Nomads in Sound vol 2.0
DJs have developed sub/super human capabilities. Music journalist/scholar Kodwo Eshun predicts that “in the future . . . DJs will have extremely developed fingertips, because they’re super-sensitive, like lily pads, like frogs. Their heads will be fused to their necks, and I think in about twenty years’ time their legs may well have withered away, ‘cause they never dance” (2006: 293). DJs are infrasensual cyborgs whose bodies meld with, and extend by, their technologies. The senses of DJs are transformed by sound and they modulate the bodies, minds and emotions of dancers. DJ/producers develop their “ear” to perceive that which everyday listeners do not; they differentiate simultaneous beat patterns, they discern textures and “moods” of soundscapes and crowds. In other words, DJ/producers possess something like a sixth sense, but it is difficult to capture their capabilities in words. A DJ I met in Berlin tried to describe the sensual capabilites of DJs as follows:
I do react to people a lot, but it’s not something that I show. I do very much go by ear, or by feeling, or try to feel what they want to hear, but this you could also do without looking at them. You can feel the atmosphere . . . I don’t know what it is actually, it’s not feeling, it’s not seeing, it’s something between seeing and hearing, you know. It’s more like you’re more concentrated on what you hear than what you see actually (anonymous Berlin DJ in Gavanas 2009a: 93–4).
It is difficult, if not impossible, to capture the art of DJing and the work of sound in electronic dance music (EDM) culture by means of text. As scholars and writers, we approach the world of sound through theoretical tools and attempt to nail music down with words; “Like a headmaster, theory teaches today’s music a thing or 2 about life. It subdues music’s ambition, reins it in, restores it to its proper place” (Eshun 1998: 4). While Cultural Studies scholars even go to great lengths to rename non-textual phenomena (like music and visuals) as text, to be decoded as text, they do not perform the reverse: to rename text and visuals and call it music. Instead, I would like to suggest that sound can teach things to the mind and body that text cannot touch (Goodman 2010: 82). You’ve heard of the funk band Funkadelic’s message inscribed in the title of their 1970 album Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow. I am suggesting the inverse here: “let music free your ass, and your mind will follow”.
In this multimedia contribution, together with a group of fellow DJ/producers, I address by means of sound the inseparable and subversive sensory/ sensual dimensions of EDM. As producer/musician and dub legend Dr Das (founding member of the Asian Dub Foundation and participant in Nomads in Sound Vol 1) has pointed out (Gavanas 2011) the politics of music tends to be reduced to what is (or can be) written. According to philosopher / producer Steve Goodman, music’s content, meaning and narrative is superimposed on its form, or assessed based on the extent to which it represents an exterior political reality (Goodman 2010: 172). However, as opposed to styles like rock or pop, EDM (with the exception of occasional vocal samples) does not usually contain, nor is structured around, lyrics, verses and refrains. Nevertheless, the sounds of EDM operate at multiple levels within and beyond language:
Sound operates by forming links, groupings, and conjunctions that accentuate individual identity as a relational project. The flows of surrounding sonority can be heard to weave an individual into a larger social fabric, filling relations with local sound, sonic culture, auditory memories, and the noises that move between, contributing to the making of shared spaces. This associative and connective process of sound comes to reconfigure the spatial distinctions of inside and outside, to foster confrontations between one and another, and to infuse language with degrees of immediacy (Labelle 2010: xxi).
In his ground breaking book Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures (2009), cultural anthropologist Graham St John demonstrates the ways the EDM cultures may in and by themselves be vehicles for struggle against oppression and injustice and evolve, ignite and reinforce activism in the service of a wide range of causes. St John illustrates a range of interrelated modes of resistance in EDM culture which he names Dionysian, outlaw, exile, avant, spiritual, reclaiming, safety, reactionary and activist (2009). St John documents these nodes of experience in EDM cultures in global and historical contexts and illustrates, for example, EDM scenes that react to state interventions, and others campaigning for diverse causes (2009: 194).
