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Time marches on: Terre Thaemlitz at MaerzMusik

The nihilist also known as DJ Sprinkles talks about her anti-family agenda in advance of the festival, happening March 16-25

Bart Nagel

Terre Thaemlitz © Bart Nagel

Mar. 14, 2017 – Composer, DJ and critical theorist Terre Thaemlitz has four appearances at this year’s MaerzMusik, the Berlin-based international “festival for time issues”. In addition to a performance of her new album and anti-breeding manifesto Deproduction, she will play her 2012 piano solo Soulnessless at its full length of 29 hours for the first time, her 2003 work Lovebomb and a deep house set in a museum. SIEGESSÄULE asked the Japan-based owner of Comatonse Recordings a few questions ahead of the festival's opening 

Your work seems to weave together queer hirstories and narratives in interesting and disturbingly honest ways. What’s the most surprising or memorable response you've received when presenting it?

It would have to be a performance of Lovebomb I did at a small venue on the town square of my hometown, Springfield, Missouri. My parents were at the show, and during the Q&A, the discussion turned toward low-level religious questions along the lines of, "Don't you think faith in God would solve a lot of these problems you're raising?" I framed my response by stating I was an atheist, which I confess was quite frightening for me, but it actually opened up a space for people to express doubts in faith publicly.

Then my dad stood up to talk, and I thought, "Oh, shit... here we go! He's going to let me have it!" But to my surprise, he made some really well informed comments about the political abuses of the Catholic Church, and how faith and love get manipulated for malicious ends. For him to get up and talk about those things in that town, as a practicing Catholic and former Brother, was really unforgettable.

Your recently released work, Deproduction, takes aim at the western nuclear family and, in particular, its replication in the LGBT community. Is there anything to be salvaged from this institution, or should we start again?

The project's text speaks critically of all family structures but pays particular attention to the Western nuclear model, since it is so entwined with capitalism and globalization. I am a nihilist, so I do not think it is a question of what to salvage or how to start anew. I recognize change but do not believe in progress. Social abuses change in form with time, and some things appear to be getting better, while new violences insidiously take hold without notice.

So for me, this pragmatic recognition of unending struggle is the starting point for social organizing. It requires reacting to differences in individual needs with tools other than petit bourgeois individualism, or conversion-based community building. Tools other than those designed for possessing a family/clan/tribe, or being possessed by one. It is simply about wiggle-room to survive disownment.

You witnessed a particular wave of gentrification in New York’s 90s which displaced communities facilitating various kinds of sexual relations. Looking back, was there any way these communities could have resisted this, and can we learn anything applicable today?

They did resist! Of course! They resisted but, not surprisingly, "lost" for the most part. I think it is more helpful to look at how struggle occurs within particular social and historical contexts, free of judgments about whether movements of resistance and organizing can be later termed a "success". On a practical level, gentrification can very rarely be stopped. It becomes more a question of how to slow it, and possibly redirect its boundaries a little.

So I guess one thing we could "learn" would be developing an ability to understand organizing and resistance as independent of conventional models of victory. Don't let an absence of hope or dreams result in social paralysis. Rather, be open to an absence of hope or dreams as a starting point for being motivated to resist that which is no longer acceptable. Focus on stopping abuses rather than focusing on manifesting dreams. As Tony Benn said, "Every generation must fight the same battles again and again. There's no final victory, and there's no final defeat."

You’ve managed to avoid the mainstream dance scene and live from your work. What would be your advice for queer artists looking to do the same?

Well, I would say the only reason I have managed to economically survive as long as I have is because I refused to isolate my activities to just one economy. For example, doing just music, or just art, or just academics. In particular, because I only participate in any of these fields from a critical perspective, and often need to "bite the hand that feeds me", this gives me more flexibility than someone who is isolated in a single job field.

The other bit of advice I would give, despite it being unpopular, is to never work for free. Insist upon being paid. Say "no" to things. Don't do things just to "get your name out there." Music, art and academia all thrive on exploiting volunteer labor. This is fucked up. It's high Modernist bullshit about equating "true art" with some romantic model of poverty. Fuck that.

Interview: Riri Hylton

MaerzMusik, Mar. 16-25
Terre Thaemlitz: Soulnessless, Mar. 17-18 at Gropius Bau
DJ Sprinkles: Deeperama, Mar. 18 at Gropius Bau
Terre Thaemlitz: Deproduction, Mar. 19 at Haus der Berliner Festspiele
Terre Thaemlitz: Lovebomb, Mar. 21 at Haus der Berliner Festspiele


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