Reverse Hallucinations in the Lower Delta

“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. 

Richard Misrach, 2005

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. 

Rest In Peace

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.

Sorry this took so long. If I kept it in my brain any longer I would’ve needed to make it a second job. This is not at all exhaustive of my thoughts, but I hope it’ll suffice (for now)

-Ryan Clarke 🙂

Suffocation of the Void: Hauntology, New Orleans, and Art Neville

Art Neville

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.

The Meters – “Cissy Strut” Live at Jazz Fest 1993

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.  

A typical shakedown that usually ends up at a gas station

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. 

“Near Dark” from Burial’s 2007 album Untrue

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.  

“Now we deal with the freakin’…but thats… volume two”

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.

Lastly, here’s thats 2014 Netherlands Post on Sea level rise adaptability.

Peace be to Art Neville, Dr. John, Leah Chase and the many past and future leaders of New Orleans Creations.