Reclaiming Marginal Narratives in a Globalised World: In Conversation with Autogenesis
by Georgina Quach
Located on the site of a former S-bahn railway station bordering Kreuzberg – an area in Berlin that has experienced rapid gentrification over the past decade – Görlitzer Park (or ‘Görli’ to locals) is currently under threat by state attempts to ‘clean up’ the city’s shadier areas. Police crackdowns on rave gatherings and drug-dealing in the park are endangering the liberal values and counterculture that have made Kreuzberg one of the most tolerant and multi-cultural areas in Berlin. Built in the 1990s, Görli became more than just a site of reunification after the fall of the Berlin wall: it became an inclusive meeting place where diverse crowds from both sides gathered, got drunk and danced together in a haze of ecstasy-enhanced euphoria. Today, the ritual remains: people link up here, buy and sell drugs, then head to their nightclub of choice. As I had quickly discovered whilst trying to cut through the park after dark, Görli still serves as a transactional space where illicit traders operate. A green and pleasant public space in the light of day, this is where I first met Julio Pattio, co-founder of the Berlin-based record label and magazine Autogenesis.
Sat on a park bench, we chatted about Berlin club culture, cassettes and the value of music journalism in working towards better intercultural exchanges and a more co-operative globalised world. Together with Mariam Kalandarishvili, Julio has released music by eight international artists (on cassette) alongside a print magazine, which fuses sound and text. To some extent, Autogenesis reflects the crisis point of a certain generation – as an experimental project that pushes back against the commercialization of the underground. Rather than simply representing and speaking for musicians, they’re interested in starting a two-way conversation and representing themselves with the artist. And without pretense or fiction.
What motivated you to create Autogenesis?
Autogenesis is pretty much a logical follow-up to the accumulation of our experiences as foreigners living in Europe. I say “our” because I met Mariam here in Berlin and it didn’t take long for us to realize how we had so many similar disappointments – diasporic people get often caught in a trap of recognition and success, failing to make sure historical justice is obtained … The city of Berlin played a crucial role in this, not in the classical way, since neither of us wanted to work for a start-up or start DJing. It is more in negative terms, in the sense we got tired with how ‘creative individuals’ living in Berlin are sending mixed messages and missing a great chance to actualize the project of a true multicultural city.
When Julio and I first started exchanging emails, we bonded over the fact that both of us have – in some degree – experienced a sense of displacement, whether that be cultural, geographical or familial. My Vietnamese heritage shapes my life in lots of ways, but as I grow older and more alert to alternate modes of creating, far removed from Western culture, it’s taught me what it means to dig deeper, both into history and ourselves, to talk about and enjoy music differently. This involves thinking about how music from outside of Western and English-speaking territories (‘World Music’) should be distributed and represented in mainstream media.
Autogenesis is built on the need to address both the rewards and challenges of sharing and representing non-Western music in a global age, which remains, in some aspects, tethered to a dominant Western, Anglo-centric outlook. Over the past few decades, audiences have become more and more exposed to untrodden ground and marginal voices from all over the world. For Julio, however, this opening-out of horizons comes with great responsibility.
The tumultuous history of Görlitzer Park (©Huck)
What role does music journalism play in this growing globalised landscape?
Magazines that, until 2005, were just writing about European avant-garde, or covering some non-European music as an exception, are now dedicating pages and more pages to intercultural exchanges and cultural projects coming from far away. We should let go of old habits and structures that favour narratives based on exclusivism and legitimacy and create new spaces for true intercultural dialogue and possible new ways to enunciate our stories. The music journalist must show an effort to respectfully translate the creative text. Because, music is not only music, ever.
How can journalists show this respect for other cultures?
[Music journalists] should be trained in intercultural skills and competences, instead of just looking for the privilege of presenting the freshest sound ever and to appear as unearthing the uncharted territory of Kazakhstan club culture or Thai folk music. I find it mind-blowing how so much of the non-Western music that gets promoted in Europe comes with captions contextualizing that music in an oppressive environment, facing political danger.
Having spent a year as a Brazilian academic in France – teaching a philosophy course that left little room for diversity – Julio understands that mutually beneficial intercultural exchanges require respect and careful research. By taking the time to understand the cultural codes and distinctive features of that particular scene, onlookers can avoid boxing musicians in stereotypical and superficial narratives.
I wanted to call attention to how the western cultural machine is working well and unstoppably also in the dark corners of the underground, where every individual feels so entitled as the saviour of post-modernity, to turn difference into sameness, into the familiar and harmless face of the noble savage.
There is so much harm in having English as this chosen language, conveying ideals of modernity, coolness and multiculturalism, whereas we truly believe it obscures the permissive aspects of language, a form of linguistic imperialism … forcing many to play by the rules of a game they don’t even understand.
Also living in Berlin, Mariam, the co-founder of Autogenesis, is alert to different ways of representing subjects.
