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#9: black counter culture

#9: black counter culture

Happy new year, everybody. May 2023 serve you well.

With a heavy heart, I have decided to leave the International Music Industry Lab at the end of this month. But, on the brighter side: I'll have more time for STASIS.

In October of last year, I started making monthly mixtapes on Mixcloud. They are also linked here. In addition, I just started shorties., a collection of links to exciting pop culture. I used to share these links on Twitter, but since I left there, I have been looking for another social medium. So, in line with the de-platforming strategies internet professor and activist Geert Lovink is promoting, I decided to use ghost.io for that. Yes, also a platform but non-profit and using open source technology.

This edition of the STASIS newsletter is about black counterculture, techno and cultural appropriation.

In early 2022, I was interviewed by researcher and journalist Doriana La Monaca, who was writing a story about the whitewashing of black culture. One of the reasons for her to talk to me was the article I wrote In the summer of 2020 about the situation around De School in Amsterdam. Visitors and employees of the club accused the owners of being racist and deliberately creating a hostile environment for minorities. As a consequence, De School closed its doors. My article was a plea to listen to each other before judging and taking irreversible actions.
Sectional thinking, as opposed to intersectional, leads to isolation, and that's one of the main features of neoliberalism. As Mark Fisher pointed out (and before him, Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno) in his work, when people are isolated, they are easier to control and manipulated to turn on each other.

Focussing on similarities, what binds, instead of the differences, is the key to counter neoliberalism. Coalition through affinity, as Donna Haraway wrote.

In Assembling A Black Counter Culture, DeForrest Brown, Jr. argues that techno music has black roots but also is a global phenomenon commodified by neoliberalism.

Nearly all electronic music is referred to as techno, which clouds the specifically black history of the genre, argues Deforrest Brown, Jr. His Assembling A Black Counter Culture is not an easy book to read. The author tries to cover every inch of the cultural history of black America, explores the mechanisms of the cultural industry with the help of the theory of the Frankfurt School, dives deep into the Detroit-Berlin axis and extensively quotes makers and thinkers. That approach leads to a narrative that is, in a way, directionless. There is so much information in the 430 pages that a slick and tight story, like for instance, Kodwo Eshun told in his More Brilliant Than The Sun (1999), is impossible.

Book cover of Assembling A Black Counter Culture

In issue #159 (September/October 2020) of the Flemish magazine Gonzo Circus, DeForrest Brown, Jr. stresses that his upcoming book should be a(n) '[f]actual and truthful history' of techno. The author generally succeeded. The amount of information is dizzying, and the relationships he establishes between socio-cultural, musical and economic developments are well substantiated. As the narrator, DeForrest Brown, Jr. remains in the background. Others do the talking, and they are mostly not the usual suspects. For example, the ideas of sociologists Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno are told from the perspective of the Afro-American philosopher Angela Davis, a student of both thinkers in the late 1960s. She is critical of the white and male perspectives on capitalist culture. More is needed to understand techno-culture and African-American counterculture than the intellectual, white, Western male gaze.

Angela Davis was a student of both Marcuse and Adorno

Those slightly different perspectives are the red thread throughout the book's ten chapters. Each chapter is a fine mixture of theoretical and historical information. The central theme is the emergence of techno in Detroit during the 1980s. From there, Deforrest Brown, Jr. wanders back and forth through the past and the present. His starting point is the 'Belleville Three' (Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derick May). The developments in Berlin get special attention. The parallels between both cities are undeniable: both imploded and became dystopias under the influence of neoliberal industrial capitalism.
Another essential starting point is the ideas of futurist Alvin Toffler - particularly from the book The Third Wave (1980), from which Atkins got the term 'techno'. For the author, Toffler's description of techno is the best way to interpret Afro-American culture in the 21st century: culture as an industrial-technological activity.

