Voluminous Arts

Text Heavy

by Gavilán Rayna Russom
September 17th 2020

Gavilán Rayna Russom

IN A 2009 review of my first transmissions as Black Meteoric Star, journalist Phillip Sherburne would make the very odd assertion that I was an artist who approached dance music as an outsider, the implication being that he was an insider. As a woman who became aware of (and fell in love with) Techno and Acid House, as well as many other forms of Black electronic music during their first waves in the mid 1980’s; who began DJ’ing parties at 15 years old in the early 90’s; and who has been on dance floors, moving her body to electronic rhythms for over three decades (two at the time the piece was written); I could not understand what he meant or why he would say such a thing. His review became a critical reference point to me in understanding the ways in which music journalism is able to encode false histories and re-write memory, and the ways in which gatekeepers such as Sherburne rely on a dynamic of insider/outsider, not based on experience but based on position and privilege to maintain structures of legitimacy that are rooted in Eurocentrism and colonialism.

As a result of this foundational Eurocentrism most music writing, intentionally or not, serves a white supremacist agenda and as such structurally reproduces the values and delusions of colonialism. One of these delusions is a basic classist assumption that there is a population called “ordinary people” or “the masses” who are generally unintelligent, shallow and resistant to complexity. From this assumption arises a faulty notion of accessibility which is enforced upon both artists and journalists as a condition of their success to make sure that their work remains simplistic and status quo affirming by occupying agreed upon frameworks such as genre. While this assumption is absolutely false, it has been increasingly able to capitalize on the fear created by neoliberalism and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few; and to reproduce through both the music business and the business of music journalism an agenda of whitening, the primary feature of which is an intolerance for and a flattening of difference.

The homogenizing effect of these values and the platforms that reproduce them has created the necessity for genuine alternatives. I began Voluminous Arts in March of this year in the hopes that it might become a vehicle through which I could participate in creating some of these alternatives. Part of the ethos of Voluminous Arts is the concept of “Text Heavy”, which identifies a way of thinking about music through writing that expands rather than flattens its differences and complexities. Instead of packaging, reducing and flattening a piece of music to serve a fictionalized idea of commercial accessibility, “Text Heavy” proposes to use written language to slow down the process of engaging a piece of music by giving it context, shape and depth and by creating a wide range of different access points to its meaning and complexity, thus making it genuinely accessible to a wide range of listeners, dancers, breathers of sound, etc.

Today, Voluminous Arts is launching a home for our “Text Heavy” ethos via the label’s website, voluminousarts.com. A dedicated section of the site will feature writing about music that seeks to expand rather than reduce, explore rather than review and unpack rather than package the music the label releases and the social contexts from which it emerges. Our lead piece is a text by LA based artist Sandy Heyaime about her time launching and working at Brooklyn’s Bossa Nova Civic Club, inspired by the Pain Slut “Bloodshock” EP. As both a dancer and bartender, Sandy’s perspective on the club experience, the music that permeates it and the social needs it satisfies is critical. Those who have DJ’ed or produced in or for the club context with authenticity and connection know how vitally important both bartenders and dancers are to the living breathing organism that was a night out (in the former world when such a thing occurred), yet when histories of nightlife have been written these perspectives have been conspicuously absent. This is just the beginning. When music gets written about, and historicized, it gets written about from a certain slant; that slant is white supremacist, colonialist, patriarchal and cis normative. That slant reproduces itself in seen and unseen ways through the structures that have taken hold of the means of production of both music and music journalism. Voluminous Arts is providing a place where music gets written about differently. Come pay us a visit and take a breath.

I’m deeply grateful to both Crystal Penalosa and Cam Franklin for their willingness to work on this project with me. Crystal’s design of the website, our hours of conversation about how to do this and all that she’s brought to the label have moved it from a blurry and emotional vision to an emerging reality. My conversations and writing sessions with Cam have given depth and weight to the ethos of “Text Heavy” and their perspective has been a necessary part of bringing it to life. It has been both steadying and inspiring to have this powerhouse team to build the initial architecture of Voluminous Arts with.