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Pop, Politics, and Persistence. Popular Culture Between Delimitation and Activism. In: CTM 2019 "Persistence Magazine"

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Pop, Politics, and Persistence. Popular Culture Between Delimitation and Activism. In: CTM 2019 "Persistence Magazine"

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Persistently, artists worldwide are opposing social and political injustice and nationalist backsliding. But equally persistent are the anti-liberal and traditionalist forces who assert their power, which is apparent not only symbolically but long since structurally. In this climate, artists are under pressure to express themselves, to take a stance – and even to act. Yet, in the course of a general tide of re-politicisation, artists are also once again increasingly engaging and intervening in social and political discourses, as activists or researchers. What strategies can art use to oppose populism?
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cover
978-3-9817928-5-0
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02 CTM 2019 – PERSISTENCE
Introduction
08 INTERDEPENDENCE
JON DAVIES
12 ON LOOP AND IN THE CROSSFADE:
MUSIC IN THE AGE OF MASS
PERSISTENCE
Josh Kun
16 TRANS-MITTING BLACK RESISTANCE
Tai Linhares in Conversation with
Linn da Quebrada
21 »ALL THAT IS SOLID MELTS INTO PR«:
ON PERSISTENCE, RESILIENCE,
AND AUTONOMY IN MUSIC
Ollie Zhang
24 ALL UNITED
IC3PEAK in Conversation with
Mariana Berezovska
30 THE RADICAL ELASTICITY OF SOUND
Salomé Voegelin
36 FAILING AT THE IMPOSSIBLE:
ATTEMPTS AT EMBODYING
MATRIARCHY
An Interview with Nguye
^
~n +
Transitory by Kamila Metwaly
42 POP, POLITICS, AND PERSISTENCE:
POPULAR CULTURE BETWEEN
DELIMITATION AND ACTIVISM
Luise Wolf
46 WE ARE THE HALLUCI NATION:
AN INTERVIEW WITH BEAR WITNESS
OF A TRIBE CALLED RED
Lindsay Nixon
52 MICROTONALITY AND THE STRUGGLE
FOR FRETLESSNESS IN THE
DIGITAL AGE
Khyam Allami
60 ARKESTRATED RHYTHMACHINE
KOMPLEXITIES: MACHINIC
GEISTERSTUNDE AND POST-SOUL
PERSISTENCIES
ARK
66 200 BPM ORGASM CLUB MUSIC
Gabber Modus Operandi
in Conversation with Jan Rohlf
72 NOISE BOMBING: THE SPIRIT OF
STREET NOISE
Indra Menus & Sean Stellfox
80 PEEPING THROUGH A FROWN:
A DÉRIVE THROUGH THE PUNK
CONTINUUM
Tim Tetzner
86 ENCOUNTERS WITH BEELZEBUB’S
ORGANS – QUELLGEISTER #3: BUSSD
Stefan Fraunberger
PERSISTENCE
CTM FESTIVAL 2019
ADVENTUROUS MUSIC & ART
20TH EDITION
BERLIN
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45
POP, POLITICS, AND
PERSISTENCE:
POPULAR CULTURE BETWEEN
DELIMITATION AND ACTIVISM
LUISE WOLF
Artists worldwide are persistently opposing social and political in-
justice and nationalist backsliding. But equally persistent are the an-
ti-liberal and traditionalist forces who assert their power, which is
apparent not only symbolically but long-since structurally. In this
climate, artists are under pressure to express themselves, to take a
stance, and even to act. Yet in the course of a general tide of re-po-
liticisation, artists are also once again increasingly engaging and in-
tervening in social and political discourses. Luise Wolf considers the
complexities of blending art and politics.
Persistence. Once again this year, CTM Festival
has adopted a theme that affects us politically, and
even agitates us. It suggests that we listen to pop
with politics in mind. After 2015’s Un Tune, which
brought to mind the physical and psychoacous-
tic power of sound, the festival turned to a series
of politically-discursively charged topics starting
with 2016’s New Geographies. The 2016 theme
aimed to extend the limits of European audiences’
understanding and reception of music by includ-
ing global and hybrid music scenes representing
countries from Mexico to Iran. Under the slogan
World Music 2.0, the audience explored a global
music scene, a hybrid, technologically progres-
sive, sampled, transnational, transcultural, and
post-gender world community. New Geographies
also drew attention and not merely from a nation-
al viewpoint – to social and political conflicts and
upheavals, and to the sounds of war and repression
(Mazen Kerbaj).
