There’s this Detroit house band, Drexciya, that sees themselves as channeling oral hallucinations from the Middle Passage. They imagined this black Atlantis made up of women and children who went overboard during the Middle Passage. And it’s this kind militarized zone of this underwater sea world.
The voyage itself becomes a kind of origin myth that I’m referring to. So for me, it’s the Middle Passage itself, rather than some version of an origin myth based on a Mother Africa. It’s the passage itself. It’s the concept of mutability that, I think, is the kind of origin myth that I’m referring to here, both in these drawings, literally, and more distantly in the paintings.
- Ellen Gallagher
"Turner's extraordinary painting of the slave ship remains a useful image not only for its self-conscious moral power and the striking way that it aims directly for the sublime in its invocation of racial terror, commerce, and England's ethico political degeneration. It should be emphasised that ships were the living means by which the points within that Atlantic world were joined. They were mobile dements that stood for the shifting spaces in between the fixed places that they connected. Accordingly they need to be thought of as cultural and political units rather than abstract embodiments of the triangular trade. They were something more-a means to conduct political dissent and possibly a distinct mode of cultural production.
The ship provides a chance to explore the articulations between the discontinuous histories of England's ports, its interfaces with the wider world. Ships also refer us back to the middle passage, to the half remembered micro-politics of the slave trade and its relationship to both industrialisation and modernisation. As it were, getting on board promises a means to reconceptualise the orthodox relationship between modernity and what passes for its prehistory. It provides a different sense of where modernity might itself be thought to begin in the constitutive relationships with outsiders that both found and temper a self-conscious sense of western civilisation."
- Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic
the first artefact bearing the name drexciya emerged from the abyss in 1992. titled "deep sea dweller," the record stood out from the interstellar utopianism of the detroit techno milieu that surrounded it by the singular focus on the depth of the ocean. the politically militant and afroconscious tenor of the primarily black cultural form of detroit techno was not alien to the extraterrestrial - the depths of space has long been established as the concern of afroscentric musics, most notably as represented by sun ra, george clinton & afrika bambaata - while the subaquatic themes of the anonymous outfit appeared as simply an aesthetic eccentricity
this was further mystified by releases peppered with references to a slowly expanding mythos elaborated only by song titles and etchings on run out grooves - the "drexciya" now appears to be the name of a place, as does a "lardossa." by 1995, with the release of "aquatic invasion," we find ourselves in the middle of a war:
On February First Nineteen Hundred And Ninety Five the Drexciyan Tactical Seaforces received orders from UR Strikeforce Command, for one final mission. The dreaded Drexciya stingray and barracuda battalions were dispatched from the Bermuda Triangle. Their search and destroy mission to be carried out during the Winter Equinox of 1995 against the programmer strongholds. During their return journey home to the invisible city one final mighty blow will be dealt to the programmers. Aquatic knowledge for those who know.
but it's only until 1997, with the release of the quest, that we receive clarification as to who - or what - the drexciyans are, and where this music is coming from:
Could it be possible for humans to breath underwater? A foetus in its mothers womb is certainly alive in an aquatic environment. During the greatest holocaust the world has ever known, pregnant America-bound African slaves were thrown overboard by the thousands during labour for being sick and disruptive cargo. Is it possible that they could have given birth at sea to babies that never needed air? Recent experiments have shown mice able to breathe liquid oxygen. Even more shocking and conclusive was a recent instance of a premature infant saved from certain death by breathing liquid oxygen through its undeveloped lungs. These facts combined with reported sightings of Gillmen and swamp monsters in the coastal swamps of the South- Eastern United States make the slave trade theory startlingly feasible. Are Drexciyans water breathing, aquatically mutated descendants of those unfortunate victims of human greed? have they been spared by God to teach us or terrorise us? Did they migrate from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi river basin and on to the great lakes of Michigan? Do they walk among us? Are they more advanced than us and why do they make their strange music? What is their Quest? These are many of the questions that you don’t know and never will.
Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, which was first published in 1993, remains remarkable for its introduction of the validity of ‘race’ as an analytical category in presenting the ‘Atlantic’ as a discrete geo-political unit in the modern capitalist world-system. The book elaborates a richly provocative critique of cultural nationalism, against which Gilroy posits black diasporic cultural and intellectual production. Gilroy’s ‘black Atlantic’ delineates a distinctively modern, cultural-political space that is not specifically African, American, Caribbean, or British, but is, rather, a hybrid mix of all of these at once; this is evidenced via a series of compelling readings of a cohort of key modern black intellectuals and artists. Martin Delaney, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Toni Morrison, and Richard Wright, and black Atlantic music from jazz to hip hop – all these find their place in Gilroy’s pantheon. The ‘black Atlantic’ thus denotes a specifically modern cultural-political formation that was induced by the experience and inheritance of the African slave trade and the plantation system in the Americas, and which transcends both the nation state and ethnicity.*
"A concern with the Atlantic as a cultural and political system has been forced on black. historiography and intellectual history by the economic and historical matrix in which plantation slavery-"capitalism with its clothes off"-was one special moment.
