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Issue 198

Life in Sound: Evan Ifekoya

The artist reflects on the sounds that have shaped their thinking

BY Evan Ifekoya in Influences , Music | 20 SEP 18

My life in sound is completely intertwined with my life in technology. The way I relate to music today is the result of having had access to the internet from a young age. I took for granted being able to join online forums and connect with like-minded people from around the world in order to talk about and exchange music. I had access to torrent files and was able to download albums from sites such as LimeWire, Napster and Soulseek; I could listen to a seemingly infinite library of music. But, I was also somebody who went to record shops. At the age of 11, I moved from London to Northampton, where an independent store called Spinadisc was my go-to, along with an HMV and Virgin Megastore. Spinadisc doesn’t exist anymore, as is the case for most independent record stores today.

I post a photo on Instagram of me sitting in my garden in a black string vest with wireless headphones. The hashtag is #cruisinginmygarden and the caption: ‘At home, listening to techno. Yes, I could be at Berghain right now, but I’d rather be at home.’ It gets four likes. I’m listening to Stadtkind (2001) by Ellen Allien. It’s the soundtrack to time I’ve spent in Berlin – the 2010 Transgenialer CSD parade and exhibiting and performing in 2014 at nGbk as part of ‘What Is Queer Today Is Not Queer Tomorrow’ have been particular highlights. Somehow, the violence that haunts nightlife spaces doesn’t make it into my recollections. Later, it’s that first love feeling whilst I’m doing the dishes. Soap suds instead of the sensation of your tight jeans and thick thighs against my skin. 

My love of techno extends beyond the dance floor. It plays a role in my domestic life. It’s part of my self-care routines, my rituals, meditations and other daily habits. I listen to techno in my bedroom. I listen to it when I’m walking barefoot in my garden, in the afternoon, in an attempt to stay grounded or when I’m lying in a field watching the clouds slowly pass by, taking in each unique detail. I move into bhadrasana (butterfly pose). For a moment, I start to visualize the sound frequencies causing liquid matter in my brain to bend and shift in time with the music (cymatics). A lot of my thinking starts with my body, not with my mind. Somehow, it is more natural to feel language through my body, before it becomes words.

I’m resting whilst moving.

It’s 2009 and I’m in the final year of my Fine Art BA in media. I’ve just made a film called Strap ON. It’s a self-shot video of me wearing a harness attached to a black dildo, looking into a mirror. You don’t get to see me put it on. When the film begins, the story has already started. I am looking, judging and questioning myself whilst simultaneously desiring and longing for myself. The camera is positioned so that you see me in my bedroom as a kind of trifold image: you see me looking at myself in the mirror, touching and adjusting the straps on the harness as well as the dildo. ‘Pitcard’ (2005) by AFX, an alias of Aphex Twin, plays in the background. I reflect on the incongruous nature of this set-up, revealing that I’ve only recently became aware of the fact that listening to techno at home has long been a part of my daily rituals.

Evan Ifekoya, Strap ON, 2009. Courtesy: the artist 

It’s August this year and I have logged on to my last.fm profile for the first time in two years to remind myself of what I was listening to in 2009. I scroll for a while and arrive at James Holden’s ‘I Have Put Out the Light’ (2002). It’s ray of light-shining, floodgate-opening trance and it takes me back to Behind Bars XV: TRANNY-PUNK-HO-DOWN MEETS PUNX PICNIC AFTERHOURS. Behind Bars (BB) was a sporadic rave that took place at RampART, a squatted social centre in London’s Whitechapel. Although BB was explicitly queer, it never felt centred around sexuality, although sex was definitely on the menu if you wanted it. The sound system was piercing and penetrating, with a bass you could feel in your bones. BB always had the friendliest vibe with people from all strata of society dancing mostly in harmony. It was pre ‘selfie in the club’ culture. The people were fundraisers, too, focused on solidarity with migrant and prison populations.

In 2016, I ended up on a panel with the poet and theorist Fred Moten at Open School East. I had contributed to a Facebook debate for the event, ‘An Endless Suddenness: Thinking with Music that Resists Resistance’, and, on the day of my talk, was asked by a member of the Otolith Group to share the stage with them. Luckily, I had arrived armed with a song to contribute to the conversation: ‘Terms and Conditions of Our Existence’ by Nkisi (2015), which played first. The music cut into the space. It broke it up and divided opinions. It’s a song with a build-up that transports and surges, that simultaneously creates a register of being ready to fuck and ready to kill. Moten said it was ‘on the edge of danceability […] a gridded, blurred and barbed penetrability. It produces a movement that will make you dance even if you don’t want to.’ Someone in the audience said the song was flat, compressed and missing the authentic crackle of vinyl. I think about how feeling out of step can lead to a particular kind of bitterness. I find comfort in the simultaneous spaciousness and compression of this song. 

Black people have an extensive history with techno music. See Detroit. See Drexciya. 

I realize I’ve written about a ‘Life in Music’, as opposed to aLife in Sound’. My earliest memory of sound is the hiss and crackle of plantain frying. A sound that turns into a smell as the aroma fills my nostrils. A smell that soon makes its way down to my stomach as it rumbles in anticipation. It’s the clearest memory I have of making the connection between listening and my other senses. 

A house music ending.

In 2015, I hear, for the first time, ‘Can You Feel (What Time Is) It?’ by the sound art collective Ultra Red. It’s a rework of the classic house track ‘Can You Feel It?’ (1986) by Larry ‘Mr. Fingers’ Heard. Appearing on the free-to-download album,  An Archive of Silence (2006), it demonstrates the collective’s use of sound as ‘political reflection, analysis and action’. The song’s title is the sole refrain of the composition: it repeats, echoes, then disperses. This version of the track is voiced by Diamanda Galás and, as the album notes say, ‘feeling saturates the skin at the sound of [her] lamentations’. It’s the sound of falling in love; the sound of death and loss.

Main image: James Holden, Solstice/I Have Put Out the Light, 2002. Courtesy: Silver Planet

Evan Ifekoya is an artist based in London, UK. In 2018, they have had a solo exhibition at Gasworks, London, and performances at Block Universe (in collaboration with Victoria Sin), Camden Arts Centre, London, ICA, London, and KW Institute, Berlin, Germany. This autumn, Ifekoya is launching a public art commission with Studio Voltaire and Lambeth Council as part of Clapham Public Realm Programme, London.