fugitive frequency, season 4 episode 2: disarming peace

A silhouette of a figure, backlit standing on a stage. The image is rendered in greyscale as a negative.
1. “Anti War Dub” – Digital Mystikz On 26 January 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found [YouTube] there was a case for potential genocide being carried out by Israel in Gaza. The court stopped short of recommending a provisional cease fire and rather required Israel report back in one month about measures taken to address its concerns (legally binding for member states). My friend, the artist Sybille Neumeyer, responding to the ongoing loss of (civilian) lives commented that there is no longer a neutral position. Indeed, I’ve heard arguments in Berlin that calling for a cease fire opposes Israel’s right to self-defence and is thus antisemitic—an accusation that can lead to serious repercussions in Germany. This episode is a playlist/meditation on how peace activism has become weaponized, reflecting on my experiences at Transmediale and CTM festivals this year. 2. “Afrotek” – Scratcha DVA The context of this episode is the Strike Germany campaign, that began in January 2024 when the Berlin Senate announced that it would adopt an anti-discrimination act as a condition of its cultural funding, which included a controversial working definition of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). It reads:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

To which the Berlin Senate added an extension which conflates criticism of Israel with the persecution of Jewish people. This decision was protested by a significant part of the cultural community in Berlin (see this letter signed by numerous Berlin-based artists and cultural workers). Strike Germany deploys similar tactics of Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS), understood as a means of peaceful protest used with success against apartheid South Africa. The BDS movement against Israel has been banned in several countries and in 2019 the German Bundestag passed a resolution to outlaw it in Germany. This decision is subject to ongoing dispute (see this letter from artists, academics and cultural workers protesting this resolution). The Strike Germany campaign can also be read as a retaliation for the forced resignations of artists and cultural workers in Berlin who have been critical of Israel, notably from South Asia (eg the resignation of Documenta 16’s finding committee in November 2023 and the cancellation of Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie 2024 soon after). Strike Germany has had a significant impact on the cultural sector, initially in Berlin’s club scene/economy, with artists withdrawing from performances at its famous Berghain club. The “sister” festivals, Transmediale and CTM, held annually in late January and early February were also affected this year. London-based producer Scratcha DVA is one artist who announced  his withdrawal via Instagram, and whom I was looking forward to seeing in Berlin. This track “Afrotek” (2021) with Durban producer Mxshi Mo brings together UK bass and gqom [YouTube].
3. “ANG INTERNASYUNAL BUDOTS BOMB STYLE REMIX [SISONS GREETINGS!]” – Teya Logos CTM opened on 26 January, the day the IJC announced its findings, so it seems significant that the festival’s first club night at the aforementioned Berghain featured a room curated by Thai artist Pisitakun, a recent fellow at the DAAD’s Music & Sound programme. Pisitakun’s research concerns the music of social movements for democracy in South East Asia and during his time at the DAAD he launched The Three Sound of Revolution project, named after the “three finger salute.” With reference to the popular TV series Hunger Games and derived from a signal used in the French Revolution, the gesture has been recently adopted by protestors in South East Asia to demand Solidarity, Equality and Liberty. The Three Sound of Revolution is divided into three sub-projects, “Middle Sound”, a compilation of protest songs, chants and speeches remixed as dance/party music by a selection of artists was released in November 2023. This was showcased during Pisitakun’s take over of Berghain’s Säule, with the artist inviting others representing South East Asia to perform and also installing a screen printing station to distribute talismanic revolutionary imagery. Given the situation of strike and withdrawals coupled with protests against the rise of populist Right wing movements in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, Pisitakun’s programming struck a chord. While CTM joined wide-spread criticism of the Berlin Senate’s anti-discrimination bill, it refrained from directly commenting on the war in Gaza and many of us were interested in—and perhaps anxious about—how participating artists would respond. Someone who clearly did not give a fuck was Filipinx artist Teya Logos playing “hardcore” Budots dance music, while screaming and slam dancing. She closed out her performance with a remix of the anthemic “Dammi Falastini” by Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf [YouTube]. 4. “MONn-aARCHhE-EAT-JACKAAAL” (Elvin Brandhi Remix) – Pisitakun

“Since I was born I witnessed three different coups: in 1991, 2006 and 2014,” says Thai artist Pisitakun. “The question is stuck in my mind: Why do we have so many coups?

