“ARE DREXCIYANS WATER-BREATHING, AQUATICALLY MUTATED DESCENDANTS OF THOSE UNFORTUNATE VICTIMS OF HUMAN GREED? … DID THEY MIGRATE FROM THE GULF OF MEXICO TO THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER BASIN AND ON TO THE GREAT LAKES OF MICHIGAN? DO THEY WALK AMONG US? ARE THEY MORE ADVANCED THAN US, AND WHY DO THEY MAKE THEIR STRANGE MUSIC? WHAT IS THEIR QUEST?”
With these all-caps phrases, musician and author James Stinson wrote the structure for the mythic, rhythmic nation of Drexciya—a world that he and companion Gerald Donald created within the liner notes of their experimental music venture. Their mixed work, within the type of 5 EPs of cutting-edge techno music, didn’t essentially sound so politically or culturally charged. As a result of Stinson and Donald didn’t take part in interviews or extensively tour in help of their albums, Drexciya’s listeners had been left to have a look at the tales and questions that coated the liner notes and paintings printed on the releases’ vinyl and CD variations.
Must you merely pull up Drexciya in your favourite streaming service, you will not hear these messages within the beats. So to know this progressive group, it is essential to ask the above questions in regards to the fictional Drexciyan quest. And in asking them, Stinson blurred a line between fiction and Black actuality—and spoke to a quest of his personal.
Up till his loss of life in 2002, Stinson strived to make a case for his authentic imaginative and prescient of creative manufacturing. As an entire bundle of mythology and sound, Drexciya’s music stays genuine. It’s difficult, elusive, and a towering exponent of Black authorial company. Sonically, Drexciya joins the traces between the four-to-the-floor electro enterprise cast by forebears like Afrika Bambaataa and jazz-inflected avant-garde explorations of area and time like Solar Ra.
However Stinson’s music, compelling because it was, didn’t come from data or CDs in isolation. It got here from a spot referred to as Drexciya.
The centrality of Afrocentric world-building
Stinson’s allusion to the Nice Lakes and Michigan amid a re-simulated Nice Migration places the fictional Drexciya nearer to real-life Detroit. Although from what we understand about Stinson’s views, Drexciya—and its recapitulation of the electro sound—transcended the geographical limits of Motown. Therefore, Stinson drew a selected through-line in his mythology, an alternate Black historical past, to the depths of the Atlantic, one starting in medias res amid the Center Passage.
“DURING THE GREATEST HOLOCAUST THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN, PREGNANT AMERICA-BOUND AFRICAN SLAVES WERE THROWN OVERBOARD BY THE THOUSANDS DURING LABOR… IS IT POSSIBLE THAT THEY COULD HAVE GIVEN BIRTH AT SEA TO BABIES THAT NEVER NEEDED AIR?”
These liner notes for Drexciya’s 1997 compilation The Quest spell out the centrality of Afrocentric world-building to Stinson’s music and cultural venture. Like Agharta and “Planet Rock” earlier than it, Drexciya explored new states of political being and aesthetic manufacturing, all uncompromising of their Black subjectivity. And their albums have, at the very least in some corners of the musicology world, galvanized conversations in regards to the originary Blackness of techno. In different phrases, the eventual mainstream explosion of digital music usually (and sadly) failed to say the genre’s seeds planted by Black pioneers.
Stinson would launch three extra albums as a part of Drexciya—amongst them the equally seminal Neptune’s Lair in 1999 and Harnessed the Storm in 2002—earlier than dying immediately of a coronary heart situation shortly after.
Erasure of artwork, erasure of maps
A lot else about Stinson and Donald’s subaquatic sonic world has remained opaque—largely uncharted by standard media, as neither creator did interviews or joined promotional efforts. For those who’re searching for discussions particularly in regards to the group’s music and the way it sounds in comparison with its obvious inspirations, those retrospectives aren’t onerous to seek out.
However whereas a lot of the duo’s catalog has seen reissue, repackages and retrospective laurels inform solely a part of a broader narrative. As Drexciya’s music has been made extra accessible, the conceptual venture upon which the music rests has been elided, changing into much less provincial, much less literary, and, maybe above all, much less Black. Solely lately have we seen extra Black artists converse out a few complicated media course of—not restricted to the instance of Drexciya—that often appears to revise Black authorship on consumer-cultural terms.
In 2012, Drexciya’s early EPs for varied labels (Rephlex, Submerge, Underground Resistance) obtained a mixed re-release from Dutch label Clone Traditional Cuts, a part of the latter’s new anthology sequence Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I-IV. However you gained’t discover this text’s quoted, all-caps passages in these re-releases, nor some other liner notes, album artwork, or, really, any of Stinson’s radical touches that made the work equal elements common and distinctive. With out obvious irony or self-consciousness, Clone selected to render their new assortment’s album artwork utterly white—forgoing the evocative, sub-aquatic sleeve designs that added depth, character, and Blackness to Drexciya’s enigmatic picture.
The Quest’s authentic album artwork, as one instance, includes a blackened Mollweide projection—a map well-suited for correct depictions of continental proportions—that depicts the motion of the Black Diaspora in a purple hue. The repackaged Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I-IV, however, is hardly recognizable at a look as a Drexciya launch, had been it not for the lone Drexciyan Wavejumper icon—borrowed from the Aquatic Invasion EP—adorning its cowl.
