Chicago artist discusses new "techno myth" and talks digital folklore, reclaiming club music
Photo by Ratko Radojcic
Southside centaur Jared Brown is an interdisciplinary sound artist celebrating the expansiveness of the black queer feminine body in their hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Utilizing the decolonial tactic and black tradition of storytelling to imagine themself, bearing trauma and all, in a distant future, their new “techno myth” titled Myth: 0.001 serves as relief for those of us coping with the aftermath of the tragedy in Orlando. A ploy to cultivate fear by robbing us of the few “safe spaces” left we can occupy, the massacre that claimed at least 50 QTIPOCs is a reminder of the symbolic history of nightlife as a liberatory site of refuge and survival. Despite the pervasiveness of transphobia and femmephobia in our communities, the club, when organized responsibly, acts as bridge where our disparate communities merge jubilantly and celebrate the fact that we are still here regardless of our societal short comings.
Today’s hyper violent and desensitized society never ceases to silence the black and brown queer body, first as a way to unauthenticate our recalling of the horrors of history, then to further reduce us into instruments of profit for the sake of white consumption and exploitation. Under these systems of power, the black and brown queer body is rendered into an oversexualized fetish object, an angry mule that is simultaneously repulsive and seductive, life giving but disposable, fixed yet hard to grasp. By mirroring heteronormative ideals, some of us reify this reality within our own relationships – the language of “no fat no femmes no blacks” being a prime example. Jared Brown’s new project radically tackles that language head on: more than both a coming of age tale and an act of self preservation, the protagonist is an antihero embodying everything the term “no fat no femmes no blacks” aims to erase. On Myth 0:001, the evocative humanizing voice of the protagonist paired with its nondescript intangible figure, read almost absent, can be seen as a metaphor for black feminine queer death.
I spoke with Jared about their personal life and networks of influences during the production of Myth: 0.001
MARCELLINE MANDENG: Hi Jared. Where are you currently and how are you enjoying the weather?
JARED BROWN: I’m currently at my grandmother’s apartment in Hyde Park, Chicago, drinking lemon ice water. The weather is so beautiful today. Her condo is alongside Lake Michigan so the Sun has been my savior these past couple of days. It’s really lovely.
Tell me about yourself, labels, roots?
I was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago. Hyde Park. It’s kind of it’s own entity. It’s not the furthest south of Chicago but it is south enough that most of your Northside friends won’t come and visit you. I also spent several formative years on the Near Northside. Chicago is very segregated and racist. That’s why I left. Well, college is why I left but I had to get out regardless. I use to feel like Chicago was coming for my existence every single day. I shot a lot of film in high school. I was obsessed with W Magazine, VICE, VIBE and Interview Magazine. I thoroughly researched Hype Williams, Gordon Parks, Bruce Weber, Juergen Teller, Steven Klein and Meisel for years. My friend Tyler Brooks helped me organize an all-photographic portfolio to send to a few art schools. M.I.C.A was one of those schools and that’s where I ended up going. I seriously thought I was only going to be a photographer. Once I got to school I got into video and from video I was introduced to sound. College is also where I met Adi Shachar (a.k.a asKesm) and we formed sexoesthetic – an experimental sound/DJ duo rooted in sampling. From there, we were performing in predominantly club atmospheres.
What’s behind your newly released project, Myth: 0.001?
Myth: 0.001 is a sonic continuation of that old tale about Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil in exchange for the Blues. The Blues fathered every contemporary black musical genre (Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Disco, House, Techno, Hip-Hop). This project plays around with the idea of the late Robert Johnson’s deal running its course. The genres I mentioned are no longer black, no longer secret. In fact, most of these genres have been de-saturated of their true essence and that has everything to do with the obliteration of the people that created these musical technologies. Black people. These genres are less innovative because black people keep getting more and more excluded from the process. So, what do we do? I think we’re overdue for a new deal! Only this time, the deal must be made with a figure older, more misunderstood and possibly more powerful than the devil. I chose to connect this project with Lilith [a type of feminine demon dating back to ancient Mesopotamian religion] because there are so many uncontrollable feminine energies that get reduced to being monsters and or witches in mythology. Their insatiable need for freedom creates chaos that fascinates and resonates deeply with me. I found so many images when I googled Lilith and they were mostly white figures. In this myth, Lilith is a black femme. If we look at the news now, there are so many accounts of black femmes that speak their minds, do whatever they want, dress and carry themselves however they want and get brutalized or demonized for it. We love looking at the girls but we don’t always like what they have to say. Essentially, this project is a divorce from the ‘masc’ in masculinity.
