In Sonic Warfare, Steve Goodman discusses a type of music, primarily electronic in nature and mediation, that is forming in the poverty-stricken underbellies of the global metropolises. Aside from technological and certain aesthetic brushes (concentration on rhythm, sampling, mixing, extensive utilization of bass), this music varies differently across the world – offshoots include the disjointed and minimalist sonic atmosphere of East London’s “Grime,” the pounding baile funk of Rio’s favelas, Puerto Rican reggaeton, and the dub-turned manic dance vibrations of Jamaican dancehall. Following Wayne Marshall (himself a dancehall artist), he calls this music “global ghettotech,”1 and – somewhat romanticizing the struggles and tribulations of the transnational subaltern – sees a potent micropolitical agency at work where these mutant forms are flourishing.
The dispersed network of the metropolis, we read at the Anarchist Without Content blog, “is the ground on which Empire operates.”2 Like Empire itself, the metropolis is an abstract machine, a “process of composition that brings together material according to a specific set of rules.” It exists at the intersection of flows and allows them to express their differentiations while maintaining the underlying logistics of control. The metropolis is always alter, always monitoring, yet it consists of micropockets of resistance or potentials for resistance through its hidden-away heterotopias. In the metropolis there are chances for a free meta-modelization of the body, while conflicting currents perpetually aim to produce a systematic modeled body. Anarchist Without Content writes of “technical machines” that “traverse the Metropolis,” forever increasing the lines of communication throughout the urban and subsequently imposing regulation on how these line operate. Similarly, Maurizo Lazzarato’s extrapolation of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “machinic enslavement” is expressed through an experience easily identifiable to anyone who lives in an urban metropolis: communication via cell phone, the use of ATM machines in the street, reading the newspaper on the subway, partaking in the “huge neural network” of “bodies and souls, affects, emotions, passions” that inherently comes when tuning into television programming.3 All these interrelated technical machines, rendered by Lazzarato as semiotic machines that play on the processes of subjectivity, makes objects into tools, and these tools are assimilated in the procession of work, work itself as the ultimate social mediator and tool of social management.
Meanwhile, Mike Davis asks us not to look at the metropolis as the shining path of the the future; even if the primary hegemon of Empire – finance capital – will deliver us these shimmering assemblages of glass and steel, sprawl and speed, the secret reality under this spectacle will take place in the “faintly-visible second-tier cities and smaller urban areas.”4 It is in these zones, pushed to the peripheries of the world order (yet while remaining wholly subsumed within it) that a projected three-quarters of world population growth will occur. But it is alongside this situation, the “Planet of Slums,” that Goodman constructs the transnational network of global ghettotech, coalescing into a rival future, the “Planet of Drums.”
The drum-world of global ghettotech is first and foremost driven by a D.I.Y ethic, with both the artists and participants maximizing the autonomy of their spaces for creativity. In London, grime music and other music forms proliferate through pirate radio broadcasts beaming out from within the infamous tower blocks, setting off an ongoing and nomadic tug-of-war against the state which aims to regulate the privatized air space. In Jamaica, dancehall sound systems are cobbled together from electronic scraps and leftovers. The music itself comes together from a variety of sources traditional folk sounds crash into Western-pop influenced electronica, samples are torn from popular culture, subjected to remix and deconstruction, all set to the impressive rumble of deep bass tones. For the Brazilian ghettotechers, “People make funk like they build houses in the favela, using whatever material is available.”5
In my previous “The Construction of the Body,” I touched on the postcolonialist counter-discourse of hybridity versus binary, where the “displacement of value from symbol to sign” has allowed a breakdown in the rigid command-chains of despotic cultures and opened them-up to a free associative and flexible reality. However, as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have pointed out, at best this postcolonial strategy is a tool for rereading contemporary history (as traditional colonial and imperialist structures has largely become undone, aside from a scattering of left-overs from this tragic era), and at worst a justification for postmodern power, a game for the elites of the world hierarchy to play. Looking to the rise of neo-fundamentalist belief systems (Evangelical Christianity and militant Islam, for example, though many other forms exist) Hardt and Negri write “Simplifying a great deal, one could argue that postmodernist discourses appeal primarily to the winners in the processes of globalization, and fundamentalist discourses to the losers.”6 While Hardt and Negri seem, in the end, to find solace in the abstract potentials of postmodernism and hybridization, others critics, such as Nina Powers, go further in denouncing this turn. For them hybridity is the logic of neoliberal capitalism, or, more properly, financialization, itself: fluidity and flexibility, the libidinal joy of circulating affects, the capability to combine and amalgamate, twist and detourn, perpetually seeking to make objects into new and higher abstractions. It is in this context that Jorg Heiser, a co-editor at Freize, proposes that instead of painting with the broad brush-strokes of ‘hybridity,’ we pose a distinction between this concept and the entanglements that come with it, and what he calls ‘super-hybridity’:
