17.02.2016 | Words by: Derek Robertson
At its best, music has an almost primeval hold over our brains. It taps into that sweet spot between escapism and euphoria, simultaneously lifting us up and outside ourselves; not for nothing do people speak of losing themselves in the moment. And nowhere is this link more evident than in dance music of a certain era, whose very ethos and language reflected a sort of hedonistic spirituality; that through communal experiences, drug assisted or otherwise, one could be “taken higher” or find a “higher state of consciousness”. It’s what rave culture was built on.
Aïsha Devi clearly understands the dynamics of this. Her churning early works – like 2014’s Hakkan Dub / Throat Dub split – were dark, sparse affairs shot through with tension, the sense of claustrophobia palpable. Last year’s Of Matter And Spirit was just as taut but let in the light, and found Devi playing with a far broader palette of sounds and ideas. It was also intensely personal, and designed to, in her words, “trigger a social and spiritual awareness”. These are heavy burdens to carry in one’s art, and all her ideas ran head on into each other for the over-the-top, completely NSFW video for ‘Mazda’, the lead single.
A collaboration with Chinese artist Tianzhuo Chen, the avalanche of bright, shocking images chimes perfectly with the song’s high-pitched vocals and glistening synths. The array of symbolism on display is hard to digest in just one viewing – third eyes, swastikas, and Shiva and Sadhu symbols all feature – but this cleverly mimics the way we consume information and “content” in the 21st Century; what is social media if not an endless torrent where each piece is granted just a few seconds attention before we’re on to the next? Beyond this, Devi is also searching for a deeper truth, and is cannily re-purposing the past for a generation that’s completely disconnected from such ancient ideas, rituals, and beliefs; after all, it’s difficult to conceive of hyper-connected millennial Instagrammers fully grasping the concept behind transcendental meditation.
She has spoken of music being a “healing process”, and she’s experimenting with new forms of communication through her art. She may sing in candy-bright tones borrowed from K-Pop and the PC music collective, but her aim is the polar opposite of those genre’s kitschy cuteness; by focussing on her pitch and repetition, the sounds become a mantra, a calling to embrace a new form of serenity. It’s a bold move, and one to be applauded, but as ever, the question remains; are we listening?