ELECTRIC INDIGO – Funk, Ferrum and Feminism

She started with funk and jazz, then became one of the most prominent names in the techno scene. I met Susanne Kirchmayr, better known as Electric Indigo, after a little note I gave her last month during her great set at Grelle Forelle in her hometown, Vienna.

Eclectic artist, DJ, feminist, producer (in no particular order), with her passion and determination she has opened the doors not only to herself in the new born scene that, guess what, was men-mostly, but also to all the different gender expressions otherwise very little re-present-ed. In 1998 she started a revolutionary network for female, transgender and non-binary artists in electronic music and digital arts. I start the interview with her exactly from this point.

female: pressure. How can an artist join the network? How has gender diversity changed in electronic music?

female:pressure is based on personal connections: there is no profile, no online subscription, rather you can join us by sending an email to info@femalepressure.net and then filling in a form about your music style and sector, which can vary from DJ and producer to academic researcher (concerning music studies, but also social sciences for diversity and feminism). Currently female:pressure connects about 2400 artists from 75 countries. It is not an agency, as many erroneously think, rather a powerful tool that can be used in different ways, depending on the interests: many use it for having access to the mailing list, an old-fashioned but efficient platform to share ideas, discussing, stay in touch; others simply use it for discovering new artists. I am the main manager together with other two assistants, at the moment only one, Death of Codes aka Meg Wilhoite (An: from California, to understand also the international management that is behind the project). Consumer Refund aka Sarah Martinus is the third one, temporary inactive. From the beginning of electronic music there have definitely been changes in female and non-binary artists representation, in the techno scene as everywhere. The Internet has become the tool to reach a larger audience and to spread your message, your music. This can be related as well to the music production: once it was much more expensive to get the proper equipment for playing, nowadays it is much more affordable. So on one side we have this big right-wing wave spreading again all over Europe; but on the other side people are much more aware and particularly care for themes like diversity and gender equality and freedom to live intersexuality. Which is, of course, reflected in the electronic scene too.

What are your biggest influences, in- and outside of techno, in your style and which artists do you like?

I’ve started playing funk, jazz and hip hop in a small club in my city, Vienna, soon realizing that, apart from the old records, I didn’t like the new hip hop releases so much anymore. I was into 70’s stuff and kept playing records from this time, as they were a guarantee. But contemporary music was missing. Then house and techno came, and it was an epiphany! These two styles may sound unrelated, but hip hop and techno do have many parallels, maybe not so easy to catch. I enjoyed immediately the new sound. Apart from this, funk has been always present in my style because it’s a genre that surprise you, unpredictable and fun! I am also a huge Beatles fan, in particular of the less common stuff: Number 9, for example, has been a big inspiration for me. I love trippy music, with long loops, monotonous sounds, because they can bring you on a different level, it’s almost like meditation.

You played last year for the celebration of 30 years of techno at the Funkhaus in Berlin a set that is in my opinion sensational (post-note: I had to say so, I just fell so much in love with it). Your career as a producer started exactly in Berlin, how has the time you spent there influenced your career?

I lived in Berlin from 1993 to 1996, starting to work at Hard Wax, the famous music store where the best names were passing by. This has been the shaping and most important time of my career. What I liked the most was the attitude of these people: while others were trying to make techno a mainstream genre and becoming superstars (Mayday, Love Parade, Sven Väth), the people from Hard Wax were part of the opposite tendency of staying behind the scenes, a big influence coming as well from the Detroit techno (see Underground Resistance, for example). Berghain, as another example, is similar in this attitude to Hard Wax, creating a mystery and exclusivity around itself. I feel in between these extremes, but I was fascinated by this perspective. In the early 90’s, I was friends with DJ Hell who used to work at Hard Wax and introduced me there. The boss, Mark Ernestus, remembered him as somehow chaotic and suspected the same from me. Actually, I’m quite the opposite of chaos and I was very determined to get a job there. Finally I got the chance to replace someone for a short time. Which was enough to show my reliability and become not only an employer, but also the responsible for purchasing from European labels. It was a great time that allowed me to make great connections and create new ideas.

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photo by Gerhard Heller, 2008

What are your current and future projects?

At the moment I am working at a new audio visual project called “Ferrum”, first time performed this January at “Art’s birthday” at Funkhaus in Vienna. Ferrum is the Latin word for iron, and refers to the types of sound I am using for the piece, like the sound of metal objects that I recorded. I am developing a generative, reactive visual part of the piece, too, building from what I learned from making the videos for my last album. I followed a colour-and-light concept, playing with them. I’ve started to learn on my own, and when I was trying to blend gradients, this “mistake” resulted in a animation which comes from compression artefacts! For Ferrum I want to further develop this approach and make it in real time, not just triggering prefabricated videos like I do in my album show 5 1 1 5 9 3. I like very much audiovisual performances, and for Ferrum I need room for improvisation, but video and music should still go together in specific time frames.