In this myth, Lilith is a black femme. If we look at the news now, there are so many accounts of black femmes that speak their minds, do whatever they want, dress and carry themselves however they want and get brutalized or demonized for it. We love looking at the girls but we don’t always like what they have to say.
Describe your tonal palette. What recurrent sounds, melodic motifs and inspirational samples set the foundation for this new project?
It’s funny because when I began conceptualizing this project, I was referring to it as a “techno myth.” I think mainly because I work experimentally and have little to no traditional musical training. It’s still very techno because I created this sonic world on my own but having listened to it in its entirety, I’m questioning if this is a folk project! I’m half joking, half serious because it’s so narrative based and my voice is probably the main instrument. The tonal palette and melodic motifs revolve around digital interference I think. The really interesting thing is that I’m privy to sampling sounds because that’s what sexo did almost always but this project I’m sampling texts and ideas from people like Richard Wright and John Akomfrah while blending, repurposing and mixing it with my own writing and ideas. There are a few subdued sonic samples too because…well, it wouldn’t feel like me. It’s been such an interesting process, but I don’t want to give too much away. I really think people should just listen to it!
Do you see these past few years living away from your hometown of Chicago as also having an influence on your new project?
Absolutely, because so many people I met while away have influenced this work. If I didn’t leave Chicago, I’d still think that I could only be a photographer instead of a photographer, performer, DJ, video artist, stylist, writer and teacher. When I refer to myself an artist, I mean all of these things. But sometimes the term artist doesn’t feel applicable to me but that’s a whole other story.
What about the extensive list of additional media being produced for this project? Who are some of the other collaborators and what are their contributions?
Right, the second component of Myth: 0.001 is that it’s available on a USB drive that in additional to my work also hosts a plethora of data contributed by those same collaborators that I’ve been in dialogue with over the years. On the USB drive there are PDF, JPG, MOV, MP3, PNG files from Amanda Horowitz, Adi Shachar, Aurel Haize Odogbo, Marcelline Mandeng, Anima Correa and myself. There’s also a special sound pack designed by Adi and I. Everyone should hurry up and get one because there’s only a 100 of them. That’s all I’m going to say!
Two of those people – Amanda Horowitz and Adi – I met the first week of school. We’ve been friends ever since. We’ve unknowingly groomed each other creatively. We’ve collaborated on a lot of other work prior as well. Amanda is one of my favorite artists because she always challenges herself to take risks. Obviously, Adi had to be a part of the project or something would’ve been noticeably missing. What Adi and I did as sexo was amazing because it was the meeting of the minds. And she’s my favorite DJ hands down. These past couple months she was mixing edits of mine that didn’t even make it into the finalized version of this project, giving me feedback on the work and sharing her new work with me. Working with her while we were doing sexo was liberating because a lot of spaces we performed in, we were a lot of the times the only black and femme bodies with a bunch of white dudes. Adi would be the only girl on the bill, mixing some crazy shit and not breaking a sweat! Another collaborator, Anima Correa, is a cofounder of Amo Studios in New York, one of the first platforms that gave sexo an opportunity to perform. It was the first time I saw my peers literally create a space for us all to share. Anima’s personal work is very spiritual and I cherish that because the art world sometimes celebrates soulless vapid work as if that’s more valuable.
Aurel Haize Odogbo is my little sister (I call her Haize). At 17, she was sneaking out of her house in Baltimore to come to raves Adi and I were DJing at. The way Haize employs mythology and performance into her work really inspires me. I think it has to do with how different our relationships are to the Internet and she represents a younger generation but she’s so eager to understand my reference points the same way I am with hers. And last but not least, Miss Marcelline Mandeng! We’ve collaborated on work, performed together and generally have a really special rapport with one another. Everyone that’s contributing has a lot of soul. We’re complex and make no apologies for that. I love every one of these people because they’ve all somehow challenged me to be a better, more efficient and responsible artist.
How is the club scene(s) in Chicago? Do you find that it intersects with your other areas of interests?
According to some, the club scene(s) in Chicago are epic! However, I strongly disagree. I mean historically speaking, the House music we all know and love originated in Chicago. If Frankie never came to Chicago then House music would not have permeated into mainstream culture the same way, if at all. I’m lucky because my mom and her friends were going to the Warehouse when they were young. They partied into the morning, made all kinds of friends and share all the scandalous stories with me. That history lives in me. That energy is in me. However, my mom and her friends aren’t House heads to this day per se. I mean, they hear certain songs and get taken back to the “good ol’ days” but overall, I think they’re over it. Why? I think because House music in form has hardly evolved since they started listening to it. There are pros and cons to this. A pro: dancing House with 50 year olds at the club and witnessing how healing House music is on the soul. A con: House music has hardly evolved, making it harder and harder for younger generations to find themselves in the sound. There’s not a lot of young Chicago natives producing/DJing House music, and if they are, it sounds like they’re trying to appease the older generations. It feels like mythology to think about what Frankie and those folks were doing in Chicago because now, there are hardly any black people DJing. There are a few tokens and perhaps that’s the way they like it, but personally I want to see more black people DJing in Chicago. Especially house music.
