Electronic music: engines of contemporary protest
Detroit Techno and Chicago House have known diametrically opposed paths. Emerging in the 80s in black and queer racialized communities, these genres were a political response to the industrial crisis and systemic discrimination.The latter, whose naturally danceable rhythms lent themselves to a marketable trajectory, travelled across the Atlantic and become accessible to the general public. Meanwhile, Techno remained on the fringe of the system, political, in the spirit of Underground Resistance. It was in Manchester that Techno found its European advocates and was progressively emancipated from its urban context under the rule of the Thatcher government. Moving on to gain its foothold in rural areas before reaching Germany. It conquered the young Berliners preceding the fall of the wall, its electronic sounds serving as a soundtrack to freedom.
The 2000s saw electronic music evolve from a counter-culture movement to a lucrative and prolific industry, becoming popular in nightclubs around the world. As for the artists and musical undercurrents that seek to express vindication through sound, they remain a largely marginalized group.
In 2022, electronic music is ubiquitous and the share of artists emerging from electronic music booked in festivals represents 40% of international programming. Raves and free parties have become gentrified and are no longer the TAZs (Temporary Autonomous Zones) that used to escape oppression. Now, electronic music is represented by numerous institutional festivals.
So, what remains of this protest spirit once central to the now pervasive genre?
Below, MUTEK highlights three projects embodying this spirit that will be presented during the 23rd edition of the festival.
How can we talk about activism within the MUTEK lineup without mentioning Liliane Chlela? With a craft that ranges from memory work to the expression of anger that rumbles Lebanon, the Lebanese producer and DJ transcribe an urgency to act in her latest album Safala. Chlela embodies a revival of the Underground Resistance spirit in many ways.
Political inaction of corrupt institutions that keep ravaging Beirut socially and economically has pushed Chlela to react. Commandeering sombre industrial productions reminiscent of the early days of Techno, she interprets the rage of a disaffected people. Dark and heavy electronic rhythms mix with the oral traditions inherited from her grandmother, conjuring an evident timelessness. Safala simultaneously remains well anchored in current times, with a video accompanying the sound work entrusted to Kawakeb studio, a visual arts and design specialist based in Beirut. The link between audio and visual is immediate and references events in Lebanon using archives dating back to 2015.
Improvisation lies at the heart of the producer’s work, allowing her to explore many sub-currents of Techno whilst adding her own daring musical touch. She thus encourages the audience to push the limits of the auditory experience and to accept the changes that take place. Some habits are hard to break and she intends to shake them up. Women and the LGBTQIA2S+ community have been struggling to find a place in a music industry riddled with problems for too long; and so, she has been working on the creation of a non-binary collective in Lebanon that will give access to different aspects of the industry to those who have been excluded.
Liliane Chlela is definitely not here to please and that is why you will fall under her spell.
A cause to support during Play 3, Saturday August 27, 2022 at the Society for Arts and Technology [SAT].
Discover the first episode of our podcast with Liliane Chlela, produced in collaboration with Eastern Bloc:
Presented as part of the Keychange project led by Reeperbahn Festival, PRS Foundation and Musikcentrum Öst, with support from the European Union's Creative Europe program.
Pierce Warnecke & Matthew Biederman
Where-as unfortunately in Lebanon, hardships have already taken place, elsewhere they can still be avoided. And that is the challenge of Pierce Warnecke and Matthew Biederman's SPILLOVER project.
In the north of Portugal, in Montalegre, the largest open-pit lithium mine in Western Europe risks being built and destroying more than 800 square kilometres of fertile land recognized as world agricultural heritage by the FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. Whilst local mobilisation is strong, the protest is struggling to be heard on a larger scale due to the prevalence of economic priorities over their consequences on people, landscape and ecosystems.
But Warnecke and Biederman were commissioned by INDEX, the biennial art and technology program of the city of Braga, Portugal, as a UNESCO Creative City for Media Arts. Using technologies powered by the same destructive mineral, the two artists describe in an audiovisual performance the divisions that would be created by this disastrous project, making the geographical landscape the instrument of their work.
By using aerial and terrestrial photogrammetry, Matthew Biederman obtains point clouds which he generates in images, thus allowing him to concretely visualize the discord that would be caused by this project if it were to be implemented. In spite of the constant interactions between nature, culture, politics and economy, the fractures in our society have never been so great.
This cartographic data is also processed and arranged in sound by Pierce Biederman, who immerses us in a tremendous industrial universe reminiscent of early electronic music. The perfect relationship between sound and image that occurs seems to be a metaphor for a return to work that lies in harmony with the environment that Spillover condones.
A struggle to encourage during A/Visions 2 Friday, August 27, 2022, at Théâtre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts.
As it evolves over time whilst still remaining faithful to the values of the early days, electronic music and the claims it makes have been able to reinvent themselves whilst encapsulating a reflection of our society. The commitment of electronic music artists is not necessarily done through their music. Many of them take a stand through their participation in a community, a collective or an event. By programming these artists, MUTEK supports them and hopes to contribute to building a committed and inclusive music scene.
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Words by Grégoire Chevron
English translation by Lola Baraldi