Powell’s Books: A Baker’s Dozen Special Edition

Electronic music producer Powell picks favourite books by Baudrillard, Derrida, Kafka, and Susan Sontag

Amstad,Eknaes, Powell by Wolfgang Tillmans

English producer Oscar Powell, better known as just Powell, sustained a challenging and tumultuous artistic evolution in the four years since his breakthrough album  Sport was released. That album – a thrillingly crude amalgam of schizoid techno and electronic punk that proudly donned the likes of Suicide and Big Black as influences to be mischievously perverted – feels like it was a million lifetimes away to the artist himself. Powell grew weary with the life of a professional techno producer: touring, press, marketing and the tedious signifiers of the “music professional” that are frankly anathema to critical and creative thought.

The Powell of four years ago treated advertising as a focal point of his overall practice (he worked in advertising for five years prior to his music career, learning the industry’s strategies and codes). In fact, Powell’s marketing strategies were so clever it was difficult to not interpret them as thoughtful and provocative bits of cultural critique that yielded an engagement with mass media similar to that of visual artists like Richard Prince or Barbara Kruger. Infamously, Powell appropriated an email from Steve Albini in which the cantankerous musician and producer sent a grouchy email response (“I detest club culture as deeply I detest anything on this Earth") to a request to sample Big Black on Sport. Powell placed the email text into a billboard that hung above London. But even with this conceptualist take on music promotion, Powell began to worry that such bits of advertorial performance art were a bit stale and gimmicky.

Powell grew profoundly sceptical of his quick success, branding strategies, and the trappings of the DJ superstar lifestyle, leading to a period of intense self-analysis and reflection. A vague dissatisfaction and restlessness suffused his being, and he remembers feeling “the need to escape.” In an act of artistic defiance, Powell ditched much of the careerist practices that tend to coincide with a life in electronic music. Born anew, his music and art deterritorialised, evolving into something shapeless and extraterrestrial. He formed a collaborative duo with photographer and artist Wolfgang Tillmans that they dubbed Powell Tillmans, and released solo EPs under the title  New Beta volumes 1 and 2, introducing a new sound that was more liquid and fractured than the music he had released prior, if not entirely beatless. “I got rid of the DJ, of the performance, and the whole world that supports me and started working again,” says Powell. “Suddenly music feels infinite to me once more.”

Powell’s newest project is a ƒolder. Made in collaboration with artists and filmmakers Michael Amstad and Marte Eknæs, a ƒolder is a website of disorienting works of experimental film, ambiguous texts, and other assorted media set to the most brazenly strange and formlessly mesmerising productions of Powell’s career. But beyond that, it is a work of artistic assemblage without fixed notions of time. Tarkovsky once described his filmmaking as “sculpting in time,” and a ƒolder exists in a similar kind of “zone;” it is a project continuously added to, subtracted from, abstracted, and injected into the glut of cyberspace like a slow moving pathogen that refuses to be defined or categorized. Shunning titles in favour of oblique category markers, films like aƒ34 present a mosaic of images of biological forms and sublime landscapes set to Powell’s otherworldly glitches and utterly beatless washes of lysergic electronics. a ƒolderhas coincided with several Powell albums so far, such as multiply the sides and flash across the intervals, that all signal an artist liberated from the confines of the narrow branding signifiers an electronic musician can find themselves in. While it is aware of its place in cyberspace, this project also connects to something primordial and awesome. “Xenakis talked about creating universes with sound,” says Powell. “It can feel like that, but some find it dissociative, and they can’t connect to it. But those that do connect will do so more than ever.”

To reignite his love of making music, Powell had to divorce himself from music. He claims to have hardly listened to a record all year. Instead, philosophy and literature have freed him from the chains of a social media generated identity that was produced in the wake of his early success, and allowed him to expand his art into a realm of expression that transcends the concerns of industry and branding that contemporary culture often coincides with. Deleuze, Derrida, Sontag and others gave Powell the language to express notions he held about the world but had difficulty articulating before coming across these texts. These thinkers gave Powell the freedom to unburden himself of his own artistic brand, to stop caring about what others thought was expected of him as a successful producer and to create the art that he wanted to make. “If you live in the world of identity you end up fulfilling an identity to such an extent that you don’t even recognise yourself anymore,” he says.

Powell’s Baker’s Dozen is a reading list. These are the texts that facilitated the deterritorialisation of his thought, his practice, and his music. Click the image below to begin reading, and you can preorder Powell’s new release series here.

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