Never really introduced myself on my own website; here’s a scrapped intro for an interview i was asked to do but things happen. Reading this in hindsight of how proud i am of the people ive connected with between reaching out and where we all are now does the heart some well needed good. Enjoyed reading inner reflections on how I came into the electronic critical sphere & the work i’m up to at dweller. Maybe you’ll find some joy in reading it too. Staring at my thoughts and feelings in the mirror hurt most of the time, hoping this transparency makes the squinting a bit less tumultuous in the quar void. As the layers of myself show themselves to myself, this blog will surely decompose into more personal writings through the lens of the music that shines their light on me just so you know. Love yall
“In my childhood drifting into adolescence, my experience with techno was a triptych of insularity. My brother and I spoke our language of music with no one else, late nights on bulletin board systems online, and imagining sonic worlds bootlegged from limewire onto CD-R’s for the bus ride home. Over the years I had felt secure that this was the only area where the electronic realm could have a black kid from the Deep South. Thankfully as the internet ceased to be purely a space for me to print out DragonBall Z power levels and Stones Throw records forum posting, access of stories untold finally reached me. Techno flourished within my identity and shattered previous reflections for a genre that I always loved but felt this ethno-Berlin wall delineating my racial outsideness to a genre well documented to be white. We now all know this not to be the case. That techno is something created, for, and sustained by Black people. This sense of pride resulted in a reflex to connect my personal roots with my ancestral ones in showing the relationship between Southern Dance Music like New Orleans Bounce to Techno as the rituals rhyme well together.
Those mental connections finally coalesced with making the pilgrimage to Dweller earlier this year. Making it out to ~90% of the shows over the course of 4 days, I had finally broken the dual-seal of both never going to a rave and finding a real communion alongside family. Finally, I had met friends only seen across the internet; I danced alongside smiling known only before behind pixels. Knowing this was something worth investing in I decided to meet up with Frankie, the showrunner of Dweller and Discwoman, in hopes to do build some sort of relationship. Thankfully what came from that is the Dweller blog. As I cannot be “on-site” in New York (who is right now?) I am thankful to write, edit, and bring together those alone as I once was. We strive to be a Black lighthouse; a siren in the storm for those who know the isolating whitewaters of electronic all too well. In this particular time we’re in, the authorities controlling this current sees to drown the voices that can reverse the flow of power back into our hands. We must be vigilant towards persisting as to not just speak for ourselves but redistribute resource, equity, and justice in a space that has long made its worth on the backs of the silenced.”
Communication is really hard. Not just getting across your message across, but the tone, emotion, posture, context, meaning, etc also wants to be nestled in between each letter and space within and between those words. Even with these acts of good faith, words often if not always fail us. Being in agreement with such a statement with the main verb I do is “to write”, it’s an acute pain to realize your reality is that of an errand boy in a fool’s dream. But these failed words are in me to the point where I need to get them out unfortunately, usually in a hurried frenzy. Today’s hurried frenzy comes out due to Darren Cunningham, or Actress’, most recent release, 88. Released as one whole piece, Actress’ new work is a prelude to his upcoming sonic love letter, Karma and Desire.
The worst failings of communication come about when expressing the seemingly inexpressible, love. How can one show the intangible product of external joy from another now internalized within you? Or your own internal love cultivated into something larger? How can you get it out in a way that doesn’t feel inauthentic, like you’re not giving the emotion the medium it deserves? Many feel like art is the only way as we’d otherwise burst from emotional pent-upedness. For many, going abstract feels closer to reality than taking the literal route of word. Words are a rough and often harsh language, I’d consider (the good) writers and poets the true magicians of our time; able to translate the ethereal into something legible. In our daily lives, we feel our own limited capacity towards translation by including an “lol”, “LMAO”, or an emoji. In certain tough text conversations, the inclusion of a period or not tells the true emotion of the operator on the other line moreso than whatever paragraph came before it. In the world of the Message App, we may feel like this sort of thing a somewhat new phenomena but its goes back (probably farther) to the early 1800’s. Morse code telegraph operators used various number successions to communicate a sort of short hand to the operator on the other line. “73” stood for ‘best regards’, ’21’ meant ‘stop for meal’ (the ‘brb’ of the 19th century), and ’88’ for ‘Love and Kisses’. These numerical protocols emoji consolidated such a powerful feeling into muffled beeps and tones. This abstraction probably felt just as strong as we felt sending our first hearts to our gradeschool sweethearts across T9 keyboards back in the day.
This counterintuitive idea of how the abstract can get us closer to our feelings rather than spelling it out is the prevailing theme of 88. The record seems to be split up in three or four parts, giving homage to Darren’s past output that those who took the time to crack the code needed to access the file for 88 are surely well versed in. The first large suite feels like a fugue state coda for his last release, 2017’s AZD. Sounds straight from that album’s prime jewel, “Dancing in the Smoke”, are on full display as well as some snippets from his Rinse FM show back in 2017 (still yearning for that first tune, geez). Here, these sounds feel like an old friend who came home for Christmas to see his family, but found time to grab a drink for a bit before they gotta rush home. The second chunk of the record reverbs the mood of a dance floor much moreso than what came before with the mere input of a 4/4 from Actress immediately begins a remembrance of 2010’s Splazsh. As the four on the floor gives way to swelling violins and generous arpeggios, the concept album loosely based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, 2012’s R.I.P, comes to mind.
You get five seconds of a groove here, a quick melody with a counterpoint there; the experience of this album begins to feel like piecing together a morse coded message and as you piece together your dots and tones together, you start to crack a smile. The signal may not strengthen but your love grows with each subsequent transmission. Many speak to Actress’ more later works post-Splazsh as sketches, but if 88 is galvanizing anything for me is that the message isn’t to be found in the fog and haze, it is the message. The in-between we decide ourselves is whats worth fighting for, not whatever structure we we’re told is necessary to best get your feelings across. What we feel in the in-between is our native tongue. The ’88’ at the end telegraph received in 1871 most likely is what let the heart swell to lovers apart. Morse code and radio signal in general can reach further at night as the signals can bounce off of Earth’s Ionosphere allowing much farther transmissions to reach. In 6th grade, we did this sort of thing for our HAM radio operator club (on brand, I know) where in the afternoon our puny device could reach China with my teacher speaking Mandarin to students on the other side of the world. Not much could be heard so shorthand like ’88’ was used and was responded by excited yells from children on different continents. What was said is not what matters, but what was felt.
I must say, even piecing this writing began to feel like a code, hearing bits of side projects like Levantis and smaller releases like the Xoul EP in small songs where I had to write down timestamps as track titles we’re given but in a tweet with no numbers, its hard to feel solid on when a song begins and ends. The nostalgist in me related it to IDM Newsletter contributor Greg Eden piecing together names for Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, with the track titles merely being pictures with name. Like Richard, this connect through the abstract felt different, like having a conversation with someone through design instead of dictating feeling and meaning on the back of a jewel CD case.
The last suite reflects a monster work and namesake of this blog, Ghettoville. The beeps from AZD are ever present as they then form into a haze of desolation until ending on a murky but hopeful melody. Something that I’ve always felt about Actress’ mainline releases is that I feel like he’s carries the desire to end his work on a hopeful note. IWAAD, Visa, and Rule are the examples where each monochromatic tone poems surrounding Hell, cybernetic otherness, and poverty oft speaks towards a brighter future and 88 does something but a bit different, it speaks. The last few moments of the record before being driven back into the digital haze are words. Hard to decipher, yes, but you hear a voice. It feels like we can see the lighthouse just barely on the horizon after being out in the cold for so long. Maybe we’ve finally begun to get through and can understand what he’s been trying to say to us this whole time but we hadn’t the language to hear it really. Karma and Desire’s tracklist (once given in a ig story but is now switched from letters to triangles/the real ones know what’s up) suggests the jump from non-word into something spoken is on the way. Excited to hear what Darren has to say in his newfound tongue.
