From Transgression to Restriction to Sustainable Hedonism

Dear 2120,

I imagine that you’re busy. Busy doing things unfathomable to us, but pedestrian, maybe even tedious to you. Be it communicating techno-telepathically with the entire world all at once; purging yourself, odourlessly, of feces in some wonder machine of the future instead of taking a smelly, old-timey crap; or maybe just cleaning up the steaming pile of crap we left you with. My sincere apologies if  it’s the third, turd-shovelling option. In that case, we failed to get it together for some deranged reason. ‘Together’ being the operative word.

Even so, in the hope that you might be interested in hearing about what went before what is now, I’ve written a message for perusal at your convenience. I’m hoping that it might offer some insight. Maybe even some kind of explanation for whatever you currently find yourself in.

It starts in my formative years, the 1990s. That’s when I got into skateboarding, music, beer, marijuana and girls. Back then, we listened to angry, militant hip hop, abrasive metal, grunge, techno and indie-rock. Sometimes the genres would merge and cross paths, creating bastardized off-shoots like rap-metal.

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Public Enemy and Anthrax fistbumping in the early 1990s. 

Running through it all was the narrative of what you might call transgressive subversion. Public Enemy and NWA, the voices of black, disenfranchised youth, stuck it to systemic oppression, Rage Against the Machine raged against the machine, metal stuck it to prevailing notions of bourgeois decency, Autechre, Orbital and The Prodigy stuck it to the Criminal Justice Bill and Kurt Cobain stuck it to just about everyone – including, in the end, himself. Telling ‘the man’ to fuck off was what it was about back then. In hindsight, some of it was probably a tad self-righteous and naïve. The youth cultural movements of the 90s purported to speak for the downtrodden, but largely neglected the unfairly stacked challenges faced by developing countries. To a certain degree, it was untamed neoliberalism with a humanitarian sheen – as thoroughly documented by Naomi Klein in her 1999 book ‘No Logo.’

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In my twenties, the 00s, awkwardly named the ‘noughties’, it was probably more about transgression than subversion. As the birth of Transgressive Records in 2004 would seem to support.

In the wake of 90s political correctness and identity politics fatigue, the 80s made a big, brazen comeback and with it cascades of electro, punk, synth-freakery and cocaine reentered culture’s cutting-edge. Revivals come around every 20 years where I’m from (I suspect that you might have an astute observation to make about that based on your historical overview) and the 80s in the noughties was, overwhelmingly, about partying hard and ‘not giving a fuck’ in skillfully disheveled, punk-tinged ensembles. About transgressing boundaries and doing things deemed off-limits by your hippie-baby-boomer mother/father. Looking and acting like a douchebag uncle with a filthy little mustache and an ilicit drug habit, was suddenly your ticket to getting laid. This all made sense at the time, believe it or not.

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Death from Above 1979 being their very 00s selves. 

On the whole, I think that the unifying theme in the transgressions of the noughties was the quest for freedom. Freedom from constraints, freedom from shame and guilt, freedom from categorization and labels, the freedom to be an arrogant diva and/or a self-centered asshole, the freedom to dress like a confusing mess with a jumbled-up aesthetic somehow existing outside the tyranny of being nailed down to a specific era. That, and not taking things too seriously. There was definitely a playful element to things back then.

In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with wanting freedom. The trouble with an urgent belief in freedom from everything, including responsibility, is that it impinges on other people’s freedom in unseen an unforeseen ways. It’s just plain antisocial. Admittedly, this went way over my head when I was 25 in 2005.

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Photo of a careless me getting ‘hyphy’ circa 2005.

At some point in the late 2000s, what started out as refreshing irreverence in the face of stale, self-righteous sanctimony began to fester and transform into its own kind of stifling bullshit. A wanna-be reckless, heavily orchestrated lifestyle, (which shall remain nameless here mainly because I’m sick of uttering said lifestyle’s deeply problematic label) that so desperately tried to be free and new, but was ultimately snared in by all the unseen reins of the past. In any case, countless blogs and articles dedicated to calling out and mocking the allegedly oblivious, ego-centered cultural elite started popping up left, right and center.

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Broadly speaking, in somewhat simplified terms, I think it was the combination of the global recession of 2008 and the growing, physical realization that we were doing irreversible harm to a planet with finite resources, creeping in gradually through the cultural cracks, which ultimately permeated everything and made mustachioed creatives and fashion-forward designers seem irresponsible and oblivious. Knowing that you’re fucking the planet on an abstract, theoretical level is very different to knowing it physically. When it really gets under your skin, when it seeps into every pore and the all-too-real real possibility of your partaking in the escalating apocalypse intermingles with your molecular structure, it completely knocks the wind out of your sails. To the point of needing an escape route; an exit from the great depression caused by the seemingly impending End of the World. For some people the escape became the identification of a scapegoat. Sure enough, around 2008, creatives became that scapegoat. People needed a vent and the vent was aimed squarely at all the designers, graphic designers, musicians, artists and gallery owners who purportedly failed to care about the important issues of the day (paradoxically, though, a lot of so-called conscientious observers were targeting themselves with their bashing. But that’s another story).