The fractal patterns of cultural and political exchange and transformation that we try and specify through manifestly inadequate theoretical terms like creolisation and syncretism indicate how both ethnicities and political cultures have been made anew in ways that are significant not simply for the peoples of the Caribbean but for Europe, for Africa, especially Liberia and Sierra Leone, and of course, for black America."
- Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic
Taken together, the EPs and the CD form a Black Atlantic cycle which is electronic music's most ambitious sonic fiction since Parliament's 1975-79 Mothership Connection cycle. The Drexciyan cycle plumbs the remotest depths of the Black Atlantic, pursuing its "processes of cultural mutation and restless discontinuity" to extreme ends. As theorised by British cultural critic Paul Gilroy, the Black Atlantic is the "webbed network" between the US and Africa, Latin America and Europe, the UK and the Caribbean along which information, people, records, and enforced dematerialisation systems have been routing, rerouting and criss-crossing since slavery.
When you prise open The Quest CD, you see four maps of migration routes. The first shows 'The Slave Trade (1655-1867)'. The second: 'Migration Route of Rural Blacks to Northern Cities (1930s-1940s)'. The third: 'Techno leaves Detroit, spreads worldwide (1988)'. Gilroy and Drexciya both agree that modernity starts here, with the alien abduction of slavery. Fast-forward 342 years: America is deaf to Atlantic electronic culture; still hears HipHop as the defining expression of black pop culture.
- Kodwo Eshun, Fear of a Wet Planet
it should come as no surprise that the trans-atlantic slave trade, the matrix of modernity and deterritorialisation, unwittingly provides the foundation for a civilisation more advanced than our own. as per the unity of opposites, the dialectical unfolding of history responds to the greatest holocaust the world has known brings us an invisible, militarised city capable of tearing apart technocracy. just as this holocaust brought into existence black nations dedicated to undermining white supremacy - and the underground resistance that brought this struggle to the stars - the very seafaring vessels through which this holocaust was elaborated gives birth to the force that militarises 71% of the surface of this earth against the incursions of those who directed it
the aquatic citizens of drexciya, situated somewhere in the bermuda triangle, can respond to the dehumanisation their african forebears were subject to with the rejection of any "humanity" that would commit this holocaust. they respond to the greed of a humanity that would consume their own with the rejection of this humanity that would not have them as equals - these drexciyans are better than humans, and their sovereignty extends further than ours ever could
History has been very unkind to black people. They not gonna make it in history. His Story is not gonna help black folks at all….
Honesty is not what I’m talking about. You’re not in a place where the truth is gonna do you any good. Truth has been abolished. Any truth you say is not permissible in here….the truth is not permissible for me to use because I’m not righteous or holy. I’m evil. That’s because I’m Black and I’m not ascribed any righteousness. I’m using their dictionary. I can’t go around and tell you I’m right or good when the dictionary is telling everybody in the world everything black is evil and wicked. So then I come and say, Yes! So What? Yes, I’m wicked. Yes, I’m evil. I’m not gonna be converted. I’m not gonna subscribe to righteousness. I don’t want to go to heaven…All I see on this planet is something evil with white men succeeding and succeeding and succeeding and black men being killed.
- Sun Ra
the children of slaves were capable of ascending - or in this case, descending - to the depths of what sun ra termed the mythocracy, the "magic world" where gods dwell. and as the unexplored depths of the abyss share with the galaxy its blackness, the share the forgotten remnant of the mythocracy -
In Africa, thousand of years ago, high-tech nomads began to emerge from an dimensional jump-hole. They were coming from Ociya Syndor, 700 million light years from Earth. To those that know, they have left their mark all over the world, but especially in Africa where their traces can be found in the famous Dogon tribe. One day their story will be rediscovered, for they carved forever in stone their journeys path in the Drexcyen Star Chamber. Its location is a subterranean city, deep on the ocean floor. This is where the Africans were brought to when they were thrown off the slave ships. They were rescued and helped to adapt by their ancient cosmic brothers and sisters. Here they became deep sea dwellers in the bubble metropolis and in time went through the hydro doorways and became star travellers themselves.One day, when the need of Earth will be at its greatest, the powers of the deep will be made known to the surface world. For the Drexciyans are never idle, their principle has always been, Research, Experimentation, Science and Technology, from Neptune’s time to today.