This will be a general rambling in a way to produce something that merely isn’t falling into the void of “no one is bored, everything is boring” loop of social media. It carries such a numbing effect in a plethora of ways that within the absence of never being bored, we’ve “decided” to substitute that with anxiety for a future with no horizon. All of this is in tandem with the writings of Mark Fisher and his ideas of the slow cancellation of the future. Although he predominately used music and its surrounding culture as his example of how cyber-capitalism has squeezed the idea of a singular moment to align with cultural production, I think the present moment of George Floyd’s murder and its subsequent result on our timeline can be another mark on this idea of a watching any semblance of a future merely become an dated aesthetic, like 80’s day for spirit week. The “future” in so many way is behind us. We’ve been delegated to a hamster wheel of the same hot takes, death videos, responses, appeals to humanity towards a system explicitly designed to strip any idea of exactly that, calling congress people who could care less about us, urges to call police station to fire their own fellow blue bloods. I’m exhausted, enraged, and numbed out simultaneously.
I honestly got up and decided to type this after watching the same James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Malcolm X instagram excerpts that almost begin to feel like a sociopolitical Punxsutawney Phil that communicates a summer of Black Death two weeks early ahead of time. This combined with how there’s truly nothing new or at least cogent ahead of us is most seen in these clips. Imagine those in 1968 purely referencing those that came before them 50 years ago for a moment that is intimately happening to them. I believe in ancestors like the rest of us but when I look around to a movement, or a moment or a group that we can singularly define us I find myself at a standstill, at a loss. Who will our children look to as a guidepost when their world is burning (and it will be burning, make no mistake)? This is not to place blame or the onus on us singularly as the compression, horizontalization, and blurring of any actual time markers (this becoming even more clear in the lockdown) produces such a structure where we as a people have no means to rise up. There is no culture to place in context of this pain so the only thing that makes sense to people to revert to a time of coherence. We have no choice !
How do you speak about the credit sequence of a movie? The era we find ourselves is the empty wake of when things actually happened and carried weight. America has begun to treat black people like marvel movie characters. Completely flat, static characters we either emulate or plea to exterminate. “Black girl magic” and “black boy joy” place us on pedestals where we have been yaas’d and king’d into unhumanity. Racial politics in America is so warped where those who outright call for our executioners because they don’t want to leash their pets are granted a light, euphemistic nickname. We historically police our own blackness in so many ways that we strip our own people from finding some sense of happiness in this hellscape through revoking black cards for one reason or another (this is a whole conversation that I am only willing to have over drinks). White people that have no black friends are obsessed with a people they know nothing about. Kids in the suburbs fantasizing about living in Staten Island with the Wu Tang Clan. This isn’t our fault but due to the structure of capitalism, we end up commodifying ourselves into a flattened object. One to be passed around and spread across the world through memetic virality. Nothing new of course, but we’ve reached critical mass where instead of the new hot Jazz tune, our views of our own deaths are now hitting billboard-like numbers.
The compression of blackness on the world’s stage will almost always lead to the result we’ve see before. This is something we too are complicit in but only because we’ve been stripped of the agency to do otherwise. Late capitalism has rendered us without the toolset to produce anything accelerated as we cannot formulate our own awareness in our bouts of constant collective trauma. We have nothing but the past as there’s nothing in front of us. America in so many ways is on the locked groove of time that keeps looping. Unfortunately that needle keeps eroding this record with each revolution; each cycle eating into the material we’re tuning into. Interested when we’ll finally break the record and put something new on. Please ACT in the ways that institute REAL CHANGE in your surroundings, as small as that can look like. It’s only way we can break this incessant loop and listen to something truly new.
“Would you like to go with me Down my dead end street Would you like to come with me To Village Ghetto Land”
Do you ever walk the streets you grew up on? Pristine sidewalks now overgrown with weeds and detritus. The once lively dollar stores where you’d excitedly beg your parents to grab a toy or piece of candy morphed into a sunken hole in the wall. To observe your beginnings as ash can be quite a haunted feeling and Ghettoville takes this feeling to its terminal conclusion; a siren cry for spaces displaced.
Darren Cunningham’s 2014 masterwork, Ghettoville, is a stark reflection of a time that once reveled in the advancement of modernity irrevocably shattered. In the UK, the 90’s brought a hopefulness spitting out an encyclopedia’s worth of dance genres annually and Labour winning in a landslide victory once shined a ray of light toward the bleak horizon of the future. But as the 2000’s waned and we now look back on the 2010’s, the cracks that began to show not only fractured completely but swallowed any notion of hope towards a brighter tomorrow. Sea levels rising, bushfire engulfing the Australian landscape, Brexit marching ever onward, and the Forever War becoming the topic du jour; art nowadays finds itself to be in dialog, sub-consciously or otherwise, about this greying of once blue skies.
But it’s Cunningham’s 2014 techno funeral dirge double album that questions that very notion and proposes a different context: weren’t those grey skies already here and if so, for whom?
The dialog that Ghettoville contends with can be approached on nearly level: the cover art of a muddied array of shapes and sketches that seem to be collapsing in front of your eyes, the sound design enrapturing you in glimmers of various windows of blurred glass looking out to the inner city, the song titles give way to allusion of feelings, moments, and what lies behind you after the end of the history.
Albeit mostly voiceless, these titles allude to lush stories within mostly voiceless pieces. The back to back suite of “Corner” and “Rims” communicates a world-building ethos which sets the tones for the rest of the project. The corner, a territory of which Black culture has coined wholesale has its own, is an upbeat tune with even a small screwed-up “Yeah” every bar or so; giving the album fleeting wisps of swagger within desolation. These moments glides effortlessly into “Rims”, a track with a bouncy baseline worth riding around with but realizing the radio about to die and the neighborhood you’re riding around is a big shell of overgrown car-washes and seemingly bombed out barbershops once holding life and love for its people now all displaced.
The titles and track names relate to tangible, geographic elements remembering that culture and place are inseparable and when they are extracted from each other, a fallacy is created. This fallacy shows up in music festivals or at live shows with the poetry spoken on stage falling onto a listener that could never truly understand what is being told to them. Such a fallacy has been seen for what is it by some artists such as NoName, who said that she’d no longer do shows for predominately white audiences. This apparent lack of dialog comes about when the people and place the work is for no longer plays a role in the system for where to work lies within. “For Them, By Us” doesn’t really roll off the tongue.
Tracks 6 and 10, “Birdcage” and “Gaze” respectively, is what the outside world may see of Black culture when observed from the outside in. Both tracks easily provide the most energy for an album otherwise on life support. The title “Birdcage” supplants this track in the lineage of Maya Angelou’s writing and although some may think they know why the caged bird sings, if you’ve never been in that cage yourself it’ll only be a hollowed understanding.
This idea is galvanized in “Gaze”, the only semi-party ready track on the album. The title alone provides a world of investigation. For how fun this song is, it keeps you at arm’s length; all of its drops and progression subsumed by a grey digital haze. You can look but don’t touch since what you’ve already touch has decayed to what you see before you. This hallowed out house number recontextualizes euphoric joys reached at peak hours and subtly asks you what it means for an entire people’s discursive culture to be stolen into a cultural where they are not heard, seen, or acknowledged except a couple of records that made their mark long before I Love Techno and Majestic Casual became the new history of techno and dance culture.