The phenomena of hybridity could be seen as a mere ‘quantitative’ factor. But, like most quantitative factors, this one also has a tipping point. Thus, ‘super-hybridity’: ‘super’ not because its superior, but as a reflection of how hybridization has moved beyond the point where its about a fixed set of cultural genealogies and instead has turned into a kind of computational aggregate of multiple influences and sources. [Electronic artist] Gonjasufi – and any contemporary artist similarly devoted to a trans-contextual approach – is neither a mere product of his background nor just another eclecticist; his sources are super-diverse, but are parts of a detailed puzzle forming the larger picture of a life between anger and equanimity, sociability and loneliness, city lights and desert, advanced techi-ness and the deliberately antediluvian.7
Heiser goes on to list notable super-hybrid precursors from the modernist and transitional/postmodern eras, such as Mary Shelly, Alfred Jarry, and Sigmar Polke; most of these individuals maintain a rather strange relationship with capitalism. Jarry, for instance, proposed the avant-garde thought-experiment of “pataphysics” (thinking beyond metaphysics), which Baudrillard has identified as the nature of markets system as we recognize them today. Polke, on the other hand, founded the art school of “capitalism realism,” which provided illustrations of living in Germany as the media-saturated Spectacle of the Fordist regime drove the cult of consumption to greater and greater heights. Speaking of these individuals, Heiser asks if these congruences derived from “an eagerness to mimic capitalism’s restlessness? Yes and no (yes, because they’re fascinated by production; no, because they hate business).”8
I would like to pose Goodman’s ‘global ghettotech’ as a super-hybridity par excellence. As with the avant-gardists listed by Heiser, the individuals that create this art are preoccupied with production; the volume of material emanating from these peripheries is monumental, and much of it enters into dynamic, self-evolving markets (in the de Landian/Braudel sense of the word) that acts as both a cultural catalyzer and counter-market to the neoliberal reality. For example, the “estimated 150 pirate stations on the FM dial in the United Kingdom act as musical Petri dishes… an incubator where new music can mutate.”9 State-enforced legal structures perpetually lag between these rhizomal developments; hard to track and harder to eliminate, this nomadic and largely invisible war cuts across the class struggle and aims itself directly at one of the most critical postmodern terrains of combat: the production of culture itself. Furthermore, this deterritorializing factors can be read as a willful subversion of the ‘technical machines’ spoken of above: samplers, mixers, vocoders, and other assorted technologies brought together in these rhythmachine assemblages develop from technology developed in wartime, technologies specifically developed to wage war through communication and speed. By lifting technology from its assumed roles and applying to the creation of bottom-up art, the very root of Imperial control, precarious labor, is attacked.
In closing, I would like to give one last quote from Goodman to reinforce the micropolitical possibilities stemming from these developments:
Taking the staples of popular electronic music, from hip-hop to house and techno, and mutating them to their local desires, spraying them with local voices, these musics also, hand in hand with their pirate economics, propose models for affective collectivity without any necessary political agenda. Parallel sonic wars (in the age of pirate replication) are being waged across the planet by an array of these virosonic microcultures. Their abstract machines are never purely sonic. They always possess a power of transveral application into other aesthetic, sociocultural, and economic fields. Perhaps the contagiousness of such cultures and their analog and digital sonic transmissions make them an audio portal, offering innovative techniques for synthesizing modes of collective assemblage, production, and distribution through the construction of temporary and mobile vibrational ecologies. These musical war machines are perhaps more accurately conceived as subpolitical… potentiating an affective mobilization, underneath the segmentation of belief into ideological, territorial, affiliative, or gang camps, providing a vibrational infastructure or platform for collectivity that supplements the picture painted in Planet of Slums.10
1Steve Goodman Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear MIT Press, 2012, pg. 174
2“Disemboweling the Metropolis” Anarchist Without Content June 14th, 2013, http://anarchistwithoutcontent.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/disemboweling-the-metropolis/
4Mike Davis Planet of Slums Verso, 2006, pg. 7
5Goodman Sonic Warfare pg. 174
6Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pg. 150
7Jorg Heiser “Pick & Mix: State of the Art” Freize, Issue 133, September 2010
9Goodman Sonic Warfare, pg. 181
10Ibid, pg. 175