Interview by Noé Loyola
Music Futures is a series that centers individuals, projects, and communities focused on uprooting capitalism and colonialism from music by working to improve the material conditions of workers of the industry and fans. By learning from projects created by people of the global majority (BIPOC), women, queer and disability communities, we can conceive of better futures that are genuinely diverse and inclusive.
For my first interview for Music Futures, it was my honor to talk with Technomaterialism: an Afro-diasporic and Black materialist multidisciplinary platform formed by Black writers, musicians and club workers. Their focus is on providing alternatives to McCarthyism & neoliberal representation optics in dance music. The work of its members has been a profound influence on my own thinking around the issues and racism present in the dance music industry. Given that the group is a non-hierarchical organization, I conducted the below interview via email to get the perspective from all of its members.
What motivated you to start Technomaterialism?
We noticed that the discourse in dance music was dominated by liberals, meanwhile the uprising in Minneapolis sent a shockwave around the world and the COVID crisis pushed people even further to the edge. Liberal band-aids aren’t a response to this crisis, when there is a reckoning of the racial inequality around the world. It doesn’t feel right, especially in dance music. Petitioning institutions, fundraising to pay rent, and politely asking institutions to give crumbs of representation of marginalized identities didn’t seem like the way forward to us. So we decided to take the matter in our own hands and bring some materialistic criticism and analysis of dance music and culture in general, and forgo tokenization and other liberal practices.
What is the ideological foundation behind Technomaterialism? What makes one a technomaterialist?
We are an Afro-diasporic and Black materialist multidisciplinary platform formed by Black writers, musicians and club workers. On top of our lived experience, we want to theorise and put into practice a materialistic change of our conditions as a marginalized group. We are not interested in participation trophies from white racist institutions. Our ideological foundation is deeply inspired by Black radicalism as theorized within Angela davis’ work - she is anchored within the radical left and materialistic analysis. We deeply rely (not for the theory but also for the historiography) on Cedric Robinson’s work on Racial Capitalism, and the Social Reproduction theory spearheaded by Tithi Bhattacharya, Lise Vogel or Silvia Federici, who seek to take into account the place of procreation and domestic tasks traditionally performed by women in the capitalist system. Add to that the notion of post-scarcity as theorized by Murray Bookchin, and Elsa Dorlin’s notion of self-defence.
What makes one a technomaterialist? Helen Hester says it best in her book Xenofeminism: a technomaterialist is a person who takes a critical interest in technologies and thinks about technology as an activist tool whilst attempting to confront a contemporary reality in an attempt to articulate a radical (gender/intersectional) politics fit for an era of globality, complexity, and technology; and seeks to foreground the more obviously material elements of (inter)action in contemporary mediated cultures.
Your slogan reads “Fighting McCarthyism in Dance Music”. How would you describe the manifestations of this practice in dance music?
It manifests itself within dance music discourse and historiography, both in traditional media and social media, by putting the focus back on a materialistic analysis. For example, we need to ask why most of the Midwest pioneers are living in poverty while white people like Richie Hawtin made millions from dance music. And how come that Black women are so visible on magazine covers while holding little to no institutional power in dance music? Representation doesn’t translate into structural change and liberal tools are ill equipped to address this problem. We need to talk about the racial wage gap between DJs. Repeating that “techno is black” and that “black producers make the best electronic music” are wishful thinking mantras which do not reflect the reality of the socio-economics of dance music: where is the money?
What work has Technomaterialism done so far? What work does it hope to do in the near future?
Some of our members worked on a residency on Hong Kong Community Radio to re-contextualize Afro-Caribbean dance music within the broader discourse of reclaiming the Black roots of dance music and help build inter-diasporic dialogue. We are interested in getting more involved as a collective to keep doing this kind of curatorial project as long as it makes sense.
But regardless of the medium, the objective is to tackle liberal propaganda in dance music and offer Black perspectives in a leftist landscape which is overwhelmingly white. We are working at the moment towards building a better theoretical framework to understand dance music and its socio-political dynamics, and from there intend to share those resources with people who are trying to find alternatives to the hegemonic liberal discourse in dance music.
What challenges have you faced while fighting the hegemonic narratives and systems in dance music?
Precisely describing our mission statement is difficult in a scene where so many people are LARPing as leftists, when in the best case scenario they are in the center-left of the political spectrum.
Witnessing how easy Nazis can infiltrate the scene and how weak the answer was to that, and addressing this mismatch between the all-loving liberal propaganda and the reality of the dance music industry; that’s a hard challenge to tackle.
How does Technomaterialism operate? What practices does the collective nurture to reject the hostile conditions of the industry?
We are a non-hierarchical organization but we are not open at the moment to describe fully how we operate. We decided early on that we would not clarify the composition of our organization, and fixed a certain number of rules by which we will operate strictly as an organization. For example, we registered our organization as a NGO and for legal reasons, some of our members will hold key & visible positions but they do not in any way lead any aspects of our organisation.
We made those decisions to avoid as much as possible any form of retaliation from public authorities as much as dance music’s liberal cliques. Some of our members live in countries which, unlike the US, do not guarantee their freedom of speech, and in which radical Black folks are systematically harassed and ostracised.
As for our praxis, we are tempted to say reading theory and applying it and trying to build bridges and share best practice with other materialists. Fundamentally we want to offer a solid materialist alternative to liberal discourse and become an incubator for genuinely leftist initiatives in dance music.
What community does Technomaterialism intend to serve and support? What does community mean to the Technomaterialism collective?
To put it bluntly, we intend to serve and support the black community who was royally scammed in dance music after the “BLM summer”. All this talk about supporting Black lives in dance music did not translate in any improvement of our material condition, while creating a whole new genre of white saviourism with “allies” constantly overstepping, and policing critical Black folks within the industry. As far as we are concerned, we are actually worse off than two years ago. We want community building, meaning sharing resources toward the well being of people within this community and not tap dancing for techno-feudal overlords.
What is your long term vision for this platform? What changes would you hope to see in the music industry as a result?
We have established a long term vision for this platform but we can’t openly share it at this point, as it would probably defeat the purpose. It’s tricky to push this type of agenda because there’s a massive gatekeeping force at play when it comes to Black and leftist perspectives in dance music. We are still in a political landscape where Black people are seen as a monolith.
Regarding the music industry we don’t expect anything from it, except maybe for a total collapse but it’s already happening anyway. We want to move towards a post-scarcity and post-work society. If we can create this kind of small utopia over a week-end or help build theory towards it, it’s already great.
How can we support Technomaterialism and help work towards its vision?
Sharing our work, talking about us to your friends, research lab or who knows else.
Also if our work resonates with you you can either join us or be an ally by sharing resources that we do not necessarily would have access to easily as Black people.