The examination of what’s left of Black cultures like techno and house once they’ve been gentrified is this record’s bread and butter. Ghettoville refuses to look away from the ways in which this parasitic relationship usually ends in poverty for its creators. “Rap” is a screwed-up R&B track with the phrase ”Wrap yourself around me” playing incessantly for 3 minutes straight. Its constantness gives way to a sinister take on the once silky smoothness of it gives way. The closing track, “Rule” is a slyly joyful but still hallowed tune with various 80’s hip-hop flows stacking and collapsing onto each other behind a Crystal Waters melody. For all the grime, depression, and death that this album showcases in an almost cinematic portrayal, Ghettoville (and most of Cunningham’s past work) ends on a quietly beautiful finale. Whispers of content gratefulness of what life we have between us all as the screen fades to black.
That is of course, if you don’t wait until after the credits with the Japanese bonus track. The idea of Japanese bonus track began decades ago has many CD sellers in Japan realized it was more inexpensive to pirate or import CD’s from countries so the music industry as a whole started incentivizing purchasing Japan’s own CDs by including a bonus track or two. The hope was that Japanese fans would wait and pay more for the local CD than the cheaper import. Boards of Canada’s 2002 magnum opus Geogaddi’s Japanese bonus track “From One Source All Things Depends”, provides an uplifted new ending to what is otherwise a deeply pagan-occult-eerie record. The closer samples an interview of various kids being asked who is god to them. Some say “he’s a big fat man in the air and you can’t see him!” while others speak of him conceptually, but it’s the last boy with the response, “…he’s not though, what – a lot of people think he’s just a feeling – but I think he’s a real person…”. For a record has a running time of 1 hour 6 minutes and 6 seconds, and track titles as “The Devil is In the Details” and “Beware the Friendly Stranger”, such a warm ending feels more complete than the 2 minute nihilistic coda of digital silence of “Magic Window”.
However, the anthesis occurs on Ghettoville with the ending track no longer being the bit of sunshine that is “Rule”, but the eight-minute death-final-finale “Grey Over Blue”. “Grey Over Blue” is the musical equivalent of watching an animal die in an empty forest. If there’s a pulse, it only returns diminished results with each cycle. It’s an ending sequence that feels like an aerial shot of the lifeless city we just hobbled through for the past two hours. Without resource or aid, forgotten with no forgiveness. Where “Rule” may be the ending we want, “Grey Over Blue” is the ending that lies in front of us. Ever encroaching on its fate in becoming the present.
Ghettoville is a blueprint for how it recontextualize techno by placing a magnifying glass on the landscape from which it was taken away from. It examines the unexamined, giving attention (and in turn humanity) to the forgotten. It gives a proper eulogy to the body of Black dance music tossed overboard by the Ibizas and Coachellas of the world. The album is steeped in homage to these victims of revisional history. “Grey Over Blue” is a literal reversal of “Blue Over Gray”, a 1998 DJ Screw album (which opens with a 8 mins meditative track). “Rap”, the lone single from Ghettoville, was touted by variousonline outlets to be a vaporware track but this is merely another version of cultural erasure. It’s a screwed-up track in every sense of the word but with the internet’s constant bout of amnesia, the current history is that Cunningham is merely biting a 2012 internet genre and not giving praise to Black artists and structures before him. “Rap” plays with homonyms alluding to double entendre, “Wrap/Rap yourself around me”. Which word do we decide the vocalist wants us to do? Do we give in to their ask of consuming them or do we narrativize them until their story is ours? Is there a difference between to two?
The aforementioned track “Gaze” continues to be the crown jewel of this concept, how most people experience techno do so with an abstracted gaze. The song itself being this idea at its core as “Gaze” is but a sample of an older actress tune, “Point and Gaze”; a second-order distancing act to gaze upon “Gaze” itself. A gaze that can never be switched for the real thing no matter how close you think you are to it.
Thankfully since 2014, many people have been carrying the torch of letting others know about this gaze. Artist and writer, Deforrest Brown Jr. gives even more light to the once forgotten fact that Techno is for and by Black people or with crews such as Discwoman, doing an annual festival known as Dweller where Black techno artists come together to uplift and amplify each other in what is an otherwise deeply whitewashed industry.
To finally start fixing our ills is to not only look intimately at our environment but to hold those who caused it accountable. Ghettoville allows us to observe and to become complicit in our past, present, and future. An ode to the spaces, materials, and shapes that Black people create and subsequently get torn apart from. The corner depopulates, the rims rust, the birdcage vacant. What a space sounds like once you remove all the physical material that made the system what it was. I’ll end with the press release that came before the album’s release 6 years ago this month. Happy birthday Ghettoville, may your death live on forever.
Ghettoville is the bleached out and black tinted conclusion of the Actress image.
Where the demands of writing caught the artist slumped and reclined, devoid of any soul, acutely aware of the simulated prism that required breakout.
Four albums in and the notes and compositions no longer contain decipherable language.
The scripts now carry tears, the world has returned to a flattened state, and out through that window, the birds look back into the cage they once inhabited.
Spitting flames behind a white wall of silence.
The machines have turned to stone, data reads like an obituary to its user.
A fix is no longer a release, it’s a brittle curse. Zero satisfaction, no teeth, pseudo artists running rampant, but the path continues.
“When you do things with your hands it heals you in places lower than where you cry from”
T is a short film from Keisha Rae Witherspoon, a filmmaker and creative director of the Third Horizon Caribbean filmmaking group based in Miami, Florida. T centers around the artists that are getting ready for what is known as the T-ball, a gala of sorts where people in the community who have passed away are commemorated through artwork on T-shirts and other artistic works. The T-ball is a celebration of people who have passed on to new life outside of this one and the film itself is one that grapples with how we all navigate the world after loved ones have passed. The ball is an extremely colorful night that carries themes of acceptance of new lifetimes. More than anything, what oozes out of every second while watching this piece is this confidence that past gives light towards futures unforeseen.
Across the film’s runtime, we are allowed us to walk with three people: Dimples, Tahir, and a man whose name is never given. Dimples is a seamstress whose home is both an alter and workshop in remembrance of her son, Jasper. Jasper was a painter and these works strewn across the walls create a prismatic overstimulation inside her four walls. We meet her preparing a dress made completely out of potato chip bags, a common snack for Jasper back in the day. Through our time with her she smiles fondly on memory of her son with such a warm that without a second thought you feel a sense of place and home around her. Tahir and the man create a similar atmosphere; giving such an interiority to the complex textures of their everyday that you feel a sense of closeness to each of these people over only a runtime of about 14 minutes.
But it’s the blowback you receive so often in this film that transcends T by forcing a third thought that you actually don’t know these people and whatever sense of binary joy you initially received is so much more complex. Throughout the film, the connections we genuinely make with these people are complicated with actions that morph us as viewer into fifth wall observers. We realize that we aren’t following these people around and that there’s camera operators between us and the subjects. We are flown back into our own bodies and have to reckon with the accountability of ourselves that we so often give to documentary subjects in creating a false sense of kinship beside people we’ve only placed our eyes on for 4 minutes at this point. This is most seen with Dimples and the man whose name is never given.
The man opens his scene jovially announcing to the camera “Welcome to African America!” alongside a dance and a smile that could warm a cold winter’s night. This warmth is immediately chopped down with a blank stare, making you unsure if this a game he’s playing to get us to laugh or if he’s really not that jazzed about seeing us in his space. As his scene carries, on we peer into vignettes of him alongside his children and friends showing a box full of T’s; T-shirts acting as ephemeral tombstones for the passed away with printed faces, carefully crafted text and dates of a homecoming and home going. During this moment we think we’re sharing with the man and his friend the man asks us, “what y’all really here for anyway?… what y’all really wanna see?”. While his friend continues to show us even more T’s he asks his friend why he’s giving so much to these people and realizes he’s changed his mind about this whole thing. We don’t see the man again.
