29-09-2012 | 12.03
Tonight Les Enfants Terribles invites DJ Sprinkles (Terre Thaemlitz) to De Verdieping to play a three hour deep house set during their hosting night at Imprint. We thought we keep it short and were planning to ask Terre three questions. But Terre was so kind to take the time to answer every question in detail. Something we seldom see nowadays. We decided to split the answer, so here's part two. The last question will follow tomorrow. Take your time for once and don't click back to your Facebook, 'cause this is interesting stuff.
Les Enfant Terribles: Apart from being a musician you seem to have put quite some time into understanding the way modern music industry functions within our current society. However, if you had the chance, wouldn’t you like to share your knowledge concerning the subject with the public on a much larger scale? For, especially arguing from a Marxist perspective, we need people (dare I say intellectuels) like yourself to show the general population how these frameworks are affecting us. Only then can we start doing something about it. Is this the reason for your research and writings concerning the subject? If so, wouldn’t you feel like your knowledge needs a wider platform so it can reach a larger audience? And following from this, how do you view artists like Bono that use their position within this system to, perhaps hypocritically (but still), spread a message of peace and "change". Is it all just a big scam to make money?
Terre Thaemlitz: As for “politically vocal artists” like Bono, Madonna, Lady Gaga, etc., I think they probably believe in what they are doing. I don’t know any of them, so I have no reason to doubt their sincerity. But I think their ideological reconciliation with dominant culture is part-and-parcel with their ability to have become prominent figures within dominant culture. And this reconciliation with dominant culture - regardless of how deliberate or conscious – ultimately undermines any subversive potential they wish to manifest. Of course, in the end, they are not about cultural subversion, but about a kind of Humanist agenda for mainstream acceptance of all peoples. The problem with this logic is that it chooses to overlook the ways that most cultural diversity is actually born of oppressions – reacting with or against domination. So they fail to see that their ultimate goal of “mainstream acceptance for all” would be the death of actual diversity. They are promoting KFC meets Pizza Hut diversity.
Some people might then ask me, “You don’t want all people to be accepted?” To which I reply in complete honesty that I believe acceptance to be an impossibility. We are too brutal and ignorant of an animal. Therefore, I am more concerned with identifying and reacting against the threats to diversity that I see happening under Humanism, from the Left, Center and Right. In which case, from a pragmatic level, the question of whether I want all people to be accepted is entirely moot. Of course, stupid people might hear my refusal to embrace the rhetoric of acceptance as a counter-embrace of separatism. That is not the case at all. I am not a separatist – I am right here, fucked up and implicated in all this mess. But when it comes to talk of acceptance, moot is moot! Humanist rhetoric keeps us speaking in a pointless loop. I want to hear, think, and speak in other terms as much as possible. Terms that do not try to replace my anger, outrage, depression, and horror at the violence of this fucking shit planet with sugar-coated talk of a brighter day. Let’s figure out how to actually talk about today, and be motivated even in the absence of a payoff tomorrow, because we really can’t take what is happening today! But it’s difficult, not only personally in relation to deprogramming my own thinking, but in social interactions with others as well. How does one strategize to communicate through the absence of shared language, rather than the typical presumption of dumbing things down for mass appeal?
