; 2008 – 2016). This blurring boundary between our everyday lived reality and the imaginations of science fiction, ever accelerating and constantly balancing between utopia and dystopia, kitsch and spiritual transcendence, is what Adam Harper calls the ‘21th century experience‘. Artists and label curators consciously play with these themes, thence names such as Escape From Nature, Infinite Machine or What Do I See.

Celestial Trax‘ new EP is a perfect example of how, with a combination of sound and titles, avant-garde club music can meditate on the question who we are in an increasingly posthuman world.

uv ac‘s new mixtape: the latest wave of internet underground music, often no longer subsumable under the umbrella of ‘club music’, plays with themes of heaven, angels, and uplifting tenderness. The sound combines ethereal ambient with happy rave, autotune rap and RnB, romantic cinematic soundtracks and sometimes traces of ‘global bass’ rhythms, accompanied by oos emo-aesthetics, sad-cute clip-art and stock photo kitsch. Whether this should be seen as an expression of ‘cyber-piety’ or merely 00s teenage culture going into the grinding mills can’t be said yet.

Digital technology has itself become a culture of its own, offering a widely shared experience that is at the same time mind-expanding, liberating and addictive in essentially the same way as psychedelic drug culture was in the 60s and 70s. This has built a new kind of cultural heritage, now ready to be added into the grinding mill for yet a third round. After all, cultural heritage is nothing more than a sufficiently isolated ecosystem of social and material technologies, solidified into conventions over a long-enough period of time. And once these temporary new conventions, isolations and identities are in turn broken, recontextualised and fused with new elements, we’ve got a new round in the carousel of modern culture. What exactly will come out this time, we can’t tell yet, but we can be sure that whatever will go into the mill is a combination of different cultural heritages, old and new alike, that the process is driven by developments that shape the world, and that the new socio-political issues brought to light in this new world will certainly influence the outcome.

Carousel

Accessible music production and sharing technology has created a spiralling vortex of consecutive rounds through the grinding mill. As it happens, it is still too early to be too sure about the specific influence of specific technologies or circumstances. The influence of mobile phones has created the practice of ‘sodcasting’ and youth’s relative indifference to quality sound on the low frequencies. And there’s certainly a visible attention shift going on in productions towards crystalline treble.

Now the residue of the second round is solidifying, it is becoming clear that this turbulent carousel process seems to have unlocked the secret to the ‘spirit of modernism’ such as envisioned by Adam Harper in his already classic work Infinite Music – Imagining the Next Milennium of Human Music Making, in a way accessible for everyone. As a result, the most stubbornly unbridgeable of all boundaries, that has dominated music virtuall forever, is finally eroding: the one between popular and classical music, between the passionate bedroom-punk and the formally trained concert hall musician. No wonder why Harper has been the quintessential thinker recognising, documenting and intellectually interpreting all the essential innovative waves in music right as they happened. Turning to the undergrounds of young autodidacts on the internet as the place where the action is, the action and continuously innovating energy that the 20th century modernist composers so often lacked.

The most stubbornly unbridgeable of all boundaries is finally eroding: the one between popular and classical music

Add to this the prospect of new ways of music making still waiting ahead and their eventual democratisation. Or what if no longer humans, but artificial intelligences will join the arena of creativity? What if future transhuman extensions of the senses or information processing will extend the range of music that can be perceived and understood? That is why it is essential to zoom in on technology and spiral in one move from a warm-blooded electronic cumbia party to a hyperfuturistic, conceptual avant-garde performance. Otherwise, I’d have ended up at a big festival stage, like so many from the scene that global bass once was, unconsciously escaping into yet another grinding mill product, built up from a hyped up version of Dutch laser synths and hardstyle drums I’ve grown up with, and canned snippets of hip-hop from Atlanta or dancehall from Jamaica, strategically mashed together to squeeze endorphins out of my pituitary gland. Or I’d have chosen instead to turn my gaze backwards, to any possible era in the history of any genre capable of upholding the illusion of being pure and impassioned compared to today’s ever less comprehensible tangle. In both cases, I’d have abandoned the focus forward, to new movements, new sounds and flavours, bubbling up all over the world. IRL or URL, the very reason why this blog exists.

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I’m a cultural-historian of science and my theoretical knowledge of musicology doesn’t go into that much depth so I’d love to have feedback from readers who are more firmly grounded into these matters.

Half a Year into Generation Bass Radio

StrandedFMPink

In October, we launched a fresh radio show with “cutting edge bass and club music from all over the world” on the Utrecht based internet radio channel Stranded FM, presented by myself under my Soundcloud moniker S x m b r a.