Near the end of the film, Dimples takes us down a hallway to a back room; a sacred place where she begins a ceremony in reverence to her passed child. As the camera follows closely behind her and by the time we reach the doors entrance, Dimples tersely says “We don’t come past here”. Dimples herself begins her journey in her own temple while we wait on the sidelines realizing that this moment is not for us.
These moments (and more throughout the film) implicate the viewer to understand that we are but an intrusion; onlookers in a space that is not ours to call our own as much as we subconsciously believe it to be through the power of cinema. Quite often we have a voyeuristic renarrativization of lives not ours. Does this film center around Black Death or Black Life? What are we really here for anyway? What do we really want to see?
T is currently playing at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and the Third Horizon Film Festival begins on February 6, 2020 in Miami, Florida.
Here are but a few of pieces that moved me this year. Thanks for reading and please send me some recommendations !
Solange When I Get Home
Sound as contemporary architecture; album as physically regenerative material. Coming back to this album countless times only exacerbates just how odd this record is. Barely a “single” on here; fractured and non-Eurocentric ideas in terms of song structure, this record gets a lot said about it but little about how it bucks traditional mainstream album with its form alone. Solange really did so much here and much of happens subtly and namelessly all under the guise of neo-soul. This album says so much with its eyes, not the mouth. Once your make contact with it, you’re complicit in agreeing or exiling it. Polarity matters more to me than “goodness” and no one can be walk away from this record with a sense of apathy. It demands a response and if that isn’t the mark of art worthy of discussing then I don’t know what is. Thanks Solange.
Weyes Blood Titanic Rising
A haunting subtextual meditation on global environmental collapse that relates it something almost cosmic in its fathom of the horror. As someone who intimately researches global climate change through the lens of how humans have forever altered the history of this planet, listening to this record sometimes sounds like how it feels to observe the disintegration of ourselves by ourselves. This is not only in song content but in form. As the tape wobbles, the synths glisten into silence, and its Carpenter-esque vocals force you into feeling the rift between the past and the present, everything in the record is sitting you down to tell you, “yes this is Over and yes it is Our Fault”.
TheCaretaker Everywhere at the end of time (Stage 6)
The almost decade long series comes to and “end” in a stunning fashion that almost feels like I’d be spoiling a movie if I go any further. Leyland Kirby’s observations on memory and memory loss receives all 10’s on the dismount. The complete 6 hour project is a fading masterpiece that cares just much about the rusting bronze frame turning to dust before our eyes than the image itself. Take a night for yourself and take it all in.
Earl Sweatshirt Some Rap Songs
Some Rap Songs may have come out in 2018, but it was late December so that narrative for best albums (for me) that year was already encased. Nevertheless, this album has walked with me through this year and so it deserves a space. Recollection and the solemn sadness that follows us as our foundations of reality become stories to tell those who they themselves mythologize our own lives seems to be a bit of a motif for all of these works but SRS puts that notion to the forefront. A eulogy of what was/could’ve been/never can be is the thread through each of these tight, less-than-three-minutes-a-piece group of songs. Ranging from the raw admissions of guilt pertaining to a broken connection with the father to a textural collage of spoken word where Earl’s parents speak their truths that inform his own language is a deft piece of storytelling that doesn’t overstate its welcome with a running time of 25 minutes. The killer is the closer “Riot!”, sampling his uncle and South African Jazz legend, Hugh Masekela. This instrumental piece encapsulates the theme of the record of unfinished stories, regret, second guesses, and momento mori all in a 1:08 jazz tune ! More than the sonics of actual piece, with the sounds arising from the brass being Earl’s own uncle solidifies the quiet sadness you’re left with as the records reaches its end. This life is a family affair whether you want it to be or not and as we look back to watch those we formally believed to immortal fade into memory of record, photography, or writing all we can do is connect the dots to inform where we’re headed for better or for worse. Again, all of this is at play in a short 1:08 jazz piece. I can’t stop thinking about “Riot!” , this record, and where we all fit in it. How someone can arguably have their magnum opus at 24 makes my heart rate jump.
I, admittedly, thought Klein was doing nothing special with her Hyperdub debut back in 2015. Almost with a jealously that “anyone could do what she’s doing here”, which I misinterpreted as something flippant. This notion really should be applied to someone doing something genius under certain light and “Lifetime” shines with this idea. Interiority is the only word I can use that makes sense in describing this record. Conversations with elders and sisters run throughout the record often making it feel like your butting in on a family conversation that shouldn’t be public. Abstract collages that allude to finding one’s self or voice give this work a feeling of standing between two mirrors. Hard to figure where you begin or end and its up to your to step out of the loop and forge your own path. All this using some pretty deft tonalities of voice and texture makes ‘Lifetime’ one of those pieces where its almost like staring at the sun; this powerful ever-present object that will hurt you if engage with it for just a bit long but so awe-inspiring that its just hard not to.
Boards of Canada Societas X Tape
Not an actual album, but I pay for this website so I can write whatever I want to on here. This 2 hour mix for the 30-year anniversary celebration of Warp Records on NTS radio holds such a large place in my heart already, I’m almost afraid of how much it will actually mean to me as I continue on in this life. Boards of Canada is such a reclusive duo that in my +10 years of listening to them, I’ve never even thought of them as existing outside of their Scottish countryside vacuum with respect to influence. This mix kicks all of that aside with a flurry of psychedelia, funk, noise, punk, and classical tracks from the 1960’s to present day showing just how much music I need to know. Mixes like these feel like navigational signposts for another 10 years, turning me on to so much music that will walk with me for a very long time. Grateful for the Sandison’s for their music, but deeply humbled for allowing me to look at their homework a bit to see how much more studying I have to do myself.
Kelela & Asmara – Aquaphoria
Aquaphoria deserves a place on here for quite frankly being a work that, if I wanted to hear anything else like it, I just wouldn’t be able to. Black chords and ambients over a plethora of legendary Warp/Warp Records adjacent tracks is a treat and a three course meal I didn’t even think I wanted but now beg for ! Kelela has been slowly showing her hand that the ultimate goal for her is more a pop affair than an underground electronic legend, but on rise to stardom (wish her the best ofc) if she can throw some gems like this every now and them I have no complaints. Did anyone this 2019 would have Kelela vocalize over a Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2, Oneohtrix Point Never and an Autechre track??? Me neither, but thank god.
Mac DeMarco Here Comes The Cowboy
I am so confused about my connection with Mac DeMarco. Something about him both confuses me and endlessly attracts me. His use of bossanova, subtle Japanese new age studio tricks, analog recordings, and now this stillness in his new works is so enthralling to me I can’t get enough. More than anything, it’s pure comfort music. This might be functionally my #1 album this year out of sheer plays (so says Apple Music). I was in Florida this summer quite alone for the most part working in a lab where I knew no one, barely knew what I was doing a spent of lot of time in the afternoon biking miles just to arrive at an empty apartment. So much of those weeks were spent silent and my only friend was this album. It felt like sitting with a pal that was just as comfortable sitting in silence or goofing around as you were. The aura of being in a room with someone was good enough for the both of us and I kept sitting with Mac wistfully strumming at a full breathed bpm over and over. I was really lonely for a bit and I thank this album for being a friend in a friendless space.
