Almanac of Contemporary Aesthetics
Cristalmess Basel Hing Res

words by Federico Sargentone

Over the past ten years, experimental electronic music has stopped being a nerds-only, male-dominated space, expanding its reach to build a new, broader community of listeners that intersects the spheres of technology and creativity.

Never before has this outré facet of electronic music, with its cult-like followings and conceptual approaches to sound-making, enjoyed such widespread cultural relevance, flourishing globally and gaining critical attention. We’ve witnessed the birth of a new wave of music that provided answers when the contemporary art system needed them the most, succeeding in making music an acknowledged fine art medium for practitioners whose work could not be filed neatly under the gallery show folder. Today’s landscape is fluid, and cross-pollination between adjacent fields emerges as a necessity to break the boundaries that have long since exhausted their meaning in the art domain.

Emerged from a plethora of Facebook groups, Reddit threads and scattered SoundCloud accounts, the term “deconstructed club music”—like it or not—has caused a paradigmatic shift, with sinister, soft-emo palettes appealing to a market segment and proving relevant to a community of artists and enthusiasts that did not exist before. The label, partly demystified by Simon Reynolds’ 2019 Pitchfork article on “Conceptronica,” has since become a much-debated umbrella term for a spectrum of club-adjacent practices.

It’s a quite minimalist approach in action, where a simple composition becomes a medium for honest experimentation in sound.

In a style characteristic of many deconstructed club producers, Christelle Oyiri makes music, under the moniker Crystallmess, from her bedroom in the Parisian banlieue. Working without support from analog synthesizers, sequencers or drum machines, she uses only what’s at her direct proximity: Ableton and VST plugins. This simple setup, however, has not prevented her from building up a distinctive sonic palette, delivering weaponly, dancefloor-oriented tracks infused with raw energy and pathos that bridge a complex narrative of cultural references. Untold stories and cultural hauntologies reminiscent of the Afrodiasporic experience are recurrent tropes in Crystallmess’ music, often translated through syncopated rhythm patterns and heavy basslines.

A recent example is her ongoing interest in logobi, a dance phenomenon that, despite being born in the Ivory Coast, blew up majorly in Paris in the late 2010s. A marginal practice that had not been documented beyond the oral testimonies of those involved, logobi became for Oyiri the key to investigate how vernacular culture is incorporated and hybridized within motherland society. “Logobi was the celebration of an uninhibited Africanness in the very sacred and falsely color-blind French public space,” she explains. “Dancers were forming crews, performing loudly, taking up space in subways, public railway stations.” Oyiri translated this story through the use of film and performance to create Collective Amnesia: In Memory of Logobi (2018), a multidisciplinary performance exhibited in contemporary art institutions like Lafayette Anticipations in Paris and Auto Italia South East in London. “The art system just gives me greater means and time to perfect my craft and reflect on my practice in a wider context,” Oyiri tells me when asked if she sees the gallery as an adequate substitute of the dancefloor. Of course, as a multi-hyphenate artist digests heterogeneous influences which don’t always find their most effective expression in the club; as a result, Oyiri’s practice fluctuates around installation, performance and writing. Among other things, she’s working with Los Angeles-based artist and conceptual entrepreneur Martine Syms on an original soundtrack for a video work exploring “the sign of Blackness in the public imagination,” after having contributed to Telfar’s Spring 2020 fashion show in Paris with a sound piece.

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Mere Noises (2018), Crystallmess’ self-released debut EP, is an unexpected piece of heartwarming electronics, absorbing elements of raw rave energy, dark dancehall and melancholic ambient. Throughout the album, there’s a sense of romanticism and dark joy delivered through austere synth swoops and brutal beats. It’s a quite minimalist approach in action, where a simple composition becomes a medium for honest experimentation in sound. More elaborate is her contribution to last year’s split EP with Toxe, released as part of PAN’s white-label, limited-edition vinyl series—a two-track set of alien tech-rave showing an increase in complexity, sonic manipulation and FX design. Crystallmess’ sound is developing en-route, and her upcoming releases—together with a jam-packed agenda of DJ gigs throughout Europe and an ongoing NTS radio residency—will undoubtedly set the bar even higher.

Photo credit: Jim Nedd

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