This track, remixed by Elvin Brandhi, another artist featured in CTM, is from Pisitakun’s album Absolute C.O.U.P. (2020) [bandcamp] 5. “Prayers” – Pinky Htut Aung This recording is taken from the compilation Common Tonalities (2022) produced as part of Goethe-Institut’s Nusasonic project focused on experimental sound cultures in South East Asia, made in collaboration with CTM alongside Yes No Klub (Yogyakarta), WSK Festival of the Recently Possible (Manila), Playfreely/BlackKaji (Singapore). From Myanmar and currently based in Paris, Pinky is a multimedia artist and noise musician. She spoke on CTM’s panel “Revolutionary Music Movements under Distorted Rule of Law” (31 January 2024), where I asked about the connection between the kinds of popular protest songs that was discussed in the panel and the noise and “hardcore rave” dance music that was showcased at Berghain. While such sounds are often overlooked by music scholars and professionals, I was interested in how they had become popular in times of social upheaval. Noise music is distinct from commercial pop music and elite classical or compositional forms. It could be understood as being a liberatory or cathartic practice, and is often made collectively, but is it necessarily political? Or does it signify a politics that is different to conventional party systems, like anarchism? I was struck when Pinky said that for her noise music is therapeutic. To pick up on CTM festival’s theme “Sustain” for its 25th edition, could it be said that music sustains people through difficult times? 6. “Indignation” – Divide and Dissolve Divide and Dissolve [bandcamp] are well known for their commitment to Black and Indigenous struggles as much as for their slow, loud and lurching music, devoid of vocals. I said to a friend who is keen to play heavy music with other racialised people, that she might not be familiar with Divide and Dissolve’s music, but she would certainly know their tee-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Destroy White Supremacy.” A classic, is how someone described it at the band’s merch stand and Divide and Dissolve have since produced a series of tees with statements that are, according to the band, “designed to provoke a conversation.” Emerging from Naarm/Melbourne’s punk scene, where I first saw them play in 2017 alongside anticolonial death metal band Dispossessed [bandcamp]. Divide and Dissolve have gone on to achieve notable success, releasing their last two albums with Geoff Barrow’s (Portishead) label, Invada. So I was curious as to why they had not heeded the call to divest from Germany. With my mind still occupied with Pisitakun and Pinky’s panel about protest music and noise earlier that evening, Divide and Dissolve set the scene at Berghain with a large back-projection of a animated Palestinian flag, rippling in the wind behind a wall of amplifiers. Guitarist and saxophonist, Takiaya Reed arrived on stage wearing a black and white keffiyeh across her shoulders and the duo’s drum kit was similarly draped with the checkered cloth that symbolises Palestinian liberation. After Sylvie Nehill left the band in 2022, Reed has continued with a roster of drummers and tonight she was joined by someone she named “Ced”, “Syd” or “Seb” oder…? Having established that their performance at CTM was a statement of solidarity, Reed breathed into her soprano saxophone to begin the first song only to realise that it was broken. She asked that if anyone in the audience could help, she would appreciate them coming back stage. For some long minutes we stood around, before the super-sized animated flag chatting to our neighbours and sipping our drinks as pop music played over the club’s legendary sound system. This was turning out to be an awkward performance. Arguably, Divide and Dissolve decided to stay with the festival as their appearance would be more effective than their withdrawal. Indeed, artists critical of Strike Germany have argued that withdrawal is a privilege for only those who can afford to do so and often targets organisations working “behind the scenes” towards justice and peace. However, Divide and Dissolve also disrupted the smooth functionings of the event. Aside from delays due to her broken instrument, Reed took her time between songs to explain her position as someone with Black and Cherokee ancestry. She talked about cycles of violence, as those who have suffered genocide in turn perpetuate genocide, and elaborated on how some First Nations people in the US having survived colonial violence became slave owners. While Divide and Dissolve have cultivated a loyal and attentive following around the world, Reed’s ruminations were not well received by all at Berghain. I didn’t think it unusual when someone called out that she should stop talking and “play more music”, and certainly the audience was thinning out. Undeterred, Reed continued to address her heckler in a calm voice, without aggression, but nevertheless confrontational. With Reed holding the space and taking her time to discuss the issues that motivate the band and to name and thank all who had supported her, I began to think that Reed wields her vulnerability as a kind of power. Indeed, if Divide and Dissolve’s bone-rattling sound is as much therapeutic to experience as it is cathartic to perform, it is arguably during these times of violence and anxiety that it is most needed.
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7. “Holy Motor” – FITNESSS feat. LUnG FITNESSS’ striking intervention was into Berghain’s dance floor. Appearing among the crowd with a panel of backlit buttons strapped to their chest, FITNESSS’ provocateur (is it Jas Lin 林思穎?) encouraged the audience to push them and trigger sounds then heard on the main room’s massive surround sound system. FITNESSS are corporeal; physically confrontational and I suppose cathartic in a screamo kind of way. It feels more like a happening than a concert, as the crowd follows the action around the room. We are often pulled into to touch, mosh to crisp digital noise and so-called “sound design” or to pogo to pop music. I’m not sure if FITNESSS is the person I am watching being dragged around the room on their back, or the event in which the boundaries between performer and audience and the social conventions of the club are (physically) challenged. Towards the end of the performance, a shirtless vocalist lurches into the maelstrom of bodies, rasping into a microphone. I guess this is LUnG. Later online I read:

A FITNESSS performance is an expression of raw energy—creating immersive experiences that challenge conceptions of being and communion through movement, electronic sound architecture, and post-modern aesthetics. With an emphasis on audience involvement and collective presence, FITNESSS’ work explores the volatile nature of interpersonal dynamics, as well as the transformative power of crowd synchronization.

8. “Dimensional Spleen” – Aïsha Devi I have been looking forward to see Aïsha Devi perform for some years. Although she does perform often enough in Berlin, I always seem to miss it. Now, touring her recent album Death Is Home (2023) [bandcamp], I find myself sitting exactly front and centre in the Volksbühne theatre where Devi will perform the closing concert. The stage’s scenography consisted of patchwork drapes and flags, set in motion by fans. Strobe lights and fog machines further contributed to Devi’s theatrics, and I heard someone commenting about “the weather on stage.” Dressed in a sheer black dress and shiny black trainers, Devi was often rendered as a silhouette and it soon became apparent that she had a Palestinian flag affixed to the back of her outfit (see main pic above). I can’t be certain about Devi’s use of flags. Given the artist draws inspiration from her paternal ancestry in Nepal, I’m guessing they are a reference to the Buddhist traditions of the Himalayas; when the wind blows through “prayer flags” bearing sutras they are believed to recite them. Devi often discusses the links between her mediation practice and music production by way of the healing qualities of frequencies. In a recent interview for Metal she offers:

Modern physics acknowledges 11 dimensions, and we perceive life in just 3D. To heal this civilization, I think we will have to be much more aware of our existence outside of this corporeal reality and in a higher dimensional plane. I really think that hyper-materialism is annihilating our sense of immortality, and that’s why the intangibility of music is so present in our life. Music is one of the tools that can help us initiate this consciousness and open the portals. I want to bring back the essential ritualistic aspect in contemporary music.

I admire Devi’s open-mindedness and willingness to speak her mind as much as I enjoy her music. When she addressed the audience at the closing of the concert she voiced her support for Palestine and said: “I came here because this is my community—you are my community.” Despite several withdrawals (and at least one forced cancellation at Transmediale), I often heard people reiterate this sense of community with phrases like: “this is my community and so in these days of war, genocidal violence and the threat of fascism it is important that we come together and talk.” Certainly, there are those of CTM’s community who were missed. Kyham Allami, for example, who was instrumental to Nusasonics’ Common Tonalities project, announced his individual and indefinite strike from all German state funded work in October 2023, some months before the Strike Germany campaign. This prompts me to think about the politics of friendship during this time of polarization. TBC…