“Are Drexciyans water-breathing, aquatically mutated descendants of those unfortunate victims of human greed? Have they been spared by God to teach us or terrorize us? Did they migrate from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi River basin and on to the Great Lakes of Michigan? Do they walk among us? Are they more advanced than us and why do they make their strange music? What is their quest? These are many of the questions that you don’t know and never will.” -The Quest, 2001
A year or so I was at Mood Ring, a New York bar to see a couple of friends, some of whom who were dj’ing that night and absolutely killing it. I don’t have much to remember that night in terms of Instagram stories or pictures outside of me crying to an Aphex Twin track. Someone born and raised in Louisiana for 25 years, you unfortunately rarely get a chance to listen to ’90 Cornish techno not in your own headphones, but it was happening. Later on in the night, thanks to my girlfriend, something transcendent happened. She requested to our friend Chris to play the swiftly now-culturally minted track “Gimme my Gots” by Shardaysha. A song we’d play on the car ride home to no avail now found its frequencies rolling through Brooklyn speakers and it was quite the sight. The song begins with the root tongue of many bounce songs, an extremely harsh rolling of the R for longer than two moments. As celebratory as we got by bringing a little warmth of home on vacation, I became to get really observant. Many of the bar patrons really didn’t know how to act. Some flailed, other recalled loose interpretations of Big Freedia music video choreography and I think someone in the corner ended up screaming for 10 seconds until the beat dropped. Needless to say, New Orleans Bounce really makes a dance floor that almost blurs the line of what’s considered dance.
If you know me, you most likely understand that I’m a sucker for semantics. In my world, definitions deeply matter so a conversation rarely can progress with me without subjective or personal connotative understanding leading the way; I like being on the same page. During the research of this writing I stumbling on a frustration definition of Bounce music and that it’s considered (at least by Wikipedia) not to be a dance genre, but a sub-genre of southern hip-hop. In a more general sense, classification via an open source information website may not matter all that much and probably doesn’t but it did get me thinking: why don’t we attribute New Orleans Bounce music to the lineage of American dance music? Regionally, many dance parties that start with the 90’s hits flow into house and afrobeat but any DJ worth their weight in the Crescent City will most definitely end the night on a bounce shakedown; Bunny Hop afterparty if you’re lucky. Unfortunately New Orleans Bounce on the flow charted path solidified on dance floors around the world begins to fade out the farther you steer from the birdsfoot to the point of inexistence. This silent shadowbanning of bounce from the continuum of black dance music is upsettingly deafening.
As nothing new is under the rising sun, New Orleans has been around this block before. New Orleans often finds itself in the ambiguity of the black continuum and this is no different from Jazz expansion throughout America. As suffocating racism through de-facto and de-jure politics force much of black life in the Mississippi delta to Detroit, Chicago, New York and California, new definition and perspective form for the genre and the culture as a whole. Since the great migration, Jazz music has found its worldwide appeal in the Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, and John Coltrane progressing Jazz away from its Big Band/Brass beginnings into modal, transcendent, or free archetypes that bare little to no distinction to Jazz’s beginnings in Congo Square. Bounce music seems to find itself in another pseudo middle-child syndrome within progressive black music circles. That cursory search on Wikipedia delineates bounce music under the genre southern hip-hop but if you head to any bar on a night here in New Orleans, you’ll quickly find bounce can be more akin to footwork than a 75 bpm riding track. That isn’t to say that it cannot be, similar to electro, bounce is infinitely amorphous; able to slow down to play at a daiquiri lounge over Sade acapellas to speaker bleeding Limewire quality Sissy Nobby track that sounds like someone recorded the last millisecond of an 808 short circuiting, tossed in the river and looped it endlessly.
This sort of black avant-garde obfuscation is seen in Rashad’s magnum opus Double Cup (2016) where he effortlessly applies half time to the usually much “faster-than-you-can-dance-to” bpm of footwork. This celebration of auditory otherness is also seen in techno with the works of James Stintson, Heinrich Muller, and “The Wizard” Jeff Mills. Techno, House, Garage, Electro, Juke, Footwork, even breakbeat has found themselves within the continuum of black dance music that has be seen through the positive purviews of academia and cultural significance. Head to an electronic night at many venues around the world and very rarely will Bounce be played. Definitely checking the index for New Orleans dance music rears little results in a books discussing the matter. Cultural weightless often translates easily to cultural silencing where voices need to finally be heard and this is no different.
A sort of reverse hallucination that has undergone within New Orleans and its history has been going on long before Bounce music was ever conceived. As New Orleans culture is being forgotten, so goes our tangible products. The Myth of the lost cause, renaming wards and district, repopulating areas where black families have lived for centuries, the amnesia of place brought about through transplants “discovering” “unknown” areas of the city to colonize toward their own sterile vision of New Orleans. The Drexciyan myth has had it 2nd coming in 2005.
Accelerationism , Black Accelerationism, or specifically “Blaccelerationism” as coined by Aria Dean, touts that black people have been living in a “post” environment since the Middle Passage in the 1600’s. Fractured and spread around the world having to build cultures anew from trash and leftovers and over less than 2000 years that formerly label, ghetto is now the Babylon of the world with Hip-Hop and Black people being the culture d’jour for society writ large. I believe that New Orleans accelerated even faster than many other cities not only throughout America but around the world due to Geologic (subsidence), historically (Treme) and politically (Chocolate City). We don’t have the time. We’ve lost our land. Bedrock doesn’t exist. New Orleans lives paradoxically in the ending and subsequently end of days. The end of our world was early in the morning between 7:21 – 8:29 at August 25, 2005. Along the 4 canal breaches through the Lower Ninth Ward and Lakeview and began to fill homes past attics and roofs, many clocks stopped as they were inundated by the storm surge of Katrina. These clocks formed of symphony of timelessness for the gulf coast as we knew it. A moment of silence for a city once afforded love, care, and resource. The next two months after the waters breach is well documented to be nothing short of a complete catastrophe. FEMA blocked delivery of emergency supplies to Methodist Hospital, turned away Chalmette Medical doctors at the emergency staging area at Louis Armstrong Airport due to their names in a government database, actively blocked flights carrying private medical air transport, refused Amtrak’s many offers to evacuate victims, didn’t return calls from the American Bus Association or the Motorcoach Association, turned away trucks from Walmart, prevented the Coast Guard to deliver diesel fuel, and delayed all emergency supplies, vehicles, and equipment from other nations for months. The complete lack of non-federal aid exacerbated problems greatly as the Superdome had reached past capacity at over 20,000 and were all moved to the Convention Center within one day. For both evacuee areas, there was no air conditioning or proper sanitation.
The accelerations towards the collapse of the American empire is something we’ve all felt and read in the past three years or so since the 45th president’s arrival into our subconscious and twitter-feed, but these anxieties have been torturing the south’s brains for decades and came to a head in more than 10 years ago. Environmental anxiety, climate change, political corruption, etc. are the ABC’s of Louisianan culture. Everyone knows the concept of a post-environment without understanding it at an intellectual level but it’s a whole nother story when its right before your eyes. Taking the I-10 over the Ponchartrain leads you directly through the remains of what once was. First you see forgotten planks of an old path farmers would take their cattle over to reach the metropolis. Then has you reach the banks of the lake you transition into patches of lost earth; once a vibrant marsh wetland is now whittling away back into the muddy waters of the Bay where it rose from over 200 years ago. This habitat is necessity for the large diversity of wetland species in our area, now migrating away to lands more stable or merely going existent. This of course isn’t due to the natural course the earth and its process often take. What we see in front of us is the swollen corpse of what oil and gas corporations have killed and placed at our feet. Passing the sprinkles of mudflat where fertile land use to inhabit lies the culprits. The many smokestacks and refineries at Exxon and Chevron off in the distance. Wailing their fire indefinitely and proudly before New Orleans and surrounding communities.
