All Of Us Have A Sense Of Rhythm, curated by Christine Eyene, brings together artists and musicians, working from the late 20th century to today, who all deal in different ways with the influence of rhythm and music from Africa. For An Evening of Live Music, held at DRAF on July 11, three of the artists currently showing in the exhibition perform live, with music, sound and video.
Evan Ifekoya’s ‘Let the rhythm keep pulling you towards ur edges (after Marlon Riggs)’ (2015), is a rich multi-channel audio-visual performance. Spoken-word recordings, music and remixes are cued over a projected video montage and live-updated twitter feed. The video weaves together viral YouTube dances, Fred Astaire’s notorious tap dancing scene as ‘Bojangles of Harlem’ in Swing Time and archival film of works by Harlem Renaissance-affiliated sculptor Richmond Barthé, alongside video of Ifekoya combing their hair and setting up a mirrorball in a green-screen studio. Their twitter feed is live-updated with the content of the spoken-word recordings, a story of a romantic encounter on a night out, played alongside a heterogeneous selection of modern pop and not-so-pop music. At one point Spice Girls collides with Snoop/Pharrell tongue-clicks. I hear X-Ray Spex’s ‘Identity’ playing half-speed, sounding strangely like stoner metal.
In contrast, Larry Achiampong takes analogue material as his source. For an hour he plays vinyl – complete with skips triggered by an excitable audience – selecting tracks with a connoisseur’s sensitivity. He plays predominantly Ghanaian and Nigerian guitar-driven psychedelic tracks from the 1970s, which have influenced the sound of his own albums Meh Mogya and More Mogya. Meanwhile, a film of a young child dancing on a play mat loops in the background. Like a lot of children he seems to have boundless energy, and an interest in trying out all varieties of dance – at various points spinning, rolling or clapping along to the set.
To close the evening, Julien Bayle performs ‘ALPHA’ (2014), an audio-visual show conducted on proprietary software synthesisers and sequencers, developed by the artist himself. It is sonically industrial, with driving kicks and crescendos of noise, but aesthetically minimal. Hypersensitive wireframe 3D geometries jitter and pulse in response to the sound, the projector often strobing along with the deep distorted kicks. Its simplicity and phenomenally tight synchronization creates a hypnotising and enveloping experience.
While each of the three artists start from divergent sources, the questions raised in the evening are clear. How do we make sure to truly value influences? Which important figures are being devalued by structural apathy or prejudice? How can we start to recognise those influences as part of a global cultural canon, rather than simply as marginalities? It is Ifekoya playing ‘Madame Hollywood’ by Felix da Housecat, in the context of their wider performance, which points most literally to the history of expropriation. After being denied entry to Berghain in Berlin in March – almost a year after the death of seminal Chicago house producer Frankie Knuckles – FdH made his thoughts about structural racism devaluing the history of dance music public on twitter. “blood sweat and tears CHICAGO and DETROIT BUILT BERLIN! TECHNO AND HOUSE,….”.
The act of turning away FdH, whose work played a role in laying the foundations for contemporary dance music, is exemplary of painfully ironic historical whitewashing. Western culture seems structurally predisposed to devaluing the cultural contributions of non-white artists. Would techno exist in the same way today, had four-to-the-floor not been popularised in the discos of the 1970s? Who, beyond cultural theorists and specialists, recognises this as valuable today? But, to try to be optimistic, maybe the right rhythm, played by the right person, in the right place and time, stands up on its own merits – and a celebration of that moment can become a radical reclamation of history. **
Event photos, top right.