There’s also been a new wave of club kids – fans of Michael Alig – dominating Chicago nightlife. It’s hyper white and that feels unnatural especially in Chicago. I have a hard time enjoying myself at those functions because they end up feeling painfully nostalgic and obedient. They’re safe, but in the worst way. No risks are being made except on the topical sphere and the music feels secondary. It’s more about the look and I could care less about the look right now. People dressed up as “freaks” but perpetuating the same heteronormative, predictable, violent dynamics in the club. It’s just not for me. I hardly feel welcomed at parties like those.
This opens up a discussion on history. When does a relationship to history become debilitating? Sometimes when I go out in Chicago, it feels like the administrators of the club are holding on to Chicago’s history as if that’s all they have. As if we can’t keep making history. As if history is that linear. I need it to be more nuanced. I challenge those in power to do that. You owe it to yourselves and to those on the dance floor to do so.
How do you predict the Chicago girls responding to this project? Is that your intended audience, just a part of it or do you see your project having more of a global influence?
I have no idea how to predict that! My intended audience is anyone that’s open. It’s not site specific. This project is less about entertaining people and more about telling a story- a myth! I have no expectations to how anyone will respond to this project.
What do you hope to accomplish with this project and in what ways do you see it having a socio-political/cultural impact?
I hope that this project inspires young black kids to archive their stories and turn them into digital folklore. I hope that other people write their own myths and employ characters that impact their own lives. A lot of black artists are making work about the socio-political climate here in America and I hope for more work like that because being black in this country is multifaceted. I hope that more sound artists think about how they share and release their work and I hope that more people keep disrupting systems in place that try and manipulate the way we exist!
How did you come to the conclusion that you wanted to include your own vocals in this project?
I knew that I needed to challenge myself with this project. I knew that it had to be unlike any sound work that I’ve ever done. Also, I use to get teased a lot for my voice. Kids always taunted me about “sounding like a girl.” This project confronts that head on. I can’t really sing – I have this nasally voice that most people process as “faggy” or queer. For years, I hated the way that I sounded. I wanted a deep smooth voice like T-Boz but what can you do? From now on, I don’t want to be scared of my own voice. So many people are and I just don’t want that for myself. God gave me this nasally ass voice for a reason so I’m going to use it and I’ve got a lot of shit to say.
From now on, I don’t want to be scared of my own voice. So many people are and I just don’t want that for myself. God gave me this nasally ass voice for a reason so I’m going to use it and I’ve got a lot of shit to say.
Any future plans for the projects? Dream performance spaces, potential features from other vocalists or requests for remixes?
The third component of this project is the show. Most of the contributors are performers in their own right so I’m currently looking for institutions, venues and DIY spaces that are interested in facilitating experience so that we can produce a riveting series of performances. We all live in different parts of the US and have other projects going on, so probably later this year there will be a tour. I’m not sure if I have any dream performance spaces per se but anywhere that has great acoustics, a great team of people that enjoy producing shows and spaces that are generous with resources. None of us are interested in squeezing on to an already stacked bill. These performances will require time to produce. I’d rather do 12 amazing shows that I’m proud of than doing 30 shows just to say I did 30 shows. There absolutely has to be a show in Baltimore because that’s where I found myself as a performer. I’d like to do a few shows on the west coast because I’ve never performed or presented any work there. I also think this tour needs to go overseas.
I’m not sure about features on this specific project but I’d love to make some weird shit again with Princess Nokia. Destiny and I made the weirdest tracks when we were both in Harlem. Now, I’m a bit more seasoned and whatever we make would probably be completely experimental and spiritual. I’d also love to work with Greydolf. I love her voice. My next body of work will probably be even more vocal based so I’d love to meet some producers and get right to it. I don’t have anyone in mind at the moment. As far as this project is concerned, it’d be really cool if some of the ATM folks remixed some of my tracks or utilized the sound pack somehow or the NON WORLDWIDE and NAAFI collectives. I love what they’re doing and how they mix sounds. I’m also open to critiques. It’d be so awesome if Moby or A Guy Called Gerald heard the work and gave me a critique. And if they wanted to do some remixes, I’d be more than down, duh!