Groundwork: Taking the temperature of contemporary club culture
It’s been a discourse-heavy decade. Sociopolitical upheaval, DIY collectivity, #MeToo, acts of dissent, social media meltdowns and the examination of privilege are just some of the topics that helped shape the contours of the 2010s, both within music and outside of it.
As this year, and this particularly tumultuous decade, draws to a close, a reflective mood is naturally setting in. Centring the voices of those with lived experience in the industry, we invited a handful of artists to lend their bleeding-edge perspectives to examine the past year and prognose an uncertain musical future.
On the eve of the release party for her sophomore album ATØ, Berlin-based producer Ziúr met with Halcyon Veil founder Rabit, and two of the label’s associated artists, LEDEF and Moor Mother. Rather than dissect 2019’s aesthetics and trends, this gathered group dove deep into the hidden structures and murky systems which affect all sectors of the scene: negotiating physical and artistic territory in the face of consumer-driven realities, reckoning with the politics of identity, and the potential to exploit the machine while remaining a part of it.
© Kurt Heiter
We’re here to talk about the present and future of electronic music. Does anybody have strong feelings about where we could be heading?
Moor Mother: I think the one thing in favour of dance music is that people are never going to stop dancing. I feel like it has infinite possibilities. But I think the question goes into what is called ‘deconstructed club music’. It’s just about opening up the conversation. I’m not a DJ, but I think a lot of DJs want more than just having you dance. Whenever they try to do something that’s outside of having people dance, someone comes up with a new genre for it and it’s just artists wanting to experiment. That conversation [is] outside of whoever is the maker these days.
Rabit: Simon Reynolds wrote this ‘Conceptronica’ piece in Pitchfork recently which I thought was really funny, to give a name to it. I always felt like me and my friends would put different things into a sound just as a way to have a character and identity beyond just dropping a track. The idea seems weird to me that if you have something to say then you’re put in this other box. That’s kind of odd.
Is that something that you feel is happening more frequently? An over-intellectualisation, or over- categorisation of music?
LEDEF: People always want to fit something into a box, and have something to label it because it’s easily digestible that way. But it doesn’t have to be. The exploration of [an idea] doesn’t necessarily make something more experimental.
Rabit: Companies feel like they need to come up with these terms. I understand that can be a necessary evil, although it’s very fleeting, since you’re talking about being a type of artist that actually doesn’t exist. There’s no mainframe.
I’d also like to ask about your thoughts on the interactions between art and brands, something which seems to be happening more frequently in underground scenes.
LEDEF: When it’s authentic, of course it’s a great thing. A beautiful thing. But when corporations are trying to make it clouty, they’re just worried about the optics of it, using buzzwords. It doesn’t really mean anything if you’re not helping the artists.
Ziúr: Even though I am absolutely for exploiting the system, like, just get the money where we can get it, some things just don’t feel real. I’ve seen bloodsucker moves like, ‘I want to do this queer festival for trans and non- binary people and people of colour, but I actually have no idea what or who I’m going to book, so I paid two token people that are actually terrible artists.’ We’ve had meetings where [people] are trying to suck up information about me. Just pay me to curate something, not just steal information because you’re clueless.
Moor Mother: I think this is allowed because we’re not listening to artists. In my case, I’m somebody that has a lot of language, but it’s just taken and misinterpreted because you can use these buzzwords if you haven’t studied or lived the life. So instead of chasing empty concepts and ideas just listen to artists, believe in them, give them platforms to curate.
Ziúr: I think the concept of inclusivity is missing. I am consciously trying to think about the approach to be inclusive in what to do. And, yeah, we will profit from each other. I know this, but we all have to work together.
© Kurt Heiter
“Instead of chasing empty concepts and ideas just listen to artists, believe in them, give them platforms to curate”
Are any of you detecting a shift from tokenistic diversity towards true inclusivity?
LEDEF: I don’t think so. In a lot of spaces, the idea of being more inclusive has made it more exclusive. I think it’s important to just have space for good music and dancing and being able to have everyone in the building on equal level, as opposed to sectioning everybody off by identity and compartmentalising in a way.