From a biweekly experiment it developed into a regular, monthly item with a blend of music, news and, occasionally in depth conversations about topics related to innovative music and its social, cultural or political context. It has been a great learning experience since I’d never presented live or played music with CDJs and now I had to do both at the same time. All the podcasts can be listened back on Stranded FM’s Mixcloud channel, but to make life easy I collected them here.

1. DEBUT under the name Generation Bass Radio (after my guest appearance in Android Dreams show), dedicated to the Afrofuturism Festival Rotterdam

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2. S X M B R A SOLO MIX SESSION featuring a short prerecorded set from future bass & hybrid techno dj GIDEON

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3. FIRST SHOWCASE SESSION featuring GIDEON again, but now live

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4. First talkshow dedicated to the challenges of music as a bridge between cultures as ethnic groups, featuring researchers from the Erasmus University Rotterdam and Bright Radio host El Maria

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5. S X M B R A SOLO MIX

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6. SECOND SHOWCASE SESSION with a live set by bass alrounder Frenquency

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>> TUNE IN << this week again on FRIDAY 6 MAY, 6PM in a fresh talkshow about CYBERNETIC CLUB MUSIC, TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION & TRANSHUMANISM!

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The Art of Afrofuturism

AiRich 1

The first three posts (1, 2 ,3) mainly focused on the musical, cinematic and literary side of the afrofuturist movement. Now a special post dedicated to afrofuturism in visual art, spotlighting the artists that featured on the festival: Charl Landvreugd, AiRich, Bryan Green, Boris van Berkum and JoAnn McNeil!

Visual art, perhaps more than any other artform, is a vessel to communicate imagination. Since afrofuturism, in its core, is about imagination, about the envisioning of many different futures stemming from cultural heritage and life experiences, it becomes apparent that art is an important pillar of the movement, which at the same refuses to be boxed into one straightforward formula or genre. This stunning gallery, compiled by the influential culture and lifestyle platform Blavity, testifies of this, showcasing art varying between miniature collages, sci-fi comic style scenery, mysticist surrealism and psychedelic, art nouveau flavoured mural painting.

My first acquantance with the visual art component on the festival was during the Friday workshop with Nyfolt. The workshop took place in WORM’s unique, historical analog synthesiser studio, where we as participants were allowed to play around to freely experiment with the several synths or make free-expression drawings. JoAnn showed some paintings and explained how, in her work, imagination, emotion, painting and sound are mutually reinforcing sources of inspiration. Her art, which we will see below, is a colourful, energetic form of abstract expressionism which questions the world, perception, taken-for-granted identities and experiences of the Self.

The notion of perspectives and perception is a central element that came back in the work of all featured artists in different ways..

1. Charl Landvreugd

The acclaimed Surinamese Dutch multi-talented artist and art historian Charl Landvreugd was the most prominently featured artist at the festival. His multimedia installation, situated in the venue’s concrete club hall, was on display the entire week and in between the day workshops and the night programme, people walk in and at a set time each day, the artist himself gave a presentation about the meaning and story behind the work.

The installation consisted of three walls, divided into five areas to which short fragments of moving imagery was projected. The fragments – a drivethrough through the Gotthard tunnel,  a street in Amsterdam, an excavatoin site in Suriname – all showed aspects of spatially distant memories and connections that are common to the experience of people from the African diaspora in Europe, afro-caribbeans as well as several generations of African immigrants, many of whom have lived in different countries and have family all over the world. From this starting point he also hinted to an extension of afrofuturism into a diverse, multi-perspective futurism in which these multiple delocalised social and family relationships will increadingly be part of everyone’s reality.

The original idea was that this space would be most profoundly experienced in a true clubbing setting, with a DJ guiding the multi-sensory experience of the meaning of dislocated connections, but unfortunately, this was not allowed for formal reasons so instead, a minimal, hypnotising trap beat, produced by Landvreugd himself, sampling afro-Caribbean non-verbal sound-language, looped trough the speakers.

CharlLandvreugdInstallation

An impression of Landvreugd’s installation: art in a minimalistic club setting

LandvreugdSpectators

 Spectators walking through the space

The video’s were drawn from several earlier works, built up over the years of research and art projects in the area of african and afro diasporic experience and aesthetics, such as his project dedicated to the late Surinamese writer and cultural critic Edgar Cairo about the legacy of slavery traumas, expressed in the form of poetic stories.

