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HYPERSTITION DUO: Maximalist, Anti-Capitalist Sound Scramblers

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Photo by Eleanor Hardwick

Politics has long formed the basis of many a rocking song, but the music of HYPERSTITION DUO takes a deep dive into the political, social and environmental setting we find ourselves in.

The duo, ex-members of well-loved and sadly-missed Sheffield 'agrobeat' band Blood Sport, concern themselves with immense social issues and their maximalist, anti-capitalist music delves into poignant subjects reflecting 21st century life.

What brought HYPERSTITION DUO into being?

[Alex:] Well, Flora and I both went through incomparable yet similarly rupturous changes in our personal lives, which meant we felt a move somewhere else would be a positive step in embracing new understandings of ourselves.

Having shared that experience and then subsequently living together - as well as both developing our individual musical and political ideas and also having the intuitive understanding of years of playing together - it made sense to try to create a unified vision of what we thought music could be like as a reflection of and a defiant response to this era we find ourselves adrift in.

What does instrumental anti-capitalist music sound like?

[Flora:] Perhaps the way we've tended to think of embedding our politics in our music practice is more through compositional and conceptual processes, which then inform our sound and aesthetic decision making, rather than starting with thinking about the sounds themselves.

Challenging sounds aren't as inherently subversive as they once were

[Alex:] Especially as in our era of big data-driven platform capitalism, sounds themselves, regardless of their surface-level antagonistic qualities, are increasingly susceptible to commodification and exploitation for pursuits of profit. For example, harsh noise is as equally welcome on Spotify as chart-topping pop music, because it will attract a sub-culture of listeners which the platform can monitor and derive data from, and sell that data to advertisers for future exploitation. The more esoteric the genre, the more enriched a platform's dataset becomes and refined its capitalist processes can become.

Challenging sounds aren't as inherently subversive as they once were for that reason. We instead view the process as part of the political expression, using contemporary 'new left' concepts such as hyperstition, k-tactics and polyphonic assemblage to guide how we create sounds. I think there's lots to the process that can be made more constructively radical, but we wanted to first experiment with expressing those ideas musically and develop things from there.

What has changed in your processes since working as a trio in Blood Sport?

[Flora:] With Blood Sport, over the years we'd built a particular sound which was born of a particular set of writing practices - jam sessions and improv, gradual layering of linear ideas, dance floor methods and metrics - which as a band, we then became locked into. This way of operating was the product of Sheffield's deep cultural influence over our lives and our collective friendship as a trio. When constructing something new, we were keen to start again from first principles and develop musical frameworks which would allow us to express a wider range of our musical influences, embed our political values and critical influences in our work, and subvert the expectations people might have of the guitar and drums format.

[Alex:] And from a mundane perspective, we live together and record a lot of material when writing in our flat, so can develop ideas very quickly around our daily lives. Also, as we are only two rather than three, the creative process can be one of oscillation rather than triangulation, where ideas can form very rapidly, as the other person assents or vetoes ideas when they're proposed and the other person builds upon those. Tracks can mutate from humble beginnings very quickly.

Given that your work is firmly rooted in the future, what draws you to a traditional setup of guitar and drums?

[Flora:] In some ways adopting a conventional instrumental setup - a setup comprising two of modern western music's most stereotypical instruments - presents the richest opportunity for re-imagining our musical output, and challenging instinctive and subconscious expectations that people will have on seeing our setup. And with genres like rock and dance music as touchstones or signalling devices - which are both rooted in such formulaic musical customs and intuitively directional, crowd-pleasing functionality - the breadth of creative opportunity is further expanded in attempting to scramble the expectations of our listeners.

[Alex:] There's also reasons why these instruments have endured for such a long time - because they are vehicles for frequent reinventions of human expressivity. We're trying to push ourselves to carry on that lineage and develop our own voice with values and concepts we feel are unequivocally contemporary.

It would be easier to jump onto laptops and create abstract electronic sounds, but that's almost a cliche in itself when you're presented with performers like that in a live setting, as much as we love so many people who do that. It feels much more exhilarating for us to present these instruments with all of their cultural baggage and try to baffle an audience as to how we create the sounds we do with them.

People might be familiar with minimalism, but what is a maximalist approach to music?

[Alex:] Well, whilst we have come from a tradition of embracing concepts of minimalism, we increasingly realised the music we wanted to create was a departure from that notion of simple ideas developing gradually over time with incremental changes. Minimalism increasingly seems to be an austere concept that inhibits passionate, unbridled expression. It doesn't seem like we are living in a time when that is a suitable reflection of the world as it is presented to us.

These common intersections [...] are real sources of inspiration and hope

Also, we found increasingly that whenever we proposed musical ideas to each other, the oscillatory process I mentioned before causes things to explode very quickly, as we think of ever-increasingly conceptual and abstract musical ideas to exist alongside that initial one. At first, we tried to rein this tendency in, but increasingly we realised that was our default mode of operation and it would be inauthentic not to embrace that and push the limits of what could be done with that approach. It felt so contrary to the spirit of minimalism that we felt its antithesis much better described our sound.

What political ideas most excite you at the moment?

[Flora:] In terms of political ideas, we're both feeling deeply inspired and invigorated by contemporary writers who are grappling with the conceptual fall out of the 'anthropocene', the newly-christened geological epoch in which humans' impact on the planet - from plantation monocultures and forced population migrations to nuclear testing and the generation of new material compounds - is seen as the primary characteristic of our current environmental condition.

From Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's work on how ecological beings and systems upend capitalist logics, to Kathryn Yussoff's insurgent geology positioning slavery and colonialism as the foundations of both capitalism and the degradation of 'inhuman' existence, to critical reframings of the anthropocene as the 'plantationocene' and the 'capitalocene'; this is such a rich area of new thinking which is informing environmental socialist thought on the new left in really exciting ways.

Movements like the Green New Deal refer explicitly to the historical and political nexus of colonialism, capitalism and climate change, and new left theorists are projecting forward to postulate how capitalism may reinvent itself through astrological new market frontiers and platform rentierism in ways which present real challenges for the insurgent party political left.

On a personal level, I've found groups such as Queer Nature in North America hugely inspiring as a trans woman, as they join the dots between queerness existent in non-human beings, western colonial queer erasure, modernist binaries imposed on the planet through western colonialism, and indigenous cultures of trans positivity rooted in alternate cosmologies and dialogue with the environment, and find solace and insights which are so rich and powerfully entangled with wider ecological systems and history of colonial domination and exploitation. These common intersections, which are coursing through the political left and broader cross-disciplinary critical engagement with the climate crisis, are real sources of inspiration and hope and they touch on radiant truths of our existence on this beautiful planet.

Sam Gregory

HYPERSTITION DUO's VIROTECHNICS EP is out now.

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