Drexicya, and the Drexicyan myth is from is a techno group of the same name from Detroit Michigan formed by Heinrich Mueller and James Stinston. Not much else outside of possible occupations as truck drivers, little is known about these legendary black men. What is known is the legacy and Mythology they thankfully unearthed and provided to black people often felt left out in myth creation. Mythology is a preemptively healing mechanism. It allows for a context to take place around moments of deep turmoil and change. The Drexicya story is no different. Told across master cuttings in the rings of vinyl wax, track titles, and sleeve illustrations, the Drexicya myth begins with the story of the Atlantic trade. In the middle passage as Africans were being forced into the Western Hemisphere on colonizer boats many pregnant women decided they refused to allow their offspring this life of absolute horror and jumped off the side of these boats. As the women drowned, their unborn offspring adapted their lungs into gills and became Drexicyians, the children of middle passage. They soon navigated their way to their new home Drexicya using their intelligence and ingenuity they developed their own technology such as Wavejumpers. Drexicya (the duo) created cultures, enemies, and an entire livelihood out of immensely painful beginnings. By crafting Accelerationism (unbeknownst to them assumedly) into their own stories, this idea for a narrative to latch onto in times of great upheaval as Detroit in the 1980’s was a little rough historically for black people, can be so necessary when moving through a world that has planted you in an area of permanent between-ness. Instead of finding your people, you create your own.
This between-ness is nothing new for New Orleans. In the Treme, many people came from descents that were hardly binary. Creoles, Cajuns, Quadroons, Passé Blanc, etc. In the genes of many people here lies an inherent float where you must attach to some formed by you otherwise you’ll pulled in so many directions and have your feet in so many homes, but can’t lay your head anywhere. This blur of life is the defining characteristic of New Orleans. And it’s music. Is Jazz classical black music? Is it folk? Is it noise (I mean that in a beautiful way !)? As a culture, bounce obfuscates what is generally understood as human or human. Is that roll of the tongue the artist on the song? Is it an 808 snare? Maybe it’s a sample from some Carl Thomas deep cut or a voicemail passage back when Cingular was thing. Hard to know. With most bounce tracks refusing to condone to the modern day music practices of sample clearance and the like, it’s tough to get these songs to any sort of legitimate syncopation and while I wished that the producers and artists we’re compensated in a way that respect how amazing these tunes are, it’s tough not to feel pride in the resilience of refusal to bend to the will of the RIAA.
The resilient stubbornness to stay firmly within the between is something that is deep in bounce music and its culture. The party bus where the party is always on the move, the samples and bpm speeding up or dropping off where you can have two slow jams and a breakdown in the same song at the same time, and an amalgamation of identity that many peoples are still coming to terms with but has been a norm here in the Crescent City. One of our biggest cultural exports (sorry to conflate real value with capitalism) is a trans musician. Sissy Nobby is a legend through the city and gets played at cookout no matter who is throwing it. Before terminology of certain folk were communicated to the world as a whole, the dynamic of “cissy” and other forms of queerness were flowing through the Magnolia projects uptown with no fanfare. The bending of masculinity with black men whom usually find themselves shackled to the wall performing a hardened silent strong type in any other setting can enjoy a loose footwork in a second line and a shake if you catch yourself caught in the middle of a cameraman following Messy Mya vlog.
Unfortunately, in most electronic circles, New Orleans Bounce is but a footnote in the long history many have started to cherish in certain circles. The Drexicyian myth has become a welcome foundation for how people view modern black mythology through the lens of music and other art forms. Electro finds itself in the tendrils of black dance music easily as do the old tales of the Warehouse and Paradise garage in Chicago/New York dance scene respectively; but where is New Orleans in all of this? Does the south have something to say?
Historically, the form of southern black erasure is can be found in a similar narrative right up Rampart St with what has been known to be called Jazz. Due to the mass killings and awful segregationist policies of the south, many music migrated to California or Chicago in what has been come to be called the Great Migration. Unfortunately this started a domino effect with how people perceived the history of Jazz itself. Although people give New Orleans the torch with it beginnings, much of the conversation soon deviates to Cool Jazz in California, or the Coltranes and Sun Ra’s of the time. With all due respect to these people, those that write about the great works in their wake rarely carry the conversation back to the roots. A sort of reverse hallucenation is had where the history begins is what where choose to see the joy, not where the pain is had. This sense of black trauma erasure is an oft-forgotten pattern with most of New Orleans. Between Jazz and Bounce, these genres providing the same historical lineage of many cultures first created in the delta, Black Atlantic Music. As the Drexicyas pass the mouth of the Mississippi River onward the clock is reset once in Motor City.
As a culture, bounce already obfuscates what is generally understood as human or otherwise. Transness, queer identity, masculinity, it’s all up in the area. There are no boundaries between thematic, the performer, and the identity that lies in between. Already too fast for radio. Accelerationism is inherit to bounce music as technology and humanity is in lockstep as a means to the end of dismantling what we have prior perceived to be dance/southern rap or any kind of music at all. Bounce has been deconstructing club music before the website as the likes of Resident Advisor or Pitchfork began to herald the onset of what is to be considered deconstructed club music. This human-machine-ambiguity-boundary is laid bare in Bounce with the fog itself being one of the most radical notions I’ve seen in my time as lover of music (see: birth). The Roland 808 drum machine is the match to the powder keg of modern black Atlantic music. For bounce, electro, footwork, and techno, this machine is the canvas for which black expressive was spread and queered across dance floors around the world. For New Orleans, the Roland 808 and the artists that used it solidified how femininity was viewed as the dominant culture in the city. Something the Underground Resistance thankfully didn’t find themselves speaking to as it was a group of CIS black men. Not to say they had to, but even during their Salad Days, there was a diversity of voice are speaking to black rebellion from even further marginalized environments and backgrounds; to know that there are elders for those who may feel like they are walking alone can be one of the best feelings in the world and thankfully, the people are out there and so is the work they’ve done. We just need to remember that we forgot.
Drake just dropped the best album of his career. If I’m being fair, it’s a bunch of songs that have been around for years, but that’s sort of the point. They’re C-sides he’s decided to call “Care Package”, that are either flippant Soundcloud uploads from days gone or unfinished loosies that made the rounds across various blogspots and Peer-to-Peer servers since 2009. Many of his fans have always known this but it wasn’t up on streaming platforms so many people couldn’t listen to them. When I heard this it brought questions up in me. How much music isn’t being listened to only because it’s not up on Spotify and the like?
It’s healthy to identify how frameworks can intrinsically alter how you consume media. Think about all the songs/movies/books not on streaming platforms and if you would ever come into contact with these works since they aren’t available online. Then think about all the works you have come in contact with and how you wouldn’t have a connection with your favorite works if Netflix didn’t put it up in front of you. I’m sure you could take a not so cynical approach to this situation but it gives me some pause to think about if all my favorite pieces of art were brought to me through The Algorithm. In my opinion, even if you’re choosing the media on these websites, this is already a compromised position of a lack of freedom due to them kind of already being chosen for you. This not to say that accessibility is a crime and should condemned but it’s mindful to take heed of why and (more importantly) how you consume. What words have you never said because predictive text or spell-check didn’t provide it for you in a list? Are you watching something because it’s good or because it’s available?