Video art combined with traditional call & response storytelling for the projec with Edgar Cairo last year

LandvreugdMask

A future-noir styled photoshoot on the night streets of Rotterdam featuring Landvreugd himself, wearing one of the Transformers masks that appear as a leitmotiv in many of his works, legacy of his youth when he was involved in a breakdance crew called the ‘Transformerz’

2. Boris van Berkum

The Dutch artist Boris van Berkum is another versatile name with a longstanding carreer and experience in different areas of the art spectrum but mainly focusing on sculpture and drawing. His psychedelic style is strongly influenced by traditional cultures, aesthetics and techniques from different parts of the world including Africa and the Caribbean.

A turning point in his artistic carrier took place when he was renting an event location, which was once used by people from the Afro Surinamese community for a traditional Winti ceremony. In an interview (in Dutch), he tells how winti Priestess and community leader Marian Markelo was guided by her ancestors to find somebody to restore the use of traditional, pre-slavery African masks in Winti practice, and was lead to sculptor Boris. Their joint initiative led to a brilliantly afrofuturistic project in which traditional masks from the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam were 3D scanned and, on the basis of this digital information, recreated for practice. This project became an important factor in the protest against plans from the museum to sell the entire Africa collection, going by the slogan “I am not for sale,” referring to the slavery history and the continuing colonialist commodification of the cultural heritage of living people in the city of Rotterdam.

“I am not for sale”: digital 3D scanning technology brings west-African ceremonial objects back to life

Van Berkum’s replicas are curated by the museum but available for use at events and ceremonies. The giant bust of the snake god Papa Winti was displayed at Afrofuturism Now! alternately in the upper entrance hall by day and behind the DJ booth at night.

PapaWintiCloseUp

Close up of Van Berkum’s Papa Winti bust

PhilouLouzoloBorisvBerkum

Papa Winti on display during the friday night party, featuring oldschool afrobeats & disco dj Philou Louzolo

https://soundcloud.com/urbanessence/ue31-philou-louzolo-presents-afrigalactic

Fresh mix from Philou Louzolo that perfectly captures the atmosphere of the Friday party

3. AiRich

Saturday afternoon, the Wunderbar foyer was decorated by an artist who is one of the most promising upcoming tastemakers in visual art and fashion in the Netherlands, with tons potential internationally as well. I’m talking about the a young, Amsterdam based Surinamese-Dutch photographer, fashion stylist and multimedia artist AiRich. Her photography and short videos excel in creating a rich universe of new realities in a very minimalistic way, without the use of extensive sceneries or attributes but with a powerful combination of bright, often pastel flavoured colors and expressive clothing. By the exclusive use of black models she counteracts the dominant Western ideas of beauty.

#PHOTOBOOTH is a new project of hers, launched last year, born out of dissatisfaction with conventional event photography. Psychedelic afrofuturist backgrounds and atributes transport visitors into the universe ‘Made By AiRich’. Next to and after the day workshop ‘drawing your inner mind-space’ by Ras Mashramani, the festival’s visitors were restyled and captured in the booth.

AiRichRasheedaMoorMotherGoddess

Moor Mother Goddess & Rasheeda

AiRichBryanGreen

Bryan Green

AiRichMe

Myself

With the project, she travels to a wide variety of events and festivals such as Amsterdam Open Air, Kwaku and LowLands and will go international very soon. If there are event bookers reading this > CONTACT VIA THE ARTIST’s OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE.

During the film section, two of her short video’s were shown, which also shows her potential in directing music video’s, check them out here >>

Absolutely stunning music video made for and with the Philly born, Krakow (Poland) based experimental vocalist Poet Af Black

And a teaser clip for the Art Chi Tex project, an afrofuturistic film project by Poet Af Black and Melanin Kris, set in Amsterdam

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AhijahmadebyAiRich

Two of my absolute favourite favourites of her photography works

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AiRich inspired me to improvise my own cyberpunk / tumblr aesthetics photoshoot in the industrial bathroom area of WORM, featuring the artist herself!

For a more in depth portrait, read AiRich’s feature article for AFROPUNK!

4. Bryan Green

Bryan Green, also from Philly and a close affiliate of the Philadelphia afrofurist scene, came over from all the way from Krakow, Poland, where he is a singer and percussionist in Poet Af Black’s Ankh Orchestra. But he is also an amazing video artist who has worked several times with Moor Mother Goddess.

Poet Af Black & Ankh Orchestra live

His freshest work is a video edit: SIFR SUNYA ASUNRA featuring music from Moor Mother Goddess, officially out since yesterday. This was demonstrated during the sci-fi readings, with in the background essay readings by Rasheeda about the ancient egyptian sun god Ra – referring to the legendary musician and philosopher Sun Ra who also appears in the vid – space-time and politics!

