Do it Yourself: A guide to Brooklyn’s New Wave

Nik Dawson is tearing chunks off some unidentifiable street food under the vamperish red hue of the lighting at OHM in Berlin. Cowering in the DJ booth, hunkered over, hood up, his lip curls around his dinner with a snarl in guarded frosty reception to any would-be stranger. Sybyl Jason is currently deep into a set, standing in front of Dawson peppering the dance floor with an ambiguous selection, spanning the early sounds of House to the more aggressive Techno and Electro from a more contemporary set of producers. Jason’s set skips through genres, zig-zagging between styles and sounds like hummingbird in search of some indefinable sweet release. The defining character of her mix is that there is no defining character, a deconstructed DJ set where everything goes and no boundaries exist. The mix is only to get from one point to the next avoiding the acute poignancy of the perfect segue from one song into the next in favour of the unbridled energy of each track.

Nik Dawson seems nonplussed as he takes over from Jason, assuming his artistic alter-ego Bookworms and taking position behind a set of jagged cables an knobs that mark his musical workstation. Commencing through a set of inarticulate noise and aggressive rhythms, Dawson’s barrage of distortion and incongruous percussive rhythms bare no resemblance to slick production work he showcased on records from L.I.E.S and Anómia. The music is as aloof as his demeanour, hood still up and completely focussed on the torturous sounds emanating from non compliant machines. Scant bodies keep their distance, casting long shadows on OHM’s floor, attempting to find some symbiotic harmony with Bookworms. Harmony eludes most of us and it’s only until Via-App takes her cue from a pause in Bookworms performance, that a synchronicity starts to appear.

The Brooklyn native distills the truculent energy from Bookworms into something more palatable for the dance floor, while retaining that biting power that’s been the foundation of the night at OHM. Via-App’s live set is a blend of incandescent machines and choleric rhythms, with rather more engaging results than her predecessor. It’s music that has been defined as punk-DIY Techno on the flyer, which is a kind of Techno spewed forth from unprocessed, noisy machines. It’s Techno in its most exposed form bearing more relation to genres like EBM and Electro than contemporary Techno, and for this event at OHM its crowding under the No-Tech banner.

“No-Tech was formerly a monthly event for DJs and live performers focusing on experimental approaches to dance music” reads their bio. Between 2013 and 2015 in Brooklyn, resident DJs Ciarra Black & JR Nelson, sought to redefine electronic dance music, combining live performances with DJ sets, and blending outlier styles and genres like Noise and Industrial with Techno and Acid through a very do-it-yourself approach. In a 2015 interview with RA Via App (Dylan Scheer) said No-Tech is a place “where you can play whatever you want and it’ll start conversations”. A bar in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood set the scene for the now defunct No-Tech event, which has since started a cassette/digital label cementing the ethos of No-Tech through release from heretofore unknown acts like Speaking Parts  and exporting that sound elsewhere to places like OHM.

No-Tech and Scheer are part of a wave of electronic music producer, events organiser and performer that have centred around the New York burrough, Brooklyn for the last five years. Born out of the noise and DIY scene in Brooklyn, its relationship to Techno in Berlin is tenuous and its intentions lie in decimating preconceptions around dance music with a noisy, gritty, almost destructive approach to dance floor genres. “Noise and Techno have been tied aesthetically for a long time”, explains Scheer of her approach. Her music can be heard as an continuation of a long-standing tradition of Techno in New York from musicians and record labels like Cititrax, Silent Servant, Bunker New York, 100% Silk, L.I.E.S and Ron Morelli, but with a flippant slant to the traditions of the dance music culture we have come accustomed to in Europe.

In the US where dance music has never quite enjoyed the levels of success or acceptance as it has here, it’s always seemed to have to fight to stake its claim. With few purposely built venues for this music compared to cities like Berlin or Amsterdam, but with the same level of interest, the music, promoters, DJs and artists in New York have always had to adopt a kind of a a do-it-yourself attitude and in this latest iteration its been taken to the extreme. Quasi-legal venues as show-spaces and events that combine DJs with live performances and visuals have come to define this musical development in Brooklyn and New York over the last 5 years. There’s nothing as succinct as a sound or a look to it, but rather just a feeling, a feeling of non-compliance with the status quo and a complete disregard for institutionalised musical traditions.