The album description for Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I on Clone’s official Bandcamp web page makes passing point out of the Drexciyan fable, however with all the eagerness of a vapid commercial. (“First a part of the Drexciya reissue sequence! Drexciya would possibly want an introduction for some…”) Whereas The Quest’s liner notes and visuals define Stinson’s imaginative and prescient of a future “Higher” Migration—what he referred to as the “JOURNEY HOME” in a map drawn by Frankie C. Fultz—Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller I-IV is silent on Drexciya’s reclamatory and futurist elements.
Most egregiously, Clone doesn’t acknowledge James Stinson or Gerald Donald by identify. The album’s description on Bandcamp, in nonetheless stilted prose, explicitly clarifies the label’s determination to de-contextualize Drexciya—partly by rearranging monitor listings—on the flimsy pretense of being unable to “recreate the magic of the originals.”
When mythology is become mere burlesque
The Clone reissues are simply the obvious instance of how sure actors have elided essential cultural context from Drexciya’s legacy. Clone’s actions resemble the all-too-common media follow of enhancing Black music for so-called industrial viability—rendering it palatable for audiences who, it’s assumed, don’t care in regards to the historical past of Black music. The pop-criticism ecosystem hasn’t helped issues.
In a 2012 Pitchfork review carrying a much-vaunted “Finest New Reissue” marker, the reviewer Andrew Garig each paradoxically and unironically wrote, “My favourite half about Drexciya’s Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller II is how little it teaches me about trendy dance music.” Inside a slim prism of paradoxically lazy and contrived formalism, Drexciya turns into mere burlesque: the stereotyped picture of two Black discontents in bandanas and futureshades going ape on some Rolands someplace in a decaying Detroit. Drexciya’s post-biographical and world-building significance is lowered to mere footnotes.
In his lifetime, Stinson wasn’t simply conscious of this phenomenon; he was unapologetically vocal about it. In a rare interview printed after 1995’s Journey Dwelling EP, he decried the efforts of brokers of what he referred to as the “Caucasian Persuasion” amid the broader elision of Black techno music. “Lots of people making so-called techno don’t perceive the place it got here from and what it’s all about. I’ve been with the true deal… since this shit was born out the womb,” he mentioned, recapitulating and reinforcing Drexciya’s ontogenetic focus. “Ever for the reason that blues and early jazz, Black music has been stolen and exploited. And it’s occurred right here [Detroit], too, and it pisses me off ‘trigger we let it occur.”
Those that have labored with Drexciya specific related sentiments. In an e-mail interview with Ars Technica, illustrator Abu Qadim Haqq mentioned of the Clone reissues, “[They reflect] an entire lack of concern or empathy for the underlying and background tales… These document firms are content material with promoting the music over the many years however have by no means accomplished something extra to broaden the understanding of this group or their background story. It laid dormant for many years.”
Others who’ve written about Drexciya agree. The theorist and artist DeForrest Brown, Jr. suggests an understanding of Black music as a “multi-century, generational epic” of which Drexciya is one element. The work recollects and updates Solar Ra’s Fantasy-Science Orchestra and It’s Nation Time, in addition to Amiri Baraka’s album of “African Visionary Music” for the Motown sub-label Black Discussion board. Brown argues that this historical past is eliminated by the Clone reissues.
The multivalent state of Black id
Black artists are entitled to form their cultural merchandise any manner they see match—and positively extra so than any cultural actor desperate to rewrite their efforts. Black artists ought to be free to think about the worlds they want to envision, with out concern that their artwork will likely be compartmentalized, stereotyped, or lowered to caricature.
At present, there’s growing speak about Blackness in techno. A rising refrain of voices, together with these of Haqq and Brown, has elevated among the on-line world’s techno-history dialogue by exploring Drexciya’s interpretations of the Black expertise, notably as referring to Stinson’s dwelling of Detroit. R.C Clarke writes about this whereas (in admittedly tutorial style) suggesting that this musical historical past has rather a lot in frequent with Diasporic kinds:
Drexciya proposes the delineation of pre and post-modernity’s ending-beginning with the Center Passage. The ends of society being a recursion, not reversion, of blackness’ function within the ends of time.
Detroit’s post-1968 industrial collapse is the context for figuring out Black individuals’s function within the man-machine dynamics in direction of a path ahead. This melding of id into not simply the concept of Drexicya however to actively seek for a scarcity of id is highly effective in its personal ceremony [sic].
The Quest’s ebony-bodied illustrations foreground what Paul Gilroy, an obvious inspiration for Stinson, called the “Black Atlantic”—the multivalent, nearly fluid state of Black id, as marked by the very trauma of the Black Diaspora. According to that, Drexciya blotted themselves out as identifiable individuals at any time when potential. Of their time, Drexciya moreover forswore media consideration, eschewing most interviews and different typical types of press. After they carried out stay, they wore masks to obscure their identities—a conference continued by their Underground Resistance counterparts, additionally largely from Detroit.
It was as if by rejecting the presence of the media—which, as he claimed in that uncommon 1996 interview, was fixated on a “Caucasian Persuasion” earlier than acknowledging Black forces in creative scenes—that Stinson rejected the trimmings of a mere mortal world. In impact, he courted the presence of one other actuality, one throughout the limits of his personal everlasting thoughts and creativeness. In doing so, Drexciya confronted North America’s previous, and in creating their very own future-myth—one belonging to no nation—they sought to look past it.
Itemizing picture by Abdul Qadim Haqq