So, to sum it up, we went from the narrative of transgression to the narrative of restriction. Limiting yourself in all aspects of life, living frugally, reflectively and conscientiously while sporting ecologically-grown facial hair was the logical conclusion to the recklessness of the 2000s. It was the responsible, detoxing hangover cure following a decade of being mindlessly drunk on extroverted fun and games. PC and ID politics dusted themselves off and tried again, to paraphrase the great poet Aaliyah, clearing the stage for new and fresh takes on 90s anti-patriarchy, like intersectional feminism, the Black Lives Matter Movement, LGBT rights and innumerable, other worthy, ‘woke’ ways to limit and restrict the damage done by the careless, self-absorbed noughties.

Finitude and finality of resources, the idea that our planet is anything but a boundless reservoir of fossilized energy, finally etched itself indelibly into our collective psyche, creating vertigo-inducing, introverting cerebral wounds that we’re likely still recovering from. Hence all the apathy and failure to act. Adding to that, I think a certain transgressivist individualism, as mapped out by Adam Curtis in several documentaries, is proving incredibly hard to shake. It seems to underpin everything from the person-obsessed art world to the upper echelons of global capital. Negotiating the paradigmatic shift from the cult of individualism to a new kind of collectivism that gets everyone onboard regardless of political orientation is undoubtedly the great challenge of our generation. As the late, great cultural theorist and author of the highly recommendable book Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher AKA K-punk puts it in an interview on the book:

'The thing is it's nobody's fault, you can say, in a genuine sense, but that is the problem - because there is no agent 
capable of acting. There's no agent at the moment that's capable of taking responsibility for a 
problem on the scale of the environmental catastrophe that we're facing. Instead, it's contracted out 
to us as individuals as if we could do anything about it by simply putting plastic in the right bin. That 
won't solve the environmental catastrophe that we're up against. The only thing that can solve it is 
the production of an agent capable of acting. But of course nothing like that has ever existed 
throughout human history until now - which doesn't mean it can't exist, but that we're in very new 
territory.'

As an incorrigible optimist, I have to believe that we’ll somehow produce this first-time occurrence in the history of the world: a collective agent capable of acting on behalf of the atomized human race. Dropping the ball on the future of the planet isn’t really an option. If this message is to have a recipient, we clearly need to jettison our cynicism, stop our pathological fixation on fictional doomsday scenarios, curb alarmist clickbait headlines, and relinquish a billion bad habits that have colonized our biological harddrives into submission. Moreover, it’s essential that we make doing the right appealing to everyone. Not just people with fancy educations and unlimited surplus energy.

Thankfully, progressive initiatives following that line of thought are in the works. Danish architect Bjarke Ingels has recognized that restriction and limitation aren’t among the most inspiring or sexy virtues in the world. He calls his architecture ‘hedonistic sustainability’ presumably as a way to dispel the notion that sustainable living has to be about tasteless vegetables and acquiring nervous tics about carbon footprints. On the face of it, at least, it seems a progressive philosophy, attempting to reconcile the forces of modernity with the critical necessity of reconfiguring the cannibalizing consumption of late capitalism.

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The Hualien Residencies in Taiwan designed by BIG/Bjarke Ingels Group.

Other than attempting to make us an interplanetary species and possibly overdoing the acid, Elon Musk is making sustainability look dynamic and appealing by creating swish, affordable electric cars and nice, solar roof shingles that don’t cost an arm and a leg. It looks like sustainability can actually be good for your bottom line, not to mention your cultural capital, all of which you have to understand is incredibly important here in late capitalism. In the long run, people here in 2017 usually prefer the dynamic and the active to the static and restrictive.

Still, we have long-ass way to go, to use a a contemporary colloquialism. These initiatives are at best small, anomalous ripples in a sea of excrement. Trump was recently elected president and he instilled a cabinet, which largely denies the proven reality of anthropogenic climate change. In turn, reality in the early 21st century is getting increasingly surreal and scary.

