In our newest content format, FWD Transmissions, we aim to support creatives in the aftermath of COVID-19 and to throw the spotlight on BIPOCs in the industry. Electronic Beats will commission a track from a producer and bespoke artwork from a visual artist, both to be debuted exclusively across our channels.
At the start of her track “Last Train to Chaos + Girl With the Eagle Eye,” Paris-based producer Christelle Oyiri, also known as Crystallmess, gives form to the current crisis through a cacophony of noise. Hurling alarms blast in syncopated dialogue with muted airhorns, borrowed from the sound of Caribbean festivities, to signal a nerve-racking urgency. These sounds communicate the national nadir the artist found herself in when France instituted their first state of emergency five years ago, along with a set of repressive policies that are now being exacerbated by the pandemic. This raucous introduction captures the tone of a world characterized by a deep-seated malfunction. “This year more than ever, I felt that we have reached a point where dystopia and the world’s acceleration toward it were truly there,” Oyiri says.
Crystallmess - Last Train To Chaos + Girl With Eagle Eye
Surprisingly, the composition’s real inspiration comes from a positive source. Oyiri envisioned a fantasy of a young Black girl wearing an armored glove, with an eagle resting on her hand. This character orients the second section of the track, where melancholic, heady riffs offer respite and lightness in the midst of chaos. In her illustration, the Marseille-based painter Neïla Czermak Ichti hand-drew The Girl in the painting’s foreground; meanwhile, behind her, a landscape featuring a dark purple sky and foreign celestial body convey both the dread of an apocalyptic state and the possibility of a strange elsewhere to escape to. Its fluorescent yellow-green color evokes a place diffused with the residue of toxic waste, but it also recalls a rare sighting of the aurora borealis.
In “Last Train to Chaos + Girl With The Eagle Eye,” disruption and unease are present through strident sound effects and disjointed, rumbling subterranean drums—but not for long. By the end, the dark spell seems casted out; one feels able to breathe again. Over the course of the track, Oyiri invokes various, often undetectable inspirations, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bernard Szajner, and the science fiction short story Dune Song by Nigerian writer Suyi Davies Okungbowa, an exploration of a post-apocalyptic desert world under the rule of a despotic regime.
Four years ago, before Christelle Oyiri seriously committed to music production, she was a music writer. Though she was still writing features as recently as 2018, she’s slowly distanced herself from writing and discourse. What motivates the artist now is what she describes as “a search for the inexpressible”—something only music can accomplish. She began mixing and performing in clubs and venues in Paris, carving a space for herself in the closed-off world of French electronic music and outside of it through touring internationally. In 2018, she introduced her multimedia performance piece “Collective Amnesia: In Memory of Logobi,” and, with it, a desire to experiment with other art forms (in this case video art) that would continue with “Necessary Evil” in 2019. That year, she also released a split vinyl on experimental label PAN that features the somber “Fear Of A/Black Planet,” a track whose title hints at her interests in worldbuilding and sci-fi dimensions.
It would be too simplistic to say that Crystallmess has given up on words. They are still part of her creative process, in the form of brash, eloquent statements like in “Interlude for the Dropouts” from her first LP Mere Noises—during which a confident young woman lays out her City Girls-esque ethic about money and self-worth, the energy of her cadence contrasting with the dreamy, riff-heavy rhythm of the track—or in her samples of Black American intellectual Hortense Spillers in her sprawling techno banger “Flesh.” She offers no words, however, in the face of the current (sanitary, ecological, and social) catastrophe, which ridicules the power of discourse for good. “I am past talking about politics,” she tells me. “I want to IMAGINE things for Black people: characters who do not exist and strange lands.”
With “Last Train to Chaos + The Girl With The Eagle Eye,” Crystallmess proposes the combination of music’s transcendental qualities with the antidote of fiction and fantasy, a fantasy still rooted in the real but nonetheless “nurturing and fostering imagination to counter the psychological warfare that is antiblackness,” she says. The Girl With the Eagle Eye depicted in the painting intentionally bears a physical resemblance to Oyiri’s younger sister Maeva, to whom Neïla Czermak Ichti desired to pay tribute, and who represents Oyiri’s hope that the future generation will teach us more about the world and the ways to escape its resigned cynicism.
Fanta Sylla is a film critic and researcher based in Paris. Her work has been featured on Reverse Shot, The Village Voice, Sight & Sound, and Pitchfork.
Neila Czermak Ichti is a visual artist currently based in Marseille.
Photography by Melchior Tersen