Mariam, how has your academic background played a part in Autogenesis?
I have a BA in Audio-Visual Art and recently finished a MA in Spatial Strategies in Berlin. In my photographic work, which I’ve been focusing on lately, I intervene in the interplay between documentary and staged photography. Photography led me to develop a fascination for print and graphic design, that’s why I’m in charge of all the graphic part in our project and overall aesthetic concepts.
Autogenesis is also a record label. Do you think that more people should start up their own record labels? What is the value of independent labels today – especially for young creatives?
Autogenesis releases sound and music, yes. I’m very stubborn, perhaps, in my reluctance to use the term ‘label’. We want to continue experimenting with new forms of interactions, new forms of togetherness and new ways to belong to a collective body. In my opinion, the interest of starting up your own record label is the same as starting a new book club in your neighbourhood, it’s the collective body it creates. The safe space it can secure for people coming from different routes. I’m thinking about underground culture that is happening right now outside of this voracious axis between US and EU. I would love to see those amazing creative individuals amongst us connecting and getting together, without the interference of Western efforts to homogenize and to present the underground as their own creation. This is at the root of our radio show: the world clock is no longer set to Europe, times are changing and the world has many different points of gravity now.
Oh yeah, kudos to the team at boxout.fm and Nishan for the invitation! We are broadcasting every first Saturday of the month, at 18:00 IST. I have very limited to non-existent skills when it comes to working with sound … I just like talking and discussing with people [who often finish the show themselves haha]. We’ve had three shows so far, and two of them included guests. Each one deals with a completely different range of topics, questions, music styles and other mediums of expression. The main objective is to approach music as something other than just a collection of melodies or dissonance, but rather as historical texts waiting to be dialogically translated.
Words by Alex Greenwood
Do you think that making small batches of cassettes is another way into this artist-focused approach – as an organic, slower mode of distributing music?
The materiality of what we do is extremely important to us … as far as the releases/issues go we want to keep it analogue. For us it has the potency to pause the contemporary narrative of speed, efficiency and results. It offers us a moment to experience reality in a different pace, listening to our own breath when we are cutting and gluing in a room, far from everything else.
The increasing privatization of public space (and thought) in Berlin, as exemplified by the decline of Görlitzer Park – a battleground between Berlin’s liberalism and conservatism – has left its scars on creative projects such as Autogenesis. From its inception, the park has been a vital space for connecting migrant communities – the majority of Görli’s traders coming from West Africa – who find support by fostering cultural networks. As Kreuzberg gentrifies, Berlin’s fame as a haven for counterculture and multiculturalism is being confronted by rising skepticism – not just amongst anti-racism protestors fighting for Görli’s survival.
Berlin may be the land of hedonistic love, selfish liberation and the great igniter of body revolutions, but there is very little here about a true and decolonized love, a whole cartography of feelings that would be inseparable from our politics…we are missing the structures keeping oppression, enslavement, violence and ignorance so active. First, we just talk to people with similar minds, we all go to the same steamy club and dance to the same music, while taking the same drugs. Once that wicked weekend is over, we will probably post the same pictures on our social medias, dark, nihilistic, just like the others.
As Julio has witnessed, not just on social media, sometimes artists preach excitedly about self-love and personal development, whilst privately making damning judgements about other individuals and projects.
Instead of coming together, our contemporaneity is marked by a fierce competition and everyone wants to scream louder than the other, instead of trying to scream together.
Although the hypocrisy and competitiveness amongst preachers of liberal values sits uneasily with Berlin’s tolerant image, for Julio, we still have reason to be optimistic. As an independent publisher, Autogenesis have the power to elevate the underrepresented, disrupt the status quo and enact real change, however small to begin with.
Hence our emphasis on interactions rather than just grouping people as an act of curation. We don’t need curators, we need friends and allies. We need to feel safe to talk about our feelings, our fears and how difficult life can be. But we need this on a true human level, not as part of artists and DJs statements.
This is what we are trying, to become different people, to speak a different language, to organize our affectivities according to a new vocabulary, to talk about our past with new words, not charged with historical patronization and exclusion, but rooted in individual and collective strategies of empowerment and love.
What lies in the future for Autogenesis (releases, projects, networks, print etc..)?
It’s difficult to find your place when home is nowhere. But perhaps here is exactly where lies one of our strong points, to be a dissonant voice right at the heart of the European cultural circuit. Berlin has become so quickly an idol, that we feel someone has to say the king is naked. Having said that, we do have a few fantastic releases lined up. We are trying to put out four issues every year and it’s been working so far. This is the reason we continue doing this, because of the great musicians and writers we have the chance to meet and exchange with. So, I hope lot more of interactions lie ahead for us.
It’s inspiring to see!
Words by Georgina Quach
Photos by Alex Greenwood
Georgina posing outside an old industrial building in Berlin