If you’re living in a worst case scenario, this message might seem the like the deranged, deeply offensive, frighteningly clueless cries of a 7-year-old, convinced that the world will bend to his petulant whims. On the contrary, if you’re living in a best case scenario, if we made it, and you’re living the fifth generation or so of the internet, you’ll probably just be hopped up on some benign version of Soma, thinking that  I’m old, stuffy and irrelevant.

All things considered, I guess I can live with that. Just know that in a hundred years from 2120, someone will probably think the same about you, old sport.

Erosion Flow

Dear 2120,

If you have a moment to spare away from the futuristic sounds being channeled into your technologically enhanced ears via your retinal interface, I’d like to introduce you to a thoughtful young man from Copenhagen instilled with a prodigious talent for making evocative, electronic music filled with history, memory and uplifting melancholy.

Henrik Koefoed Petersen is a producer/musician who calls himself Erosion Flow; a name that succinctly communicates how he captures the restless flow of the moment in the face of the inevitable, and transforms it into deeply personal, uncompromising dance music infused with spine-tingling flourishes of rave, bass music, house and IDM.

This futurist is of the opinion that Henrik has the required talent, vision and technological wherewithal to create a new musical legacy, and, as the title of my blog  implies, I think it might just remain relevant in 2120. Hell, he’s only 23. If scientific research into cell regeneration doesn’t get derailed, he’ll probably be around when you read this message.

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Make no mistake, Erosion Flow is the sound of 2017. And yet, part of the reason that it feels so unequivocally now is its flagrant disregard for the majority of musical developments and trends happening right now. With a deftly calibrated balance between the opposing forces of past, present and homegrown idiosyncrasies, it resonates a moment time in its stubborn, intuitive inconsistency. Also, I probably don’t need to tell you this, but owing to a certain president, culture tends to get politicized in this day and age. Henrik, however, has chosen a different path. A reflective sensibility with an inherently skeptical approach to politicized intent in popular music – despite keen awareness of his privilege and the global music scene’s uneven power structures. Currently signed to Martyn’s 3024 label, the output is, in the rising producer’s own words, ‘music for the people.’ Freed from gimmicks and actively opposed to religious, political and ideological agendas, it is, simply put, very no-bullshit and pretty great.

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Central to making music is memory. Interestingly, Erosion Flow works in a giant, collective memory bank. Like a younger, dance music version of the BBC archive-dwelling, documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, the Copenhagener works part-time in the musical archive of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation where he digitizes formats of old while soaking up the dusty, analogue vibrations of the DBC’s vast, inanimate music recollection.

One sunny Friday in March I went to visit Henrik with our photographer, Anton, in his two music lairs. Starting out in the archives of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, we had a chat about musical memory, the ethics of sampling and inspirations and influences, finally ending up in his Nordvest studio for a talk about the Copenhagen scene, the politics of contemporary dance music and intuition in the creative process.

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So here we are in the musical archives of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation – what’s it like working here as a producer/musician?

Working at the archives really has made me much more humble. Going through all of the different music has put a lot of things in perspective, especially when it comes to credits on music. That’s also why I don’t sample any of the records here either. I think working in the archives has matured my take on music. And the sampling debate, which has been a hot topic for some years, especially the implicit issues of cultural appropriation, had added to that. All that stuff definitely had an influence on the way I now source my sample material, and has made me think a lot more about my personal relation to the sources I draw upon.

That’s why I’m pretty focused on trying to only use sounds that are of a certain personal significance to me. I still think sampling is great, but I’ve just come to a point where there’s no sense in sampling random stuff; there has to be a connection to the sounds I use. Lately I’ve been running my iPhone through synthesizers, and I’ve found a lot Youtube-clips from stuff like the And1 Basketball Mixtapes and video game interludes, which traces memories back to when I was growing up, so it creates a nostalgic aura in the tracks. Even if it just floats very subtle in the background, it still evokes a lot of emotion for me.

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Did you follow the appropriation debate around Jamie XX and Romare and their use of samples?

Yeah, I did read that stuff. I must say, that I’m in no way the right person to judge, since I don’t know either of their personal relation to the music they’ve sampled. But those incidents, definitely made me reconsider how I personally went about sourcing sounds and samples for my music.

The thing is, that most of the people I know making club music today are, like me, from Caucasian, middle-class, suburban backgrounds. And when I started out making music as a teenager, I didn’t have the knowledge about where the records I sampled were from, or what the history behind them were; I only went after the sound and to see if I could add something extra to the track I was producing. But today I feel very different, and I wouldn’t let myself source anything directly from another artist, to benefit my own music.

I think it’s important that the people doing that also stand accountable and acknowledge where the original comes from.