The 2017 theme Fear, Anger, Love can be inter-
preted as a vociferous artistic and pop cultural re-
sponse to a society in which fear and anger are
cultivated in ways that, until recently, didn’t seem
possible. The conciliatory sound of love – apart
from the sound of sex (18+) was sought in vain.
Yet the more drastic sonic examples of rage (Vom-
ir), fear (Genesis P-Orridge), and protest (NON
Worldwide) were easily found. Here, the coalition
of music and war once again dominated the dis-
course programme (Lawrence English).
Emotions are followed by shifts and unrest. As such,
Turmoil was last year’s theme, and it explored the
sound of emancipatory uproar. An aesthetic rebel-
lion offers the opportunity to escape the global
permanent disaster alarm, be it through the futuris-
tic and speculative (Holly Herndon) or through con-
templation (Christopher Bauder & Kangding Ray).
Seismographically, the festival themes reflect cur-
rently relevant topics and tendencies in our socie-
ties and cultures. Culture is changing all the time.
This change is determined by internal dialectics of
the conscious and the unconscious, identity and
performance, tradition and progression, essen-
tialism and hypermodernism. This year's festival
theme of Persistence also addresses such dialec-
tics. The term Persistence can be interpreted here
as a mode of emancipatory art and pop culture, of
liberal, anti-racist, and anti-sexist forces, yet also
as the persistence of essentialist and nationalist
setbacks. The political polarisation of Western so-
cieties and the growing harshness in the culture of
public debate suggest that one reality cannot be
refuted by another. Thus, the perception of reality,
the interpretation of events and processes, in itself
becomes a matter of dispute and a symbolic cul-
tural loss or gain: In this climate, what are the per-
sistence, the success, and the symbolic and social
losses with which artists fight for freedom social
spaces, for acceptance of other life models?
In this essay, I would like to approach various ar-
tistic strategies with which to position oneself in
political and social realities. It's about the prox-
imity and distance between pop and politics, art
and society. On the question of a policy of aesthet-
ic practice, persistence can be understood on the
one hand as open protest, as active resistance to
hegemony, and on the other as a state of persis-
tent distancing from the dictums of Realpolitik and
consumer society. Artists can respond to the defi-
nitions imposed by dominant themes, norms, and
general perceptual patterns with real alternatives
to the very nature of currently lived reality, and ex-
periment with new modes of expression and living.
Through such approaches, they create new com-
munities of meaning such as undergrounds and
scenes, online communities, and safer spaces.
In recent years, artistic practices have experienced
a re-politicisation, now also clearly visible in the
mainstream. While the end of the protest song was
declared in the 90s, political statements are again
widespread today, even in songs on heavy rota-
tion. Popular culture and politics have once again
converged. On the one hand, political culture has
adopted aesthetic strategies such as stardom,
marketing, and performance.*1) On the other hand,
social and political hardships and rollbacks pro-
voke artists worldwide to stand up for concrete so-
cial and political values and change. Under slogans
such as Die Vielen (The Many) or Wir sind Mehr (We
Are More), artists and cultural actors in Germany
have initiated and joined such broad movements.
Protest concerts are back, hinting at the return of
pop culture’s mobilising power. Yet artists are also
increasingly pressured to position themselves po-
litically. I would argue that while it is not the artist’s
task to dissolve the ambiguity in the world or to
decorate political slogans, these days they are, in
their function as role models, sometimes expected
to do just that.
Persistence also exists on the part of the rise of
essentialism and nationalism, which not only sym-
bolically paints a »new normality,« but has long
since become structural. This shows in the popu-
larity of some right-wing conservative and nation-
alist artists such as Frei.Wild or Andreas Gabalier,
as well as in the discussion about a radio quota
for German-language pop music, which was re-
kindled in 2015. However, no soundtrack exists for
the New Right, according to pop critic Jens Balz-
er in his article »The Kids Are Alt-Right Tracing
The Soundtrack Of Neo-Reactionary Turmoil« in the
CTM 2017 magazine. Why is that? »One possible
reason the New Right doesn’t have a leg to stand
47
on, culturally speaking, is that its very ideology, its
striving for ‘purity’ despite the evident interde-
pendence of every last atom in the cosmos! – pre-
cludes any true acceptance of pop culture. Pop
culture is living proof that hybridity rocks. Without
an endless circulation of signs, without the shifting
permutation or fusion of every cultural tradition un-
der the sun, pop culture just would not be. There is
nothing in pop that doesn’t refer somehow, some-
where, to something else.«*2) Balzer explains that
the lack of success for right-wing pop acts is due
to the basic hallmarks of pop, which resist ideolog-
ical determination and disambiguation.
