Rizzla Rising—Print Issue 2016

By Sofia Luu, Feature Photo via Kremwerk

This article originally appeared in demo 12, our 2015/2016 print issue. You can find a PDF of the print issue here.

I discovered Brian Friedberg’s Twitter before I started delving into his body of work as Rizzla. In fact, it was while I was writing my article for Demo’s 2015 issue, where I explored the messy implications of cultural appropriation in an increasingly globalized and often blurry music landscape, that my friend pointed me towards Rizzla’s Twitter account. As Rizzla, Friedberg makes music worthy of discussion and confrontation. With track titles like “Fucking Fascist” and “Black Jacobins” on his latest EP, Iron Cages, one can’t help but try to pinpoint Rizzla’s intentions and inspirations. Now I’ve become just as familiar with Rizzla’s music as I am his tweets. I think this is especially important to make note of because we often perceive electronic musicians as quiet, mysterious individuals unlike other musical artists. At the same time, some producers think it’s acceptable to say bigoted things because they perceive a clear divide between the music and the politics. But electronic music is neither a passive or quiet genre, and by associating this kind of music with those kinds of ideas, we erase the genre’s roots in racialized and marginalized communities.

When we first got in touch, you mentioned you were in the middle of finals. What are you studying?

I’m lucky to be studying music in a few forms: theory, history, cognition, and technology. I’m writing on the technical process and cultural implications of loudness normalization currently, and trying to bring my own experiences as a DJ and previous cultural theory into play as much as possible while learning more advanced signal processing. I look up to scholars like Wayne Marshall, Jace Clayton and Larisa Mann as inspirations for both academic rigour and performance experience in this course of study.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your academic background and how it informs the music you make as Rizzla?

I’m happiest when I’m researching — [that’s] really how I got into DJing formally, investing large amounts of time following recommendations from party experiences, knowledgeable friends, YouTube rabbit holes, and Google Translate chains to follow very specific emotional and timbral content through pop and dance music from around the world. The music and bootlegs I produce are congealed impressions of things I’ve heard along the way, and hope to hear again. A lot of my tracks are for stitching together otherwise hard to blend material from producers I’ll never meet or even speak to online. The ethics of representing what you find are challenging, ranging from album art with egregious, neocolonialist, violent imagery, to the more thoughtful mistakes of translation that a lot of American producers, myself included, have made when “encountering.” That is a purposely loaded word choice.

 

In the Noisey feature where you listed your top ten “most fire” dancehall riddims, you included a disclaimer: “Anything can be lost in translation.” Immediately, it brought to mind artists who like to employ controversial imagery and themes in their work for the purpose of ‘art.’ But within the context of sharing the dancehall riddims, what did you mean by that disclaimer?

Establishing an outsider position of knowledge, but not expertise or ownership, is and should be a challenge; if it’s easy it’s wrong. Translation requires conversation, which is, at its best, honest. Loss of context is inevitable in this retelling. Regarding dancehall, there is a history of homophobia and queerness within dancehall culture, explored by many filmmakers and writers, very recently at [the University of the West Indies] in a conference called Beyond Homophobia. At one point researcher Carla Moore gave a content / trigger warning before playing “Boom Bye Bye” during her presentation; that sums up my opinion on the matter without need for further comment. I suppose “shock” imagery is the regionally legal right of anyone who decides to use it, but there is an amplification of critique online now that exposes how fascism and white fragility are codependent, and capable of manifesting in any such anglocentric communities or subscenes that imagine and illustrate their own oppression for recreation.

Tell me a little bit more about the #KUNQ artist collective. How did the collective get started? What are your goals, if you have any?

I think my goals for #KUNQ are irrelevant; we each are on our own trajectory and by design have no centralized leadership, or really any formal decision-making, to avoid reproducing any form of hierarchy. As a result we’re not building a label or anything formal like that. #KUNQ is a conversation we have that sometimes gets loud enough for other people to hear. We’re continually exploring our own work, collaborating, and developing a more formal platform for our visual art and writing. There are rumblings of a group project of original material, but not until we survive the winter.

You once said in an interview that it’s “really exciting having the URL meet the IRL.” A lot of electronic artists have been quite vocal on Twitter in ways that haven’t been the most productive or constructive. What purpose does Twitter serve to you?

I think someone’s Twitter content says a lot about what their values are, and more obviously what their interests are. It can be like shouting into the dark and hearing reassuring voices, or having red eyes staring back at you. I tweet when I feel the spirit, but I tend to read my timeline more than I speak into it on a daily basis. The level, complexity, and grace of critical discourse and community that is not centred around reproducing white patriarchy is humbling to learn from, and is producing and inspiring alternative media that rivals studio-system entertainment. When I get mad, it’s directed more at structures and systems than individuals, and I feel we all have personal challenges that make us more sensitive to certain things than others. Music is at the heart of all the things I care about ultimately, and it’s been the best place to keep track of people who really know what they are talking about.

 

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