Sun Ra (1914-1993) was a cosmic jazz musician who claimed he was born on Saturn. You’re probably assuming the dude was a bit whack, but Sydney remix artists, Dan and Dominique Angeloro, aka SODA_JERK, are such huge advocates of his work that they produced, Astro Black, based on the musician’s life and times. Using Sun Ra as their central figure, the 4-channel video installation focuses on the cultural theory of afrofuturism and the ways in which the seemingly insane artist had such a massive influence on the hip-hop culture and modern day futurists including Outkast and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
What is Astro Black and why have you created it?
Astro Black is a work that looks at Afrofuturism, a cultural theory that examines the intersection between science fiction and black Atlantic culture.
It charts the history of science fiction within music forms such as hip-hop and improvisational jazz.
All of our work is comprised entirely of samples so we draw on different archives to get audio-visual material and we re-edit them to forge different narratives.
Just on that whole remix culture, a lot of people have issues with it because they believe the artist is merely taking another artist’s original, existing work and rehashing it. Thoughts on that?
We believe in the ethics of remix because we really believe in shared culture. It’s an issue of who owns history and we really think that history should be shared and the idea that you can take material from the past and reconfigure it in new ways to open up possibilities for the future.
But doesn’t that change history in a way?
In a way, but there’s not just one history.
So it’s a different perspective on history?
We really believe in the idea that there should be multiple histories. Copyrighting the material of the past makes that material only exist in one context. There is a real need of taking that material and creating alternative possibilities for it, almost like alternative universes.
Is Astro Black a history of hip-hop from the way that you see it?
It’s based on the history of Afrofuturism. The central figure is Sun Ra who was a cosmic jazz musician who had these science-fiction mythologies and it tracks the history of how Sun Ra has influenced the generations of later musicians and hip-hop in particular.
Afrofuturism is used to describe the work of many modern day artists including Outkast, Kid Cudi and Jean-Michel Basquiat. What is it about their work that puts them in that genre?
Outkast are a really good example because they draw on pieces of the past and have a lot of science-fiction elements in their work. A lot of their early work – like their album, ATLiens – have a kind of alien mythology. Basquiat also used a lot of alien imagery.
The important thing about Afrofuturism is that it’s really connected to social politics so it looks at African-American existence and how those conditions create a kind of alienation or dislocation that these artists are embracing or critiquing by drawing on these science-fiction forms and entropes.
Do you think people approach Afrofuturism with a little bit of skepticism, though? Particularly with someone like Sun Ra who claimed he was kidnapped and taken to Saturn?
(Laughs) I think he was born on Saturn! But we take it pretty seriously, that’s what makes Afrofuturism so interesting – everyone gets to write and create their own history and if Sun Ra says that’s what happened to him, then who are we to judge? I think there’s a tenuous line between fiction and history and by creating these sorts of mythologies, Sun Ra is really pointing to that…it is no less real than the kind of histories were meant to believe, the official histories of the past.
Can you tell us a bit about the technical elements of Astro Black and how it was put together?
It’s a project we’ve been working on since 2007 so we actually made Episode 1, the third channel, in 2007 and since that time, we’ve been extending that history both backwards and forwards, so we’ve done Episode 0, Episode -1 and Episode 2.
In the last 12 months we’ve been living in Berlin, this is where we made Episode 0, which looks more at how the German electronic scene has influenced Afrofuturism.
What is it about Afrofuturism that you find so appealing?
All our work looks at the intersection of history and ideas of speculative fiction or science fiction and in that way, with our work, we often take a particular historical episode or trajectory and make a fictional narrative around that.
The actual conceptual process of Afrofuturism and the approach it takes to history and fiction is essential to the premise of our work and the way that we think about it conceptually. Hip-hop is obviously very important to our work and how sampling in hip-hop has direct parallels with the way that we reuse and sample audio-visual materials.
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