Another video featuring Camae before she started the Moor Mother Goddess project, as a lead singer of the Philly punk band The Mighty Paradocs!

Another music video directed and edited by Bryan Green that absolutely blows my mind: ‘Hotel Rwanda’ by Philly songwrited and MC Queen Jo

5. JoAnn McNeil

Even though her work itself wasn’t on display as such, being one half of the duo Nyfolt and regarding the importance of the visual and the sonic in Nyfolt’s work, I wanted to feature some more of her work here. She brought a couple of small paintings to the work shop as a first inspiration but, as I found out on her artist page, she usually works with a combination of acrylic and spray paint on big canvasses. Here two recent examples that I really like.

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‘I Am Focused’ (2015)

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A work from 2013

JoAnnExhibition

JoAnn surrounded by her work at an exhibition in St. Louis in 2013

JoAnnStudio

The artist at work

>> Buy her creations HERE <<

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Prepare for two more posts, one short article about Afrofuturism and the black speculative fiction scene and a big feature about the climax of the week: PANTROPICAL with Islam Chipsy, Mutamassik, DJ Firmeza & DJ Lilocox !

 

Afrofuturism: The Apocalypse and Beyond

NOTE: My Afrofuturism series are a week belated because I had problems with logging on to the site

BQFMirrors

Photo via: Black Quantum Futurism

“You ARE the noise gate” – Magician from the shortfilm ‘Noise Gate’ (2013)

The venue WORM is connected to a bar-restaurant, Wunderbar, where the afrofuturist vibes trickled through in the form of shangaan electro, and music from William Onyeabor and Fela Kuti, softly playing in the background. But behind this ostensibly superficial scene-setting hid a deeper message. Continuing the theme of the movie Crumbs, the second day was in many ways dedicated to the notion of a future after the apocalypse, which, as I found out, plays an important role in the afrofuturist movement as a whole.

The afternoon zine workshop was organised by Rasheeda from The Afrofuturist Affair and Ras from Metropolarity, two affiliated platforms where the creation of zines to showcase literature, art & more is a central activity. With a powerpoint presentation, the participants were challenged to reflect on human life in a possible, post-apocalyptic world. The assignment was to create a zine, with possible drawings, poems, ideas, quotes and picture collages from the many newspapers and magazines that covered the table only using sissors, paper, a copy machine and staples. Issues that were discussed were causes of the apocalypse, opportunities and challenges, leftovers of the known world, technology, traumas, identities and communication. Towards the end, the title of the zine was called ‘bubble to bubble’, referring to a networked community-structure as a replacement for our complex pre-apocalyptic mass society.

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In the films too, the theme of perception and interpretation, one of the more intellectual elements of post-apocalyptic sci-fi came back in different ways. In the film ‘Noise Gate‘ (2013), directed by Vim Crony (Long Beach, California) a scientist from the future in search of the ultimate truth travels through different dimensions via a space-time tunnel called the noise gate. Inside the noise gate, the vibrations that produce reality lose their harmonious coherence and change into a whirlpool of cacophonic noise, at the end of which a wholly different kind of reality will be assembled. Every passage through the gate is a little apocalypse in itself. Stranded in a desolate, lifeless world and looking for the gate to exit, the (male) scientist encounters a majestically dressed (female) magician who appears to hold the key and answer to his search. Taking off his steampunkesque goggles and opening his eyes reveals a buzzing iris, the color television, tuned to a dead channel: Gateways for imagination, holding the power to travel dimentions and to create realities. “You ARE the noise gate”.

‘Touch’ (2014), directed by Shola Amoo (London, UK), is almost the opposite in both story and aesthetics. No desolate wastelands or otherworldly dressed scientists and magicians, but rather green fields outside London, covered with gently waving grass, and and two innocently dressed adolescents. This film was hard to review because of it’s many, multi interpretable layers and symbolic messages.

I personally perceived it as a critical commentary against the self-perceived purity, fragility and mindfullness of white-people’s intimacy (time and again perpetuated in mainstream cinema through the aesthetics of whiteness) juxtaposed to the supposed physicality of black people’s sexuality, expressed by means of a science-fiction story about a controlled, black-female conscious real-life avatar robot, who discovers the meaning of love and tenderness as an intersubjective experience between her lover and her. Official descriptions and reviews however, give a totally different picture and call it a film “about becoming a 21st century creative amidst a rapidly gentrifying city.” Here, the protagonist girl is an artist who develops a relationship as a way to escape a creative impasse and explores the limits of human experience that can be shared through technology. Two interpretations of a film that have absolutely nothing to do with each other; mine probably even making no sense at all. Nevertheless, stunning cinematic work and definitely food for further thought.

