Ed.: There’s a record release entirely in etched glass, shaped like a pyramid. There’s an artist who is not only post-genre, but post-gender, and trans-… human. There’s a collective that steps calmly from grimy basement to global festival, talks about occulture and “magick,” and juggles queer partys and zines.
For anyone sick of the predictable grinding machinery of the music industry running business as usual, this should be irrefutable evidence that UnReaL, and the artist Born In Flamez, are something different. We arranged a rare interview with the collective and BIF to enter that world – a science-fiction now that escapes social boundaries by reimagining them. CDM’s Zuzana Friday is back with her latest report from the up-and-coming underground.
Before anything else — do listen to this otherworldly “live DJ” set by Born in Flamez. It’ll likely sell you if our words don’t. -PK
Anyone can find some friends with common musical values and start a collective. But how do you make something that can prove itself as radically different – especially in the hyper-saturated musical landscape of a city like Berlin?
That’s what the platform UnReaL Life is able to do. It’s not overly narrow in philosophy: the group’s genre range is huge, making a statement more about how music is made than what it is. But it remains coherent, and finds gems out of a variety of emerging scenes.
The group started when three people came together. Brandon Rosenbluth traded the perpetual sunshine of LA for the steel-grey skies of the German capital. In Berlin, he has done promoting and booking as BL4CK M4G1CK before starting UnReaL (and continues to work with the likes of Holly Herndon via booking in LittleBig Agency) has been a drummer in the avant-doom band reliq and now is part of the shamanic noise techno duo Shaddah Tuum. Then there’s Brooklyn-born and Neukölln-based Daniel Dodecahendron, aka Jones, aka Gucci Goth, aka BlackBlackGold, who’s also into doom, music journalism (including Electronic Beats), and dark aesthetics. The third figure in black is Tomas Hemstad from Sweden, who writes about gender-related issues and promotes Gegen, one of the best queer parties in town.
Together, they bring artists to Berlin who are often “something else” in the existing musical scenes or those who create their own. That has included Mykki Blanco, Shapednoise, Ancient Methods, Ketev, and Deathface. Their events #gHashtag and Purge make their way from the dark holes of Neukölln and Kreuzberg to more-visible clubs like Urban Spree and back. Just seek the magick and you will find it…
Apart from promoting and booking, UnReaL also publishes articles and interviews, mixes and releases music. We asked Brandon to partially reveal the mysterious veil of UnReaL and he agreed. Moreover, Born In Flamez (released on UnReaL and one of Friday’s favorite recent artists) also agreed to have a conversation about post-genre and post-gender – more on them including the interview is written below. The interview with Brandon is right here:
CDM: For several years you’ve been hosting parties and mix series, you’ve got a magazine, and since last year, you’ve also added a record label. How did it all start and evolve? How did you guys meet?
BR: I started promoting in Berlin in 2010 under the guise of Black Magick. In those Witch Haus heydays, I came to DJ alongside Daniel Jones (BlackBlackGold) and Tomas Hemstad (Tom Ass) quite often. Daniel brought me into the Drop Dead festival fold, where I hosted a showcase which included Tomas on the decks. While thrashing out to some heavy tunes together on the dance floor, we three decided to team up and founded PURGE which began in [the club] Chez Jacki, infected CTM, and reached its pinnacle in the main room of the bi-monthly Sameheads-co-hosted, 3-room rave-ups we put on in the days of Raum, including acts as diverse as HTRK, Ancient Methods, Devilman, and Sewn Leather.
#gHashtag was its grime-y little sister that inhabited Neukölln basements and still plagues Sameheads periodically. Daniel and Tomas are both writers, so it naturally evolved into a webzine to accompany our promotion activities, one that would not only profile underground music, but also art, fashion, and magick, and thus UnReaL was born. We signed on for a monthly radio show at Berlin Community Radio from its inception, early on inviting guests including Kiran Sande (Blackest Ever Black), William Bennett (Cut Hands), and Lorenzo Senni. We wanted to further our mission of promoting non-genre bound, non-gender-defined music and occulture and thus launched the label in 2014 with limited-edition etched-glass pyramid plus download code for Born In Flamez’s debut EP “Polymorphous.” That has since been remixed by the likes of Paula Temple, Anika, and Aisha Devi, amongst others. Since then, we did a DJ tour of the US and Tomas moved to San Francisco where he has carried the torch with his UnReaL nights there.