One of the most significant figures to come out of this scene, and bring this music and this attitude to the wider world is Aurora Halal. Aurora Halal is a producer, visual artist and the creator of the Mutual Dreaming party series & the Sustain-Release festival, both of which have been important platforms for the kind of music coming via Brooklyn. Mutual Intentions is a party described by RA’s Jordan Rothlein as “DIY, but ruffled to perfection” and it like No-Tech it combines all the essential ingredients: a makeshift venue; a do-it-yourself approach; and an artist/dj roster made up of local and international kindred spirits like Xosar, Lena Willikens, Relaxer, DJ Sotofett and Helena Hauff. Now in its seventh year Mutual Dreaming is at the crest of a wave that will inevitably move out of sight, back underground, but shows no signs of slowing or stopping. It’s elevated the name Aurora Halal into public consciousness through the label that’s followed it and through her lauded A/V performances at festivals like Dekmantel and clubs like Berghain.

Originally from DC, Aurora Halal started making her mark in Brooklyn as a video artist making music videos for artists like Max D and providing visuals for shows like Ital’s “Dream On” tour. She had been congruously working on music since 2010 with Jason Letkiewicz (aka Steve Summer, Malvoeaux) as Innergaze, who together had released two albums of jacking Tech via Cititrax and 100% Silk. Going out on her own eventually with the same 808 samples loaded on her MPC and with the purpose of creating a live show in mind, Aurora Halal has burst forth as a solo artist, distilling the ethos of Mutual Dreaming into music; “DIY, but ruffled to perfection”. Not as disruptive as Via-App or Bookworms, but harnessing that same sonic aesthetic made from animated machines, Aurora Halal’s music is two records deep today via her Mutual Dreaming label.

Synthesisers blister as analogue circuits crack under their own weight while drum machines attack and suppress the fabric of time through Passageway and Shapeshifter in her discography. Born from the point of view of a live performance for a club context, but functional on any recorded format, it’s music that continues on a tradition of Techno provocateurs from New York that defied preconceptions in favour of something primal immediate, but coming from a different point of view. It’s an ideology that weaves itself through the fabric of New York and Brooklyn’s next generation of musicians, who came into this music via a DIY approach rather than a scene or a genre. With no definitive stylistic trait in the music other than the evasive Techno declination and with no real singular event, club or group of people at the centre of this music, it’s nothing you coul pin down as a counter-cultural scene.

Individuals like Aurora Halal, Via-app, Bookworms and Ciarra Black and events like Mutual Dreaming and No-Tech all seem to operate independently of the other in true do-it-yourself fashion, but it’s exactly that DIY attitude that underpins all these various entities and brought them to the attention of the wider world. That however doesn’t seem to be the intention of acts like Aurora Halal, who although had found some interest and praise in what she’s doing, remains an artist, producer and promoter very thriving in the margins and feigning any kind of media attention or notoriety. There’s no perceptible agenda and although she and other artists like Via-App are certainly enjoying a moment in the sun, everything about their work and what they do vehemently opposes pandering to anything, and as Halal so eloquently put it to Dummy Mag: “Who knows when it will go out of fashion again, leaving it back as it was… in secret”

Back at OHM it’s still seems like its very much a secret thing while Ciarra Black channels Via-App’s rapturous sounds into a DJ set for the small but dedicated audience. There’s something of an undercurrent between all the acts, even though their music can occupy vastly different spheres. It’s an attitude, an attitude that gives the institution the finger with an individualist design on music. At OHM and in Europe where there is no need for a DIY scene, as club culture is a popular culture rather than a counter culture, some of what events like No-Tech and Mutual dreaming are trying to communicate gets lost in translation. But that energy is still there, that provocative energy of something moving against the tide and that, that is something that goes beyond music and harks back to the origins of the counterculture that started it all.


*Aurora Halal performs live at Jæger this Friday for Frædag invites Aurora Halal and Dr. Rubinstein