Terre Thaemlitz, aka DJ Sprinkles, is a DJ, musician, public speaker and the owner of Comatonse Records. But she is also far more than those simple labels suggest. Her work seeks to explore and critique the themes of identity politics and the socio-economics of commercial media production, using not just music, but photography, video, graphic design, text and illustration to do so. In our interview, DJ Sprinkles covers a range of subjects, including social alienation, how the delivery of content is prioritised over the content itself, counter-culture amnesia and a whole load more besides. Due to the nature of the interview, we have decided to release it in its entirety, unedited, over four separate parts.
In Part Four of our interview, DJ Sprinkles talks about how social media results in social alienation, queerness and how it relates to acts of deviance and the unsanctioned, his latest project with Takashi Ujita and more.
You’ve spoken of how we’re at a stage where we fail to recognise the mutual struggle of our own, rejecting any solidarity with them, in favour of “only recognising solidarity in celebrations of power, or aspirations of power.” In an age when we’re meant to be connected like never before, do you think we are in fact far more alienated from each other, and therefore the potential for that solidarity has never been further away?
I do think social media performs a rather literal Marxist model of social alienation, in that the gesture of online connectivity is reified into “true social connectivity,” whereby the virtual has replaced much of the need for people to physically meet. And this has also altered the function of clubs, since people do not necessarily need to find physical spaces in which to manifest sexual or gender variance. It’s way easier to hook up on webcam. So at the same time that it has become easier than ever to hook up online, in other ways it has become more difficult to hook up offline. The physical spaces for hooking up don’t exist as they once did. Those that remain tend to be homogenized, like mega clubs. You know what you’re stepping into. It’s not like walking into a dank shit-hole, not knowing what risks one may face. I’m not romanticizing those risks. The risks often came with violence and abuse. But cultural homogenization brings its own risks – key among them being the risk of fascism.
You’ve said that the heteronormative, patriarchal culture we live in “exonerate(s) people from the need to think about their capacity for choice, and how that capacity can relate to the acceptance of others, and to a reduction of violence.” Do you think people have got too comfortable living within such a framework, and are therefore scared of the alternative view that would force them to question, and accept responsibility for, their own sense of self?
Most people will always take the lazy way out, if only because everyone is always burdened with limitations and bullshit of one kind or another. So laziness and clinging to the familiar becomes a way of finding emotional stability within a larger social climate of dominations and instabilities. I mean, in both the UK and US, the conservative Right would never have its power without the impoverished masses consistently voting against their own interests, right? The majority of people are so fearful of being hurt more, or of having less, that they will sell out everyone in the hopes of keeping their own. Rhetoric of the importance of family, “love,” and all the self-centred anti-social bullshit that it generates, becomes a vital cultural tool for the rich. “Hell, I’ll do anything I have to for my own kin…” How can we expect this sort of cultural climate to breed anything but short-sightedness and violence? From the self-serving rich who pay themselves millions for heading corporations staffed by underpaid overseas workers, to the self-serving poor who do everything against their own interests… All of these people would say they are totally taking responsibility, while everyone else is not. It’s hopeless. And yet we go on. Non-cooperation and resistance goes on. Counter-education goes on. There is no victory. Victory is the dream of power-mongering assholes. All one can ethically do is resist, not rule.
You’ve talked about queerness being deviant, of being unsanctioned. Do you think that being assimilated by the mainstream can be a signifier of failure when you talk of counter-cultures?
I would like to clarify, queerness is not a thing. So queerness is not deviant, etc.
I am interested in queerness as it relates to acts of deviance and the unsanctioned (as opposed to more mainstream appropriations of queerness as simply mainstream LGBT “gayness”). For me, the term “queer” is never devoid of its meaning as a pejorative. It remains connected to living amidst homophobia and harassment. It references non-acceptance, which can also apply to issues that are systematically excluded from dominant LGBT agendas.
Yes, you could say mainstream appropriation is generally a sign of “failure” in that it indicates a loss of specificity and context. That loss of specificity and context is usually deliberate, in order to broaden an audience – usually with the goal of selling shit. I think mainstream appropriation is always lacking nuance (to beat a dead horse, the example of Madonna’s “Vogue,” and the genderless/raceless culture it sold via the lyrics “It makes no difference if you’re black or white, a boy or a girl”). Within that appropriation, there are usually still some spaces in which the issue at hand manages to function queerly – in the local. At the same time, appropriation is an impetus for change. For some, it instigates a necessity to do something else.