You seem to be mostly busy with organizing events – hosting #gHashtag parties, UnReal shows, co-hosting events with CTM or Noiseköln or even Kometenmelodien… What are the recent and future activities of UnReal?
BR: It is a lifelong passion of mine to organize shows, so that’s where my focus was for a long time now, but anyone in the game knows it’s a fickle business, especially with non-commercial music, and you’re lucky to break even at the end of the day. So, my personal focus has shifted to managing the label Portals Editions which I co-run with Marijn Degenaar (Circular Ruins), Yair Glotman (Ketev), and Nicolas Lefort (my partner in Shaddah Tuum) and showcases around our family of artists which is growing at a very healthy pace. UnReaL will throw in a dash of #gHash throughout the year, and will keep on with our radio show highlighting exciting news sounds bubbling up from all corners.
The music range of the artists you choose for your events, mixes and articles is vast – from patten or James Ferraro to Samuel Kerridge, Pictureplane or Egyptrixx. But despite that, UnReaL keeps a coherent image and musical and visual aesthetics. How do you achieve that?
BR: To us, it all makes total sense together – whether it’s a musical conversation about deconstructing pop, techno, industrial or any other genre, we like the artists who don’t sit neatly into any box, and have a strong, singular vision. I would like to think that our followers recognize our ability to highlight music of quality across all genres, and trust our taste enough to take the leap with us.
Since there’s three of you, how do you distribute the tasks of all your activities? Do you ever argue?
BR: It’s rather voluntary. Each does as much as he likes and can do at any given moment, with a focus on his area of expertise. We support each others endeavors and all take on different roles at different times. Sometimes we are more effective and productive than other times within this loose structure, but we never argue because we are all in it for the love.
Do you have other artists in mind to be released on your record label? Since two of you are also musicians, it kind of suggests itself that you’d release some of your own music. Or is that a no-no?
BR: The debut release on Portals Editions was my duo Shaddah Tuum’s 12″, and both Portals’ and UnReaL’s activities will certainly serve as a platform for our own music as well as our talented international friends of old and new who make music that we believe the world needs to hear!
Born In Flamez, Trans-Human Artist
The main artist releasing on UnReal up to this date is Born In Flamez (http://www.unreal-life.com/artists/born-in-flamez/). BIF is a post-gender and post-genre artist, which fits well into the whole UnReaL attitude of promoting the acts who shake things up around the edges – rather than going for a typical sound or image.
As experienced in BIF’s amazing podcasts (check out the latest one for UrbanEssence here — it’s one of my favorite ’empowering’ ones), the artist’s musical tastes reach the heavier and darker parts of the independent electronic music spectrum – bass, post-d’n’b and jungle, grime, experimental fluid techno, post-internet cuts’n’hums. Then there’s also BIF’s choice of collaborators who remixed the EP, including Paula Temple, Aïsha Devi, and She’s Drunk. BIF also opened for artists like Oneohtrix Point Never and Peaches. All of that hints at BIF’s musical taste and direction. But BIF’s own production exists in its own micro-universe, like in a womb, or an incubator.
The idea of a world where gender and genre is a concept of the past reminds me of other escapist movements such as afro-futurism. Nevertheless, Born In Flamez doesn’t fly off to another planet, but stays with us, as an inspiration, as an example of how we could be. One of BIF’s tracks is called The Other Sex, which could be a future conception of gender – the one exempt from stereotypes, redefining identity as a transhuman, partly flesh and party steel.
Born In Flamez’s voice is human and soothing, but doesn’t reach body temperature. On top of that, it also sometimes gets ‘screwed’ to lower and computed positions. Yet it is still delicate and beautiful and is an essential and significant part of the music. And then there are the beats – ethereal, surreal, hyperreal. Listen for yourself:
CDM: You were born in flamez. What was burning and destroyed which gave you your existence?
BIF: Identity in all its limiting binary systems, patriarchy & any kind of hierarchical order. Musical boundaries and the shadows of the past. But also: You should really watch the movie.
Last year, you released your first EP Polymorphous. I love the idea of releasing the EP as a glass pyramid with a download code – a polymorphous object which suits to the EP name and concept and gives a material existence to a binary, virtual information which mp3 is. Where does the idea come from? Why did you choose glass and a pyramid shape?