Does the kind of music you work with here at the archive influence you?
It’s hard to say if there’s a direct influence. I think it’s more of a subconscious thing. It’s inspiring in the way that you’ll stumble across stuff that has a completely different approach to music, than that of my own. For instance I have been digitalizing a lot of the Folkways Records music, which is an American, state-subsidized initiative from the late 1940s created to record and preserve music from around the world, especially tribal music from lesser technologically advanced places on earth. That thing really blew my mind, as to how you can look at music so differently, due to your cultural background and heritage. And even though local hotbeds around on the house and techno scene still exist today, in a broader picture, there is so much stuff you can’t differentiate because everyone is pretty much using the exact same soft- and hardware.

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In the studio.

If we talk about different formats a bit, vinyl has experienced a resurgence, and other obsolete formats like cassette tape are rearing their heads. What’s your take on that?

It’s great that people are pressing vinyl and that the pressing plants are keeping busy! I hope that more will follow to open and that it’s not a short-lived resurgence. But for me personally, it’s never really been about the formats, though. I enjoy playing vinyl when out DJing, but my own releases have always been available digitally as well, and I will continue to make them available. I want my music to be accessible to everyone with an interest in it. And I guess I believe too much in technological determinism to only release stuff on vinyl. I do have a proclivity for nostalgia, but that’s much more about personal experiences. That’s also why I think it’s interesting to use the contemporary, digital hell of Youtube and stuff like that for sourcing sounds, even though many would argue that the sound quality is much better through vinyl- or tape compression. But I think it’s interesting to use current technology, and not romanticize the sound of now.

Youtube is an interesting topic. In his book Retromania, Simon Reynolds makes the case that the platform has played a central part in creating a generation of creatives obsessed with the past by enabling them to make 1:1 copies – by looking at videos as opposed to the creative output that comes from misremembering influences. What’s your take on that?

For sure! YouTube is an extremely efficient portal when it comes to tracing down the ins and outs of any type of production, and it has also been key for me when I started making music. But I agree that there’s definitely a flipside to that. There’s so much music simply trying to recreate the past that is being put out, especially within house and techno. But regarding that, I also think it has a lot to do with the origins of the genres being so closely connected to specific hardware. Like the fact that you could easily create a simple Chicago/Acid House track if you were to get your hands on a 303, 808 and a M1 or even if you found some reasonable digital duplicates of those machines and then found out how to make the “correct” rhythmic patterns, chord progressions, etc.

That thing is definitely hard for me to see the point in; not wanting to risk anything and simply putting the least amount of personality into the music.

In your own music, you sometimes use elements that could be considered classic. What do you get out of that?

I’ve pretty much grown up using what I have had at my disposal. I’m very fortunate to be in a studio, where some of my friends have a lot of vintage gear I can use as well. But it’s never about recreating certain sounds I’ve heard before, it’s much more about digging a bit deeper by blending different sonic textures both digital and analog, and trying to create something unique that also captures the vibe and the feeling I’m having when in the studio. In that way I like to see it as a reconceptualization of various elements from club music’s past, put into a new context.

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How would you describe the scene in Copenhagen?

To be honest, I’m probably not the best at participating in it – but from what I see, hear and the parties I go to, it seems like it’s pretty healthy at the moment!
For me it’s always been about creating my own bubble. This bubble pretty much only includes my close friend Andreas (producer for Saint Cava – ed.).
I’ve learned that if you let too many in, you might lose your focus. It can end up taking the wind out of your sails, and you can loose track of the vision you had from the beginning. I think it’s about creating a balance where you are in a comfortable environment to create independently, but remain susceptible to impressions with a critical sense, so you can actively select the ones that are useful and inspiring to what you’re doing. Growing older and getting more mature has definitely helped me establish the right balance.

There’s seems to be a carefully tuned balance between melancholy and euphoria in your music. I guess you could call it uplifting melancholy? Is that something you actively strive to work into the music – is it something you’re aware of?

That’s a very hard question. Because it’s down to the feeling I have and the atmosphere I’m in when I write the music in the studio. Something I’ve learned from working with Martyn and releasing on his label was that energy is paramount when it comes to club music. But regarding the melancholic elements, I guess it has become a defining characteristic of my music – it’s just the vibe I’m into. I realized that when I made ‘Syvv’ last year; But I like to think it’s more of a withdrawn, reflective kind of euphoria. I think that’s pretty close to my personality. I’m more the reflective type and I need some kind of emotional triggering in music, otherwise it’s quite hard for me to respond to. Making techno tools, even though I love playing them, just isn’t for me. I need to cram as much personality and emotion as I can into my music.

Does the melancholy thing have anything to do with the general state of the world? Do you get influenced by what’s happening around us?

