Ariel 2.0 is a project running throughout the summer at Bold Tendencies, an auditorium space occupying the seventh floor of a multi-storey car park off Rye Lane in Peckham, South East London. Curated by Berlin-born, London-based artist/rapper Leo Liccini (aka Leo Luchini), the series features a number of international artists taking part in a programme of sampled speech, spoken word, and rap, embracing the performative voice and examining how it is altered by computers and online life. To that end they’ve already hosted a show with Cakes da Killa, with a performance from Felicita planned for the future. While Bold Tendencies occupies the entire car park, the performances themselves take place in a smaller space – a hut built out of hay bales – located deeper in the venue, beyond an installation from Amsterdam design collective Metahaven. Karen Gwyer headlined Ariel 2.0’s second edition, with support on the night coming from Nkisi.
Nkisi is the alias of Melika Ngombe Kolongo, an electronic music producer and visual artist raised in Belgium but now based in London. Alongside Cape Town, South Africa’s ANGEL-HO and Richmond, USA’s Chino Amobi, Nkisi is a founding member of NON Records, a new label/platform that presents the music of artists emerging from Africa and the African diaspora on their own terms. Nkisi is also a friend of Endless, a London party that takes over unoccupied and overlooked spaces around the city to create a place for new, cross-cultural club sounds to emerge, having played there regularly in the past. Her tracks carry titles like ‘WOC’ and ‘Collective Self Defense’, while one track on her Soundcloud (‘Inheritance Tax’) links to an article on the legacy of British slave ownership. All of which is to say that Nkisi’s music is politically engaged. It’s part of a wave of electronic producers and DJs around the world who are making positive, non-appropriative club music, while raising their voices against social injustices and rectifying narratives that overshadow, or whitewash, the contributions of non-Western, minority, and LGBTQ communities in music.
Tonight, Nkisi plays against a sparse, unembellished background using a minimalistic setup (CDJs, Juno synthesizer and a microphone). Her set works because, even when divorced from its political context, it works on a simple, visceral level: by the end of the set, most of the audience is dancing. Between bursts of spoken word, she plays her own tracks, which are densely layered, high tempo, and hard to place. The rhythms feel unfamiliar and there are few traditional hooks, but there’s something euphoric – if occasionally unsettling – contained within the pummeling rhythms.
With releases for No Pain In Pop, Kaleidoscope, and Opal Tapes, Karen Gwyer has mostly been associated with the experimental music community, playing shows in art spaces like Café Oto and, indeed, Bold Tendencies. It’s a shame if Gwyer only plays these venues, because her set tonight – a noisy, all-hardware session that draws predominantly on house and techno – feels like it belongs within the walls of a small, dark club at 3am. **
Performance photos, top right.