The final movie is more a music video than a film per sé, in the sense that the experimental rhythmic ambient track produced by Moor Mother Goddess plays an equally important role as the visuals. Black Quantum Futurism, is a third Philadelphia based community of deep thinking creative minds, established by Rasheeda Phillips and Moor Mother Goddess, which focuses on the philosophical foundations of quantum mechanics in relation to worldview, consciousness and cultural perceptions of time and language. In a brilliant word-play, ‘Black Bodies as Conductors of Gravity’ connects the notion of the black body in the politics of race to the black body as a theoretical concept in physics of an ideal material object which perfectly absorbs all radiation. The video is a creative, cryptic expression of the dichotomy between reflection and absorption as well as the relation between the studied object and the observer. The mirror-masked woman in the speculative laboratory full of mirrors, takes her reflecting mask off and seems to be making the discovery when seeing her face reflected in the mirror.

https://vimeo.com/139816961

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The films on Thursday were followed by three performances, from Moor Mother Goddess about whom we’ve already read, the ambient-noise duo Nyfolt, whom we will hear about much more in following posts as well as electric guitar experimentalist Morgan Craft. Unfortunately, experimental vaporwave producer and graphic artist Marlo Reynolds couldn’t be there.

Moor Mother Goddess is a multi-talented artist: a producer as well as poet and vocalist, whose style can only be characterised as experimental rhythmic ambient. Her sets vary between cyber-delic digital soundscapes energetic bassful beats & plunderphonic deconstructionism, enriched with clean as well as distorted vocals. These vocals in turn vary from single utterations to spoken word poetry to essayistic prose to rhythmical rap and everything in between. Moor Moder Goddess manages to encompass the whole spectrum of afrofuturism’s cultural expressions into one single act, which makes her one of the movement’s most iconic present-day voices!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0O0ZilYu5YM

Check out a snippet of Moor Mother Goddess’ performance in Rotterdam here!

And here a gripping music vid from 2 years back of the track ‘Of Blood’ from her ‘Alpha Serpentis EP‘!

Check out her new track!

Second to ascend the stage was the duo Nyfolt from St. Louis, consisting of visual artist, vocalist and songwriter Joan McNeil and electronic sound designer Nathan Cook, who describe themselves as a “a multi-faceted / pluralistic Afrofuturist, Neoplatonic, and Cyberpunk sound art / noise group.” Most characteristic for their approach is the intimate fusion of text with music into one very powerful sound-poem. Words and sentences become truly one with the sounds. Ideas, thoughts and emotions become live-created, analog soundscapes, while the soundscapes are in turn verbalised into words and sentences!

Their music stems from an eleborated philosophy, articulated in an official manifesto:

WE ARE FED UP WITH DIVISIVE RHETORIC/ACTIONS AND ARE SEEKING COMMUNION. […] THE GENESIS OF OUR SOUND IS THE COALESCING OF OUR INDIVIDUAL PSYCHSOCIAL TOPOGRAPHIES. […] HUMANISM IS OUR CATALYST AGAINST MARGINALIZING AND ALIENATING IDEOLOGIES. […] TRANSHUMANISM AIDS IN OUR UNDERSTANDING OF HOW TO USE TECHNOLOGY AND ELECTRICITY to diffuse our art effectivelt. WE ARE INVESTIGATING IMMATERIALITY AND AND METAPHYSICAL THAT AT TIMES IS INDIFFERENT TO THE FLESH. […] We confront the turmoil, frustration, and anger involved in the culture wars and through interrogation TRANSMUTE these feelings into communion, accord and empathy. NYFOLT IS CRITICAL OF MATERIALISM. Other trajectories are led by INTUITION, AN AFFINITY FOR THE PECULIAR, and a desire to avert, neutralize, and extinguish THE CORROSIVE AND PARALYZING EFFECTS OF PREJUDICE, DISCRIMINATION, AND CONFORMIST THOUGHT/LIVING.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY9F7RUO_KI

Nyfolt’s freshest release ‘Gutter Echoes Side B’

When, after these two powerful performances, the crowd was only half prepared to have their minds blown for yet a third time. Guitar virtuoso Morgan Craft‘s music was in many ways unlike the other two, particularly because of his unique use of the guitar as a tool to make experimental, futuristic music. Craft is a veteran when it comes to experimental music. Originally from Brighton, he has been based for long periods in NYC and in a small village on the Tuscan countryside and is now operating from the cosmopolitan, yet cozy and friendly Amsterdam, the best of both worlds.