Ziúr: Just being able to try to understand other people and also learn from each other’s experiences takes more work. Obviously we can’t do it all, but we can pinpoint what we think community is about. It doesn’t have to be just a model of identification or music or whatever colour of t-shirt.
Moor Mother: I feel like we depend on other people’s work. I think a lot of curators, for instance, will depend on [Rabit] as a label head to have a diverse line-up. But I feel it’s still very basic to just think about where we are as humanity – and think that we’re still trying to make inclusive nights for gay people! Like, how is this still a hard thing? And if it’s hard, why? I don’t really understand. Just because you have a platform doesn’t mean you’ve got to answer all the questions. It’s okay for people to say that they need help, because clearly, we all need help. This idea of a ‘professional’ has to be dismantled, destroyed, or whatever, because we wouldn’t even have this question if people were actually professionals.
We’re in Berlin, a vital hub for electronic music, and none of us here are native to this city. Could a strategy for inclusiveness include decentralising dance music as a whole from these larger cities?
Rabit: [Myself and LEDEF] basically live in a geographic void in Texas, so it’s a whole different set of circumstances. We have to do so much online. I love that because it’s multidimensional, but it is also nice to actually be in a space with someone, like a collaborator, or even just other people that do music.
LEDEF: Texas is like its own country at this point. The creative scene grew super intimately, there’s a huge network throughout the cities in Texas. So there’s a huge thing going on, but, at the same time, it’s closed off. People put so much pressure on the politics of nightlife. It would be incredible if everyone could breathe and let people be artists for the sake of art.
Moor Mother: I’d already done the groundwork in my city for way over a decade, before anyone caught on or wrote anything about it. So I’m always like a DIY spirit. I don’t wait for anyone to give me an opportunity. But since this is recorded, I would love to perform at House of Kenzo!
We touched on the issue of artist-led curation of events and spaces earlier, I’d like to return to that. What do you think is preventing opportunities for artists to be empowered in this type of work?
Ziúr: I was sitting on a panel once with this music board that is funding artists, and at some point, they started implementing a 50 percent quota of women. The first thing I said was, “I think quotas suck.” There’s no substance to it. Maybe I don’t have a cis woman on my line-up, [but] I think that’s not anti-feminist by default. [Saying] we need to have 50 percent women is an empty shell of nothingness that doesn’t really push change. We need to start pushing the narrative.
Moor Mother: The thing with corporate structures is they usually have a board. And there are people that have been working on the board for 30 years. As basic as it sounds, they need some sort of policy to cut out the archaic arguments.
Ziúr: Generally, I don’t talk about identity politics in press because I don’t want to be reduced to a certain topic. But my ideal version of it is the most radical: we don’t even have to have that conversation. I don’t want to be reduced to identity and then all of a sudden my art fades into the background. I got booked at a queer festival, I hit the cue button, on the first track everybody cleared out. The other half didn’t come in, because they couldn’t handle the music. They booked me for issues of identity, and I think that’s super problematic.
Where do you see the future of music making going?
Moor Mother: I’d rather say what I hope it’s going towards, versus what I think. I hope that artists can find space to link up more. Sometimes you have a good year, sometimes you don’t, but the folks who are having a good year, instead of waiting for the magazine to be like, ‘These are the top people from the year,’ let’s try to get an apartment for a month or something. For whoever’s travelling that year, so they have a space to stop by. I’m trying to think of how we could use our money to buy things collectively. I want to come together with so many artists, fuck some shit up, and then get curators to come in and connect a little bit more.
Ziúr: It feels like Trauma Bar und Kino in Berlin is that place for us right now. It’s people from the scene that are capable. I worked as a stage manager at this festival and we were five people pulling a lot of weight, including a production assistant that wasn’t going to be paid. A young kid. You know how the music business exploits people coming up? I walked into Trauma and she’s the night manager, somebody gave her a responsible job and trusted a young person. I thought that was beautiful. I feel like it’s a special time and place for music in Berlin right now. I really wanted to have my party there for that particular reason.
Moor Mother: We need more clubs doing that, really sticking their heads out.
Ziúr: Elbowing their way through and reaching out, trying to grab somebody’s hand to pull people up and go together. Reach out and we can all grow together. There is space for all of us, because there needs to be.
Photography: Kurt Heiter