2 tired 2 cry is AQNB’s third release of new music and visual works compiled and curated by our London, Berlin and Los Angeles-based team.
Part of an ongoing series of these downloadable packages, featuring work by artists in our international community, this next mini-compendium is the second of four to be dropped quarterly. It includes four new tracks and two new original artwork contributions, and is available for sale on our site, or free for our Patreon subscribers.
The theme of 2 tired 2 cry follows a year of collective difficulties and setbacks. Closing out 2020 with some silver linings, and a small shard of hope for the future, the compendium looks towards a long and hard road ahead, that’s not without optimism. This is the sight and sound of upheaval and uncertainty, living with the ebb and flow of life and death. Frustration and exhaustion, anger and grief all live here. We’ve been through a period of emotional extremes, and there’s probably a bit more to come. Hang in there.
“I think it was the first time I thought about stringing things that could seem difficult and disparate together,” writes Gian Manik about how it was Aphex Twin’s 2001 album drukQs—that he heard as a teen in Perth, Western Australia—which influenced his approach to his practice. “I like how any genre could make a mix. It seemed to make more sense for me than having to curate one or two styles together.” Now based in Melbourne, the artist is the latest to contribute to AQNB’sart and music compendium series, providing the cover art (along with graphic design by Alex Deranian) for this 2 tired 2 cry edition, based around a theme of collective difficulty and setbacks in 2020.
Working across disciplines and media, while focussed on his extraordinary talent as a painter, Manik was raised and educated in an old-school tradition before undergoing a period of revolt against technical proficiency in art school. He moved into sculpture—inspired by actor-less horror film scenes, his band called Mass Birth—all while developing an eye and ear for contrastive pastiche in his exhibitions and mixes, fashion sense and personal tattoo collection. This bold, often chaotic approach to creative expression is something Manik himself refers to as ‘curated filth’, where a community-oriented mural project winds up on a wine bottle label, or impeccable reproductions of Rembrandt paintings land on a knife, a pair of clogs. “I’m not too precious about that kind of thing but these were re-used for friends’ projects. Other than that, I wouldn’t really spread a work so thin, unless I got fuck loads of money,” writes Manik—in his typically irreverent manner—about the repurposing of existing artworks into new forms. “I do like the idea of work disbanding or becoming confused, from a gallery wall to a repeat print, to a wine label, business card, etcetera.”
It’s in this space of embracing diverse cultural and aesthetic references that Manik’s work thrives. A recent exhibition at his representative Sutton Gallery included images of a drug bust in ‘NSW Police Find $200 Million of Meth Hidden Inside Sriracha Bottles’, a depiction of an impossible gay sex scene in ‘Long Session Fucking and Getting Fucked by Myself’. Meanwhile, an upcoming collaboration with Melbourne-based fashion label VERNER—called Joint Venture—features repeat prints of 40-plus of his paintings.
It’s with this in mind that AQNB corresponded with Manik about his bold and irrepressible approach to painting and artistic production.
**You’ve been making a lot during lockdown, how long does is take you to do a painting on average?
Gian Manik: Hmm, not very long. I’ve been painting for ages, so I don’t tend to labour or fix things. Plus, I have the shortest attention span, which means I try to finish a work a day. That was the type of thing that I was doing during lockdown though. It regulated my practice, anxiety and schedule. When we went into the second, hard lockdown, I was like, ‘FML, I can’t have all this shit around’. I also hate having things rolled up or lying around, so I tried to work on one or two larger works by collaging smaller paintings I could finish quickly, over the top of each other. I used to do things in layers previously, so I would work on several paintings at once and they would take a lot longer because, oils etcetera.
**I’m interested in how you became an artist, you obviously have a lot of talent technically, and your ideas are very specific, was it always clear that’s where you’d end up?
GM: Kind of. Cue violin: My grandfather was a painter. He immigrated from Holland with my nana ages ago. He only painted clowns (LOL). Our house was full of fucking clowns, all the kids from school hated it. Mum also painted when she was younger—mostly reproductions of Rembrandt paintings.
I was sent to art classes when I was five [years old] and had a portrait painting mentor when I was 14 that I saw for years. It was pretty cliche. He would tap my hand when I made a mistake, I loved it. I thought I was in Stealing Beauty or something. So, I had all these old-school tools and sensibilities when painting before I went to art school, it was hard to dismantle. I always struggled with politics and concepts around work, coming from such traditional schooling.