In an in-depth interview with the experimental music blog The Improvisor, Craft describes himself as a bluesman, ‘blues’ not to be understood as a genre but as a well of emotion, and a heir of the intellectual and spiritual freedom of jazz, again not a genre but an attitude towards making music. If there is anything Craft reacts against, it’s the phenomenon, also described often here at Generation Bass, about musical flavours degenerating from open-ended expression into a fixed formula, a genre, that can be copied. This even goes for experimental or improvisational music or the use of computers as a gimmick instrument to merely ‘look’ futuristic.

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“I don’t care one tiny bit about the style of music called ‘improv’, in fact I think most of the people who play ‘improv’ are liars at this point.  They get up there and think they have to play like what ‘improv’ is supposed to sound like.” – Morgan Craft to The Improvisor

In this indeed highly original performance, he recorded loops of sounds, both harmonic and noisy, live played on his quitar and stacked new layers on top of it, including using a early 00s discman which transmitted hip hop beats to the pickup via headphones. He kept alternately adding and replacing elements so that the sound body organically evolved into an organic being able to propel itself. At several moments, Craft laid down his guitar and walked off the stage like a Leibnizian deity, resting after masterfully winding up the clockwork of the universe, now running itself in perfect harmony.

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Morgan Craft’s instrumental setup with guitar, discman and several connected recording and effect devices

Morgan Craft’s recent full album, improvised and recorded live

Afrofuturism: A Palette

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Design by: *H3R GaLAXY*

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“Afrofuturism should better shown and experienced than just talked about” Rasheeda Phillips

The first day of Afrofuturism Now! Was an acquaintance with its many forms in literature, film and music. Including literature is an exciting new area for both WORM and Generation Bass, who have been heavy on music and some film but less on textual culture. And it turned out very well.

The festival opening consisted of readings from the main panelists: co-organiser Rasheedah Phillips from the the Afrofuturist scene’s central platform The Afrofuturist Affair, poet, spoken word performer & sound artist Moor Mother Goddess and Ras Mashramani from the intersectiopnal emancipatory sci-fi platform Metropolarity. All are based in Philadelphia, one of the main home bases of the afrofuturist scene in the United States and worldwide.

After some first opening words from the WORM crew and Rasheeda, Ras started with introducing the Metropolarity platform: a place where contrasting identities in race, class, gender and sexuality express their realities of growing up in contemporary world by means of science fiction. She read a throat grippingly powerful story as an example of the literature featuring in the zines they publish, written by herself, about the bleak coming of age of a caribbean immigrant in California and the self-perpetuating reality of the term ‘thug’ in America’s language politics.

Moor Mother Goddess performed a short spoken-word poem about the significance of Afrofuturism as a concept.

Rasheeda Phillips continued on that with a conceptual story about the physical mystery of time and our culturally shaped perception of it. What if, she asked, the universe would, at some point in 2016, reverse its expansion and time would start running backwards. How would humanity respond? How would our verbal and conceptual dealing with time, dominated by the Western idea of time as a line, come to terms with such reality? As a deeper message behind it, the story suggested that African, indigenous American or Asian conceptions of time might well be much better suitable to the reality of the 21st century that we are increasingly experiencing already now?

After the main panellists, there was an improvised, yet brilliant lecture from the Dutch writer and anthropologist Theo Paijmans, who connected the almost entirely ‘white’ phenomenon of belief in UFOs and alien abductions to the reality-based African American folklore of the Night Doctors, mysterious kidnappers who captured African Americans for scientific experiments. His research culminated into a literary, steamFunk-esque novel which is about to be released in both Dutch and English and could be heard here as a first, ‘pre-release’ teaser.

After a first break, the Ethiopian post-apocalyptic sci-fi film ‘Crumbs‘, which we promoted in February this year, was shown. This in itself was a special opportunity because apart from its premiere on the prestigious Rotterdam Film Festival, it has never been shown anywhere in The Netherlands. The Addis Ababa based Spanish director Miguel Llansó happened to be on amicable terms with the WORM crew, having fallen in love with the venue, always dropping by on his visits to Rotterdam for the film festival.