Like I always said, I would never want to live in a world where everyone was listening to electroacoustic computer music, etc. My interest in working with certain genres rests in their outside relationships to mainstream musics. Their antagonism and criticism of dominant musicology is part of why they function as languages for culturally critical themes. If mega club dance floors were pumping Mark Fell’s polyrhythmic tracks, the sounds that resonated with cultural peripheries would simply be something else, by default.
You’ve said that queerness “attempts to rethink sexuality in relation to actions instead of identities.” Do you think this is something that will ever be possible on a mainstream level? Or are these notions of identity too ingrained?
No, patriarchal social relations rely upon the essentialization of gender and sexual binaries. This is why dominant liberal discourse around gender and sexual variance revolve around genetics, biology and “born this way” ideologies – anything that does not imply a cultural capacity for our ability to make choices that minimize violence towards others. Under patriarchy, gender and sexuality are always sold to us as “out of our hands.” On a dominant level, it is never allowed to be about real choices that include allowing for the unidentifiable, even though liberalism employs language of the freedom of choice. On a practical level, legislation always revolves around the acceptance of that which has been culturally identified and sanctioned by those in power.
You’ve said that, “There is no greater self-delusion than believing one could ever be free of restrictions.” Do you think that is at the heart of the duality within clubbing, that in the belief you are freeing yourself through the experience, you are simply re-establishing and reaffirming the pre-prescribed roles already set out for you?
Yes. A few years back I wrote a text called, “Please tell my landlord not to expect future payments because Attali’s theory of surplus-value-generating information economics only works if my home studio’s rent and other use-values are zero,” [http://comatonse.com/writings/utopiaofsound.html] in which I responded to Christoph Cox’s analysis of Foucault’s notion of “heterotopias.” If utopias are unreal yet analogous to the real, and are sold to us as forms of inspiration (such as by churches and governments), Foucault defined heterotopias as real spaces perceived through mythic systems in which people stage extraordinary experiences. I think clubs often function as heterotopic spaces, in terms of people focussing on their entry into that space as a way of experiencing something extra-ordinary – a break from daily life. The heterotopic is generally considered to be a liberating thing, and Cox heralded the positive potential of heterotopias.
In my text, I introduced a new counter-term, “homotopic,” in reference to that moment of exiting heterotopic space and/or heterochronic time and returning to “daily life” (such as exiting a club and going home). Basically, I wanted to draw attention to the ways in which heterotopic spaces are in the service of dominant cultures – generally performing a therapeutic function making the status quo bearable – and therefore inseparable from processes of domination. So if somebody wants a more formal analysis of that cultural link between that “freedom” of clubbing and concerts, and how they feed back into the reaffirmation of prescribed roles, that text might be of interest to them.
You’re latest project saw you provide the text and illustrations for Takashi Ujita’s Cultural Journal “Farben 2014”, as well as providing an exclusive 7” for it. Can you tell us some more about this please?
Yes, I did a piece called “Naisho-Wave Manifesto (Secrecy-Wave Manifesto),” in which I wrote about the contemporary functions of closets and secrecy amidst (or despite) the mass appeals of populist media and pride-based organizing. It’s a reworking of my text “Social Media Content Removal Fail” [http://comatonse.com/writings/2013_social_media_content_removal_fail.html], situating the issues a bit more within the Japanese context. Without getting into too many details, the biggest difference is the addition of a feminist reading of Japan’s population decline, and how it is not simply something mysterious to be resolved by having more children (as the politicians and most people claim), but that the decline actually emerged as a by-product of the combined social forces of patriarchy and capitalism. This means two things: first, asking Japanese women to bear more children while living within contemporary family structures will do nothing to address the roots of the crisis; and second, the mechanisms of capitalism can be seriously disrupted by a consciously organized decline in population. The 7-inch is a limited edition of 100, and contains two tracks, “Naisho-Wave” and “Manifesto.” “Manifesto” is built around audio clips from media and social organizing in the aftermath of former Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa’s 2007 comments on the population decline, in which he referred to women as “birthing machines”… and still managed to keep his job.
What have you got lined up for the rest of 2014?
In terms of releases, Mark Fell and I (as DJ Sprinkles) have two new EP’s coming out on Comatonse Recordings. The first EP is Mark and my collaboration, and the second features Sprinkles alternate edits. They will be available through my website and Boomkat.
For touring, I have quite a number of EU gigs in late October and November, the dates and locations of which people can check on my website. [http://comatonse.com/thaemlitz/performances.html]