**Your work seems to operate so much with juxtaposition and a kind of ‘found object’ approach to your compositions—even if they’re painted representations of the thing, it’s as if you picked them up and placed them there. Are these conscious decisions you make, or are these choices more intuitive than that?
GM: Yeah right, umm. I said before that I found it quite a long process, coming from pretty much painting portraits of lawyers and judges for money when I was a teenager. I had an agent, LOL. Art school and this particular class, interdisciplinary drawing, helped with using concept as agency, and then representation, or a lack of, would follow. I created this specific way of validating representation by manufacturing abstract imagery, or foils and mirrored fabrics, that satisfied re-presenting verbatim. I was able to work from images that seemed a lot more of the work that I wanted to do—I guess, probably, Abstract Expressionism.
Working from this past, I began, perhaps a few years ago, using more recognisable subjects, everyday things; stuff that I took pics of; internet trawling to display concepts or ideas for exhibition. I think the work shifted from works that unpacked analysis (self-mirrors ‘blah, blah’) to a more therapeutic expulsion of imagery through concept. It was immediate and confusing, especially when trying to manipulate technique and style that wasn’t so linear.
**As we mentioned in your recent, second mix contribution to AQNB—‘Knock on the Door‘—your approach to music is similarly surreal; this kind of contrastive sonic pastiche of disparate cultural and aesthetic references. Would you agree and do you see a link, or even, is it all part of the same practice?
GM: Yeah, I’d say so! I think I dress the same too :/ I called it ‘curated filth’ to a coffee shop guy the other day.
**I’m interested in the title for this work you did in the Pilbara, ‘What’s your name. It’s a symbol. Don’t talk.’. I think this is something that comes up when talking about your ideas—where you would focus on a certain ambiguity of meaning in opposition to giving a clear explanation, does this title allude to this kind of evasiveness at all?
GM: Sort of. I was in the desert for a month and I feel like titling work can be easy, or if it’s hard then it’s usually ‘Untitled’, aha ha. The work was a conversation of sorts between the residency program, gallery, curator, and contributing teenagers from the local school. I was keen for them to do whatever they wanted, like when people doodle on their desk or something. I used ‘landscape’ as a locus to calm their supervisor but said that anything is landscape and graffiti is too.
The title came from me watching an episode of Law and Order SVU while I was up there. When I finished painting for the day, I would get a big beer and watch SVU. I’m pretty sure in an episode one cop was like, ‘what’s your name?’ Then I walked out of the room and heard someone else say, ‘it’s a symbol’. Then after a bit I heard, ‘don’t talk’. It was cool, like a conversation that no one was really helping respond to or able to understand, which is how I saw the work function in its synthesis.
**In your description of that work, you talked about refusing an impulse towards relational aesthetics, and focusing more on just aesthetics—whether that be, the stylisation of an element of the painting, or the way the canvas was folded—can you tell me something about this approach to this project, but also your work in general?
GM: I think having the work be ‘collaborative’ was weird for me. I really don’t like collaboration in my painting practice, which is funny as I do it in other projects. I think that having the kids work on areas in their own ways (imagine the Stussy ’S’ but lots of them) didn’t really allow me to control style or any particular aesthetic. In a way, that was a particular departure for me to use recognisable and realistic subjects from then on, rather than have to fold to nuances and laboured abstraction in order to make something interesting.
**What happened to that mural in the end? I know part of it ended up on a wine bottle, but you’re also so hyper-productive that a lot of it ends up given away or in the trash. Did this one meet the same fate?
GM: LOL. That thing did the rounds. I was so sick of it that I cut it up into 10 pieces and a bunch of friends from all over the world bought pieces of it. I hope I never see it again. If I ever have a ‘your’e about to die’ show, I hope they can never find any of the pieces. I love that work, but it’s done its thing. I did another painting similar to this and it became covered in mould from being in my studio on the floor. I was so happy taking it to the bin 🙂
**You also used to work a lot with sculpture, and some video, then you had a period where you returned almost exclusively to painting, but tactility and form was still so central. Would you still call the work sculpture?