‘Crumbs’ is a masterpiece which, in a way that reminds Terrence Malick, excels in communicating a subconsious atmosphere without telling a clear-cut story or presenting a thoroughly complete fantasy universe. The jawdropping Garcia Marquesque magic-realist story shows the life of a couple: Gagano, the protagonist-hero, a middle-aged man with a deformed body, and his wife, the young and beautiful Selam. They go through the all-too human relationship issues while living alone in a deserted bowling hall, where the bowling rails keep magically spitting out bowling balls and other objects. The bowling machine, however is a space-time port behind which in a distant place, a singing monk-like figure called Santa Clause, dressed up as Santa Clause, pretends to fulfill their wishes but never does. Outside in the sky hovers a rusty spaceship which has been there since the beginning of memory. Now it starts to move and seems to be preparing for its return to a distant planet. Gagano, who believes he and his wife belong on that planet and wish to escape this barren land, decides to find and meet Santa Clause in person to fulfil his wish, which leads him into an epic journey in which every crumb of the civilisation that is familiar and banal to us starts to loose its reference and acquires a mythical significance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kadevbEgcQk

Watch the trailer here again

After the movie, the people gathered in the venue’s bar, to chat, evaluate and eventually dance to the melodic, somewhat shangaanflavoured afrobeat called ‘Bacardi house’, created of the upcoming Pretoria (South Africa) based talent DJ Spoko, who was booked for this very first afterparty. The vibe had to build up slowly and, apart from a few enthusiasts who demonstrated an advanced-looking kuduro choreography, it took a while before people were drawn towards the dance floor.

I (Sxmbra, which means ‘ghost’ just like ‘Spoko’), would have loved to meet and interview him in person. But I had to catch the last metro to the house where I stayed so I missed this opportunity. Expect some more attention for DJ Spoko soon on Generation Bass!

Check out DJ Spoko’s newest track

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DJ Spoko behind the desks

AFROFUTURISM NOW! @ WORM Rotterdam 14 – 18 October 2015

Afrofuturism

If you read Generation Bass frequently, you will almost certainly have experienced afrofuturism. We’ve used the term only a couple of times but since the very beginning, the scenes and genres that are now increasingly identifying itself with the afrofuturist movement are one of the driving forces that have inspired us in the avant-garde of music worldwide. So, what is afrofuturism?

Afrofuturism is a diverse patchwork of movements which have as a common denominator that they challenge the dominant, white/Western narratives about past, present and future in modern culture, from an African and Afro-diasporic perspective. This includes literature, art, music, film, fashion, dance and more. Be it Angolan and Portuguese kuduro and tarraxo, South African gqom, digital cumbia and baile funk all over Latin America, next-generation dancehall or now avant-garde club music, these genres all have immediate common roots in Africa and the African diaspora and are a reflection of a life that is shaped by the internet and the abundance of technology. In many ways, Generation Bass IS afrofuturism!

“High-tech low life?” Could be, but not necessarily. One of the main messages of the emerging afrofuturist movement at large is questioning and destroying the stereotypical roles that Western culture’s entrenched colonial-racist heritage is still posing onto people of colour and Afrodescentants in particular: the role of the primitive, the wild and the immature. A futurism born out of African culture is therefore continuously at risk of being perceived as an inherent oxymoron. Sometimes it is consciously created as such, like the blatantly colonialist monstruosities of British noise act Cut Hands, but often unconsciously enjoyed, in notions like the ‘tribal rave’ – which, to be honest, our own blog hasn’t stayed entirely clean of either.

So then, what could be a better way to appreciate afrofuturism than to listen and watch key voices from this movement themselves? This week Generation Bass will do exactly this and report daily from the exciting ‘Afrofuturism Now!‘ festival in Rotterdam.

‘Afrofuturism Now!’, one of the very first ever afrofuturist festivals worldwide, is a result of the Rotterdam avant-garde podium WORM in Rotterdam joining forces with Rotterdam’s global bass party Pantropical, who have both witnessed the rise of a promising afrofuturist underground in many areas of culture and decided it was time to bring it to perhaps one of the most innovative and culturally diverse cities of Europe. There will be lectures, performances, art exhibitions, film shows, fashion and several club-nights in the realms of science-fiction and forward-looking culture.

The experimental sci-fi film Noise Gate (2013) will be shown on Thursday at 20:00

Music headliners to look forward to are the Philly (USA) based experimental electronic producer King Britt..

https://soundcloud.com/kingbritt/high-above-king-britt

Egyptian electrochaabi virtuoso Islam Chipsy..

South African avant-garde alrounder DJ Spoko (Ghetto Boyz Entertainment / True Panther Sounds / Lit City Trax)..

..and the Portuguese underground legends DJ Firmeza and DJ Lilocox (Principe Discos)!

‘Afrofuturism Now!’ is above all a peek into a world that is confidently being built by people of African heritage for a multi-cultural future that is manifesting itself more every day.

Join Generation Bass now and >> GET YOUR FESTIVAL TICKET(S) HERE << !!

