Junk Culture’s Visual Pop & the irrelevance of ethnicity

It’s a little bit heartbreaking and oddly inspiring to witness an old lady fervently trying to communicate in broken English with another non-English speaker. It’s something quite common in London; these two were right outside the supermarket last week. I slowed down to see if I could decipher what they were trying to decipher. Having lived here for a few months now, I’m still intrigued with the multicultural thread that’s part of being of London.

And I’m not talking about just Brick Lane, Brixton or Kilburn with their traditional ethnic associations – that stuff is obvious and you can find similar places in almost any city. I’m talking about the diversity everywhere – London is a heterogenous thing. I was quite proud when that silly BNP man said London was ‘not his city any more’.

Sure, it’s not terribly evenly stitched, but the various fibres are everywhere creating unexpected little patterns and flecks all over the place. These little random bits all adding up somehow to a greater whole. But I’m relatively new here, and I know it was different for those who came before me: ‘No blacks, dogs, Irish’ indeed. Being someone who would escape Nick Griffin’s wrath by having a genepool that is decidedly lacking in colour other than pink, I’m curious about those who are second-generation or of mixed heritage.

I’m a bleached pillowcase, 100% white Irish. Everyone I went to school with was the same. Most people I went to college with was the same. It was all a bit boring (happily, Ireland has changed now), but I never really had to think about ethnicity or nationality as part of identity until later in life.

And now I’m in a place where multiculturalism is standard, so I can see what I missed as a kid. Evidence of fusion abounds – food most particularly; literature and music. On the day that rumours abound that the BBC may give the Asian Network the chop, I’m listening to the music of Deepak Mantena, who goes by the name Junk Culture.

Junk Culture’s EP, West Coast, is a very brisk few tracks of aural mayhem that has much in common with his Illegal Art labelmate Girl Talk. Where Girl Talk is all about blatant use of highly recognisable (and uncleared) samples mashed into a stream of audacious fun, Junk Culture’s music makes these samples largely unrecognisable (I think I hear the Isley Brothers’ Summer Breeze and Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker in one track). Mantena filters sounds through a handheld recorder then further treats the sounds in Ableton. Fragments rub against each other, ping back and forth, never settling. He calls it ‘visual pop’ or better, ‘a love letter to outer space‘.

I call it loner music. Getting your friends together in your garage or bedroom is sociable, messy and full of team. Going out with a digital recorder, paying that much attention to the background music/musak in order to record it for potential manipulation on your computer? That’s solitary business. The results are often bewildering, startling and occasionally beautiful (as ever, I’m a sucker for music that sounds like computers in love).

Listening is also a solitary affair. This is not dance music; it’s headphone music. It’s almost an academic exercise; a constant game of spot the source. One is never at home with the music; that it is composed of a multitude of disparate elements is obvious – that these sounds play nice with each other is a little miraculous.

Is it reading too much into Junk Culture’s music that it comes from the son of Indian immigrants? Is West Coast an attempt to reconcile multiple identities by owning an repurposing the environment and fashioning it into some new hybrid thing before presenting it generously to an audience (the EP is available as a Pay What You Want download)?

Perhaps. It turns out that Deepak Mantena is from Portland, Oregon and judging from his alternative career as a funnyman (alongside his occasional drummer/little bro), there’s no such anxiety about his identity. His Twitter entries suggest that he’s no loner experiencing tension between cultures.

So, Enda, projecting much?

Listen to West Coast

Download West Coast EP (Pay What You Want)

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2 comments

  1. Mike A

    Wow — great post! Racial and cultural diversity is basically the norm here in Southern California. More often than not, non-‘white’ people are actually the minority. Growing up, however, in suburban Maryland on the east coast during the 70’s was another story. Being teased and taunted for being the ONLY asian kid in school wasn’t always the most ideal of situations. It is what it is and I learned to adapt. I do, though, think from time-to-time how my life would’ve been different if I were raised in Los Angeles or San Francisco. I know I’d probably be able to speak Tagalog more fluently at least.

    • eguinan

      Thanks Mike, it’s really good to have positive feedback.

      It’s interesting that your experience as the ‘only’ Asian kid was a little difficult. On the one hand, it’s easy for Europeans to say “oh, the USA is fraught with racial tension’, on the other you have such a melting pot and it does seems to work (You can be anything you wanna be!). We sometimes forget how huge the US is, I think. And how, just like here, there are pockets of liberalism and pockets of openness. we are geographically more limited, so it’s easier to measure, I guess.

      Thanks for contiuning to read at any rate!

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