Name: Blood Cultures
Current release: Blood Culture's LUNO is out now.
If these thoughts by Blood Cultures piqued your interest, visit their Instagram account for more information.
Can you please tell us a bit about your own sense of identity – and how it motivated you to take an artistic path?
Your identity is something that is inevitably influenced by your culture, your family, your institutions, your society, and the way you're treated in it, but I largely still believe that your identity is a choice. Who you choose to be based on what you choose to do, despite your circumstance. Your choices are what make you who you are. We often relinquish this control of choice to societal pressures and norms that we never question, and thus we lose our power to choose who we are, and our identity is no longer ours.
In which way do you feel your identity concretely influences your creativity?
The core of the project has always been identity. Whether that be ours, and the lack of information and context we provide on ourselves, or the listeners, and the identity that they have to bring to the music to find their own meaning and interpretation from it. Anonymity allows us to be free of identity and the attachments that come with it, and allows us to be more vulnerable and honest in the music and performance.
In terms of cultural identity, which is a subject I've been pretty vocal about exploring, some context is necessary in terms of understanding the messaging and imagery of the work. Growing up in between two cultures, you're faced with the challenge of trying to find out who you are, while never really identifying with either side.
But the truth is you are neither, but both. And both sides of my culture, whether that being born American or my Pakistani heritage, are present in the music and in the visuals and both sides of the influence have allowed me to create something pretty unique.
Blood Cultures is a vessel to tell your story through music and videos. Can you give me a glimpse of that story before you were able to express it through art?
I think I would only be doing a disservice to the work if I imposed myself and my story on it. That is the opposite of my goal as an artist. If you want to know me, then look at the artwork, listen to the music, you will find me there in a more intimate way that any words could do justice.
In Blood Cultures, music is part of the solution, but shockingly, in many cases, other parts of music and the arts system as a whole have instead been part of the problem. Why do you think this is?
When art becomes media it becomes a commodity. This is both the problem and the solution. The system you are referring to is a cycle. The industry is trying to find out what the people want so they can sell it to them, while the people are influenced by that same industry and the media they observe from it. So if the people are ignorant, the media will be too, the art will be too, and thus the system will be too. But if the art is "too progressive" then the media will be considered "too ahead of its time" because it will not be consumable by the society that doesn't buy it.
Essentially, the media is a dishonest reflection of the people at a time because it reflects who they think we want to be, not who we are. When people want honesty, when they are ready to face who they truly are, then the system will catch up, but if we are too afraid to look, our systems will keep feeding us ignorant shit and expect us to eat it with a smile.
Media is a powerful tool because it can spread ideas to the masses and ideas have the power to liberate or oppress. When we put liberating ideas into the media, ideas and artwork that makes us feel united through positive stories that represent our honest core of our being, that represent who we really are as people, then we can feel liberation, freedom, understanding.
How has music concretely helped you come to terms with your own identity – both as listeners and creators?
I think it's a never ending process. The concept of identity is so fascinating, because it will never truly be known. There are all these layers between consciousness and unconsciousness that are basically impossible to unravel like a never ending maze. Even when you try to look, like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, your awareness will always affect what you see. And that’s the mystery of life. It's not only external but internal. And that journey that we have over the course of our lives, is an internal journey of self discovery.
As you learn the world around you, you learn yourself as you react to it, and vice versa. Art is just an expression of this human experience of understanding and not understanding. And as you hear and observe new and interesting things that make you question the way things are done and the way things have to be, you grow and learn more about yourself through relating to that messaging, by relating to that story, and by learning more about yourself through it.
Art can be an expression or celebration of identity, but it can also be an effort to establish new ones or break free from them. With regards to LUNO, how would you describe your own approach in this regard?
Great question that I don't know if I have the tools or words to totally express. It's a bit of all of that. The project is about the cycle of change, from death to rebirth. Change can only happen by one first acknowledging and accepting one's own identity, so it is certainly celebrating that aspect of revealing yourself. Through that exposure to yourself, there is this inner death because when you become aware of who you are, you are no longer that person anyone but the thing that is aware of that person. And only then do you have a choice. The choice to continue being who you were or becoming who you choose to be.
Looking back, why, do you feel, was it so hard to accept who you are? How do you see the respective influence and importance of society, community and individual for you personally?
Do you find it easy to accept who you are? At what point did you decide who you are? Or worse, did you realize that you've never truly made a decision in your life? Our society, cultures, and institutions are instrumental in making us think within a box. And within those boxes they limit your potential and tell you who you are and what you want.