As you already know, my blog is dedicated to contemporary art, whether it be literature, visual or performing arts. Besides music, which forms do you like and follow most?

Since my early 20’s, I’ve been always surrounded by art. At first, I wanted to study industrial design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, but I wasn’t selected. Still, most of my friends at that time were art students. In any case, I keep being surrounded by artists and people who have a great affinity with fine arts. My booking agent, Mo Loschelder, for example, studied under Gerhard Richter (An: one of the most important contemporary German artists). During my time as resident DJ at Flex – from 2000 to 2008 – a lot of art students and artists came for “my” nights. I also had the occasion to give talks and workshops in academies, both of music but also of fine arts. I feel particularly connected to architecture, design, fashion, computer art, graphic design.

What do you think about the techno scene in Vienna? What do you find most interesting in it?

Sadly, there is limited space for music experimentation, it is hard to find suitable places mainly because of the loudness. The scene is varied and split up. It seems limited because of this, but there are many small realities that makes it eclectic. When it comes to electronic music, my favourites in Vienna are the MEAT Market / Fish Market parties and the associated label MEAT Recordings, the Editions Mego label and the Hyperreality Festival.


 

Last week I got to know Gerald Wenschitz aka Gerald VDH, the founder and mastermind of MEAT Market, who deserves (and will soon have) a chapter aside. And  it’s with the motto of his parties that I want to conclude:

No homophobia, no sexism, no racism, no discussion!

 

Head image: Bernard Preiml, 2018

Playground Festival AV 2018 – Vienna

I would like to start my first post, introduction aside, talking about one of the most recent events I attended: the Playground Festival AV in Vienna. AV stands for Audiovisuals, and it’s the concept of the whole festival: gathering artists from different countries and with different backgrounds to show and share their artwork, whether it’s a painting, a video, a music production, or a mix of these. The location this year is new and couldn’t have fit better to the festival: the Creau, a quiet area close to the Danube formerly used as a stable. A long dark corridor with horse boxes on both sides offers the exhibition itself, where each artist in his own box presents his ideas, having his own space to curate. Art is confined, still it mixes together, due to the numerous lights and sounds coming out from every direction.

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The stable (pic by Henric Fisher)

And a great variety of styles and techniques combines in an atmosphere blinking at the future with a contemporary dark humour. Because this is the feeling, an abandoned place filled with colourful, obsessive and playful creativity. Then we can see (in a scattered order) a plastic wrap sea horse trapped in a metal cage, getting its shape only when air is pumped in with a creepy sound that reminds that of a drill (Kristoffer Stefan, Jan Lauth); five balloons in the dark with the faces of some world leaders projected on them lightened by winking lights (Andreas Muk Haider); a frame in which mirroring ourselves in a slow-motion distortion of the image (A: Nego Yokte, V: Dornwittchen); a live-painting on PVC panels using poor materials and tools that gain a different effect and colours depending on the light put in the background (Werner Ellend); and many other installations and interactive platforms. It’s fascinating to see all these different approaches, and messages, as well as the interaction of the visitors with it. This is a playground, and everyone seems to enjoy being child again.

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Moment of silence, Andreas Muk Haider (pic by me)

And there’s the music. Electronic, experimental, presented as a show with djs in lab coats and a fluorescent dance choreography (Soundpharmacy) or accompanied by visuals, sometimes acid and disturbing, other times dreamy and eclectic. The Rondelle, the second area of the festival, is the perfect location for showing movies extracts and performances: rounded shaped as its name recalls, it reminds of a circus tent and offers a great space for images to be projected all around and rotate above the spectator, forced to keep the nose up as enchanting is the view. And many big matrasses lay on the floor to offer a better perspective for the eye and a more comfortable view. Here the performances from Sirio AV (first project from Dario Jurilli and Simone Andalfato), Das Stadtkind feat. Dornwittchen, and Polymer, gave a different dimension to music with the use of visuals dancing together with the beat.