From rock'n'roll to post-punk and from disco to
trap, popular music is characterised by an interplay
between adoption and variation, reference and
manipulation. In the oscillation between the exist-
ing and the new, citation and reinterpretation, pro-
duction and processing, pop celebrates an aes-
thetic of transformation. »Aesthetic is trans,« says
the rapper and self-proclaimed »gender terrorist«
Linn da Quebrada.*3) Pop is in between – even on-
tologically. Pop is a fluid phenomenon that is all
the more successful and interesting the more un-
definably it positions itself.
»Pop stands for the simple behind which the com-
plex hides,« wrote Peter Kemper.*4) In contrast to
populism – which propagates a »narrow ideology«
and the disambiguation of the perception of re-
ality – pop creates a positive commonplace, an
open-ended web of connections. In contrast to the
political sphere, performative forms of identifica-
tion and hybrid world views neither pose any prob-
lems nor are considered exceptional circumstance
in popular culture, at least not in principle. Rather,
pop initiates such processes for the sake of inspi-
ration, variation, development, and renewal, sig-
nified by terms such as fusion, featuring, or syn-
thesis.
In contrast to political articulation, artistic prac-
tices and popular culture are not concerned with
forming exclusionary content, absolute values,
or ultimate judgments. Rather, they focus on il-
luminating things differently, on recontextualiza-
tion, and on creating links or variations to gener-
ate meaning. Artists don’t advocate for values and
judgments through persuasion or by forcing opin-
ions, but through attitude, performance, and aes-
thetic staging. Art and music are forms of articu-
lation that are not primarily rational, strategic, and
discursive, but physical, affective, emotional, im-
aginary, idiosyncratic. In taking up and re-contex-
tualising motifs of prevailing norms and conven-
al Assembly), or the Peng! Collective provide im-
pressive examples in Germany.
From gospel to hip hop, popular music has never
been disconnected from social and political real-
ity and was never considered merely beautiful and
»useless.« It has always been a direct response to
reality, as opposition or mere compensation. The
differentiation of »pop« – from Björk to Pop Idols –
leads to the fact that innovations, differences, and
protests today tend to be forged in niches rather
than in the mainstream. But even the mainstream is
often so successful only because it is dialectically
influenced by convention and innovation, identifi-
cation and ambivalence, commerce and protest.
Movements such as queervisibility and feminism
would not have found their way out of their nich-
es and into the mainstream without artists like, for
example, Antony or Coco Rosie. In a society that
constitutes and reflects itself in segmented public
spheres within which socialisation and integration
happen, niches are plainly the places of action.
And here musicians are increasingly positioning
themselves in the most varied of roles with multi-
ple responsibilities. They appear as musicians and
activists, as musicians and researchers. They seize
discourse and agency within and also far beyond
niches and scenes, stages and clubs. They also use
and produce formats and methods of articulation
in the social, technological, or political spheres.
They demonstrate, occupy, and hack. They write,
proclaim, educate, and experiment.
Artistic productions that present themselves as art
and life, art and politics, or art and social engage-
ment, are often eventually pressured into justify-
ing being ethically right or wrong, and act as mor-
ally good or bad especially if they leave their
niche and enter the wider public sphere. This is
clearly visible in the boycott or non-boycott of Is-
rael, where the dispute over the legitimacy of per-
forming or not performing in Israel partially splits
Western music scenes. Under names such as BDS
(Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) or DJs for
Palestine, campaigns call for a boycott of Isra-
el in order to put pressure on the Israeli govern-
ment to stop oppressing Palestinians. Musicians
tions, in representing these samples as fabrication,
as instruments, the changeability of all meaning
is revealed. The arts sensitise us to inclusion and
exclusion in society. Therefore, they are to the
greatest possible extent and almost ontological-
ly resistant to any form of hegemony. They act as
correctives, as jokers, ridiculing solutions that are
supposedly without alternative.
