- So first of all how are you? And are you excited for the forthcoming release now that the time has nearly arrived for your new art to be unleashed?
I’m very well thanks, and naturally, yes – excited to unleash the new mix of PUKIJAM!
- Firstly, the music – it is very complex. I can’t begin to imagine how you start formulating these ideas. How do you piece these ideas together then? Is it a collage ‘cut-and-paste’ type of method, or do you have a rough linear, pre-conceived narrative of stylistic components you use to guide how the music should flow from one section to the next?
At its heart, PUKIJAM evolved from and revolves around a 12 bar ostinato which features at approx 2 minutes 20 seconds into the track. Riff variants and themes were improvised and transformed to adopt various popular and niche music styles, including dub, rock, metal, samba, classical, folk and bossa nova. The piece runs for 7 minutes 28 seconds with each section punctuated and interrupted by banjo, mandola, percussive and cello motifs.
- The vocals are strenuous on the vocal cords I imagine; please don’t tell me you performed that without any technical aid!? And if so: WOW!
Yes, the vocals are completely authentic. I kept them raw with minimal reverb applied: each breath, each grunt…warts and all – an unadulterated non-linguistic vocal response, originally laid down against an earlier, stripped back version of the PUKIJAM track…and yes, it can certainly put a strain on the voice, especially when delivered live, without a mic or musical accompaniment – as I often do in galleries. Naturally, I can never recreate the vocal as it exists on the recording, so anything could happen from one performance to the next.
I recently delivered a looser, more extreme version of PUKIJAM at the RA where I pushed my voice to a point of exhaustion. The abject nature of this is also psychologically demanding – operating in extreme opposition to what would usually be regarded as acceptable civilized behaviour. Yet, after a certain point, performances can feel strangely serene as they resonate with audiences – perhaps atavistic instincts come into play.
Last year I delivered my most extreme performance at The Freud Museum, for
‘Festival of the Unconscious’ (See below) – beginning with a formal lecture, followed by atonal cello, and later moving into what can perhaps only be described as guttural, non- linguistic vocal eruptions!
What’s the purpose of the vocal? You’re saying a lot… no doubt conveying a message of sorts, but it’s not apparent when we can’t decipher it through the usual parameters of lyrics and/or melody. So therefore how do we construct meaning from the vocal?
Yes – vocally, you should certainly disregard meaning as it exists in familiar, intelligible terms. Such terms are rendered obsolete. My non-linguistic performances explore what feminist theorists have long asserted: the performative nature of language, discourse and indeed, all identities – i.e. the sounds we produce when speaking intelligible language bare no intrinsic meaning beyond cultural conditioning, yet we invest considerable belief in, and attachment to the familiar system of language and visible imagery around us. In doing so, we afford this system the power to marginalize, misrepresent and negate identities.
Much of my work as QC is concerned with moving beneath, between and ultimately, beyond familiar signifiers and discourse, as disseminated through the networks of majority culture. I’m largely concerned with staging new connections, re-wiring and choreographing contexts, and through doing so, exploring ways to render marginalized identities visible and powerful on equal terms within existing hegemonic frameworks.
To experiment with alternative discourse and meaning through art and theory is appropriate, owing to the theatrical, performative nature of identity, and the subsequent performance of power as it currently exists.
To dismiss forms of experimentation conducted through contemporary art as ‘tripe’, ‘claptrap’ or ‘nonsense’ (as people sometimes do) – is simply to deny the unfamiliar and reject it through a set of learned rules and responses, which by definition, are equally absurd!
- And I guess the music over-all – is it a pastiche of modern music? Somewhat a reflection stating that all genres have started to interlink with one another over time? At least that’s our initial theory from listening.
Yes, musical genres have homogenised, although it’s largely because artists can generate more revenue if they’re prepared to sound less distinct and appeal to wider audiences. Said homogeneity therefore serves up a diluted, familiar, and non-offensive end product.
However, by contrast, through the PUKIJAM (single), QC violently antagonizes the consumption of her overt identity – employimg an uncomfortable cross categorization of genres and musical styles. I don’t think my musical output as QC even fits into the category of sound art, which has become a house style in itself, to a larger extent.
My recent PUKIJAM single and the previous tracks aren’t concerned with becoming popular or generating revenue in a music context. It’s not music to dance or relax to. The QC project is a conceptual art pursuit.
The other tracks and videos: VJAZZLED, PR BLITZ, SNOW DADDY – see QC deployed as a semblance of pop and punk. The musical styles adopted by these tracks are more familiar to pop audiences, yes – but their concern is to interrogate the formula of pop and celebrity culture and consider how this impacts on black female visibility, identity construction and the scope for generating alternative agencies, within the hegemonic frameworks of majority culture (and indeed, contemporary art). My work sits uncomfortably and defiantly within pop music and video playlists posted online – like an infection.
