Clash MARCH 21, 2024 - by Bryson Edward Howe


Groundbreaking music and conversation...

"Culture is big business," said Brian Eno at the top of his keynote talk to kick off AVA London. Across three days, leading figures in electronic music, visual arts, and cultural programming came together to discuss and share big ideas and deep insights about the industry in London's most interesting venues such as The British Library, The Standard, and KOKO.

Posed the question, "Does music help?" Eno launched into a long but beautifully articulated stream of thoughts about tasting possibilities of another world - whether through sex, drugs, music, religion - seeing this as a valuable reason to keep making music even in what could possibly be the end-times. "Everything we consider to be a deep transcendental experience is actually an act of surrender. I always enjoy seeing people surfing, it's about surrendering to the wave and taking back control. It's a great life skill to learn," echoing that as we feel our way forward into the future, our decisions (what job we have, who we love) are based on feeling, so it makes sense to have a tool we can use to learn how to navigate them.

"The best art is art you don't understand," laughed Eno, whose music is sparse and deceptively simple but born from a complex set of ideas that make it quite hard to express how powerful they are in words that don't feel abstract and even unjust. But it's about losing the boundaries, "losing the sharp edges of our selves," and merging with other things. "Surrender is fun. Enjoy it."

Similarly aiming to slacken boundaries, UVA (United Visual Artists) founder and multi-discipline artist Matt Clark talked about "dissolving the line between the stage and the performer", creating something always part-real and part-illusory. UVA's work exists in spaces for transgression (in a loose and encompassing meaning of the word) - think the opera, ballet, theatre, a mosh-pit - heterotopic mirror worlds that become entry points into the lifting of the veil. Matt's talk cycled through UVA's body of work, their illustrations of information and data, and "programmable architecture," explaining their technique of hijacking us, as humans, and our innate tendency to seek patterns. Matt's work is primarily about the feeling of overwhelm; disturbing, intense, contradictory, but transforming.

"What is art without conviction? It's crap," laughs Charli XCX during her Resident Advisor Exchange, where she teased her new album Brat, calling it "confrontational, aggressive, minimal, beautiful," wanting to create the soundtrack to being "sweaty at a rave with your nipples poking through your tank top" with "lyrics that sound like texts I'd send to my friends". It's an apt description for an album exploring the pendulum of pop music and pop culture, and more sonically challenging music - a swing that Charli forces herself to engage after every album cycle, now questioning what it is to be an artist and a pop star, burning down what she has done before, rejecting it and becoming the opposite. "Authenticity is a tool," she claims, so the question of how to stay true to yourself as an artist is now what's interesting to her.

I'm known in London, mostly, as a music journalist. A pretty good one, I would hope. What I'm also known for is being a really shit DJ. I can't mix, but I love it. Through brief stints on radio stations (shoutout to both Garden Shed and Pride World) or just in dimly lit living rooms at house parties, there is little else I find more ecstatic than the feeling in your body when its entire rhythm seamlessly shifts into a new groove as one song merges into another. Opening day two at KOKO, Elijah's keynote lecture on the fabled art of DJing, assured, "DJs are music journalists. Wouldn't it be useful if a music review said that this song would go well with another song?"

Laurent Garnier sat down with journalist Séamas O'Reilly to discuss a similar passion for DJing and discovery. Listening to "about five hundred" new tracks a day, Garnier is obsessively dedicated to the mania of his job and believes the DJ's job is to "defend good music". DJs are important - and still, to Garnier, very relevant - precisely because of this time-consuming endeavour, explaining, "We take the time to do what the audience can't". It's curation, in a way, and cultivation in others - two words I heard in a panel discussing the art of programming festivals, one rooted in "being authentic, experimental, taking risks, and being willing to say no."

Our tastes and habits are changing quicker than ever before, and that eclecticism is mirrored in what Charli briefly touched on, discussing micro-trends as a pressure on the artist and the death of a "mono-culture", sparking an interesting conversation between this and another talk earlier in the day, where DJ Lomalinda touched on how micro scenes are influencing global trends, saying, "for us, it's about building the connection for the global north and south." This was echoed by Paul Geddis in the same panel, lamenting the press model, warning that "with the decline of traditional alt media, festivals in a weird way are one of the last places that you can go and are representative of culture in large numbers." As a music journalist, and as a music fan, this common idea is exactly what conferences like this exist to respond to. I think back to being fifteen and getting my first taste of live music at tiny punk shows in the North of England and am now happy to be in the chorus of different and diverse voices trying to keep that spirit, and those possibilities that music offers, alive.

AVA London also hosted their night programme with two sold-out shows at KOKO Camden and Outernet with Marlon Hoffstadt aka DJ Daddy Trance, Or:la B2B Spray, DJ AYA, Sloucho, and more performing.