Conversely, EDM culture can also serve dominant commercial interests and reinforce social and economic hierarchies (Balliger 1995: 25). St John, for instance, writes about “corporate clubbing” in this context (2009: 19). Ironically, the music/club industry tends to market commercial EDM events as “underground” and politically subversive in order to underscore participants’ “authenticity” (see Ganetz et al. 2009; Gavanas 2009a). There is money to be made in EDM scenes by cultivating myths of rebellion, authenticity and originality free from commercial interest (Thornton 2005). If an artist, or an event, is cast as having a politically subversive purpose beyond entertainment, they are considered serious and meaningful (as opposed to superficial and fake). But just because something is framed as “political” it is not necessarily “transgressive” or “progressive” in St John’s terms. For instance, Swedish artist Christina Kjellson once pointed out that commercial pop music can be seen as “political”, but in a neoliberal and heteronormative sense (Gavanas 2009b: 49). In St John’s words: “in a world where the charismatic rebel is a desired commodity, the outlaw rides onto the set of a Fruitopia commercial” (2009: 108).
According to Eshun, music does not necessarily entail “big P Politics, it’s not like marching and protesting Politics. That’s sensual/ sensory politics. It’s just as crucial if not more so, because your hands are you” (2006: 294). DJs/producers therefore possess capabilities beyond politics in the traditional sense of party politics, social movements or identity politics. For instance, DJ/producer Mutamassik sees it as her mission to “wake people the fuck up and make them feel something. Protests and marches are not enough” (in Gavanas 2011).
I am not arguing that EDM cultures necessarily have to exist for the sake of anything beyond commercial interests, hedonistic “Dionysian” pleasures (St John 2009: 104), or beyond participants’ desires of being (alone) together (St John 2009: 101). Nor am I attempting to assert that the pleasures and aesthetics of sound cultures need be “sacrificed at the altar of a political cause” (Goodman 2010: 175). In the following exercise in cultural politics, “Nomads in Sound vol 2.0”, our purpose is rather to explore the indivisibility of concepts and practices like politics, pleasure, aesthetics and subversion. For instance, as St John points out in the case of proto-disco’s “homoerotic tribalism”, its pleasure is its politics (2009: 105). Or in the words of media scholar Fiona Buckland, in her study of club culture and queer “world-making” in New York, “any queer world-making was part oppositional, part pleasure, and—of course—part the pleasure of opposition” (2002: 144).
The point of our multimedia contribution, “Nomads in Sound vol 2.0”, is to demonstrate the capabilities of EDM DJ/producers within and beyond language and politics (by any definition of the term). We have created sounds and compositions that illustrate the inseparability and multidimensionality of EDM culture from a DJ/producer perspective—by means of DJ/producer capabilities. Though each of the tracks presented below are introduced with lines by the artist her or himself, the tracks in the compilation approach EDM culture from a DJ/producer perspective, complementary to writing about it. When it comes to the multiple and inseparable dimensions of EDM scenes, words and text are not enough. As artists and specialised guides to musical worlds, we tell our stories through soundscapes, weaving together auditory elements and influencing the bodies, moods and emotions of dance crowds. Inspired by St John’s Technomad, “Nomads in Sound vol 2.0” illustrates visions in EDM around individual and collective experiences. Many contributions in this volume are on the dubby side of the EDM continuum. In line with our mission in Nomads in Sound, we have founded the not-for-profit record label Meerkat Recordings <http://meerkatrecordings.bandcamp.com/>). Like Meerkats in the Kalahari desert we fiercely promote subversive dubs from underground headquarters constantly relocated in the world. Following the Jamaican sound system tradition, Meerkat Recordings is a platform for artists with a purpose beyond the music industry. Like sound system culture, Meerkat Recordings is dedicated to the power of BASS as a voice of the people.
The compilation will be released digitally on Juno and in addition as a vinyl EP featuring four of the tracks.
“The name of the song ‘Atma’ translates as ‘Soul’ in Hindi. The tune is my translation of that word and its meaning”.
Nuphlo's (aka Mannie Sandhu) style is a delicate balance of Eastern melodies, innovative beats and low subs. This tightrope approach to production has led to a string of vinyl, CD and MP3 releases on record labels on both sides of the cultural spectrum. In short, Nuphlo's music represents multicultural cohesion. It all started in Leeds, UK in 2001 where Nuphlo had a mix show on local radio station Fever FM. He played Asian Underground and Drum ‘n’ Bass. With the desire to play more exclusive material, production was the next logical step.
“This track conveys the power of dub as a positive unifying force, as platforms for social mobilization that allow communities to come together and be together. This is a righteous anthem for standing or dancing together against kingdoms that seek to divide and conquer”.