Most if not all people manufacture an ego, an identity based on the culture and institutions they were raised by. But what happens when you realize that the system, the institutions, etc. are just ideas, maybe bad ideas, bad ideas just made by other people? And what have you contributed to that system to that society to that culture? Are you blameless?
Ask yourself who you are and what you've done. The biggest and worst culprit in our ignorance is the thought that we are powerless, voiceless and cannot change. If the system is made of people, If the society, the culture is just an idea, we have the power to create new ideas, to change those structures that are all so powerful in dictating who we are as a people. But that can only happen with honest and real reflection. Not based on who you think you are, not as your ego sees you, but who you objectively are.
The press release mentions "general ignorance, lack of representation, and consistent negative depictions of their people, culture, and religion" as factors which influenced you. What is it that people most consistently get wrong in this respect?
The "them not us" narrative. Ignorance is insidious. When we think we're not the ones who need changing, but it's the other that is wrong. When you look at the opposition and you demonize them for their ignorance, you fail to see yourself in them. You fail to see that they are just like you. Programmed, just like you are, just with different data, yet you blame the application for running wrong without even looking at the programmer.
We have a responsibility to change that programming, because we are responsible for one another, we represent one another, whether we like it or not: we are all we've got.
Western toxic masculinity and eastern feminine oppression are topics addressed on the album. It's interesting that you present them as a pairing. Are they the same? Different sides of the same coin? Contrasts?
They are oppressive and repressive ideas held up by the ideas prevailing in the cultures, in that regard they are the same. They represent different aspects of my dual cultures that I am not proud of, that I actively stand against. The ideas are presented in the imagery but not necessarily in the music. The connection between the imagery and the music is through the shared concept of change through embracing yourself, the good and the bad, in order to choose to be who you want. Progress is not possible without deviation from the norm.
With Blood Cultures, fashion is an integral part of your work. What statements can fashion make that you couldn't with just music? What does it add to LUNO?
Wow, I really don't consider what we do to be fashion, but that's an interesting take on it. The way I think about what we wear and how we present ourselves, is power over our image. We have control over the character and how we present to the world, so why not make that meaningful, why not make that image striking and raise questions through that medium. We've already decided not to show our faces, so why not paint the billboard with something that furthers the messaging and furthers the meaning and concepts in the music.
I don't believe in the separation of art vs. artists, and because I care very much about my art, I carefully craft the context and presentation of what is observed and presented, because if this is the case, then the art is in the action, not just the canvas.
The burka is not a fashion item, it is a symbol. Symbols and representations have been used for centuries as tools of repression, of course, even, as John Berger has argued, in most of the West's history of painting. What's your view on the ongoing relevance of symbols, how they shape our world views and how they can be transformed?
Jung's work was instrumental in the philosophy of the project, specifically his concept of the collective unconscious which houses these inherent symbols that transcend human consciousness and exist within us and in a way that unites us. By taking symbols and using them to tell a story, you're able to simplify your messaging and make it a lot clearer as to what the meaning is to a general audience. And by subverting them you allow people to walk away questioning the placement of that symbol in their psyche. By taking symbols of oppression and repression from the western and eastern hemisphere and combining them, you tell a simple story with a clear message by creating a paradox and the symbols are left rendered useless and open to be redefined again.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. Your work in a way ingeniously subverts these terms. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Culture, society, gender, etc. are concepts that limit our individuality by forcing us to define who we are within a box. Boxes that are just ideas made by people who may have never even questioned their value. Good art doesn't bend just to fit into your idea of what it should be, then it wouldn't be good art. Good art defies. Good art questions. Good art liberates.
The best way I can equate these ideas is genre: something that is imposed upon the music in an attempt to understand it and explain it, when it is something that is unexplainable and shouldn't be explainable. Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" features a country singer (Billy Ray Cyrus), samples an industrial metal artist (Nine Inch Nails), and is a rap song over a trap beat. On paper that sounds insane, but the execution is a hit pop song. Genres and these other concepts should be questioned, they should be pushed and tested, because they are just collective ideas, collective ideas that once were not, but now are - which means by nature can and should be changed.
LUNO doesn't fit into one genre so each track sort of represents the exploration of a stand alone idea. However, they all are connected thematically and tell an overarching story, reflective of the lunar cycles, of change through rebirth and death. The songs all speak of these concepts even though they are all so drastically different and each has a role like a scene in a movie. They each have a function in the overarching story.
In which way do you feel as though music, next to political and societal reform, can also bring about concrete change and lead to tangible improvements?
Because music is neat.