Visionist: Breaking the Identity Moulds
Louis Carnell, aka Visionist, is an experimental producer from London. In 2015 he portrayed the experience of an anxiety attack with his debut LP Safe, while his new album Value explores the dualities of strength and vulnerability. Here, he discusses mental health and the music industry’s perceptions of masculinity. As told to Christine Kakaire.
My new album Value, as I explain in the press release, examines “themes of machismo and effeminacy, self-deprecation and self-love, and self-preservation and validation.” I don’t really see these dualities as separate things, they interchange. I’ve definitely experienced them all.
Self-deprecation and self-love is my experience of the music industry. I know I’m a great artist, but if I say that I’m a great artist I’m shunned. If I show a fragile side I’m also shunned. Where am I meant to be within all this? Self-preservation and validation is that belief in what you’re doing, as the music industry is cutthroat and as artists, we are submitted to the media to be validated.
I went from making music for a predominately black crowd to a predominantly white crowd. And even though this business claims to respect black music and black artists, I feel like I have been put in a different position: ‘We’ll give you support, but we’re gonna control the narrative.’ This feels particularly the case when being consistently described as grime.
The thing is, grime music has never been the dominant sound of my most known releases. I’m 28, and I haven’t been part of grime in my professional circle since I was about 19. Being in grime was good in the sense of character building and feeling like my voice was as important as anyone else’s. It definitely helped me become braver. But, because I do have this grime background, it’s very hard for people to deal with my fragility. When I finished Safe I was questioned on the original title name, for being hyper-emotional and effeminate. In sections of music journalism, it was very much focused on me appearing to be too confident to have anxiety. That was shocking to me and showed an underlying issue beyond the increasing media coverage of mental health that was to follow.
I was around 21 when I was really at my worst. I was someone who felt they could – and also had to – cope with everything, even while having a series of panic attacks for months. One night after having another attack, NHS Direct told me that I likely have anxiety. There was obviously relief that I had a reason for what was happening but at first I didn’t really want to accept it. I felt it was almost like a weakness, like I’m not in control of myself. But when you start speaking to people and realise that other people go through similar situations, if they can accept it why can’t you? It took a lot for me to actually address that I was ill, but the brain works in many ways and this is the way my brain works. I can deal with it and not let it taint my life. I’m not weak, this is something that is part of me.
Going back to machismo and effeminacy, I think we’re now of a generation where these are just descriptive words. There is no real meaning to them. You’re only being your full self if you allow both to be part of you. There is a reason why I worked with the artist Peter De Potter on the cover art of Value. It could be easy to look at his images and think something completely naïve, like that as a gay man his work must show homoeroticism, or that because I’m a straight man by tensing I’m showing off. I was in my most vulnerable state, but also my most liberated state by being naked. Peter is all about creating a deeper story, his theory of working with a nude body is to emphasise the sense of solitude.
I’m really thankful that I allowed myself to take that risk and challenge myself. Because there’s still this male hierarchy going on, not just in the music industry, in every industry. It’s so ingrained, it’s gonna take a long time to change, but I feel like my generation and younger generations, we’re shedding what previous generations were taught.
Value is out now via Big Dada