I will be writing a chapter on QC and militant punk interventions in art and majority culture for an upcoming text: The Evolution of the Image: Political Action and the Digital Self, to be published as part of Routledge Advances in Art and Visual Studies Series, 2017.
- There’s quite a dystopian feel to your art – is that something you feel is a reflection of the modern world with the seemingly dark year we’re lead to believe we’re experiencing?
Dr Alexandra Kokoli (Lecturer, Middlesex University) recently described my PUKIJAM (video) as follows: ‘QC’s preoccupation with all things quintessentially British seems so prescient now’ – here, she was referring to the Brexit crisis.
The QC project employs dystopian facades through video, music, painting – from rundown DIY Punk aesthetics, (PR BLITZ) to extreme slap-stick, ‘poor taste’ glamour (VJAZZLED) – through to sensationalist, taboo, ‘distasteful’ sexuality (SNOW DADDY). These videos are largely concerned with identifying the limitations of expression and representation afforded to all identities within the confines of majority culture – but specifically black female identities.
…and PUKIJAM utilizes highly problematic, negative racial stereotypes combined with quintessential British signifiers – pitching them alongside each other in a bid to make another relation possible, so the QC project and video imagery is not entirely dystopian as it constitutes a search for a positive, liberating outcome.
PUKIJAM and other works produced through the QC project have been met with suspicion and bemusement from people who hold the belief that majority culture/ the entertainment industry produces superior examples of what art and culture should do, sound and look like. The reaction is revealing, given the current political climate, where, largely the automatic response to strangers, the strange and the new is usually one of suspicion, dilution and negation, since alternative voices interrupt familiar understanding and reference points; hence a fear of migrants or indeed anything that challenges the quotidien.
- Do you feel there is any room for ‘art’ within the multi-corporate, consumerist nature of the music world? This has always remained a conflicting struggle in the history of popular music.
The definition of art is fairly broad, so it depends which art form you’re referring to…if you’re referring to conceptual performance art, then beyond a fleeting presence, I don’t believe it can be developed or sustained within the popular music machine.
Firstly, in this arena, artists are denied the opportunity to control the nuances of how their work is staged and experienced outside of that which directly benefits the commercial music industry. Here, everything must entertain – appear slick, ‘professional’, sexy, cool, relatable – and art is judged on these terms alone. If an artist’s work isn’t diluted in this instance, then, simply by virtue of producing and disseminating work within a popular music context, will quickly render the artist one and the same with capital – appropriated as the latest shocking and outrageous fad for sale, and therefore, no longer an objective critique or an alternative voice. In this instance any deviance from the norm will be reduced to a mere trade-mark, and the alternative, normalized.
Of course, many pop musicians refer to themselves as artists, and they are indeed popular music artists, some of whom take their art to the conceptual and creative limit of where it can be taken, within the context of popular music and the entertainment industry. Many of these artists choose to employ or claim to employ satire or irony within their work, without acknowledging that the languages of satire and irony already belong to capital. QC is concerned with staging herself as a pastiche of these artists, examining surface aesthetics, albeit with the more pernicious intention of dis-identifying with these surfaces…and this can be done successfully, only when operating at a distance from majority culture.
In the beginning some components of the QC project were read through the lens of satire – I guess because it’s a more familiar reference point – however – an over-identification and subsequent dis-identification with punk, pop culture and capital is a better way to describe and engage with QC, and the concerns of the project as a whole. Over-identification and subsequent dis-identification as a technique, can include the tools of satire, but dis-identification is not invested in fulfilling the purpose of satire or irony as a means to an end. Over-identification and dis-identification moves beyond satire and irony, and isn’t restricted by a requirement to entertain – plus, over-identification and dis-identification also have the capacity to operate artistically, against capital.
- When can we next catch you live in London?
I will be giving a performative lecture at Autograph ABP on September 9th, in response to Raphael Albert’s ‘Miss Black and Beautiful’ exhibition.
In 2017, I’ll be showing new paintings and live performances in my solo exhibition at MOCA London, (opening on July 11th).
- Are there any musicians/movements/artists in this city you know off and want to shout out to?
Oh gosh, yes!
Not all of them are based in London – indeed, not all of them are still alive, but their work shows in London, and I think it’s great:
Mike Kelley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Keith Piper, Angela de la Cruz, Jemima Stehli, Anselm Kiefer, Oriana Fox, Tracey Emin, Bruce Nauman, Paul McCarthy, Hayley Newman, Ellen Cantor, Peter Land (the visual artist) –
And generally, all artists whose work is met with suspicion and loathing from the general public, yet they continue to practice, study, and push the remit of what art can be. I truly admire this.
- Finally three most influential pieces of music to you?
John Cage – 4’33”; Laurie Anderson – O Superman; Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive
#QC thank you for your time!
You’re very welcome
Check out the accompanying video right here:
PUKIJAM is released this Friday, GET IT RIIIIGHT HERE: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/pukijam-single/id1135097483
Interview with Robbie Cully