It’s the unnatural thing…
an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.
13 artists from around the world and 4 local Houston DJ’s have collaborated with Station Museum to create a unique blend of mixed media and visual installations around the theme of corporate capitalism. More than 20 students from Houston Community College were approached to create design covers for the DJ mixes. Some posters were compiled into a large collage while others were used as the primary art for the cover art of each mix. The cover artwork selected was:
“The Bomb” by Elisabeth Martinez in the 2-D design course
“Trumpzilla” by Perla Luna in the 2-D design course
“A Dummy and his King” by Btandea Gordon in Digital Art and Photography
“Yielding the American Dream” by Michael Sutton in Digital Art and Photography
Audience interaction is the central theme in many pieces sparking human interest and involvement within their own relationship with capitalism. The Corpocracy Sound Series based off the exhibit includes Houston based DJ’s, Gracie Chavez, DJ Hiram, Flash Gordon Parks and DJ Elevated. Talking with each DJ about the partnership between art and music made me curious to what the average person thinks capitalism actually is, and what they choose to do with that knowledge. So I ask the question…
How do you define capitalism?
Although we all in some way participate in corporate capitalism or have in our lifetime, the greed that marginalizes the classes ironically is the thing that separates us the most. Knowing that we all benefit from a little capitalism, the top echelons in charge abuse the privileges of personal freedom by manipulating the general public into depravity.
Mexican artist, Yoshua Okón documents the dependent nature consumers have with the corporate food industry. He uses McDonalds as an example of what he calls “consumer society” in his video installation piece Freedom Fries. He uses an obese model as a symbolic piece referencing the ideology of “freedom” through the lens of the manipulated consumer. This freedom is lived through mass consumption parallel to low self-esteem and shame. Freedom Fries uniquely merges video loop installations with found objects and print.
Easily, one of the most popular pieces of Corpocracy are by Spanish artist, Eugenio Merino. The series he displays hyper-realistic resin sculptures of dictators of several different counties of the world including former President George W. Bush. The sculptures are made to cartoonishly imitate preserved human bodies in vessels, (see the “Heads in Jars” episode of Futurama). Merino’s work is straight to the point and comical in his approach, but doesn’t overshadow the extraordinary skill he has of making each figure look as life-like as possible. Walking up eye to eye with each figure, the details are meticulously analyzed to be perfectly mimicked right down to moles and fingernails. The connection between humor and world relations is a line finer than a #2 pencil, so when people say “truth is stranger than fiction” most of the time they are right.
Corpocracy exudes rawness from each piece. Writing about the idiosyncrasies of each one would drag this article on forever, so I want to touch on the most polarizing areas that drew in my fascination. Anything that is visually engaging such as video and stand alone sculptures pique my interests. While wandering through the many rooms of the Station Museum I discovered two video performance pieces accompanied with audio. First one called Money to Burn explored the subject of excessiveness on Wall Street and the exploitation of money. The performer encouraged spectators and tourists to donate money for him to burn on the street while singing “money to burn”. Many spectators were uncomfortable in the presence of someone disrespecting their intrinsic values, and in a polarizing statement of highlighting the immoralism of wealth on Wall Street in the most transgressive way. The same performer also enacted a slave like auction in the second video while reading exerts of the Dread Scott vs Sandford case of 1857. This case revolved around the citizenship of slaves in the US. While the case reached all the way to the Supreme Court, it was disappointingly shot down 7-2. Many people may know the name Dread Scott, but may not know the history behind his revolutionary stance.
In this case, history has repeated itself in which the United States, a country founded on immigration can enact impunity on certain people and not others, which brings light to our flawed immigration system. Recognizing more people as citizens and encouraging comprehensive immigration reform would only strengthen the middle class while disassembling and fairly taxing the highest income percentage households. New immigrants would be provided rights to healthcare, a livable working wage and government assistance. All these things wouldn’t threaten the economy as much as the beneficiaries at the top of the totem pole. The Dread Scott performance was meant to be uncomfortable for the audience as 4 nude black men looked them in the eyes the entire time. The audience was to walk through a roped off area to get to makeshift voting booths. Each side of the stage was guarded by German Shepard dogs loudly barking over the moderator reading the Dread Scott Decision. In each voting booth was a single questing asking if the participant would vote in the 2012 election, (the year of this performance). The dehumanization of black people in this country was made literal to the audience while simultaneously casting a “vote”. This affectively was a way for the audience to really grasp the magnitude of their own short comings and prejudice.