The rejection of political mechanisms provides
the opportunity to create uncommon, extraordi-
nary experiences. The dystopian sounds of noise,
dark ambient, or doom strain our listening conven-
tions. They let us hear the world from the dysto-
pia of a failed existence, to experience ourselves
from an otherworldly lostness. Such music, which
is unsettlingly far from acoustic conventions, from
common statements, symbols, codes, and stylistic
templates, is especially conducive to experiencing
the drastic nature with which categories determine
us in everyday life. In pure sound we might hear life
as it could be, according to musicologist and eth-
nologist Jochen Bonz.*5) Indeed, from where else
do we take the variation of our gestures and our
habits? How can we perceive the defaults and bi-
ases of our senses? At the basis of our beliefs and
values lies a physical sensibility, a sensed mean-
ing that is touched and moved above all by the arts.
Such music, which focuses on material-aesthetic
transformations, conducts a kind of »fundamental
research« on our emotions and our psyche. It can
provoke sparks of reflection, and can affect the na-
no-politics of our bodies.
Art that is not concerned with the current, the nec-
essary, or the real, but rather with the future, the
improbable, or the possible, therefore cannot be
considered a-political. It injects our supposedly
»mere« existence or feelings with new ways of ex-
pression and articulation, expanding the horizon of
our tolerance and knowledge.
In recent years, however, under the pressure of po-
litical and social changes which threaten the free-
dom of art itself, we have seen shifts in the politics
of artistic practice. Art critic Boris Groys considers
today’s art activism to be a new phenomenon. Art
has given up its »quasi-ontological uselessness« in
order to make itself politically and socially useful.*6)
According to Groys, these art activists have tried
not to only criticise political and social conditions,
but to change them by means of art especially
outside of the art system: in politics and education,
in the midst of society and at its edges. Actions
by the Zentrum für politische Schönheit (Center for
Political Beauty), the Generalversammlung (Gener-
who joined the boycott, such as Roger Waters or
Young Fathers, have to deal with accusations of
antisemitism and populism. Musicians who did not
join the boycott, such as Thom Yorke or Nick Cave,
were criticised for not resolutely opposing the Is-
raeli government’s unjust policies. Label operators
speak of »cultural terror.« Nick Cave talks of cen-
sorship. In one of the most complex political war
zones of the 20th and 21st centuries, pop’s positive
commonplace has been blown up.
Such discursive shifts between pop and politics
show that artistic activism not only strains the po-
litical discourses it addresses – often successfully,
thanks to its media literacy – but that it also strains
the field of art itself by questioning the limits of
art, and its place in the field of tension between
certainty and contingency, autonomy and social
function. At times, theatrical forms of artistic ac-
tivism manage to draw the entirety of politics into
their performance, exposing politics itself as a per-
formance of power. But whenever art puts these
theatrical means completely aside, and radicalis-
es itself primarily socio-politically, it can quickly
get entangled in polarisation and populism, and
thereby easily risks losing something crucial: so-
cial contingency and the power to maintain dia-
logue across different contexts, beliefs, and re-
alities. Then again, one must ask whether such
radicalism is not actually an appropriate response
to an equally radical reality. Is it not the case that
aesthetic freedom is first practiced when it over-
rides the hegemonic allocation of its competenc-
es? The answer to this dilemma should depend on
whether or not artistic freedom is served.
LUISE WOLF is an author and scientist in Berlin. She
explores aesthetic transformations in art and musical cul-
ture.
Translated from the German by Alexander Paulick-Thiel,
Berlin.
*1) Jörg-Uwe Nieland, Pop und Politik. Politische Popkultur und Kulturpolitik in der Mediengesellschaft (Köln: Herbert von Halem Verlag, 2009).*2) Jens Balz-
er, »The Kids Are Alt-Right – Tracing the Soundtrack Of Neo-Reactionary Turmoil«, CTM 2018 Turmoil Magazine (2018), p. 24.*3) Meiofio, »Eu não quero me
finalizar,« 10.October 2016, Youtube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5×ckO1WtVc (last accessed January 2019).*4) Peter Kemper, »Love goes Pop. Die lär-
mende Macht großer Gefühle«, in Liebe – Zwischen Sehnsucht und Simulation, ed. Peter Kemper and Ulrich Sonnenschein (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp,
2005), p. 302. *5) Jochen Bonz, »Soziologie des Hörens. Akustische Konventionalität und akustische Materialität als Kategorien subjektorientierter Popkul-
turforschung«, Pop, Populäres und Theorien. Forschungsansätze und Perspektiven zu einem prekären Verhältnis in der Medienkulturgesellschaft (Münster:
LIT Verlag, 2011), p. 130. *6) Boris Groys, »Kunstaktivismus – Die totale Ästhetisierung der Welt als Eröffnung der politischen Aktion«, Lettre International
106 (2014), p. 88.

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