The new club music thrives off the collective. Over the past few years, crews like Janus, NON Worldwide, STAYCORE, Salviatek, and N.A.A.F.I have been responsible for some of the most diverse and vital music being made. What’s more, these collectives tend to foreground a particular form of politics and ethics, one which centers around ideals of solidarity and community. Seen as a holistic structure, these groups join together to form a self-sustaining, cross-pollinating network of club nights, labels, and artists — an alternate ecosystem that both mirrors and subverts contemporary capitalism’s fetishization of the network form.
8ULENTINA and foozool’s Club Chai began, like many such collectives, as a club night. In its first year of existence, it has expanded to include a monthly slot on Radar Radio, collaborations with L.A.’s Fade to Mind and London’s Tobago Tracks, and now its first compilation. Expertly curated by 8ULENTINA and foozol, Club Chai Vol. 1 is indicative of the particular sonics and ethics of the new club music: attentive to locality while keeping an eye trained on like-minded scenes across the globe; aware of the need to bring women and female-identifying artists to the fore; and determined to center diasporic narratives and non-Western sounds. As both a statement of intent and a collection of cutting-edge dance music, it’s a triumph.
The 21 tracks on Club Chai Vol. 1 trace a beguiling course across styles, moods, and rhythms. They run roughshod over genre, delivering hit after masterful hit of steely-eyed club mutations. Gritty acid flexes rub up against ambient-leaning techno, collagist baile funk against submerged Jersey club jams. When recognizable forms do emerge, they’re employed in inventive ways — to drive ambience, to explore tonality and texture, to destabilize rhythm. There’s a confidence to the curation, to the way the tracks chime against each other, joined together by shared affects and tempos: NARGIZ, Kala, and 8ULENTINA’s hybrid percussive forays; Lechuga Zafiro and MORO’s use of vocals-as-syncopation.
Highlights abound. DJ Haram’s “Big Girl” moves like a dancer with steel-toed pumps, pirouetting with delicacy before pummeling the listener with overblown synth and kicks. MORO’s “EZRA ENTRENA EL BUMBUM (MORO MIDFLIGHT EDIT)” sways with assurance, sliding away from SAN BENITO’s brutality to a place of calm, its synths keening and caressing, its eyes closed, its lips curled in an inward half-smile. foozool’s contribution, “Azat,” mobilizes great washes of voice and sound, as well as an ominous low-end thrum to create a languorous, discomfiting atmosphere, which is quickly shattered by a baldly overdriven synth line and a wicked jungle break. Out of the debris rises a taut, sinewed club track, floating menacingly, paranoid and violent. 8ULENTINA’s track, “Adana 2.7,” is equally striking, its percussion sighing and suppurating as it traces a range of supple, fluid motions, all forceful hand and vibrating drum.
But it’s Marcelline & Sunatirene’s “A Spell, A Rare Sound” that forms the heart of this compilation. It’s the longest track here, moving through a series of suites: clattering, watery ambience giving way to modular synth composition, trenchant phrases (“Female as prosthetic; vulval phantom limb”) becoming melodious assertions (“You ain’t ever gonna break my skin/ Like you want to”). The track is all texture and feeling — glass shattering, gravel crunching — and brings to mind Matana Roberts’s archaeological collage in its painterly approach: the smoothness of its transitions, the attention paid to its structure and light. Its strident vocals investigate questions of the feminine, of representation and of solidarity, asking: “Do you stand for me and her and her and her? Do you speak for me and her and her and her?” These questions are metonymic for the concerns of the compilation as a whole. Namely, the difficulty and necessity of constructing an ethics of community, of standing for and speaking for. How can one speak from one’s identit(y/ies) and experiences without being solely reducible to any singular identity or experience? How does one generate solidarity in a contemporary context, in which difference and identity are weaponized and commodified? As 8ULENTINA puts it in an interview with Truants:
Lots of people fixate on the fact that I am Turkish and collaborate with foozool who is Armenian as if it’s some peace fantasy friendship but we are both very aware that our friendship doesn’t change the fact that the Turkish government still denies the Armenian Genocide and continues to oppress Armenians, Kurds, Alevis, Romani people, Syrian refugees and ethnic minorities that come into the country. It’s about supporting each other without generalizing or oversimplifying each other’s experiences.
These are important and difficult questions, with no easy answers. It is to 8ULENTINA and foozool’s immense credit that they are approached with an uncompromising sense of purpose, an urgency that orients these networked sounds, suffusing these pieces with a point of departure, an angle of attack. Without wanting to reduce these contributions solely to the political — they operate on more levels than that — to this writer, the clarity of thought and execution exhibited here provides me with hope at the beginning of 2017, a year that promises to be defined by obfuscation, diversion, and repression. In its crisp, forthright collectivism, Club Chai Vol. 1 charts a precious mode of thinking, one founded on solidarity and empathy, a thinking that privileges presence in the face of oppression, the necessity of allyship and community, and of placing oneself in concert with another, in order to care, to resist, and to dance.