GM: I think so. Essentially, all those other mediums I was playing around with were process for painting. I would usually have to validate that process by executing painting, so I thought that that became superfluous, also time-consuming. Like having a photograph and then the image of it re-presented, hung side-by-side, that material exploration can happen behind the scenes. I think now, with more recognisable subjects, the circuit is shorter. If I were to use other media in the future it would probably be confusing the paintings. Then that just falls into post-internet consolidation, which I don’t think I’m particularly interested in. **
“To be honest, I do think the majority of people in our time now are in some sort of intersectionality,” writes Rui Ho via email about the dual perspective of being a Guandong-born artist ordinarily based in Berlin. “I hope to provide a solution for all the ‘other’ kids, who are not 100 percent comfortable in existing and creating in only one culture.” The producer is writing from China, where she’s been quarantining since right before German lockdown. Having seen the situation unfold through friends and family at home, Ho was quick to recognise the warning signs and made the decision to move while others in Europe felt little urgency. “I am feeling much chiller now, just hoping that everyone I know are staying safe and this pandemic can be in the past very soon.”
In light of this new reality, Ho is one of 15 artists and producers who’ve contributed to AQNB’s even my dreams don’t go outsideart and music compendium, released on April 22 and intended to build positive momentum and financial support for our scene during the coronavirus crisis. Ho’s ‘Berserk’ is an ecstatic 8-bit-emulating rave number exploding with the discombobulating, cross-genre globalism only an internet-oriented artist living across countries could manage.
“My work is very much about exploring the way of expressions that are inspired by all my experiences,” Ho explains, whose story includes a strict upbringing in the coastal South China province she was born into, as well as university at Paris’ Sorbonne Nouvelle. There she studied cultural mediation, while her real education happened when she discovered the art of voguing—the New York ballroom house culture made famous by Madonna in the 90s. On moving to Germany four years ago, Ho was picked up by Berlin Community Radio‘s Incubator program at what she calls a ‘crucial time’ in her creative development, going on to drop two releases via Shanghai-based label Genome 6.66Mbp. Her most recent Wings of Light EP came out on London’s Objects Limited last year, drawing together trance, hardcore and jungle with Chinese folklore to create a compound intensity gesturing toward her own multidimensionality.
It’s with all this in mind, that Ho shared her thoughts on the “explosive, intense and manic” energy of here even my dreams don’t go outside contribution, aptly-titled ‘Berserk’, while working on finishing her album debut from home.
**There are a lot of literary references to your music, and you studied cultural mediation at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, how important is language to your music and style?
Rui Ho: To be honest, language is not a super important factor. I am not seeing myself as a poet or anything. I do believe in story telling and what I am doing, usually with a longer-length piece, is to create an interesting, loose storyline around it. The references are basically a guideline in exploring the themes, and help people better in understanding the music. It’s more of a supporting role in my music, and I do wish to simplify it even more so that it can feel more relevant to an even bigger audience.
**Many queer artists I’ve talked to have often referenced the internet as being an emancipatory space that defined their creative education early in life. You’ve mentioned there was little club culture that, at least you had access to in China and a lot of it came from online, is this an experience you can relate to at all?
RH: Oh, yes. That is definitely the case. Although, I would say the internet wasn’t the same as what it has become nowadays. But I still get most of my western musical ‘education’ online, and by buying bootleg CDs. It was very important in exploring my identity and building my musical taste. There was no club culture during the days I was growing up. At least not in my town, and I went to a very strict junior and high school. So listening to music online was sort of my only escape.
I can relate to the internet culture mostly after high school, especially after I moved to Europe and when SoundCloud was starting to get popular. I met a lot of people through SoundCloud, including all the people from Genome.
**I think that sonically and structurally this comes through a lot too, your music feels dislocated geographically and stylistically, is this a read you can relate to?
RH: Ah ha, yes. Totally. I mean, it’s really hard to pin down my music, and I kind of resist that as well. I talked about it in another interview about how being an outsider influenced how I make music and approach the world. The internet is definitely a space that allows people to express themselves however they want.
**I’m interested in your relationship to voguing, dance and also House of Ninja. Is there much crossover between your practice now?I’m also curious as to how one becomes a member in the worldwide network.
RH: Well, at the moment there isn’t a big crossover in my practice and voguing, but it’s definitely a huge influence and inspiration on my personal life. Maybe in the future I can combine it into my practice as well. The reason is that I haven’t really found the way to make sense out of implementing it. Because I know so much of the history of voguing. I respect it and don’t want to just be another artist exploding it and altering it into something else.