Living in a nation of “freedom” many outliers rarely have to participate in the inconsistencies of corporate capitalism rather benefit off the fruitful labor of someone else’s back. This exhibit really brought understanding to the different facets of capitalism. A few of them being, immigration, big business, foreign relations, and public consumption. The accessibility made the exhibit even more enjoyable along with hands on installations. The DJ Sound Series collaboration was a nice touch to display the amalgamation of visual and performance art. Throughout each week of the month of January, each DJ will perform their set as well as artists talks featuring both the artists and DJs circling around their personal connection to the exhibit. Here is just a little taste of what to expect starting January 14th.
How did you hear about the SMOCA (Station Museum of Contemporary Arts) Capitalism Sound Series project, and why did you want to participate?
Flash Gordon Parks: I’m a huge advocate for Art and I try to visit the SMOCA when time permits. I was approached by Ashura Bayyan (SMOCA Assistant Curator) to participate and I was very intrigued by the concept of the show.
Chavez: Ashura reached out to me [as well] about participating in SMOCA’s Sound Series Project. He was assembling a group of Houston DJs that would bring an interesting perspective to this project. My friend and fellow DJ Klinch of the Krackernuttz recommended me.
Elevated: The opportunity to be involved came by way of a friend name Alex Tu. He referred me for the project. I had always seen the museum in passing but never new exactly what it was. I met with Ashura and the concept resonated with me. It was relevant and vivid in its presentation. It offered me the challenge of curating a new experience, which it what I’m passionate about. The doing of what I desire most.
Hiram: Initially, I heard about the project through one of the art teachers who I work with. He mentioned Ron English was going to be showing some work and I dove deep into researching his art. I was immediately drawn to the show and was shortly contacted by Ashura. I was very excited to learn that each mix had to belong to a theme, and the theme of South American immigrant discrimination stood out to me the most. The pieces just fell into place as time went by. I had no idea I would be sampling Donald Trump’s speeches
Does your culture heavily influence your music?
Hiram: I wouldn’t say so. I feel like I take heavier influence from several different cultures but am not defined by a single one. I just like good music and every culture has that.
Flash Gordon Parks: Our DJ culture is very diverse. There are DJ’s in the city that are well versed in everything from Country to Punk to House to Cumbia to Soul to Hip Hop and everything else in between.
Hiram: It’s a melting pot of diverse cultures as well as musical styles. The music in our nightlife takes influence from several different genres unique to our location. A little hip hop here, techno there, Cumbia here, and even some rock and roll. The different tastes people crave is very diverse in Houston. Plenty of parties and events thrive across the board in terms of musical styles. The music is always up to date and DJs really take their jobs seriously by keeping it that way.
Elevated: The only other city that I’ve spent a nice amount of time in involved in the local DJ culture is Detroit, MI. I lived there for 8 months in 2014. As soon as i touched down I was able to land my first gig that weekend through a promoter named Ben Jones. Being an out of town DJ had its appeal, bringing a new flavor to the scene, so I was received well from most other local Detroit DJs as a contributor, thou there was definitely competition. The major difference I’ve realized is the types of music people respond to. Here in Houston the music is historically slower. Detroit is the origin of techno and that tempo of music is heavily rooted there. SO you would have audiences of all generations positively responding to a faster paced sound. That type of algorithm effects the style of DJing.
Chavez: I’m proud to say that Houston’s culture has proven to be so diverse. With the exception of maybe NYC, many of the other places I’ve played nationwide have their own feel. But Houston is an international port and pretty much the gateway to/from Latin America. You can taste it in our fusion cuisine and especially hear it in our music and collaborations.
So was that your [Chavez] motivation for co-founding Bombón, (the tropical dance themed party), here in Houston?
