In the spring of 2017, Tijuana avant-electronic duo Los Macuanos released their third album, Epilogo, an equally impressionistic and visceral work that reverberates with the unrest felt all over the world this year. Their Dowsers playlist of key influences also doubles as a history of politically provocative electronic music.
Los Macuanos are very much a product of our time. Reared along the US-Mexico border, on the eve of a very bloody cartel war, we’ve inherited a trauma and an ultra-political awareness.
Upon migrating to Mexico City in 2012, the atmosphere became even more charged. Amidst that year’s tense, fraudulent presidential elections—which many perceived as make-or-break for the country’s democracy—restless youth were eager for socio-political change. All this, while the rest of the world endured seismic events like massive government data leaks, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy movement, to name a few.
Though protest or politically keen music has been sparse in the current generation, a dissentient spirit has risen in an array of electronic sounds across the globe, from Fatima Al Qadiri and Vatican Shadow’s war simulacrums, to James Ferraro’s evocation of barren capitalist wastelands, to more existential explorations in the works of artists like Lotic and Elysia Crampton.
With Los Macuanos, we sought to echo this spirit via Epílogo (Nacional, 2017), our third formal effort, which has served as a kind of registry of Mexico’s volatile political milieu, as well as a summary of the sounds we consumed during those tumultuous times.
There are common threads, however, in all the works featured on this list: a global-mindedness that still references regional politics; an exploration of the body and identity as affected by larger systems of oppression; and a decolonial and hyper-aware approach to cultural referencing. It is, in broad strokes, the sound of living in the perpetual, perceived end of history.
1. “Endzone” is something of an anomaly in Fatima Al Qadiri’s seemingly homologous catalog. You won’t hear the typical Middle Eastern flourishes or swelling sawtooth pads. It is, in fact, a work of great restraint, using a lone pulse to foreground field recordings of the Ferguson protests to truly chilling effect. One writer described Brute, the album in which it’s featured, as “apocalyptic political theater,” which could be an apt description of this playlist.
2. Elysia Crampton is an artist whose entire character is inherently political. In the past, the US-Bolivian producer has made mention of their peripatetic lifestyle as something that has inspired their work, as well as a wide array of influences that span traditional Latin American music, avant-garde, jazz, and queer theory, among many others. Their approach to music making, however ineffable, largely functions as a kind of deconstruction and rethinking of identity and the body. It is the sound of liberation.
3. Much like Crampton, Lotic can also rightly be characterized as a highly conscientious artist, albeit elusively so. Like his own persona, his music is more often implicitly politicized, through explorations of the body in sound. It delves into a gamma of emotions that derive from his own experiences as a gay black man living in a white heteronormative world: from anger and angst to ecstasy and feelings of confliction, which can themselves conflict.
4. Tzusing stands out among other contemporary techno producers, in part, because of the deft manner in which he references his Eastern roots, both instrumentally and thematically. In past interviews, he’s described this practice as appropriating his own culture, a problematic concept. This, nevertheless, speaks to the state of globalization and the increasingly overbearing influence of Western politics on the rest of the world.
5. Very little is known of late British producer Bryn Jones—better known by his Muslimgauze handle—other than the fact that he left a prolific body of work, and had an almost pathological obsession with the Muslim world. Nevertheless, the imprint he left on electronic music can be heard in a vast array of artists (many of which are on this list). Though it is said he never visited the Middle East, his works were directly inspired by the region’s ongoing unrest, and serve as a prime example of instrumental electronic music’s early excursions into subtextual politics.
6. Vatican Shadow is the work of Dominick Fernow, who also operates under the Prurient moniker. More so than many current electronic music artists, Fernow has achieved such a level of rigor and aesthetic focus that he has managed to create an entire imaginary universe through his discography: shadowy military operations, cryptic historical snippets by way of titles, and portraits (both physical and sonic) of the various characters that comprise the sisyphean War on Terror. It’s all tension, no release.
7. In NYC, Hell, 3:00AM, James Ferraro’s more impish sonic excursions are replaced with gaunt production and a pitch-grey landscape of late-capitalist gloom. “City Smells” is as good a summation of that full-length’s aesthetic aims, kicking off with the same disembodied text-to-speech vocals that appear on the album’s opener. The sparse R&B tinges are bookended by audio clips of what are presumably news reports from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It haunts and resonates as the implicit underlying motif of the album, which offsets the glitz of hyper-gentrified New York City in the early 21st century with the specters of disaster capitalism.
8. Shackleton is one of those artists that we were listening to during the group’s inception, and rightly, a lot of that project’s sonic and conceptual cues parallel our own. The pathos-laden “Blood on my Hands” is one of the rarer musical works to reference the 9/11 attacks, with its sparse lyrics and a driving ethno-beat that embodies the UK-producer’s tracks. It echoes a lot of the artists featured here: It’s less about a message and more about the mood.
9. Terrestre is 100 per cent on point on Secondary Inspection, and “Ejido del Terror” is its flagship production. One of the more venerable acts to come out of the early-‘00s wave of electronic music from the Tijuana-US border, Baja-bred Fernando Corona was diligent enough to break off early from the increasingly kitschy indulgences of Nortec Collective. On “Ejido,” he mastered the formula of micro-tech-house with a smidge of norteño bombast, albeit with a quietly foreboding undercurrent. The album was released in 2004, just a few years after the 9/11 attacks, and already Corona was predicting what would become of the increasingly draconian standard: an ultra-vigilant, militarized border. The wall, or so it would seem, was being built right before our eyes all along.
10. “Verdad” (meaning “Truth”) is about as political as overly-abstract producer Siete Catorce can get. Parallel to the song’s melancholic melody is a sample of Mexico’s most infamous TV station’s logotone. Televisa, the channel in question, was blamed for the purportedly fraudulent 2012 presidential elections, during which an angry throng accused the media powerhouse of imposing president Enrique Peña Nieto through its propaganda, thus sparking the #YoSoy132 movement. The logotone evokes a sort of eternal recurrence, as much a prison as an assurance of familial warmth. The work itself is highly intertextual, and only makes sense when heard alongside his earlier song “Mariana,” whose melody it reprises. The whole number could, among many other things, serve as a commentary on the proverbial big lie, as told by the media: of true love (to echo cheesy Telenovelas) or, in the case of Mexico, of real democracy.
11. In Amat Escalante’s elegiac, surreal short film about the Mexican revolution, El Cura San Nicolás Colgado, the titular priest and his two young companions trek across a desolate rural landscape, scarred by the remnants of carnage, only to conclude their journey inside a fast-food restaurant. It’s a seemingly anachronous moment that pulls the viewer out of the fantastical celluloid experience and into the hyperreal. The scene haunts with a rare, gelid beauty not unlike that of Burial’s 2007 track, “In McDonalds.” The track, like the film’s closing scene, appears to long for something that has been lost: a lover, a culture, or merely the evocation of something that may never have existed.