the forced descension of those who were cast from the kingdoms they had built, to the depths of suffering or to the depths of the abyss, is the manifested cruelty and evil of history, the detritus swept by the great storm benjamin identified, the accumulation of catastrophe and wreckage. it is those who had been swept aside by the forceful wind of historical cruelty that are able to apply the breaks on this forward train, they are able uniquely to traverse the ocean and the cosmos, and they will supersede those of us on the surface when they are needed
Well, the people that we call the true modernists in painting knew the pitfalls of direct representation... The so called modernist writers of the nineteenth century registered the impact of industrialisation in literature - the great transformation from the old world to the new. Africa was feeling the same things. Can you imagine what it would have been like if they had left the continent untampered with? It's not simply that human life originated in Africa in anthropological terms, but that modern life begins with slavery...
From a woman's point of view, in terms of confronting the problems of where the world is now, black women had to deal with "post-modern" problems in the nineteenth century and earlier. These things had to be addressed by black people a long time ago. Certain kinds of dissolution, the loss of and the need to reconstruct certain kinds of stability. Certain kinds of madness, deliberately going mad in order, as one of the characters says in the book, "in order not to lose your mind." These strategies for survival made the truly modern person. They're a response to predatory Western phenomena.
You can call it an ideology and an economy, what it is is a pathology. Slavery broke the world in half, broke it in every way. It broke Europe. It made them into something else, it made them slavemasters, it made them crazy. You can't do that for hundreds of years and it not take a toll. They had to dehumanize, not just the slaves but themselves. They have had to reconstruct everything to make the system appear true. It made everything in World War II possible. It made World War I necessary. Racism is the word we use to encompass all this. The idea of scientific racism suggests serious pathology.
- Toni Morrison in conversation with Paul Gilroy
By inventing another outcome for the Middle Passage, this sonic fiction opens a bifurcation in time which alters the present by feeding back through its audience - you, the landlocked mutant descendent of the Slave Trade. The sustained cruelty of Drexciya's project is not so much justified as it is distributed and intensified. If the dominant strain in Afrodiasporic pop culture stresses the human, the soul, then the post-soul, post-human tendency Drexciya belong to rejects the human species by indentifying with the alien. From Sun Ra's instruction to the peoples of Earth to Parliament's greetings to the citizens of the universe, from The Martian's astro disco Red Planet series to Dr Octagon's address to Earth people, becoming alien allows an extraterrestrial perspective. The ET discontinuum generates a new emotional spectrum towards the human: attraction, indifference, hostility, medical curiosity.
Drexciya bring this extraterritorial discontinuum down to earth and under the water. Instead of ground reality, their sonic fiction sinks through the streets with the invisible force of an intensified magnetron. It derealises the solid facts that Hardcore music insists upon, deforming reality through a systematic confusion of technology with rumour, information with mystery. Drexciya are esoterrorists. "Mommy, what's an esoterrorist?" Something, or someone who terrorises through esoteric myth systems. Infiltrating the world, the esoterrorist plants logic bombs and then vanishes, detonating conceptual explosions, multiplying perceptual holes through which the entire universe drains out. So the sleevenotes report "sightings of Gillmen and Swamp Monsters in the Coastal Swamps of the South Eastern United States" that make the Slave Trade theory startlingly feasible. Did they migrate from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississipi River Basin to the Great Lakes of Michigan? Have they been spared by God to teach us or terrorise us?- Kodwo Eshun, Fear of a Wet Planet
I am looking for people to make judgment day a reality, and to realize that neither God or anybody else is going to judge humanity. They have to do the judging as to what is proper for them to survive. Now they can judge whether I’m really telling a lie or whether I’m telling the truth. If I’m telling a lie, they have to judge whether the “lie” is more profitable to them than the “truths” that they know. So therefore I am paving the way for humanity to recognize the myth and become part of my mythocracy instead of their theocracies and their democracies and any other ‘ocracies they got. They can become part of the magic myth, the magic touch, of the mythocracy. Because everything that’s unknown is part of the myth. And I’m sure that the myth can do for more humanity than anything that they ever dreamed was possible.
- Sun Ra
I never wanted to be part of planet Earth, and I did everything not to be a part of it.
- Sun Ra
it was only until 2002, on his untimely death at age 33, that the drexciyan wavejumpers who had brought their conceptual attacks to the shores of michigan were led by detroit resident james marcel stinson & associate gerald donald
"All the records we’ve made give you clues, how to tap into your inner selves. We bring you right to that door and give you the key. We’re doing what we’re able to, dropping messages from day one without getting too deep and scaring people off. We can only hope that people will pick up on what we’re doing."
- James Stinson