Electronic Music2016 Get out of your sound bubble !
All those people who wanted to cling to their security were disappointed this year. There were political surprises and global upheavals by the dozen. When it came to club culture, however, there was no comparable aesthetic subversion. The scene, however, still functions as a sensitive seismograph for any new boundaries that might be coming about.
Get out of your bubble! That was the call that an enlightened, liberal bourgeoisie (self-definition) confronted itself with at the end of 2016. It was prompted by the successes of the so-called Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in elections in several German states (the populist party won 24.3 per cent of the votes in Saxony-Anhalt, 20.8 per cent in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, 14.2 per cent in Berlin). Then there was the near victory of the FPÖ party’s candidate, Norbert Hofer, in the run-off ballot to elect the Austrian Federal President, not to mention the results of the Brexit referendum in the UK and the presidential elections in the United States, which ran counter to all the predictions made by opinion polls and opinion makers. Nobody had seen it coming. People had relied on the belief that, no matter what, their own preference would turn out to be the “right” result and this had made them blind to reality. In order to understand what had happened, they had to get out of their own milieu, out of a meshwork of arrogance, conceited sense of status and their refusal to believe the way it is. The only question was – where to go?
In 2016 there was no change in the fragmentation of the electronic music landscape into larger and smaller sub-scenes. One could describe this landscape as a complex formation of individual bubbles, which in their entirety depict and address the present-day currents moving through society, at times even transforming them experimentally. The headline on the cover of the last issue in 2016 of “Groove Magazine” was “The Year of Repolitisation”. In terms of bubble formation, this means a twofold development: club culture and electronic music are to be found these days in ever new social locations, defined by a demarcation between inside and outside. At the same time, boundaries are continually being questioned, transcended and dynamically changed.
Inside / OutsideOn12th June, 2016, a 29-year-old security guard called Omar Mateen killed 49 people in the Pulse, a club in Orlando, Florida, and injured 53 more. Mateen acted out of hatred for the gay community, the Pulse being one of their hangouts. Few artists responded as directly to the killings as Wolfgang Tillmans – he made noise. Up to that point, Tillmans was known mainly as a photographer who, in his works, always captured the rites of youth culture and techno, and always stood up heart and soul for the merging of club culture and the visual arts. In the summer of 2016, he released some of his own music for the first time and became one of the German artists who received the greatest attention internationally by collaborating with the American RnB musician, Frank Ocean, on his visual album Endless. Between the house tracks and remixes on his Device Control EP, there is a piece called Angered Son, in which Tillmans deals with the massacre in the Pulse in the form of a ghostly gospel. Again and again he sings a line from the New York Times, which quotes the father of the killer – “His son had recently been angered by seeing two men kissing.”
Tillmans also pointed out how absurd it is to present non-discrimination as a privilege, a fact which he linked to a clear imperative. “What we do here is a crime in most countries / But it's not, there is no victim” he raps on his 2016 / 1986 EP and demands, “Leave us alone!” Tillman's music wants to assert itself as a shelter, the dance floor in this case becomes a sanctuary. Elsewhere, it was all about opening up these spaces, literally: opening doors, breaking down barriers, especially for people who had escaped other constraints.
The Leipzig Cultural Center called Conne Island, for example, introduced the so-called “Refugee-Fuffziger” in 2015 – an entrance charge of only 50 cents for people who had recently fled to Germany. At the beginning of October 2016, Conne Island's operators’ collective published an open letter addressing the problems and their own helplessness. The admission charge, meant more as a symbol, repeatedly caused “clashes and tricky situations” for a certain number of the visitors, coupled with language barriers, the cultural differences in ways of celebrating and in social codes, as well as with its improper use, as it said in the open letter. And furthermore –“In this context there has been more sexist harassment and physical abuse in Conne Island and in other clubs.”
Such occurrences, however, play a major role on the smaller level. How can a practice based on entrance control - that is, face checks, rejection, exclusivity - loosen up boundaries, on the one hand, and still work as it always has? It is a question that the social locations for electronic music have always been influenced by and which always has to be renegotiated. In Berlin, the integrative party series “Faces”, organised by Mo Loschelder, tries to deal with the cultural differences in the sense of a cultural exchange. She uses DJ line-ups who gear their music to the desired tastes of both the new arrivals and the old established fans with Arabic dance music and techno, bringing about the encountering of different traditions. “Faces” also promotes the representation of diversity: different rites, socialisation processes and role models. Conventions are questioned, the balance remains fragile.