Chavez: I think that founding Bombón (the DJ collective and respective dance night) and revitalizing Cumbia in Houston feels more like an evolution than a motivation. But one of the things that really sparked it was a lot of the “digital Cumbia” that was emerging from South America a decade ago. New artists began experimenting with traditional Latin music but giving it a futuristic sound. I think this made it OK to revisit my parents’ playlists and mix it into my weekly DJ sets. Eventually, a genuine interest grew and we’re now able to play a whole night of tropical bass, Screwmbia and other Latin-based music. [www.bombnhouston.com]
I noticed [Hiram], you use a lot of Baile Funk samples in your mix. What message did you want to send with the juxtaposition between Trump’s speeches and heavy cultural influential music?
Hiram: Favela culture is a culture which isn’t exactly glamorous or accepted by the majority of Brazilians. It’s very dirty. It’s aggressive. It reminds me of underground trap music over here in the states. The lyrics are provocative almost 100% of the time and typically not accepted by the white collar demographic. I tried to go against everything Donald Trump was saying in his speeches with the music and lyrics in the songs I played. It took a while to construct a sort of order for the dialogue to flow and contrast with the music.
Flash, you directed the Documentary “This Thing We Do”. Why do you feel like the Houston music scene needed a film like this?
Flash Gordon Parks: Houston has a rich music history that hasn’t been documented extensively over the years. There are so many incredible stories to tell. Particularly DJ Culture in this city is a huge part of the fabric that brings people together. The DJ is responsible for setting the mood whether it be radio, clubs, parties or other events. It was important for me to show the range of musical taste the city of Houston offers.
All of you DJ a very broad array of different genres particularly in the Sound Series, is there a genre that resonates more with you and your audience, if so why is that?
Elevated: Specifically, that particular genre would be determined by specific moments in time and specific groups of people. Its about to vibe of that moment. As a DJ, one should begin to develop and master the art of synchronicity with the audiences feelings. I really dig eclectic mind challenging music, but also the heavy grooves that are found in present day fusions on funk, jazz, soul, and hip hop with electronic/synthesized aspects.
Flash Gordon Parks: I choose songs that represent the emotions I felt after viewing the exhibition [specifically]. I want the listener to listen to each song with the exhibition in mind.
Was there any particular way you chose the songs featured in your mix? A specific meaning you wanted to focus on?
Elevated: There was. I wanted to create a full experience, covering the ills of these relative issues in our society, creating an audibly stimulating experience that would spark deep thought and awareness when experiencing the exhibit, and offer some solutions and reasoning. Many of the sound bites used were directly related to topics covered in the exhibit. I also intend to achieve this by way of music selections that reflected a raw approach to the exposing of these ills using some of my favorite artists and composer. Ie. MF Doom, Flying Lotus, and local jazz fusion composer Philippe Edison.
Chavez: I chose the songs featured on my SMOCA mix based on some of the socio-political themes that seem to hit close to home for me. It was an opportunity to take an “audio snapshot” of where we are today and even project a positive outlook. For example, I chose “Enemigo Publico” by El Dusty, an up-and-coming Latin-American producer who was just listed as a new artist to watch by Rolling Stone. In his song, he samples Public Enemy mixing it with lots of bass and cumbia, much in the same way colonialism played out when Europeans occupied Latin America and exploited its culture and economy. This project definitely gave me a chance to focus on more substantive, rather than temporal, music selections. And that was kind of cool.
Flash, you have a song by The American’s of ’72 “The Cancer Stick”. Was there a reason you wanted to use a song about cigarettes pertaining to capitalism?
Flash Gordon Parks: I wanted to use this song for multiple reasons. The American’s of ’72 were a group of musicians from Houston who recorded on Skipper Lee Frazier’s Ovide Label. I felt their song about cigarettes was fitting for the exhibition. Not only have Tobacco Companies been dominant in the role of Capitalism but they have been chiefly responsible for the health issues of the many users. I saw these things reflected in the works of the artist as I viewed the exhibition.
Hiram, I loved that your mix focused on a central theme. Comments that certain politicians (Donald Trump) as made about immigrants, specifically Hispanic immigrants and Hispanic Americans. Was this a theme you immediately felt like you needed to explore? Why?
