Profile: The label that’s bringing ritual music to the club

05.09.13 Words by: Aimee Cliff
Aïsha Devi used to be known as the self-producing avant-garde artist Kate Wax – she released her album 'Dust Collision' on James Holden's label, Border Community, in 2011 – but these days she's gone back to her legal name. When I sit down to ask her over Skype about how the new music is different, she immediately connects it to this name change: "I felt totally free. It was a huge renaissance for me, because I started using my real name, so I felt totally in one piece. I used to feel a bit schizophrenic and fragmented and now I'm just one piece."
 
In 2013 so far, Devi has shed the skin of her former alias and emerged not only as a newly confident performer, but a performer so certain in her vision that she's launched her own record label (with the help of friends) to spread the message. Carrying the tagline "ritual music" and splattered with the imagery of rave culture, Danse Noire focusses on the bodily thrust of music, the repeated motions that help its creators and listeners achieve some kind of transcendence – whether it's the peaceful, meditative kind implied by the word "ritual" or the sweaty 4am kind implied by the site's revolving imagery.
 
Inaugurating the imprint in May was Italian producer Vaghe Stelle's 'Out Of Body' EP, a virtual-meets-visceral release full of glitchy effects lifted straight from digital landscapes and transposed onto urgent, raw percussion. Devi followed this up in June with the release of her own EP, using her unaltered voice to piercing effect more than ever before, and staring her listener straight in the face with a knowing smile by naming her tracks things like Clean Ur Chakras. Combined with remixes from Cooly G, Nguzunguzu, Peaking Lights and Willie Burns, the two EPs made a slight but powerful impact over here in the Dummy office, and we had to find out more about this fledgling project that already has such a cohesive sense of self. 
 

What was the impetus or the inspiration to start your own label?

Devi: "It's the idea of creating an open space we could – I say we because I created it with my boyfriend and some friends, and we are all passionate about music and the culture that exists around music – an open space where we could plant some seeds and share the vision we have about music. We're trying to be subversive, because in this industry of music, I get a bit bored, and I wanted to share music that was not only for clubbing and not only functional.

"We're in a fucked up world, honestly, it's total chaos. And when I was touring, with my other project Kate Wax, I met so many interesting people, and I realised music is, or has become, a resilience in that fucked up life, and it's also a way to be subversive in this codified society. I guess after meeting all these interesting people I realised that in Europe now, in this electronic music scene, we need to open doors that are a bit more connected with our roots, or with tribal music, with ritual music, in a way. I don't know if you know Guy Debord, he was a Situationist, and in the 60s he already wrote about – it's called La Société Du Spectacle, and it was depicting show business as a way for humans to project themselves to make up a show, so I think we end up with that over-shown society, and we end up in this business, and we have to open up other doors. Those doors are talking about the invisible world, and that invisible world is a whole spectrum of, what really is music? Music is a ritual. I'm looking for DIY ritual artists."

Could you explain what the term "ritual music" means to you?

Devi: "What I really like in music now, and what I think my music process is, is that kind of instinct versus hi-fi, and tribal versus industrial. I love that tension. There's also a connection with the vibration of the sound and raving and everything. I think when you have a rave happening in a wood, and you have one thousand people dancing and doing the same gesture at the same time, this is what actual Tibetan monks are doing, they're doing the same gesture to perfect that same gesture to arrive at a kind of transcendence, you know what I mean? I like that idea that now ritual music can be made in a room and then shared with these people, and it's a kind of huge communion.

"It's funny because now, the electronic music scene, like Ibiza, these huge events, they're doing that stuff but without the content. I was a bit bored playing at this kind of emptiness, because it's functional. People need to get lost in this, but actually it should be the opposite. We should be found in that gathering." 

What were your main inspirations – what other labels did you look to?

Devi: "It's really exciting now, the labels are doing that idea of opening many doors, and I think society is now in a really good time, because it's so much chaos. And you have all those subversive little labels there just going 'na na na' to the big ones, who don't really understand what's going on in the culture actually, they're just faking it. There are amazing labels like Blackest Ever Black, Opal Tapes, PAN – who are doing amazing releases. When I talk about connection, I'm not talking about God, I'm talking about the vibration of the sound, and they really understand it – they work with that sculpturing of sound, they work with the frequency of sound that really has an effect on your brain. It's called altered conscious state actually, and that's what I'm doing when I'm doing meditation also."

Both of the EPs released on Danse Noire so far have been 'Out Of Body' and 'Aura 4 Everyone', so the label's output is obviously really focussed on that idea of transcendent experience. 

Devi: "Yeah, but I'm not patronising people about that. It's not like, you know, I'm talking about things you don't understand – it's the opposite of that. I have experienced amazing things, but it doesn't only exist to people as long as I transform that into music, and when I translate it into music it's a comprehensive language that everyone can understand. It's just that I've learned a lot from meditation – and also I used to be a classical singer, so I know how to breathe, how to train your voice to hit exactly the note you want. For meditation it was amazing because I learned about the breathing, but also I learned about the frequency that has an effect on your body, like the bass sound is actually really working on your stomach, it's the place for all your body to vibrate, you know what I mean? And the upper frequency, around 2k, things like that, they're working on your brain and making you feel in an introspective mind. So I've injected everything I've learnt from meditation into the music. So I like that idea of mixing science – in a way – that mathematical thing into instinct, into empirical knowledge."

Do you think you could summarise the political statement behind the label?

Devi: "The idea with Danse Noire – and particularly the visuals – is to depict how society is, and how also the cultural system is corrupted by consumption, by advertisement, things like that. We all get brainwashed all day, it's a society of images, you get tons of images in front of you all the time that you have to decode, so we are trying to speak with that language, with that kind of very instant language, to depict how society is.

"Everybody who is involved in the label, the artists who we are choosing, have that kind of subversive vision of music. We are outcasts, in a way, we are outsiders. We will always be, and we cannot fight against that huge society that is crushing people, but at least we can be parasites. We can be subversive pieces that will disturb that society."

Could you tell me about how you got to know Vaghe Stelle? 

Devi: "Actually I met that guy, he's called Danny, I met him when I was playing for a festival called Club 2 Club in Torino. And he was like the genius, you know, the genius that the promoters want to show off. When he played he just blew my mind, I was like 'wow, what is playing? Is it live?' I wanted to hear more of him. And then it was like two or three years ago – and I had it in my mind that someday, if I get any influence in music or anything, I would help him or do something with him – we decided to create the label, and actually we probably created it for him, because he embodied everything that we wanted to release. He's an amazing person, he's really a sweetheart. He's just doing music; it's a vital thing for him, it's like, do music or die. And he's really humble, and the music is like nothing I've heard before. He's like a DIY sorcerer or something. That's what we're looking for actually – DIY sound witches and sorcerers." 

Danse Noire are having a showcase tomorrow in Lausanne at Electrosanne festival, featuring Cooly G – more information on that here.