John Jones in conversation with South of North founder Dominik Rodemann. I was first introduced to the Amsterdam-based label South of North by way of their 2018 debut […]
Drowning in Drexciya’s electro-aquatic Afrofuturistic realm
- Electro /
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Going deep with cult Detroit electro-techno outfit Drexciya.
Sometimes submergence is the only way to explore and understand the mission of a particular artist: dive in, ignore everything else in the world and immerse yourself in this new realm.
Today we’re putting on our wetsuits, strapping on our oxygen tanks and going deep with Drexciya, the Detroit team of Gerald Donald and James Stinson. Formed in the late 1980s, when Detroit techno was evolving from a regional trend into a global movement, the team created a concept-driven sonic universe drawn from Afrofuturist myths and legends.
“Are Drexciyans water-breathing aquatically mutated descendents of those unfortunate victims of human greed?” wondered Drexciya in the liner notes to The Quest, a 1997 compilation CD. “Recent experiments have shown a premature human infant saved from certain death by breathing liquid oxygen through its underdeveloped lungs.”
What followed was a series of mysterious EPs, albums and singles that orbited the central concept, adding depth, nuance, context and ideas that, combined, constituted an entire worldview. That they were notoriously, strategically press-shy only added to their mystique.
In 2018, Resident Advisor produced a 10-minute documentary that focused on what Stinson and Donald accomplished, the context in which they built their world and the collaborators and behind-the-scenes supporters who enabled their genius to fully reveal itself. It’s essential viewing.
After Stinson died suddenly in 2002, Donald formed Dopplereffekt, whose tracks focused on more insidiously dark concepts. He continues to avoid discussing his work with Drexciya.
But that doesn’t mean that others haven’t kept talking and writing about Drexciya’s mystical realm. In 2012, Andy Beta went long on the team in a MTV feature:
“Rather than expansive as most dance music is likely to be, the saw-toothed beats are claustrophobic, close-hitting things, with a track like the ferocious “Aqua Jujidsu” snapping necks in under three minutes, and few tracks even clock in beyond five minutes,” Beta wrote.
Detroit music expert Mike Rubin focused his energy on Drexciya in 2017 for the Red Bull Music Academy feature “Infinite Journey to Inner Space: The Legacy of Drexciya.” A deep, thoughtful exploration of the project’s birth and thematic elements, Rubin provides a volume of context, connecting Afrofuturism, the slave-trade and Detroit while celebrating the masterful tracks and albums that Drexciya produced. Writes Rubin:
…Drexciya’s reach goes far beyond their musical output and into the realm of the fantastic. Through a series of clues and missives, the group’s records introduced the sci-fi saga of the undersea civilization of Drexciya, whose water-breathing residents were the descendants of pregnant African women cast overboard in the Atlantic during the Middle Passage – a fable that writer Greg Tate calls a “revisionist look at the Middle Passage as a realm of possibility and not annihilation.” Inspired by this provocative mythology of a so-called “Black Atlantis,” wave after wave of artists, writers and filmmakers have spawned a fertile ecosystem of speculative fictions and imaginative interpretations that has flourished far downstream from electronic music circles.
Feel like getting lost? Resident Advisor also commissioned a 75-minute Drexciya mix, which soars from start to finish.
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