Glass is ephemeral and transparent, which very much fits the project, also its existence transcends the CD and outlives vinyl. The label and I really wanted the music to have a representation in time and space besides being a code on some server in the nertherworld of null and one. The pyramid is the 3-dimensional version of the triangle which is particularly important to the project, especially when it’s pretty in pink. So it was a natural fit.
I read that after seeing Paula Temple’s audiovisual performance, you wanted her to remix your track so much that she eventually agreed. How did you choose other artists for Polymorphous Remixed? What is it that you respect about musicians and artists, which aspects of their work are the magnets that attract you the most?
I was so fortunate to have my tracks remixed by people who I deeply respect for what they do, something substantial in/ with their music. I have a very broad taste in music, as it ranges from classical to noise to pop to UK hardcore, etc. But I also have a very niche taste in music, because it has to get to me n some way. And for this, it has to sound fresh or bring something new to me. Whether that is a musical approach of working with a beat/ grid, free structure or harmonies that seem daring, or whether it’s a special mixture of bringing different influences together, or a way to turn silence into sound, is not important, but it has to surprise me.
Speaking of other artists, you were a supporting act for Oneohtrix Point Never and you also recently played on an aftershow of Peaches, who you called a king. Since both OPN’s and Peaches’ music differs quite a lot from yours, how was the crowd’s response to your music on both shows? Did you play live?
I did play live at both occasions and both shows were really different and really great. I prepared slightly different sets, because I felt that I could experiment with OPN’s crowd more than at an afterparty where people actually go because they wanna have fun and dance.
I think both acts do share some influences with Born In Flamez. If you listen to Peaches’ last album, there’s a lot of cloud rap and footwork references in there, which also inform my sound. Maybe not as directly, but they definitely do. And OPN and I both share a love for experiments and deep deep sub bass… I also supported HEALTH at Berghain recently, who definitely have a completely different sound to me, but both the crowd and the band really loved what I did. I think the beauty of supporting acts like these is that the crowds for them are very open minded when it comes to music, as long as it’s interesting.
In your description on the UnReaL website, you are described as a “post-physicality reborn as heat and sound” and the readers are invited to join, if language is insufficient to project their vision. These bits got stuck in my head the most, because the idea of immaterial, ethereal existence which is able to communicate mind to mind without words is something I personally dream about. How does the world and (post)human beings look like in your future?
Mind to mind communication would be fantastic, also travelling at the speed of light or maybe without a physical body. Actual physical augumentation of turning into every shape and color any time would be post-identity dream come true.
In the visuals accompanying your music, humans transform into cyborgs or they are replaced by H. R. Giger-like mecha organisms. Do you see technologies becoming “friends” with nature as Björk does, or do you feel like the machines will dominate the organic?
You see Giger in my visuals? Interesting reference. I surely loved Alien…
The way that you pose the question, it sounds like technology would decide whether to befriend the organic or domineer it. I wonder if it’s for technology to make this decision ;). Also, I don’t necessarily place technology as an “other”. All technology is a human product. So in a way, all technology is human and all humans are already post-human – as they augmented their bodies with technology since day one.
And whilst I am certainly questioning the development of certain types of technology – weapons, drones, complete surveillance etc., I also welcome and embrace technology: solar panels, pacemakers, titanium limbs, glasses, sex toys, 3D printers, Internet, libraries etc. I think humans tend to be wary of everything new. I recently read a Plato pamphlet again the technology of the written book VS the benefit of the spoken word, so apparently humans have always struggled with and for the new at the same time.
As a post-gender and post-genre artist, how do you perceive the concept of identity? What creates identity in your view?
Identity used to be some kind of a grid system that helped to label and register something/ someone. A very rigid system hard to break away from. But post-digital identities completely revolutionized the concept. You can be anything you like, you can even have different identities at the same point of time. We shape our digital images to match what we want them to be in order to fit the mood that we feel like in a certain moment.
Our dating app profiles look a lot different to the ones on Linked.In (or other job portals) and can change to the complete opposite each moment. Neuroscientific approaches have have found that the self is an illusion created by certain parts of the brain, so we can keep memories in place and don’t get too confused when we wake up each morning. I guess without a certain sense of self, it’s hard to be, but on the other hand a more communal sense of self would surely help our planet.
For more, BIF has a free download on XLR8R this week, heralding a new collaboration with Berlin’s Modeselektor: