A tribute to Tony Allen, by Emma-Jean Thackray
“I’ve always had difficulty with being anywhere, being in any space”, says Angelo Valerio, the South African producer who’s been hard to catch over the last couple of weeks because he’s been sick and we’re both millenials who have trouble managing our time. He’s speaking through Skype and his camera isn’t on because he’s “not looking too cute” on account of his convalescence. Nevertheless, what should have been a short chat becomes a long one, about politics, and borders, and art, and music. In Valerio’s case they’re related.
Angel-Ho is a performance alter-ego of sorts that’s probably most accessibly been realised in sound. There’s an EP on Soundcloud called ‘Ascension’, mastered by Arca and released for free as part of Rabit’s Halcyon Veil, as well as Valerio’s own shared transcontinental label, NON Records, that essentially exists on the web. It’s a record that consists of five tracks with titles like YAH CUNT and AUTO SHADE. They beat, crash and bust out of each other in a primal cacophany that feels like its about to implode. A barking dog makes up the core percussive accent to the sheathing aluminous rhythm of INSIDE THE FLUX OF MIND, an automated feminine voice repeats “we were here first” to the menacing robotics and a hacked up sample of Vogueing classic The Ha Dance in REMOVALS. “For me, ‘Ascension’ is coming to terms with all the traumas I’ve been going through in my life. Being mixed race, but also a person of colour, and kind of finding my place within this world,” says Valerio, in the Afrikaans accent of the Kensington area where he lives, one mostly populated by those of mixed ethnic origin, the so-called ‘coloureds’, who speak it. “It’s a real struggle when you have all these backgrounds, and heritages, and history, you know? They play with each other and you kind of inherit”, Valerio pauses before flipping tangents, “it’s really difficult to deal with all these things.”
That difficulty is something that’s strongly felt, not only in ‘Ascension’ but also in the hour-long durational piece from which it originally emerged. “I started off by entering the space and climbing on the scaffolding on the side of the stage in stripper heels”, Valerio says about his performance at the Design Indaba Festival at the beginning of this year. “It was kind of just finding my own relation to the space and also disrupting it by being there.” The original ‘Ascension’ mix is about three times as long as the EP and includes a montage of sound bytes and vox pops that reflect the political issues of the day: Nationalism, Ebola, “the president under scrutiny”, a sample of Tomorrow from Annie. “That period of my life had me really coming to terms with all the traumas of modernity that I was facing; growing up constantly and forcefully being put in white spaces. It’s really traumatic”.
That trauma and anxiety in ‘Ascension’ is palpable. In closing track REVOLTER, a bell tolls, glass shatters, machine guns rain bullets, and a see-sawing cinematic orchestral score marches ever-closer. There’s a terrifying sense of inevitability there that’s equal parts thrilling and all-consuming. “It’s been really interesting to hear other people interpret the five tracks because a lot of the sounds, they discord and they keep changing patterns, and you can hear the displacement; with my identity in this world where everything becomes so intersected. We get constructed completely and placed in these categories and they’re kind of disorientating”.