Hiram: Personally, I feel outraged by what Donald Trump has said about the hispanic demographic. I was born in Mexico and think it’s ridiculous too see that it has become okay to be openly racist and have it televised. Times are changing and so are the people of this country. Trump doesn’t understand that a large portion of our minorities are the backbone of the nation. Hard working individuals build his buildings, hard working individuals do his landscaping and more than likely clean his home. I think he needs to rethink his approach and word choice.
Gracie, you’re also a revisiting DJ instructor for Girls Rock Camp Houston, do you believe the female DJ representation lacking?
Chavez: Sure. I think that’s fair to say. Female DJs are in short supply. I recently re-established an all-female DJ night,Les Femmes, with DJs Grrrl Parts and Angiesliste in order to highlight their talent but also in hopes it encourages more girls to play. I think that just like with any musician, you invest a lot of time and money in a music interest and craft. You’ve got to be a true music-head and have a sincere commitment to not only be a DJ, but one that also happens to be a lady. [www.girlsrockhouston.org]
The amalgamation between visual arts and sound is often blurred. We see that with artists such as Flying Lotus. Do you feel like visuals are important pieces for audience interaction?
Elevated: Of course. Even if someone came to a party, concert or event with their eyes closed the visuals would be present. I had an interesting experience at the Flying Lotus set at the Day for Night Fest. His visuals were mind blowing, but at one moment I closed my eyes for a while and enjoyed the awareness of the visuals that my own mind/imagination created as a reaction to the music. It was equally stimulating in that moment. The blur of that line can be challenged by the decision to provide the experience/receive whats being presented, versus creating your own.
Hiram: Visuals definitely play an important role during concerts and festivals. It’s rare to see an artist go far beyond the typical lighting and visuals at their shows. I do believe that artists have the power to create change in communities and I also believe more artists should realize the power they possess. If every artist worked with other artists to create visual works with substance, concerts could be used to address real problems and make people aware that things are not okay.
Do you feel like Dj culture is overlooked?
Chavez: Not at all. DJ culture is ever-present and celebrated each weekend in the clubs, radio shows and podcasts we listen to. It’s what most hard-working people look forward to every week; it’s the tracks artists hope you’ll play next weekend; and, as a DJ, it’s what new sounds or music you’ll help to break this year. It’s evident that DJ culture, especially in Houston, is vital after watching DJ Flash’s documentary “This Thing We Do”. It sheds some light on how instrumental a DJ has been in recorded music history.
Flash Gordon Parks: I think in the present day the DJ is taken for granted due to technology. There is a certain care, understanding and attention to detail that goes into the craft.
Elevated: I wouldn’t say that [it is overlooked], but I really wouldn’t know, and care even less. I feel that the DJ plays and had played an important roll in the realm of music. The DJ spreads the sound. The DJ is the healer when life weighs on you. The DJ helps facilitate your freedom in that moment. And so they say remedies and medicines come to those that need it.
Hiram: To people who don’t know what it takes to be a successful DJ, definitely. People don’t take into consideration that there is a ton of stiff competition out here. Everyone has a DJ night. Everyone offers drink specials. But to some, it’s not all about that. Some people really find release listening to and discovering new music. DJs need to have the ability to read a crowd and be a taste makers when the time is right. I think it’s the DJs job to introduce listeners to some fresh, out of the ordinary music..but also bring in some popular throwbacks when the mood is right. Not every DJ can do that and successfully build their night/brand while maintaining a sense of self worth. The goal is not to just play 100% requests…we have jukeboxes for that.
Where you can find the Sound Series Mixes:
Where you can find the DJs:
Flash Gordon Parks
DJ Gracie Chavez
Originally posted on To Be Honest (TBH)
Lauren Zoë, a native of Houston, Texas and Columbus, Ohio seeks to discover new and exciting ways to explore her artistic palette. Growing up in Ohio and consistently moving around throughout her childhood has rounded her into finding new perspectives on culture through meeting many people of different backgrounds and upbringings. This transcended Lauren from Graphic Designer to Photographer and Writer. Along with her freelancing design career, Lauren has wrote contributing articles for Free Press Houston’s art and film pages and has launched her own website To Be Honest (TBH), where she writes about current social issues, art, music and fashion happening within communities of color.