So this affects my concept of audience, too. Most fundamentally, my concept of myself as a consumer, and how I have come to relate to certain media while rejecting others. Someone like Lady Gaga is all about the Pink Economy, and creating mainstream recognition of Lesbian and Gay identities for people to embrace and consume. According to that essentialist model, Lesbian and Gay identities are things that exist in and of themselves (ie., “born this way”), which were traditionally ostracized but can now be blended into mainstream society. That thinking is completely alienating to me, in that I consider my queer and transgendered identities as socially constructed outgrowths of, and reactions to, mainstream dominations. The queer and transgendered forms I take, the life choices I make, the life choices that are mentally and physically forced upon me, these are also quite few and limited because these identities arose through a combination of protest against, and struggle to exist amidst, dominant gender and sexual orders. My identities do not exist in and of themselves. On a gut level I cannot “feel” identities within in me, other than to feel how I was socially led to feel about them – often at the exclusion of other feelings or sexual object choices. The question of genetics and how one was “born” is secondary to the fact that we socially operate in relation to choices to accept or ostracize others. So for me, even the most fringe identities are always derivative, implicated, part-and-parcel with the systems of domination through which they take on the appearance of perversity. Identities are not who we are. They are strategies employed and rejected in our navigation of cultural tides. Therefore, if I wish to address and represent this model of diversity – which I hope you can see is completely different from the model proposed by Humanist Liberalism, Bono, Madonna and Gaga – the notion of a wide audience loses its appeal. In fact, a wide audience would prohibit the discussion from going anywhere, simply because the terms of commonality that communications on that scale rely upon are too broad and homogenizing to convey my points. I would be limited to the already familiar terms used by the likes of Madonna and Gaga. For me, those terms are patently offensive, patently misdirecting, patently alienating, patently suffocating. My target audience is those who are similarly disgusted. I realize that is not the only type of person who listens to my albums, but I am basically ambivalent about the rest. Asking me to speak to a wider audience would be like asking me to explain calculus to people who only need to know algebra. There is a need for queers and trans-people to produce media that focuses on cultivating language that delves deep into our experiences and struggles, without the unreasonable expectation that the messages make sense to anyone and everyone. That expectation is another device of that keeps people from developing contextually specific discourses and strategies against dominations that are not experienced by everyone. My priority is in trying to generate projects capable of sharing useful language with similarly disaffected people. I do not want to focus on “making the general public aware of the plights of others.”
I am a nihilist. I don’t believe in telos. I don’t believe in progress. Those are all smoke and mirror tricks of representation. For every increase in our standard of living, countless others in poorer countries are forced into industrial sweatshops. One group rises, only to have another fall. So over the decades I have tried to distance myself from the Humanist trappings of vague goals like “world peace,” which I believe are too ungrounded to be useful. Rather than focusing on “Yes we can!” dreams of what we wish to happen – dreams that are always rooted in desires corrupted by the dominations of the present – I prefer to talk in pragmatic terms of identifying and obstructing forms of violence and discriminations that are no longer tolerable. There is a huge difference between saying some fluffy shit about how “we all need to get along together regardless of gender or sexuality,” and getting specific about reacting to the very real acts of violence and discrimination thrust upon us. While mainstream discourse focuses on solving problems through cooperation, there is also a simultaneous demand for noncooperation. There is a need to refuse to participate in certain patterns of domination – if only briefly, and chaotically, dare we die. I can’t help but feel that the rhetoric of optimism diverts us from any specificity of action. It’s like a fucking impenetrable fog. So fuck optimism. Let me work with what I know… negativity, anger, alienation. At least it’s real. And when trying to enact material changes, I think it’s always better to start from positions that are rooted in the real – not in our fucking dreams born of our desires to overcome the oppressions beaten into us. I value a direct attempt to reduce violence over the promise of realizing a dream, any day.
There are also practical advantages to a small audience. For example, going back to the sampling issue, it is impossible for people without money to legally clear all their samples. For most of the twentieth century, the history of sample-based electronic music – from musique concrete to hip-hop to house – found protection in its small audiences which reduced the chances of “getting caught.” These days, with everything online, sample-based producers have to worry about recognition software developed by media industries to scan files online and compare them to databases of images, sounds, texts and videos they legally control. The software is really sophisticated. For example, image recognition software used by Getty Images is actually able to identify fragments of images that have been used in a completely different collage image. It’s totally scary shit. Plus you have weird music community blog sites asking people to identify all the audio samples they recognize in different tracks, which I can only assume are trolled daily by legal reps – if the sites weren’t actually made by them. Culturally, do we really want to log all this shit online for major label legal squads to sift through? And you’re kidding yourself if you think they don’t. I mean, there are corporate trolls in Second Life whose job is just to go around listening for people using unlicensed music in their spaces, and then send those people emails asking them to pay back royalties. It’s a self-sustaining industry with employees and everything! This is all part of how mainstream culture does not allow for certain kinds of audio discourses to develop, or certain discussions to take place. Deliberately or not, that is the end result. Basically, it is the tyranny of authorship.
By Daan Akse & Kolja Verhage
Les Enfants Terribles