Leaving one’s comfort zoneThere was also another project focusing on the musical connection between migration, the diaspora and a new home. It had been initiated some time ago and was continued into 2016 – namely the latest part of the concert and compilation series called Heimatlieder aus Deutschland (Sentimental Songs about one’s Homeland) that was edited by Gudrun Gut. With Vogelmixe - Heimatlieder aus Deutschland Vol. 2, Ms. Gut transposes the Heimatlieder, i.e. the folklore of immigrants from all over the world who live in Germany, into their own sound cosmos. Anyone who dares to leave the comfort zone of their home country exposes themselves to being attacked in the present-day mood of post-colonial usurpation and exoticism. However, the tense interplay between expropriation and appropriation, exchange and exploitation often brings about aesthetically interesting impulses. In 2016 various undertakings delved into all kinds of geographies, traditions and periods – for example, Mark Ernestus' project with the musicians of the Ndagga Rhythm Force from Senegal, Hanno Leichtmann with his album Primitiva, and Andrew Pekler with Tristes Tropiques. And Sven Kacirek from Hamburg, famous for his many musical research trips to Kenya, published Songs from Okinawa that treated us to his view of the traditional music of this group of South Japanese islands.
In comparison, Fatima al Qadiri’s view of things seeks faraway places much closer to home – for example, our digital everyday world as a kind of global habitat that we wear on our skin, the lifestyles of art nomads, political activism on the doorstep. Al Qadiri was born in Senegal, grew up in Kuwait, later moved to the United States and now lives in Berlin. She is regularly seen on the covers of lifestyle magazines and takes part in panel discussions about freaks, cyborgs and protest culture. In 2016 she initiated a collaboration with the poetess and performer, Juliana Huxtable, and the multi-media artist, Hito Steyerl, that contributed to the soundtrack of the Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art. The warning signals in Ms al Qadiri's music, most recently, for example, the demo-scenes, sound-weapons, shattering noises, and bursting structures on her album Brute, can most definitely be seen as an example of a generic tendency to appropriate exaggerated, garish alarmism. This is mainly embraced by an international community living in the German capital, which loves the records of the Berlin-based producers, Holly Herndon and Klara Lewis, and labels such as Pan and events such as Janus and Creamcake. In this case, the interfaces between the genre bubbles of rap, techno and avant-garde implode, gender roles are shunted into ambiguity, mainstream hits are over-affirmed and delightfully shredded into nothingness in edits released on SoundCloud.
The bubble of successIt was SoundCloud that also helped spread the “House Made In Germany” quality seal throughout the world - something that many people in Germany do not seem to care very much about. As was already described by Alexis Waltz in the review of 2012, this mixture of dreamy guitar chords, vocals, beats and sundown on a sandy beach has been a hit with millions of fans for several years. If, however, we are to adhere to the traditional understanding of House, then it is false to call this genre Deep House. Nevertheless, sidestepping the usual scene channels, it made the big time on streaming services, and became an international export hit. Towards the end of the year, the producer, Robin Schulz, released a collaboration with David Guetta, one of the biggest names on the lucrative EDM scene. Felix Jaehn recorded the official German pop anthem for the European Football Championships together with Herbert Grönemeyer. However, their outstanding success was hardly mentioned at all in the German media. The Berlin trio, Moderat , who released their third album, III, in the spring of 2016 fared much better with the critics - it was, in fact, their third studio album, to put it more succinctly. The fact that Moderat have long since left their bubble and now perform in a context outside the club circuit, was confirmed by the trio themselves when they launched another release at the end of the year. It is a collection of recordings from different stops on the Moderat world tour, which enabled the trio to perform in front of almost 10,000 people. The title of the album lets you know unmistakably what it is all about – Live – a rock'n'roll format par excellence.
Beyond this broad impact level, 35 years after the launch of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, electronic music has proved its worth as a master of self-historisation and self-reprocessing. In 2016 major jubilees were celebrated such as 20 years of Raster Noton (with a huge installation the avant-garde techno label from Chemnitz toured the festivals and art houses of Europe) and 25 years of Tresor (this mother of all clubs celebrated with a four-day “Wumms” Techno-Marathon at home in Berlin’s Mitte district). At the same time, the electronic sector of the recording industry is relying more and more on re-releasing classical or lost and long forgotten works. The Hamburg label, Bureau B, is particularly good at raising so-called pioneers from the seventies and eighties from the grave – lone mavericks who at that time had a comparatively exotic stack of synthesizer equipment in their basement hobby room. The products often sound interesting enough, at the same time very homogeneous in their language and, due to their retrospective clustering, they seem to be somewhat interchangeable. In retrospect, it is easy to see how the standard of the equipment, as well as the Zeitgeist (and more the defining power of Tangerine Dream than that of Kraftwerk), provided clear guidelines – that is how this bubble should sound and no other way.