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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Nettle ushers in a brave “nu” world of music

Published: March 26, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

<i>PHOTO BY Jodi Elkin/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Jodi Elkin/The Hoot

The idea of “world music” has become a cliché among music fans; a stereotypical set of sounds from non-western countries watered down and fed to an audience of Americans and Europeans seeking something “different.” It was in response to this stereotype that Jace Clayton, better known as a critically acclaimed artist, DJ /rupture, formed Nettle, a collective of four musicians and a video artist seeking to change the idea of world music

This Saturday was the final event in the residency of Nettle, a concert in Slosberg Recital Hall as part of the Music Unites Us World Music Series. Nettle was billed as “Music for a New World” and a talk by Prof Wayne Marshall (MUS) preceded the concert itself. Nettle spent one week on campus, and Saturday’s show was their first concert in the United States.

Nettle features violinist Abdelhak Rahal, cellist Brent Arnold, percussionist Grey Filastine, and guenbri player and sometime vocalist Khalid Bennaji. In addition, there’s /rupture himself, who uses both live sampling as well as electronic beats, and Daniel Perlin, who created the video backdrops for each Nettle song.

The fusion aspect of Nettle, unlike most world music, moves beyond the ideas of different cultures into a combination of analog and digital, a feedback loop between traditional and modern. Nettle combines elements of a variety of cultures to form pieces that are not classical, not pop, not electronic, but “nu world music.” Marshall used this term to differentiate between the “new,” and by association American-centered, world and the brave “nu” world that the ensemble inhabits.

In fact, the entirety of Nettle’s performance was so great because it transcended the western/non-western dichotomy. The music performed was a gorgeous combination of strings, percussion, and /rupture’s beats, with the noises of the electronic seamlessly melding with the strains of violin, cello, and guenbri, a three-stringed Moroccan lute.

As Marshall explained, there’s a contrast between the ideas of “nationhood and neighborhood,” between the forces of “decolonization and globalization.” Marshall explained that Nettle embodied an idea of friction in intercultural exchange, one that runs counter to our neat conception of globalization as a smooth process.

Nettle made that eminently clear on Saturday, with at least one song becoming almost raucous at its conclusion. This was distortion, electronic samples clashing with the instrumentation to make evident the friction Marshall spoke of.

Perlin’s work as videographer was superb. Each video not only matched the performance, but enhanced it; it was a feedback loop between music and video that only served to better both. More than just a band performing in front of a backdrop, Nettle’s work felt like a unified audiovisual experience.

The most notable work was a war-themed visualization, which superimposed images of the US and Great Britain on a map with images of Iraq and Afghanistan. Matching the gritty feel and percussion heavy performance, as well as /rupture’s samples, the video transitioned into grainy war images: shells firing, bright lights. The power of the piece as protest art was enhanced by Nettle’s own musical style, the protests of multiple nations and cultures, of both the advanced and the traditional, all unified into one coherent song.

Nettle’s performance was casual, unhurried, and riveting, anchored by /rupture’s brief words of introduction and his work on turntable and laptop. The concert was, above all, not overly serious, a fun exploration of cultures and neighbors.

It was also one of the few concerts in Slosberg that featured people bobbing their heads along to music that, in a different context, could well be the background music at a dance party. Sitting down, the audience had more space to consider the complexity of the music and images, but the same setting wouldn’t necessarily be out of place at a club, given /rupture’s kinetic beats.

After all, as Marshall explained, “Good fences make good neighbors, but so does a good party.”