One could make the case that a record store or movie shop is just a brick and mortar Netflix, but this cannot be farther from the truth. I would make Netflix more analogous to a Walmart $3 movie bin next to the wifi routers as you step into the electronics department. Record stores are more a curatorial business. There’s the obvious notion that what’s in the room isn’t all the music in the world, but those boundaries sometimes go unanalyzed when having Hulu/Netflix/Amazon as your dominant forms of media consumption. A likely outcome can result in your taste changing due to what’s in front you as opposed to hitting up stores and gaining context for what you choose instead of things lightly being chosen for you via invisible digital hands. Imagine only eating at a cafeteria your whole life. Yes, you’re choosing what you decide to eat and there may be minimal distance in amount of quality but you’re still in a cafeteria. The end-all-be-all of Netflix, Hulu, Walmart and the like is the bottom line in a financial sense. Many of the products they’ve pick up have been analyzed to be on the positive side of engagement for their audiences. Therefore, the decision to license is based on dollars rather than quality. Netflix is the piccadilly of streaming services.
And when you get into the Netflix-made works, it’s even more concerning. Netflix authorities will tell the filmmakers which camera to use, which agencies to seek out actors and even have their own in-house color graders and editors. If you’ve ever wonder why all Netflix movies look the same it’s because they’re being made from the same warehouse regardless of who’s name is at the helm.
I don’t say any of this to suggest that you should disregard these platforms. The internet has obviously brought about The Great Equalization when it comes to media, but this opening of the floodgate is only has good as the channel the water is riding upon. As much music is on Youtube, Bandcamp, and Spotify, your ears are only venturing out to what has been uploaded and there is so much music that is ongoing erasure due to copyright law or terms and conditions or some 45 year old deciding to not upload your new favorite 1970’s Japanese disco track. THINK ABOUT AALIYAH ! WHERE IS SHE!?!?
All roads lead back to Drake. His not new release Care Package is the epitome of sad capitalization via digital cataracts with respect to platforms. If it’s not in the audience’s immediate view, it might as well have never existed. These songs have been floating around the internet for over 10 years in some cases and yet due to them not being on digital streaming platforms (DSPs), this release has made it to #1 on Apple/Spotify/Tidal because we have chosen to silo our own ears to these apps. So many genres that could never pass muster of the terms of these DSP’s are increasingly being lost to history. Many of Chicago’s Dance Mania label releases, a whole plethora of sample heavy tracks that were given cease and desists back in the 1990s can’t reach the internet any in large way. Underground labels that are making a stand and choosing not to succumb to the walled cafeteria of Spotify or long-defunct labels that don’t even have anyone behind the scene to push the button and get these classics uploaded. And good luck finding any bounce track from New Orleans that isn’t from 1997 or a jazz remix not on Soundcloud.
As a record collector, it’s scary how many times I’ve stumbled across a vinyl release and come to the realization that this record in my hand is not up on any streaming platform or is on Youtube in a cruddy quality uploaded by a 14 year old who had no right being into 60’s Turkish Psych Rock, but could only upload in 144p on his NetZero connection and boy does it show. This problematizes the whole situation: on one hand, thank god my Wisconsin suburban king who was onto Selda back in ’07 decided to share it with the world, but is the only history for an entire band a window movie maker file? And what’s to happen to all of these songs if YouTube ever gets shut down? Not saying I do wake in a cold sweat about these sort of things but it does haunt me to think of how much history will be lost if these server farms go up in smoke. These files aren’t in the cloud, they’re in Wyoming in the middle of nowhere and very physical. Physical things break and history can be lost when you least expect it.
Case in point was in June 2008. A fire broke out in Universal Studios in Los Angeles over 10 years ago and reports finally came out 10 years later from what was lost. At Universal Studios, you would initially believe that much of what was lost were films (and many were), but the predominant loss was music. Over 500,000 Master recordings were burned up that day and the artists behind these master records are monumental. Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Janet Jackson, John Coltrane, Tupac Shakur, and the first appearances of Aretha Franklin on record were lost. Pages of black history were ripped away and put in the shredder in one moment. To my knowledge, you can’t really “upload” masters recordings. Digitizing always leads to some form of artifacting that can’t be 1 to 1 with whatever the physical product it was originally created on. Of course something is better than nothing, but it’s scary to think that within a moment, we’ve lost so much. If we’re not careful that can surely happen again.
And it did. This happened at a different but still large level with Myspace losing most uploads from 2008 to 2013 during a server change. Do we even know what we lost at this point? So much internet history. Jerking tracks I’m sure, Lil B’s stomp-grounds awkwardly forming much of the sound of rap today, Emo-rap’s humbling beginnings. Lost Soulja Boy imposters. Some would say thank god it’s forgotten, but even what we choose to forget shouldn’t be lost. Black kids first contact with the new era of crafting the internet (and culture) to their own ears. The same initial feeling that brought up Glo Gang, A$AP MOB, and so many others that democratized music for the masses through Fruity Loops and Limewire (also gone). Archival is so important, but who has rights to the books that we’ve written ourselves? If you start naming corporations and server farms, we have to change our viewpoints as we’re so far gone that if you’re reading this it’s probably too late.
I was in the airport heading back home to New Orleans when I was told Art Neville died. The lady next to me in the Washington-Reagan airport (where I passed Elizabeth Warren oddly enough) repeated the news to anyone kind enough to look in her direction. She kept this sentiment up on the plane (we shared a row, even more oddly enough) where she asked people in front and behind the two of us their memories of Art Neville: which Jazz Fest they saw him at, what Meters’ record was their favorite, which songs did they most certainly know but never knew he played a role in producing, playing, or writing. Maybe it’s the niceties of southern hospitality, as everyone smiled and granted her space for the moment. But she took up quite a lot of space for conversation. Made me think about what’s left of us when we leave is the space we leave. Maybe it was really Art Neville taking up the space, haunting the pressurized cabin on the way back to his home 33,000 feet in the sky.
2019 has been a deeply tumultuous year for the city of New Orleans. Many legends such as Dr. John, Dave Bartholemew, Leah Chase, and most recently Art Neville of the Neville Brothers have all passed to the great big second line in the sky. Neville started the band Neville Sounds, which became The Meters back in the early 1960’s alongside his brothers and friends. They gained massive acclaim through their various albums under this name, influencing the creation and rise of funk music with various artists such as the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Stevie Wonder as well known fans. As long as you live in New Orleans, or at least come down for Mardi Gras, you’ll never be too far from his voice with songs like “Mardi Gras Mambo” or “Hey Pocky Way” coming out of various cookouts, car radios, or festivals reverberating down and uptown. Art Neville unfortunately passed away last weekend at the age of 81 leaving behind a huge legacy that is impossible to properly deal with conclusively. Seriously, the man sang “Mardi Gras Mambo,” so he’s basically immortal. He takes up a lot of space.
As most people already know, New Orleans has a beautiful perspective of the passing of souls on Earth. There is the formal funeral that we all know with the casket in front of the pulpit and the ceremonial grieving process alongside family, friends, and in celebrities case’s, fans most likely outside. But it is the aftermath that is unique to this city; a second-line starts outside with the casket in-tow. A joyous and raucous occasion to celebrate the life and next chapter of the passage of time. Umbrellas, trumpets, and footwork fill the streets for hours until the parade is over and the casket finds its way to one of the many cemeteries throughout New Orleans. And there are a lot of cemeteries. They take up quite a bit of space.
