The artist’s comeback disc, Raven, is long overdue – both for his fans and for cultural club
It’s a familiar path: a revered musician ventures from North America to Berlin in search of inspiration. Lou Reed did it. david bowie did it. Peaches did it. Jeff Mills did it.
Forgive me did so in early 2020, planning to record her second album in the German capital and blaming writer’s block when she struggled. Not just that though – she also cited capitalism and white supremacy as the root causes of her perfectionism: “Perfectionism, I would say, is one of the core elements of white supremacist culture,” he said. she declared to Guardianby Tshepo Mokoena at the end of last year. “This idea that, ‘I should generate more. I should have a larger audience. I should always have more than what I have now.
The album lasted another three years. But it’s finally here, six years after its debut Take me aside and nearly a decade since she announced herself to the world with her game-changing and chilling mixtape Cut 4 me. When this record came out, it felt like a coalescence, a culmination of transatlantic cross-pollination in the years since grime, dubstep and funky, its producers building rhythmic beats amid the narcotic haze of the haunting voice of Kelela.
However, Crow comes as a relief, cementing a change in club music that has been in the works for almost three years – and is long overdue. Electronic music coverage is no longer dominated by white men doing moody techno. Clubs are no longer awash with black t-shirts and whimsical, asexual atmospheres. A new era of free, experimental, all-inclusive, biting, leather-clad club music has arrived. And Kelela is his queen.
Ironically, Berlin is at least partly responsible for techno’s decade of checkered stasis. When Detroit techno pioneer Jeff Mills took up residence at Kreuzberg’s Tresor nightclub in the 1990s, the city was teeming with creativity, an uncharted land of bohemian energy in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall. It became the techno capital of the world – and still is.
But as the decades passed and Berlin made techno a global institution, its connoisseurs became an increasingly exclusive club. Mills, once the face of electric innovation, was increasingly pompous in interviews. During the 2010s, techno personalities were embroiled in controversy, such as Nina Kraviz, for hijack the black culture that had spawned the sceneand fellow Detroiter Derrick May for the (alleged) serial sexual abuse of women.
The sound also suffered. While the best house, disco and rave music conjures up the carnal ecstasy of great sex, the last decade of pounding techno was more reminiscent of someone trying to unclog a toilet.
Kelela goes against all of that. His music drips with a primitive desire, his voice quivers “with the intimacy of a breath on the back of the neck”, as Mokoena puts it so well. Crow is unequivocally the work of a black and queer musician, reminding us that without the gay clubbers, bathers and sailors of New York, without the black and gay house DJs of Chicago, without the black artists and workers of the jungle and the London garage and grime, modern electronic music would hardly be worth listening to. And Kelela manages to celebrate these communities without selling them, resisting the urge to play shows in countries where homosexuality is illegalOr places that exploit their employees.
On CrowThe title track from, a sublime and utterly transcendent piece of rhythmless sexual beauty, Kelela sings “Through all the work, a crow is reborn; they tried to break it, there’s nothing here to cry,” on a chilling instrumental that could easily come from Jóhann Jóhannsson Sicario soundtrack. She sings – one would think – about herself, returning after years in the desert, channeling the imagery of a phoenix but deliberately choosing a bird with the blackest feathers.
Yet there’s an almost, almost definitely accidental namesake that rings dramatically with the era she’s talking about. If you just hang a touch of disbelief, she could sing “delirium is reborn”, dissolving the last decade of club music stagnation and the opening of the doors to a new fruitfully free era.
Also, at the coda of the song, comes a beat; a syncopated techno drop to the beat of a dodging Carnival dancer. This is one of many tracks on Crow it would be – no, will be incredible sound on the speaker stacks of Today, Panorama Bar, Corsica Studios, or anywhere in between. The beat on “Bruises” might be dub techno, or garage, or dubstep Burialesque, but either way, it’s irresistible, a shuffle and a tap under that breathy vocal that urges you to “step it up baby”. At times, the unbridled audio-aphrodisiac power of Kelela’s music borders on the eerie, especially on the goosebump-inducing “Sorbet,” or the slow “Closure,” which twists and twirls in a hypnotic cadence slightly reminiscent of ” Tell” by Usher. Me”.
It stands to reason that no one who’s mastered enough to curate and regularly update a sex playlist will ever have the chance to use it – but if you have one, you might as well fit the entire discography into it. Kelela. If you must introduce variation, you could do worse than explore the artists who regularly appear in the production credits of his records, or those who clearly bear his influence, or share his approach to raw, instinctive club magnetism – artists like Asmara, LSDXOXO, Bambii, Fauzia, Gaika, Bok Bok, Kelsey Lu, Shygirl, FKA twigs, Martyn Bootyspoon, Abra, Jessy Lanza, Dawn Richards, Erica de Casier and Ojerime. It is these people, and those following in their path, who hint at a positive future for the sound of the club.
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