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Meanwhile, to get into the mood, watch here some gems that I selected from the Generation Bass archives..

The Ethiopian post-apocalyptic film Crumbs will be shown at ‘Afrofuturism Now!’ after the official opening at 22:00!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kadevbEgcQk

Post-apocalypse inspired gqom from South African producer Maramza!

Te review we wrote about ‘The Great Game’: joint masterpiece of Rabit with Chino Amobi from NON: “a collective of African artists, and of the diaspora, using sound as their primary media, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power”, one of the most promising upcoming collectives in the afrofuturist avant-garde!

The cyberpunk ambient kuduro & gqom EP from the San Francisco based avant garde bass alrounder Kush Arora a.k.a. Only Now!

DJ UMB‘s ‘African Apocalypse’ mixtape for Okayafrica, featuring most artists from the Portuguese kuduro & tarraxo underground!

https://soundcloud.com/okayafrica/africa-in-your-earbuds-65-dj-umb-african-apocalypse

Our entire future-tarraxo archive compiled into one post and completed with a tribute mixtape from DJ UMB to this this uplifting afrofuturist subgenre!

The polyrhytmic techno mixtape with in-depth background from our befriended ‘Chinese afrofuturist’ DJ Zhao for Afropop Worldwide!

The Cosmic Sounds of the Sun Ra Arkestra : DJ Aardvark [AfroFuturism]

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Let’s get Cosmic and downright deep and weird.

The Pioneer of Afrofuturism and all round great Jazz musician, Poet and Philosopher, there was only one Sun Ra.

2 awesome “vinyl” mixes here by our friend DJ Aardvark, now this is what real music is all about and what a character he was too, just how we luv them over here.

All lovingly chronicled and put together by a man who knows his music.

<<<Radio Aardvark Special>>> Sun Ra Centenary Part 1 – The 50s & 60s by Dj Dave Aardvark on Mixcloud

A chronological exploration of the cosmic sounds of the Sun Ra Arkestra…

Most of the band’s music in the 50s and 60s was self recorded using a simple tape recorder – the sound is often lo fi & primitive, but sometimes drenched in massive reverb. These records were pressed in small numbers and released on the bands own label, Saturn Records.(Most of these albums have now been reissued.)
Thematically, the music harked back to Ancient African themes but also looked to the Future & Outer Space. From the mid 60s onwards the compositions are often increasingly complex, abstract and multilayered, focusing on polyrythmic sound textures.

All tunes sourced from Mr. Aardvark’s vinyl collection.

Dates given are recording dates rather than release dates.
Chronology mostly based on Robert L. Campbell’s Discography.

<<<Radio Aardvark Special>>> Sun Ra Centenary Part 2 – 1970 Onwards…. by Dj Dave Aardvark on Mixcloud

In the 70s as the band expanded & added female singer/dancers, Sun Ra’s palette also extended to include synthesizers.

The band became more of a touring band, often playing and recording in Europe. Many of the albums were live from now on, and as the decade progressed, Ra wished to give audiences a but of a musical history lesson with mammoth sets lasting many hours and including covers of old swing classics as well Ra’s compositions.

Some of the records from the late 70s also showed an influence from jazz-funk and disco. Though controversial at the time amongst purists, they are now recognised as being amongst Ra’s greatest works.

All tunes sourced from Mr. Aardvark’s vinyl collection.

DRVG CVLTVRE

My dude and brother Vince re-branded himself into a new alias as Drvg Cvltvre and we posted his free EP last week called “Something Borrowed, Something Blue”, which has just been on my I-Pod non-stop as it is sooo great. Def one of my favourite free Ep’s of this year. So I thought I’d check out some of his other stuff on his soundcloud and it is just as equally as impressive, some of it is about a year old whilst there’s also a couple of newer tracks too.

check these out:

DRVG CVLTVRE vs BURIAL vs FOURTET vs ACTRESS

My rework of Jamie XX’s Far Nearer just reached 10k downloads on my mediafire account, so I guess it was time to drop a new rework. One of the most intriguing cuts I’ve heard in a long time, Burial & Four Tet’s Nova was a bit too fast for me to play in my sets, so I slowed it down to a dark crawler, adding some punchier percussion, taking it into a bit more of a Balearic vibe… Ooohh and while I was add it, I just decided to throw another 7 tracks in there and do a complete remix EP with some of my favourite tracks ever. I hope you dig…

you can also grab the complete thing here: http://www.mediafire.com/?n56c8ba01j46cgu

and here’s a video I threw together to accompagny the ACTRESS remix, showing some links in AFRO FUTURISM…