That’s the kind of question that everyone wants to say yes to at the moment, I feel. I mean, of course I’m aware and I definitely think that those emotions are in everyone’s subconscious. But personally, the only political agenda I have is to get my music as far away from politics as possible in a sense. My music is for the people; it’s really not about politics. It’s created as a free space, where all of that can be forgotten for a moment as cliché as that may sound.

Personally I’m quite opposed to religion and ideology, but I respect people living their lives how they want, of course. I’m just personally more into technology and I think that plays a much more important part in affecting positive change for the future.

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Why are you called Erosion Flow?

After loosing my old laptop and all of my music after a burglary, I kind of shifted into a different mindset regarding music. There needed to be more focus, instead of just making tracks with no purpose or no personality. This was around the time when I went out quite a lot in Copenhagen. While we were out, I suddenly started thinking that I’d like a name, which reminded me of that fact that I needed to roll on and keep things fluid somehow. It’s actually the closest thing to a spiritual mindset for me, I guess. If I have any kind of religion I follow, that’s it. So it became Erosion Flow. Erosion is a naturally occurring phenomenon that just happens, and I juxtaposed it with flow, which has these technological connotations – like media that just keep going. It’s not because I want to make it into this huge thing, but it has actually given me a lot in terms of creativity and perspective. In the end, I try to make music in a flow without getting caught up in minor, unnecessary details.

IMG_2133 Erosion Flow artwork by Andreas Vasegaard

www.soundcloud.com/erosion-flow  

No Future by Moiré

Dear 2120,

Starting off a post on a futurist blog with the words No Future might seem counterintuitive, but It’s getting prettty intense here in 2017. Unless history has been rewritten and/or altered by some totalitarian overlord in your time, you’ll know that we currently find ourselves teetering on the brink of global upheaval.

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The environment that sustains us is being pimped out by crypto-oligarchs in the name of short-sighted greed; our civil liberties are eroded through omnipresent digital surveillance; the wealth and dwindling resources are concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite, creating widespread instability; populist xenophobia and poisonous ideology are sweeping a sizable chunk of civilization; and in the midst of this deeply unsettling slippery slope of counterproductive irrationality, Donald Trump, the reality TV star turned President of the USA, the spray-tanned Commander-in-chief with the world’s most powerful military at his disposal, is getting increasingly irate and unpredictable, declaring war on the free press while orchestrating  boneheaded tweets that reveal his thin-skinned egomania and alarming lack of statesmanship.

Usually, I’d find some way to make light of a messed-up situation, but the state of the world is so goddamn depressing that my optimism has taken a dystopian beating. The future – Your future – is looking pretty murky from where I’m standing.

The good news is that people are starting to wake up from their apathetic, apolitical slumber. Activists from across the spectrum are making their voices heard  and art, creativity and popular culture are finally stepping up to acknowledge their influence and responsibility. Take Moiré, a gifted London-based producer, making experimental techno.

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His latest album ‘No Future’ (Ghostly International), resonates the creeping fear and disorienting  paranoia, enveloping the 21st century metropolis, following the unsightly side-effects brought on by the neoliberal dream of market-driven globalization and the steady descent into economic and political turmoil.

Armed with a potent arsenal of production skills and a refreshingly warped take on house and techno, the former architect effortlessly immerses you in a bleak, yet strangely uplifting wasteland of urban decay and gritty melancholia. It’s somehow always raining on tinted, opague windows in Moiré’s dense, beat-saturated dystopia. While it is in no way a call to arms or a manifest urging us to fight the power, it does in certain ways feel like a first, tentative step towards a kind of redemption. A way of overcoming our fears by naming them. Of solving the problem by shouting it from the rooftops, the shouting packaged in dark, compelling machine-funk.

moiresI’m under no illusion that a techno album will solve the world’s problems. But I think it’s reasonable to assume that we have to start somewhere? To me at least, this feels like some kind of beginning.  If nothing else, ‘No Future’ makes one hell of a soundtrack for dancing into the fire – to paraphrase (the distinctly apolitical) Duran Duran.

Theorizing on the transformative nature of globalization, the recently deceased sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, once claimed that ‘one cannot stay put in moving sands.’ I’d argue that this particular musician has grabbed hold of a bold, illuminating torch to shine a flickering light on the darkened quicksand that we’re all, stunned and robot-like, sinking ourselves into. Whether or not the LP is emblematic of movement, change or mobility remains to be seen.

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Actually, If I’m honest with myself, it feels as if you’re gradually sliding out of view. Like that time in Back to the Future when Marty sees the McFlys fading from the family photo. I don’t mean to sound impotent or feckless, but if you have a time machine, now might be a good time to drop by for a discreet little intervention.