A new item from the ever-intense Repitch record label crossed my desk this week, the "After the Social" EP by Chicago producer Stave. Unlike much of the histrionic silliness that gets labeled as "trance" music, this material more successfully invokes the self-dissolution through over-saturation of the senses that was the hallmark of traditional (shamanic) trance states. That said, a sense of palpable threat is also continually transmitted in the motifs that Stave puts to work: ambient swells, agitated cardiac thumps and rhythmic crackles that seem to communicate in a pareidolic fashion, making this both a very appropriate addition to the Repitch lineup and a very useful secret weapon in DJ sets that steer away from blissful reassurances. The A-side's "Hardened Chord" and the final cut "Paid Jazz" both feel like they could be used for a documentary film on either psychomimetic chemicals or stars going supernova, such is the expulsion of energy that these tracks provide with their dirge tones and massive percussive walls.
With his music thus composed, it's not really a surprise that celebrated beat murderer Regis should join in the fun with a remix of "Hardened Chord." With the accuracy of an atomic clock and a dark spiritual tinge to the proceedings, it's very fitting that Aleister Crowley's sampled voice is occluded in the intro and outro of Regis' remix (the Great Beast did, after all, aim for "the method of science, the aim of religion.") Many would shy away from inviting to the party another producer who has the potential to upstage them, but Stave has plenty of reason not to worry about that.
Now, a little item included in the EP's press kit also caught my attention - namely, Regis' official press release - and I feel this is worthy of a larger discussion in and of itself. This thumbnail sketch is almost comically brief by the standards of such literature, making no mention of the 'career highlights' and discographical DNA that usually pad such texts, and hinting at the fact that certain items of information will continue to remain undisclosed (e.g. "Karl O'Connor is almost certainly Regis, and it is also highly probably that he propagates other pseudoynms.") Instead of a litany of successful DJ residencies and acclaimed records, Regis instead suggests what he hasn't done as a distinguishing feature: of the record label Downwards, co-owned with production partner Steve Sutton / Female, the press release rhetorically asks "what label can boast a back catalogue free of the industry standard cash cow remix?" His success, meanwhile, is attributed not to his positive charisma, but again to a key act of refusal: "by decentralising the focus on the DJ / producer personality, he remains one of the more highly regarded forces in the British techno / electronic scene."
A cursory bit of research shows that Regis in not bluffing: though he seems to be elicit plenty of elegiac comments on online forums and is sought after as a collaborator (Sandwell District and British Murder Boys being just a couple of his more noted collaborative projects), there is a sense that most of this has been earned on the strength of energies that he has congealed into artistic works, and that little to no pandering or gimmickry was required to achieve all this. Though he is not completely allergic to the p.r. machine, granting sporadic interviews and having a couple press photos available here and there, he is closer on the 'publicity spectrum' to fellow techno artists like Function, himself notable for the way in which "[he] has successfully avoided any Internet appearances so far…so you won't find a direct Facebook page or web page [for him]."[i]
I'm intrigued by O'Connor's indifference to the "focus on the DJ / producer personality" because, although we can only speculate about things like true intentions, it doesn't feel as contrived as some other varieties of resistance to ubiquitous social networking or to simple 'hype'. That is to say, his methods don't come across to me as simply being a roundabout way of sculpting a personal mythos for public consumption: shrouding oneself in mystery so as to win more public curiosity, or creating a false sense of scarcity in order to exploit consumers' attraction to the same. By way of contrast, major pop-cultural events, particularly the 2013 release of rapper Kanye West's Yeezus LP, used aspects of anti-promotion to ostensibly make a bold statement about authenticity, but these have since been drowned in a wave of public theatrics - crashing music industry award presentations, etc. - nearly identical to those that West engaged in before Yeezus' release. Though Yeezus did take some promotional risks atypical of such a major release - being packaged in a naked jewel case that made it look for all the world like a classic Raster-Noton CD - these innovations come too late in the career of someone expected to make his personality the central concern of his work. True indifference to self-promotion is not a matter of choosing a public relations strategy of 'information withholding' rather than one of full information disclosure, it is a matter of letting one's works take on their own lives. From there, it is a matter of enjoying the drama surrounding how these works' core ideas become accepted and re-interpreted by completely different personalities, if not by completely different creative movements and cultures.
Anti-promotion has also been, in the history of O'Connor's chosen genre, more of a matter of necessity than of stylistic choice, and I believe the latter is a residue of an earlier time in which the 'scene' depended upon clandestine activity to remain alive. In spite of the inclusive and communal characteristics projected by much of techno culture, its parties and events took place in an alternative infrastructure that was rarely legally sanctioned by local authorities - thus the culture traditionally had to play its cards close to its chest for practical reasons. Full advance disclosure of parties' locations could easily lead to their being prematurely shut down, a fact that encouraged the now famous habit of making last-minute announcements about these locations via special phone hotlines or maps that could be found at a sympathetic record store shortly before the kickoff of the event. And speaking of record stores, some retailers specializing in techno, such as Somewhere In Detroit (once advertised as "the world's most exclusive record store"), also functioned as appointment-only locations rather than as the more common "walk-in" retail stores.
There is something magical about this kind of clandestinity, about maintaining enough anonymity and privacy to act creatively first and to seek out public consensus second (if at all.) Creative acts carried out with minimal promotion are valuable not because they evince anti-sociality or selfishness, but because they involve an essential period of simply being fascinated with sensory impressions - e.g. the way in which bathroom reverberations can inspire bouts of singing in the shower while (hopefully) nobody else is in the house. A personal love affair with one's ability to perceive should, ideally, precede the courting of a public, and the nurturing of this romance is nearly impossible when the constant surveillance of peers makes one dwell disproportionately on whether or not their work is likeable.
It is my belief that the arts of the near future are going to become more, rather than less, polarized regarding the question of self-promotion - established art markets like techno music will be noticeable fronts in this struggle, but certainly not the only ones. There will be ever more distinct divisions between creative individuals who abrogate the need to have their public personae included in their works, and those who feel that self-promotion is an art in and of itself. This is not to say that the latter "artist-as-artwork" mode of creation is completely bankrupt or incapable of making an interesting statement. However, the heroic period of "artist-as-artwork" is flickering out - my sympathies lie with the artists who have heard the Warholian dictum that anyone can be a "Superstar," yet still realized there were more interesting things to be.
[i] Chris Liebing quoted at "CLR Poscast #160." Retrieved from http://www.cl-rec.com/pod/podcast, April 24 2013.