The geology of New Orleans lends itself to quite a bit: fisheries, trade, fertile soil, and much more that’s all connected to the Mississippi. But it also has many setbacks. Most notably, that we are below sea level and because of that, as many people who grew up in Louisiana wanting a place to play shows or having our little cave at the house, we can not have basements since we’re very close to the water table. We also cannot have graveyards either in the understood sense but mausoleums, above ground graves of small buildings that form a still metropolis within and outside the city on various blocks both residential and commercial. You kind of can’t miss it, it takes up a lot of space.
Ok, now that the rule of threes is said and done I hope you understand what I’m getting at. New Orleans has a problem with space, both geologically and culturally. Probably because the two are inherently linked forever. The geography of this city, snug between a river’s bend and the Lake Pontchartrain placed it at a crossroads. Various demographics have intermingled in a way where people’s lineages can be so mangled up, we have to lean on which high school you went to or what road your grandma stayed on to feel a sense of kinship. This type of intersectionality brought a flourish of culture with the pinnacle widely understood to be the creation of jazz music in Congo Square. If you live in New Orleans, you almost certainly know this, as you can’t walk down the street or change the radio dial without understanding we are proud and loud of what happened here. Unfortunately, as it seems, those ideologies seem to hold firmly only within the past tense. It happened here. The only problem is, what happens here and how are we giving room for it to be its own?
There is a specter haunting New Orleans. It glides right above every street corner, in every bar, at every venue, and any instrument that finds itself within the city’s limits. It’s unavoidable and it takes up so much room. First coined by philosopher Jacques Derrida and expanded upon by theorist Mark Fisher in the mid-2000’s, hauntology communicates the idea of pining for a future that never was or the non-existence of a certain thing continuing its existence in the present. That what is no longer continues to take up space in its non-existence is the most prevalent idea to New Orleans today; this void increases and makes itself that much more obvious with each passing of the many monoliths of our culture. The void has become so bloated that I believe there’s little to no room for a culture of modern artists in the city to canonize themselves within their own narratives. Did the gate close right after Wynton Marsalis? PJ Morton? Maybe they’ll always be a backdoor for straight black men in the city to profit off of the haunting ghost of jazz still wailing away in every beginner’s guide and ghost tour. Hauntology is a concept that should be of great importance to this city, because it is our only currency in the 21st century down here. One could make the case for bounce music being true counterculture to this idea (I’ll get into this on another post soon !), but one listen to the same 3 samples that have been used in 99.8% of bounce tracks (links posted below, but shout out Drag Rap and Brown Beats) will quickly bring about the understanding that New Orleans bounce has its own little haint in the Crescent City that grows with each party bus and gas station shakedown on Elysian.
The definition of this generation is that there isn’t any. Temporal compression is the culprit to why many 20 somethings feel like we don’t have a collective pillar to connect with no matter where we are. Compression being the act of demonstrating multiple generations within one so that any boundary markers we use to delineate between one time period and the next are completely flattened on top of one another. Whatever lines were brought about between clothes, cars, and styles every 10 years or so has folded on itself so many times in the past decade, there’s no heads or tails in figuring it out because there’s no body to decipher between them. All the markers signifying generations (flannel, film cameras, neon, vinyl, natural hair, bell bottoms, etc) are all found easily in the right now. Expanding this idea to music can be quite simple if you listen for it. Amy Winehouse’s soul singing, mastered with the Motown Sound and her acoustic instrumentation blurs any confidence of time and space. “Tears Dry On Their Own” could’ve been made in 2007 or 1967. Same goes for many various artists using techniques and samples from across time where the end result is not having a particular sound, but all of them; or at least in a way where you couldn’t tie a song to a year like you could in the 80’s per se. Another example to be used can be Bruno Mars. New Jack Swing 90’s revival? 80’s Cameo adjacent? Uptown Funk 70’s flip? It boggles the mind to think back to my 20’s decades from now and envision my nostalgia being nostalgia of my parents childhood, but rebooted and diluted (If I start talking about movies this essay won’t end). This, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the double edged sword can be found when picking through the pieces and trying to make your own statement within the detritus of years passed. Of course, many have approached this idea with soaring success. Burial’s 2007 UK Magnum Opus Untrue is the first to come to mind for me. Bring the passage of time into a physical sense by creating rave albums from 90’s London underground culture, now long gone, with an immersible auditory fog that is impossible to weave away from and must be confronted. The deterioration and collapse is the subject.
Compression can often lend itself to a very solemn view of the world. When you play with detritus, things easily turn melancholic. However, you can also go the other way with the concept. When I Get Home, an album recently released by current New Orleanian Solange Knowles, approaches the ghost of Spiritual Jazz and her hometown haunt, DJ Screw (Rest In Peace) with love, adoration, and reverence. But she does this with a completeness that feels resonate to the gravity of a lot of the pain many people (most notably those of a black femme experience) are feeling right now. Within a collapse, a lot of love can happen in the rubble. This arrangement of music speaks quietly but powerfully so, to the collapse of a city nurturing a haunted space into a culture anew; adapting to the past, present, and future. (Also, for what it’s worth, WIGH dropped on the first day of the Mardi Gras holiday, so I’m rolling with the head-canon that this is just as much a Nola album as it is an H-town one). Shooting a visual album in the Rothko Chapel built in 1971 that houses works from 1964, Solange crafts melodies that include Youtube clips from 2007, Photo Booth audio, chopped and screwed samples from 1990, and Coltrane references. That’s to say, When I Get Home is pretty compressive and we’re all the better for it. We still have to adapt with the void that was already and will (was) already here, but sometimes how we approach this is often dictated by our own surroundings before we even choose to act.
And it is here where the geology mixes with the hauntological understanding of culture. There is little room for true newness in the city due to their being no room in New Orleans at all. In fact, we’re losing land just like we’re losing figures of New Orleans. Can we restore this 300-year old city back to “the good days”? Well, for one that’s the problem and actually misses the point of this post. It’s not about restoration or even sustainability, as both of these acts are ripe for resulting in failure. It should be about adaptability. Part of that comes about through new ideas (look down for 2014 post on how the Netherlands, in a similar experience with deeply critical land loss and subsidence, deals with their issues). It’s not about putting up walls and slowly encasing the living population of New Orleans into its own leveed mausoleum, it should be about creating adaptability. That means pushing away the idea that the New Orleans narrative has been written and we’re only watching the pages wash away until its all gone from One More Hurricane. This city is beaming with artists so interesting and in need of support, yet we cannot seem to escape a culture made for someone else’s survival. Someone that will never understand our particular problems this city and that its people face now. Jazz resonated with the folks of the 20th century because it spoke to the issues many of the marginalized dealt with. 80’s and 90’s rap outfits like Mobo Records, and Cash Money resonated with those of that time and forever made their mark on the city, although walking Uptown or past Treme airbnbs, some would try to say different. I’ll definitely praise the 2000’s being a beautiful second wave of bounce music with Sissy Nobby, Nicky da B (Rest In Peace), Big Freedia, and Messy Mya (Rest in Peace) grappling with the tragedy of Katrina by answering with a centering resurgence of one of the many things that made the city what it was before August 2005 and later months tried to erase. Moments like that need a haunting of beauty to show what was will always be was always-already. But what do we have in front of us today? A lot more transplants (more literal space being taken up !) a lot more traffic, and a reversion of culture that refuses to look forward due to that fact that so much has already occurred here culturally, geologically, and temporally that anyone here is suffocating from history. If there’s a call of action to be made here, it’s that we must become cognizant of the poly-consciousness that has taken place here in New Orleans for centuries and understand there’s always space to add just one more. As the void grows, we need to move within, around, and apart to find ourselves in the long lineage of what made this city was it is. If we can do that, maybe we just might have something kind to say about a future New Orleans legend at pre-check.