I got into House of Ninja when I was still studying in Paris. There is a much stronger scene in Paris due to the demography of Paris, the POC queer kids are very much in need of a subculture like this to express themselves. I was feeling super related to it when I was in Paris, and I started going to balls and classes, and eventually ended up walking in balls (participating). That’s how I have got recruited into the house. There isn’t a very strong guideline in how to recruit, but you have to be approached by a mother, and if you are willing to be a part of the house, you can.
**Stylistically, there’s been mention in press about hardcore, hard trance, jungle, as influences, while conceptually often referring to Chinese literature and folklore. I’d be interested to know more about specifics of how they influence your music, and what your personal relationship is to them…
RH: I love the intensity of all these rave-y sounds, and I am extremely drawn to the brighter and more emotional ways of using these elements. That’s why I love all the melodic ones so much better: progressive trance, happy hardcore, mákina, et cetera. I think it’d be really fun to combine the Chinese elements into these frameworks and see what emotions or movements that it can evoke in people.
**Also, while the musical references are kind of built around a framework drawing on a predominantly western canon, there are sonic and structural elements to the music that is reminiscent of a non-western sound (an erhu maybe), can you tell me something about those musical choices?
RH: I think that the contemporary pop music is built on a western structure, that’s decided by our history and it’s kind of a fact other than an opinion. Anything that doesn’t follow this structure will be thrown into the category of ‘world music’. My vision is quite simple, which is to make the most Chinese contemporary pop/experimental music, because if I chose to go into ‘world music’, the conversation wouldn’t really be there same. It’d be even harder to reach the younger generation.**
“I remember the first time we performed live, I felt like I had committed an obscenity. I remember feeling like I’d just been sick out my head on stage. Vernacular vomit,” writes Elvin Brandhi over email, responding to a question on the animated use of vocals in her music. “The illusion of separating yourself from your thoughts, pouring them out the head [in order to] free the head… giving it room to think?”
We are emailing in the lead up to tomorrow’s release of AQNB’s even my dreams don’t go outside compendium, for which Elvin Brandhi contributes the frenetic vocalisations of her new track ‘Wifi ft. Melody,’ premiering on the site today. Elvin has performed visceral improvised music extensively as one half of father-daughter duo Yeah You, releasing on the likes of Opal Tapes, Alter and more. Her solo work is rife with a feeling of physicality meeting its dissolution through technology. In her 2019 release Shelf Life for C.A.N.V.A.S., erratic vocal streams of consciousness accompany densely atmospheric sounds of digital neurosis. The EP is coupled with an ambiguous press text that, read now, has oddly prescient echoes of the coming 2020 pandemic: “The supermarket social network obliterates the surface of material hybridising, detaining all movement to self enclosed unit reductions”.
Elvin’s hyper-awareness of both embodiment and digital media in her work makes her a keen commentator on the situation under COVID-19 lockdown. “‘Live’ music is not just about connecting with a real performer but with a group of living bodies, the spectacle isn’t everything,” Elvin notes on the topic. “A lot of producers feel it is the audience who embody the music, make it live, in their real psycho-somatic experience of it.” This sentiment was explored last month in Yeah You’s live stream for Cafe OTO, where the duo took to motorways recording roadside improvisations, an ongoing practice of theirs. In the midst of the pandemic, these performances capture perfectly the alone together isolationism of the present.
Communicating over email with Elvin is a fitting platform considering her knack for lyricism along with her consciousness of technological disembodiment. We chat topics spanning the voice, internet aesthetics, improvisation and the “silicon” separating audiences of livestreams.
** One of the most memorable live streams I’ve seen recently was the Yeah You roadside performances you did for Cafe OTO. Footage of the motorway, people separated by their cars; it really captured the anxiety of our rewritten relationship with the urban environment during the pandemic. Do you have any thoughts on broadcast media and how it can be toyed with in new ways at the moment under lockdown?
Elvin Brandhi: Doing the car sessions is for us a very normal part of day-to-day life, but the circumstances of the live stream changed the dynamic completely. The idea of this becoming a performance at Cafe OTO! (Which, because of the intimacy of the space, is always a really intense socially engaged experience.) I felt like we were grappling for what it would have been, upping the theatre, lapping ourselves, overflowing through the camera into screens. I felt the silicon separating the audience and our performance to be a provocative intrusion, but a necessary one, like an antiseptic sting. It was a barbaric attempt at being real for a virtual platform.