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The Rondelle (pic by Henric Fisher)

In this fascinating context I got to know (or simply approached) Oli Sorenson, an artist performing during the opening day of the festival: Canadian born, artistically grown up and developed in London, with his artwork, Video Pistoletto, he literally breaks the conventions by chiselling LCD screens. At first sight his box looks similar to the others: three LCD screens hung on the wall in the dark, presenting thick black and white stripes having different orientations with respect to each other; the room is dark and empty, apart from a huge nail – a chisel – and a hammer. It’s when I am in the Rondelle that I start hearing people say “he is breaking the screens! That’s so cool!”. And, sceptic as I am (yes, me too), but curious as a cat I run inside: and what I see is just great. Short delicate but precise hammer blows break the first layer of the screen, letting the crystals mixing and giving life to new colours and shapes.

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Video Pistoletto – before and after (pic by Oli Sorenson)

Here’s the interview he granted me, after I told him about my idea of starting a blog.

What is your background?

Wow that’s a tough question, where to start? I’m basically Canadian, but my dad travelled all the time with his work so I was born in Los Angeles. I did most of my art education in Montreal, then I moved to London in 1999, where I got my big break as a VJ, collaborating with pretty big music acts like Leftfield, Above & Beyond, M.I.A. as well as a club residency at Ministry of Sound. I was always a fan of visual arts and got my foot in the doors with exhibition projects by producing AV performances that suited evening programs in museums like Late at Tate and the AV Social nights at the British Film Institute. So I did a few of these across the UK and Europe, and got to meet a number of artists that were also doing both club visuals and art exhibitions like Quayola, Zan Lyon and Micha Klein. With their influence I convinced myself that I could make the transition from club performances to art exhibitions, and initially started with mapping works, projecting videos of 2D patterns onto 3D objects. Eventually I found that projecting really minimal patterns worked best, which resembled Daniel Buren’s art, so I called this series Mapping Buren.

How did this idea for Video Pistoletto come to your mind?

After the Mapping Buren series, I noticed how much sampling was an important process in my work. I wasn’t trying to challenge the rules of copyright, but on the other hand I became really obsessed with the overwhelming volumes of cultural content that everyone had access to, either online, in print form or elsewhere. And in a way this de-motivated me to try and produce anything new of my own. Instead I was fascinated with the idea of reviewing and amending other people’s creative output. I love the basic principles of Arte Povera for example, but I thought so much was lacking in this movement, and felt the urge to upgrade it to a twenty-first century discourse and make it relevant again. So I borrowed Michelangelo Pistoletto’s gesture of hitting mirrors with a mallet and redirected it towards Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) TV screens.

What would you like to communicate with this project?

Once I noticed how much cultural content was abundant everywhere, I realised how much Pistoletto’s solution – to create from destructive actions – was relevant to me and the highly consumer environment I was immersed in. I became aware of how much the consumption of new products, especially technological ones, were dependant on the destruction of older ones. I wanted to encapsulate this idea into an artwork. Also the premise of Arte Povera was to work with poor materials, so in this line of thought, what better material to work with than electronic goods, which are engineered with planned obsolescence to become obsolete after only a few years? By breaking the screen surfaces of aging LCD TVs, I was in part accelerating their fall into obsolescence, but ironically I was also turning them into artworks, so adding value to these objects. What’s strange about televisions in general is that, as objects, they are meant to be ignored. One rarely pays attention to the TV itself, but only to what is broadcast through electronic signals. When the TVs get broken however, this is one of the only moment when viewers really look at their TV as an object, rather than only look through it to the mediated content. To make this process more engaging, I try to break the LCD screens in very seductive ways, so that viewers become very conscious of their gaze, their act of looking at something.

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Video Pistoletto – detail of screen 02 (pic by Oli Sorenson)

What are your next projects?

I’m revisiting a film remix series I started a while ago, but now I’m applying the same method to the entire James Bond film franchise. The series is called No More Heroes, and in a nutshell, I take away every frame of the movie where I can see or hear the main protagonist, so in this case, Sean Connery, Roger Moore or any other actor that played James Bond. This way I try to point out the redundant narrative templates within mainstream cinema, and surprisingly, when I play back all the 24 films simultaneously in a huge mosaic of videos, very similar events happen in every film, involving either a sexy lady, some kind of gadget weapon, an evil henchman or an explosion. The James Bond films are surprisingly homogenous and formulaic in their storytelling. Also this process of erasing highlights the central position of Caucasian men assuming the role of heroes. Once the leading roles are removed from such films, I hope the viewers will notice that the remaining characters manifest a much greater diversity of gender, age and ethnicity. I’m screening this piece on August 17 and 18 at Art Mur gallery in Berlin. Everyone is welcome, it’s a free event!


Still, too many were the artists I would dedicate some words too… but I am also sure I will soon have the occasion for doing it!

Find more information about the festival, venue and artists on the official page of Playground AV 2018. The pictures are taken from the official Facebook page of Playground AV 2018 and from the official website of Oli Sorenson.