In France, not only do your white counterparts get more opportunities, but they are also the ones gatekeeping what is seen as "authentic" African music. It adds another layer of complexity to discussions around the Black origins of electronic music.
In this conversation with fellow Black French artist Christelle Oyiri, the DJ, producer, multidisciplinary artist and writer also known as CRYSTALLMESS, we discuss the French electronic music scene's reluctance to tackle issues of cultural appropriation, as well as her ongoing residency at the UK's Wysing Arts Centre.
Hey Christelle, how are you? It's been a while. Can you present yourself for those who don't know you?
I go by the moniker of CRYSTALLMESS. I produce, make music out of bits and pieces and create art.
What motivated you to get into production?
I guess being some sort of frustrated dreamer led me to production. I wanted to paint my own pictures, whether they were/are good or not.
You grew up in the Parisian suburb of Villejuif, right? What was that like?
It was fab as a kid because the neighborhood was still pretty busy and had a lot of activities. It wasn't always safe but at least we had adventures and I don't regret anything. It got a little complicated as a teen because youth centers got defunded, and other issues surfaced with the 2008 economic crisis.
I saw that your Twitter account got suspended. What happened?
I called some racists some names and got suspended and deplatformed. I see a pattern of Black artists getting deplatformed or losing their blue check in a really vicious way on Twitter and I guess this follows the same pattern.
Meanwhile white supremacist can share their hateful messages for months before any they see any consequences, if there are any consequences at all.
You're a resident on London's NTS Radio with your show UNLEASHED, and you released a split EP on PAN in 2019. You also played Berghain a couple of times. I feel you're getting so much love outside of France—so why do you think there is such a disparity between the attention you get within the French scene compared to other countries?
It might appear like that but I actually feel embraced in France as a musician now. The scale for the type of music I make is obviously not the same in France and that's absolutely fine. I did a lot of radio and played in lots of clubs in France so I think the question has less to do with me being embraced and more to do with the French audience's relationship to the plurality of electronic music in general, as well as dare I say the "industry" of electronic music in France.
Things are either on a very large scale (major record labels) or an ultra-niche scale. There are no mid-range legacy labels like—I don't know—let's say Hyperdub, and that's why people constantly feel like there is a void. The reality is that on one hand, actually a lot is going on, but you have to do the digging for yourself instead of waiting for huge PR campaigns to tell you how good a record is. And on the other hand, contrary to Germany and the UK, French electronic music isn't funded at all despite being one of the most exported forms of French music. Contradictions!
Last June, I released a track called "ISSA REVENGE" for NADSAT's upcoming compilation, to be released in September 2020. It will mainly showcase French artists like Sentimental Rave, Ascendant Vierge or Boukan Records. Artists that have been making a name for themselves in their lanes by creating their record labels and creating exciting music themselves.
You recently released the INTROLUDO INFERNO MIXTAPE, which is centered around intros, interludes and sonic interstices as part of your residency with Wysing Arts Centre. Can you expand on that?
I thought that centering my mix around intros and interludes would be the opportunity to honor musicians' vulnerability, humor and psyché. It's often the occasion for us to use skits, dialogues, field recordings and experiment more than usual. I feel like you can get the real sense of a project through the silences, the intros and the interludes. It can be so generous and often feel like pieces of a puzzle. One of my favorite intros for instance has to be "The Infamous Prelude" by Mobb Deep, but I often thought to myself: how would it sound with an eerie choir synth?