Bass trolls is a live/producer collective of shady characters featuring mutated guitars, hypnotic voices, shady horns, analog synthesizers, plenty of vintage delays and reverbs together with chopped up oldschool breaks. We call it “all-out, full contact Dub!” We are dedicated to the BASS as the ultimate all-encompassing and multidimensional force.
“If I could transform my brainwaves into a tune, it would sound something like this. Music is a direct form of communication between minds and bodies. When you translate your mental states into words, so much is lost in the coding and decoding”.
Foona is a 1-man band/artist and producer with all of his extremities buried into all genres that concern him. With a background in reggae and rocksteady in his small but well crafted backpack, he traversed the sonic road for over a decade to gather inspiration from genres such as world music, hip hop, jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, techno, rock and even pop.
“This contribution illustrates the potential use of music as unsettling and confusing mind control; music is not necessarily used for progressive or transgressive purposes. It can also be used in sonic warfare against bodies and minds”.
DJplaneten is a DJ/producer duo consisting of Gavana and Aimnbreak. We produce genre transgressive music heavily influenced by dub, dubstep, jungle, jazz, hillbilly blues, hip hop and dancehall: all faced with a full-on headbutt.
“This track takes you on a walk in sound, filtered through memories of big cities, small towns and electric dreams. Through a collage of sound grows a landscape where a new rhetoric can take place”.
Kutterfugel aka Anna Giertz has among other things made music for the radio program Fulradio which is a part of the publication Ful, performed at Arts Birthday 2011, HBT-festival in Gothenburg, Stockholm Pride and various clubs in Stockholm.
One of the greatest magics about music is that it enables your mind to travel in time and space. I tend to make music that depicts places I have visited, imaginary or real. Last winter I went to visit my sister in the Carribean and found this one spot on the island of St Maarten that became my mental reference for paradise. This track reflects visions and memories from Café Zenit in Crand Case and brings me there whenever I listen to it.
Coming from a musical background as a vinylist, DJ and club promoter, Gavana is committed to sound as the ultimately powerful means of communication. This is despite, or perhaps because of, her background as a social anthropologist working by means of the written word.
“This track illustrates how music scenes can be a refuge from the intensity and invasiveness of everyday life. Music scenes can be havens from a racist, homophobic and sexist world. This track is made to provide such a safe sonic space”.
Aimnbreak is a former hardcore drummer, now a DJ and producer. Raised in a musical home he began exploring music at a very early age. A life changing year in Botswana Africa in the late eighties introduced Aimnbreak into the hip hop/rap movement. These musical approaches and experiences gave Aimnbreak a renewed critical perspective on life and the injustice of the world. Still very much influenced by his experiences, he is on a lifelong musical and political journey, searching for the roots and culture of music. Aimnbreak moves between many different genres in his music; from dub to dubstep, hip hop to jungle and jazz to drum ‘n’ bass.
“This track is intended to portray the individuals of a collective movement, whether musical or political, impulsive or planned. Those who can stand and say ‘I was there when. . .’ and in uttering this show belonging and pride. Those who acheived something, anything, have not done so as individuals, but as a part of a greater movement”.
Ombudsman produces IDM and has released several self named albums. He currently works at the electroacoustic center EMS in Stockholm.
“When I’m down and weary, mother music speaks to me. This track tries to convey the feeling of being taken care of when needed, and provided comfort/warmth/energy at the same time. Like the closeness of a partner or true friend, providing solace in dire times”.
jgb creates music using various hardware machines: drum machines, synths (analogue and digital alike), tape echoes, filters, delays, reverbs etc. Everything is recorded in one take, no overdubs nor anything else are added afterwards except for a quick and dirty mastering of the tracks.
“I came from a hip hop/acid jazz background before spending more than a decade in techhouse. When I started DJing, I would always make compilations for myself to have the right music at hand when I was in that strange movie called my life. Ever since I had those self-made soundtracks, my life became more happy and intense, I started to have more control on the plot of the movie. The track is called peaceful sharks because I made it for a ride to the beach where I sometimes live. The sharks are not there in those waters, but they were in my mind when I finished the track”.
DJ Aroma is a DJ/producer with an issue and a philosophy. She dislikes functional music; she is a real artist creating a mood and a flavoured vibe. It’s like cooking a five star luxury dinner for your ears.
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