** The voice is a really loaded instrument, it has so many narrative and cultural connotations. How do you approach the way you use your voice and what it does stylistically for your tracks?
EB: I do not associate the drive to vociferate with a desire to sing, I’ve never remembered thinking I could sing. I approach it via linguistic kinetics; reap the voice as the substance of subjectivity, an immaterial organ. In Yeah You I try to shout the words out of the head, spit language out, an impossible attempt to empty the head of cognitive baggage. Sounding-out, in an impulse to oust oneself out of yourself. In my production I often use my voice as a sampler, synth, or hit, in a much more disguised and un-personified way.
** How has your improvisation practice with your father in Yeah You informed how you go about your work as a solo artist?
EB: The improvising DIY impulse definitely applies to the way I use samples, my resourcefulness and collage approach. I’m pretty chaotic, because even in compositions I’m usually trying to capture what seems like a fleeting sentiment. I always thought I’d be an author when I was young. Writing music is definitely more in the plot, character or world-weaving realm, but sound communicates beyond embedded logic, un-inhibited by semiotic connotations. Then Yeah You is wallowing in words. I think I satisfy the narrative-impulse via these two poles.
** Where do lyrics fit into your process, or how do you approach your practice and inspirations as a writer?
EB: It’s funny because I find it really hard to sing on any of my own beats, I know them too well, so when I come to sing, I’m too conscious. I never write lyrics that I sing. The key to my lyrical flow is NOT THINKING!
The rant-antic, screamo-essay style, rummaging through cognitive baggage, personifying dogmas, ideological extremes, exorcising imperatives, personifying concepts and ideologies… improvising maxims, truisms, improverb-ising! Like a Quack doctor or joker, whose truth is momentum more than the content. I remember someone once asking “who is she so angry with?” I don’t really see it as anger, it’s a kind of aesthetics of insistence, defiance of apathy.
** Your sound palette sits quite well among some internet native electronic music — experimental producers playing with club textures but not restricted by genre. Though you also seem really comfortable collaborating and working in improvisation lineages. How do you see your work fit in with past experimental music traditions?
EB: There’s embodied and disembodied sides of my work. Improv is the embodied. Part of the original challenge of being part of an improv noise scene for me was the alchemical experiment of co-fusing with anyone no matter how much your two repertoires jar. In any context, regardless of audience expectations. Other than Yeah You this is the aim of the project BAHK, in collaboration with Daniel Blumberg. A zaum inspired clash of acoustic song writing, electronics, improv and performance.
Ableton is the disembodied side of my work. It is similar to drawing or painting in that you transfer yourself, into another material, interface, body. Immaterialising. Internet native is the right term. Aside from many specific artists, I am hugely inspired by the aesthetics of the internet in general. The aberrant flow of sound-snippets as we flick through diverse contexts and voices, history… interrupted by adverts, notifications, ideological pollution and communal connectivity in the same weightless abyss. I called one of my first self-released EPs Internet songs. I have a defective craving for tinny, suffocated, compressed sonics, flattened landscapes, that definitely correlates to the laptop speakers, iPhone earplugs, radios. I promote background noise to lead vocalist!
** Do you think music has a role to play in helping redefine our interactions in isolation?
EB: I have felt moved by the genuine reciprocity and mutual support between artists and organisations, which is most visible during these times of infrastructural collapse. Our appreciation for music is de-capitalised, its function as personal/communal support, stimulation and catharsis is rectified. Artists may be financially dependent on the music industry, but we are first and foremost dependent on the solace of sound.
I’ve long noticed how important music has been for displaced communities, as an immaterial platform of cultural affiliation which again defies physical restrictions. For people afflicted with mobility restrictions the internet music community provides vital portals for hearing and being heard. [It lets] otherwise disconnected scenes infiltrate and play a part in shaping contemporary aesthetics. My friend who runs Root radio in Istanbul — hosting a diverse range of artists from across the world — said when the lockdown began: “We’re all stuck now, I don’t feel alone anymore!”
I think the live streamed events are especially important in these times, for both musicians and audiences. I have been tuning in to most of Cafe OTO and TOPH’s streams, and I keep finding loads more. It is interesting how different watching things in real time makes them. Somehow the idea of sharing the same physical time, [compensates] our inability to share the same space. Public time instead of Public space.**