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"Noise-sound” as protest music


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In Real Life, music writer Rob Arcand bemoans the feeble unoriginality of what passes for protest music today, and instead suggests that the emerging genre of "noise-sound” is more adequate to our political moment. Read an excerpt of the piece below, or the full text here.

But what are the implications of weaponized sound as a scalable tool for dissent? How could the dynamic capacities of noise be better harnessed and mobilized to create more effective tools for conscious action? Over the last few years, electronic music has reclaimed its political roots: From across the globe, artists like Lotic, Arca, and Elysia Crampton have made strides toward dance-driven destruction. With the explosive sounds of gunshots and breaking glass, tracks like Lotic’s “Damsel in Distress” ripple with a noisy chaos, an entropic overload of generations of diaspora and colonialism, now reified in sound. His more recent remix of Beyoncé’s “Formation” presents the scorched portrait of a crisis front, as skittered sounds blur a song already draped in ties to Malcolm X and the “black power salutes” of Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and generations associated with the Black Panther movement, into a high-pitched, fast-paced oblivion.

Even at its wildest and most political, contemporary music has long been dependent on a tricky relationship with the gatekeeping outlets behind streaming platforms and media channels that not only constrict the speculative potential of what a music can be, but also limit the sound’s vast potential for political engagement. At the end of last year, Berlin-based musician and software developer Mat Dryhurst wrote that contemporary musicians need new tools to help shape their productive capacity for change. He notes,

I’m bored of handing control of my work to centralized platforms that have no interest in representing the community of artists I identify with. An independent music industry was built by artists, for artists decades ago, and I think that we need to devise an equivalent infrastructure for online media. That doesn’t mean SoundCloud with a different name and font, but an entirely different logic that is as nuanced and distinguished as the independent communities that use it.

Through his work with Saga, a software plugin that allows artists to host their own work and track its distribution throughout the web; and the Blockchain initiative, which turns Bitcoin’s properties as decentralized currency into an evolving exchange of time-stamped digital objects with the potential to be monetized by play count, Dryhurst and others have realized that on some level, progressive music isn’t compatible with the current paradigms of corporate oversight guiding media ventures like streaming platforms and the networks of social media.

NON Records, the collective behind music from Angel-Ho, Nkisi, Elysia Crampton, and Chino Amobi, among others, pairs elements of noise music with the shock-and-awe spectacle of the political state at war. With a digital-first, non-hierarchical structure spreading across the African diaspora, NON Records “resides in villages, towns, and cities across the globe,” committed to the “militant realities” of the global front, merging the weaponized potential of sound with explicit aims for political reform. In an exchange with the Fader, a spokesperson from the label notes that “NON uses sound as a weapon to destabilize and deterritorialize our audience,” working toward a level of political and economic independence seemingly only achievable on the scale of a new nation-state. With the sound and iconography of a crisis zone, the collective — whose involvement with grassroots work can’t be understated — has set their sights on scale, establishing a network of resistance through which citizens of the diaspora and beyond can unite to coordinate action.

Image: Musician Chino Amobi. Via Fact Magazine.