The Belleville Three

That is a clear indication of the nuanced way he tackles culture: culture is not some static given associated with one particular sub-culture but a liquid and organic entity constantly changing. For Deforrest Brown Jr. a term like cultural appropriation is like focusing on the irrelevant excesses and asking the wrong questions. Black counterculture and techno express the inherent trauma that black youth have carried with them for centuries. Blending these traumas, in the form of stories, with machines is a (maybe the only) way out:

"Techno [...] was the technical process of conducting and composing rhythm and soul music with hot-wired, unquantized electronic instruments. Not specifically or necessarily limited to the production and financialization of arranged frequencies and beats, techno was intended to contain the sound of machines being possessed with the concentrated expressions of soul, blues, jazz, and funk." In a way, techno launches a specific process of elevating and liberating black consciousness.

Without machines, no techno. No liberation.

Assembling A Black Counter Culture by DeForrest Brown, Jr. is published by Primary Information, New York (2022).

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SHORTS

2202 was an excellent year for pop culture. Watched some excellent series (Severance, 1899, The Rehearsal), discovered enjoyable podcasts (Acid Horizon, Horror Vanguard, Hermitix) and read a handful of cool books (see my reviews in Gonzo Circus), but let's focus on music. I don't do lists anymore (universal hierarchy is definitely modernist), so I'll only mention a few albums of 2022 that I really love and haven't written about in this newsletter.

Real Lies' Lad Ash was the album I listened to most. The London duo Patrick King and Kevin Lee Kharas are as catchy, introverted, euphoric, melancholic, tongue-in-cheek, ironic and poppy as Pet Shop Boys. The album is the perfect soundtrack on a rainy Sunday afternoon for processing the fact that the rave ended a few hours ago and that there is a new work week ahead. (Bandcamp)

It is interesting how so-called Junior Boys lovers dismiss Waiting Game as being too mellow and navel-gazing. They just don't get it. On this sixth studio album, Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus are again wandering the edges between slick sugarcoated pop and musical nothingness without losing their souls. (Bandcamp)

It was an excellent year for UK-oriented electronic music. Especially NIA Archives and Iceboy Violet did some amazing stuff. The debut mixtape The Vanity Project by Manchester Iceboy Violet is haunting, cold, deep and melancholic grime meets rave meets jungle vibes. Excellent debut. (Bandcamp)

Nia Archives' Forbidden Feelingz is the best jungle record I've heard in a decade. This is how jungle and drum'n'bass should sound - uplifting and exciting. Interesting fact: she is also from Manchester and her 'Baianá' is my fav track of 2022. Also, don't forget to watch her Boiler Room set. (Bandcamp)

Okay, last one. Bar Mediterraneo by Nu Genea is pure bliss. The music made by the Neapolitan duo Massimo Di Lena and Lucio Aquilina (now living in Berlin, if I'm correct) is a blend of so many different styles. It has roots in disco, french filterhouse and traditional Italian, French and North-African music. (Bandcamp)

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HYPERSPEED

Today (January 8), the 100 Years Dada Haarlem Festival starts with the opening of an exhibition in the ABC Centre of Architecture in Haarlem. In the upcoming weeks, all kinds of events will occur in the city. Notably, a concert by Dada-enthusiast Blixa Bargeld, who derived his stage name from the Cologne Dada artist Johannes Theodor Baargeld, in Patronaat. Unfortunately, the website is in Dutch only. https://dadahaarlem.com

Traditionally, Amsterdam-based label Delsin releases the best of 2022 sampler. https://delsinrecords.bandcamp.com/album/best-of-delsin-records-2022

In MixMag, Aneesa Ahmed speaks to Underground Kampala founder Richard O’doi about inclusive partying, run-ins with police and taking international DJs on safari in Uganda. https://mixmag.net/feature/underground-kampala-functions-interview-uganda-party

2024 Music, the platform of bass producer Martyn, just released the first instalment of the brand new mix series 3024 TAPES, which is dedicated to Black Rave Culture. https://soundcloud.com/3024world/3024-tapes-001-black-rave-culture

One of the ultimate psychedelic stoner acid rock classics got a rework and a release on vinyl (with on the flip side the original demo version from 1988): Tab by Monster Magnet (on God Unknown Records). https://godunknownrecords.bandcamp.com/album/test-patterns-vol-1