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Our Future: Arca - Queer Electronic Music's Gamechanger

by Kyle Mangione-Smith
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Apr 19, 2017

Though it may not be clear to many now, I believe Alejandro Ghersi, also known as Arca, will be looked back on as one of the most important experimental electronic musicians of the last decade, and not just for his music. Listening to his recent self-titled album, it became clear to me that he'd accomplished something that few within the genre had managed: he'd created a deeply personal album, where separating the art from the artist was nearly impossible. The album is obtuse and challenging to listen to at times, and yet a shocking amount of emotion and beauty shines through. More than anything else, this can be attributed to his presence within his own music. Whereas most experimental electronic musicians seek to distance themselves from their music as to let it stand on its own, the sounds presented throughout Arca are very clearly an expression of Ghersi's own experiences. In a genre that's often defined by its alienating nature, it's a feat that Arca is as humanistic as it is.

But to me, possibly the most interesting thing about Arca as an artist is the way he's worked his gender and sexuality into his art. Ghersi is openly gay and genderqueer, and it's hard to imagine what his art would be like if that weren't the case. In interviews, he's talked about how his first album "Xen" was named after the fictional alter ego he crafted for himself, who strode both sides of the gender binary and bridged the gap between his feminine and masculine side at once. In music videos and live performances, he's often seen scantily clad in assless chaps, stilettos, and BDSM leatherwear. He expresses his identity clearly and loudly through his visual presentation, and this certainly reflects on his music. Coming from Caracas, Venezuela, where he claimed he had to hide his sexuality for years in fear of getting beaten or killed, his unapologetic expression of his identity can in itself be seen as revolutionary.

Yet within music circles, and even among those that actively engage and listen to electronic music, there's this sort of inherent assumption that most experimental electronic music is too abrasive, cold, and lifeless to express meaningful emotions. Where this idea falls flat is the notion that those descriptors aren't part of the human experience in and of themselves, that confusion and alienation somehow aren't "meaningful emotions." Certainly, anyone who's been forced to stay in the closet out of fear of social rejection and physical abuse knows this isn't the case.

I would be lying if I said I'm the biggest Arca fan. I think his experimentation can be hit or miss at times given how messy and cluttered it can be, and yet I have more respect for him than the large majority of musicians working today specifically for that reason. He captures something fundamental about what it's like to be a member of the LGBT community in a world that's still predominantly heteronormative and cisnormative, all with a tenacity that few other artists are capable of. It can at times be messy and confusing, and that's not something to be overlooked.

What's most exciting about all of this to me is that I did not originally hear about Arca through music review or news sites. I heard about him through other young, gay and trans musicians that discovered him and felt his music spoke to them in a way that no other musician had before, many of who felt inspired to use their own art as a means of discovering and expressing their identities through similar experimentation. At this point, he's become a large enough artist to be picked up by sites like Pitchfork, but the lasting impact he'll have won't be with a general audience. Plenty can be said in regards to Arca as a musician, but the reason I believe he'll be looked back on as one of the most important figures within modern experimental electronic music is that he gave agency to a generation of young, LGBT musicians to express themselves in a way that many of them didn't see as possible before.

For years, gay and trans people's presence within underground music has primarily been through the use of music and art to build community and enact political action, such as within punk and hardcore subcultures. That's all well and good, but what about the ways in which people experience gender and sexuality individually? Isn't the emotional confusion that comes along with growing up as a gay or trans youth just as fundamental to the LGBT experience? What Arca has done is pave the way for the next generation of independent gay and trans musicians to discover themselves through music in a way that many didn't see possible before, and I certainly think he should be celebrated for it.

Watch Arca's video "Anoche":

Watch Arca's video "Reverie":

Watch Arca's video "Desafio":


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