Moor Mother, Lightning Bolt, Stroom, and Príncipe Know That When It Comes to Creative Disciplines, More Is More

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On November 8, at 1 am, Icelandic pop icon Björk donned a spectacular mask and cocooned herself in an artificial jungle for a surprise DJ set on the smallest stage of Le Guess Who?, an art and music festival in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

This kind of multisensory experience is typical of the festival, which has grown into a premier destination for music and art discovery in Europe. Every year, the organizers pair their music lineup with exhibitions, film screenings, installations, and more to showcase performers’ creative interests beyond sound.

This urge to expand beyond one creative discipline was also the topic of conversation over the weekend at Kapitaal, a beloved DIY print shop and cultural hub, where Kickstarter and Le Guess Who? invited a series of multidisciplinary artists to transform the space into the official festival hangout and talk about working at the intersection of music and visual art: What skills apply to turning a visual idea into sound? How does music inform prose, poetry, and design? And how does one create collaborative spaces and lasting partnerships?

Here, Moor Mother, Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale, and the founders of Stroom and Príncipe Discos share insights from their creative journeys and advice for others who might be starting to stretch into a new creative medium.

Moor Mother’s approach to juggling—and triaging—creative ambitions 

Moor Mother at Le Guess Who?
Moor Mother at Le Guess Who?

Camae Ayewa, the noise poet and activist who goes by Moor Mother, is a true Renaissance woman: She’s just as comfortable collaborating with experimental electronic artists, free jazz ensembles, or the London Contemporary Orchestra as she is staging plays, publishing poetry zines, or scoring an installation for the Guggenheim. There seems to be no limit to Moor Mother’s curiosity and improvisational talents.

True to form, Ayewa juggled creating her latest album, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes, with publishing a book of poetry and writing, directing, and performing in an avant-garde jazz musical called Circuit City. “It was hard, and I’m a crybaby anyways,” she says.

In order to even finish all three projects, she first had to embrace a certain pragmatism about stepping out of her comfort zone. “At first you have these really large ideas, and then you have to sculpt it down to reality. Like, how much money do you have? What can you actually do, who can you really involve? I continued to pull pieces away from this. An album, on the other hand, is [more] cut and dried. But things like a theater piece you can constantly morph and shape. Of course, working on it put me in an uncomfortable situation: I’ve never done this before, so it’s very uncomfortable to throw yourself in the unknown. But I knew I would grow and see things from a new perspective.”

Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale questions traditional art-world routes—and paves his own 

Chippendale shares off-the-cuff work at the Le Guess Who? Hangout
Chippendale shares off-the-cuff work at the Le Guess Who? Hangout

Brian Chippendale is the drummer and vocalist in the iconic (and violently loud) duo Lightning Bolt—a band he started while at the Rhode Island School of Design in the ’90s. Chippendale never graduated from RISD, and he threw a bag of roadkill from the roof of the main building for his last art performance there. “I think I was going for the controversial exit,” he says.

He hasn’t been afraid to insult or ignore art-world norms throughout his career. Instead of waiting to be granted spots in musical lineups or gallery shows, Chippendale and fellow artist Mat Brinkman created their own space, Fort Thunder, which served as a concert venue, rehearsal space, and permanent place of residence for many locals between 1995 and 2001.

“When we started, galleries and museums were shitty things we didn't want to deal with,” says Chippendale, “so turning a space into my own used to be even too much of a priority for me. Fort Thunder itself was the art form. A couple evictions later, it became harder to invest in these rental spaces. So over the years I got a little more conservative, like, ‘Why don't I paint on a canvas and hang it up instead of painting directly on the wall and saw it out of the cement?’”

He also questions the conventional wisdom that artists need to move to New York and schmooze their way to the top. He still resides in Providence, Rhode Island, now with his wife, fellow artist and RISD alumna Jungil Hong, and young son, and says being removed from the art scene’s epicenter grants him the space he needs to work in peace—and drum as loud as he wants.

"It's a great small city,” he says. “There have always been affordable, large spaces. I have an amazing studio that is fairly cheap. I can play music 24 hours a day there. I thought for a long time that I could live in Providence and work all the time and then [become] this famous art star in New York, like it's a little more challenging [to make it as an artist there]. But I think I could be a shittier artist and live in New York—and if you're charismatic enough you can go off.”

Stroom art director Nana Esi’s human storytelling gives forgotten albums fresh art 

Stroom, from Ostend, Belgium, is much more than a reissue label. The brainchild of label founder and A&R rep Ziggy Devriendt, aka Nosedrip, it focuses on unearthing obscure music, old and new, and telling those albums’ stories. In the process, Stroom is bridging the gap between local music histories and the future it’s actively helping to shape. 

Nosedrip joined us at Kapitaal to play a set of forthcoming releases and discuss how art director Nana Esi has made archival music a real strength for the label by telling forgotten creators’ stories with social and artistic tact. "She takes a lot of time to listen to the music and talk to the creators in advance,” Devriendt says. “She always gets elements for her designs that way. It would be way too obvious to just look at the visual identity the act already had when they first came out. Nana never does that. I think finding new angles is one of the biggest strengths of what we're doing."

A perfect example of this close and personal approach to collaboration is the cover art for Spring Break by Belgian band Pablo’s Eye. The sleeve shows overlapping scans of an unidentified biracial couple.

Nana Esi's album art for Pablo's Eye
Nana Esi's album art for Pablo's Eye

"These are Nana’s parents on the cover,” Devriendt says. “Her father had just passed away while we were finishing this project, so she was going through her parents’ old photos and scanned a lot of old pictures. It just felt right to use it. Their relationship also reflects the history of Pablo’s Eye’s core members, and the band was very happy with it. We’ve actually become close friends. The best projects I did could be measured by the social appreciation you get from the people whose music you are putting out."

Príncipe Discos creates an artistic movement based on friendships 

While the sounds of Príncipe cohorts like Nidia, Marfox, Niggafox, Firmeza, and many more explore the fringes of kuduro, techno, and all types of bass-heavy, unorthodox rhythms, the label’s visual language tackles themes of identity and historical violence in almost playful ways. 

During their three-day stint at Kapitaal, Nelson Gomes and Márcio Matos—the creative director and designer behind the record label’s artworks—turned the print shop into a dynamic exhibition and performance space that changed daily. 

Some of the visuals Príncipe Discos developed for the Le Guess Who? Hangout
Some of the visuals Príncipe Discos developed for the Le Guess Who? Hangout

For them, the visual agenda of a record label can only succeed if it is a direct aesthetic reflection of its roster. “Everything we have done is created for our artists,” said Gomes, “so the whole exhibition all of a sudden made sense when Nidia, Marfox, and Firmeza played here. All you see on the walls is an extension of them.”

For Márcio Matos, a trained painter who also runs the Flur record store in Lisbon, it took a while to accept that his politically charged paintings had to be intrinsically interwoven with his artworks for the label. “In the beginning I saw my visuals for the label as a very specific design project, so I separated my own work and the visual identity of Príncipe. Since then it’s been seven years, and at some point it upset me to keep up this divide. So I started to no longer give a fuck, and I let the iconography I use in my own works bleed into the label as well. I wouldn’t use the Príncipe logo face in my paintings, but you can you can absolutely see it’s the same artist.”

Aside from immediately recognizable imagery, the main reason why Príncipe has always felt like a movement rather than a label lies in the team’s crew mentality. It mirrors what Stroom says about measuring a release’s success by the value of the social interaction with your artist: A close bond is essential for venturing into new creative territories.

“We are all friends on this project: Nelson, André, Ze, and me. But also, we’re close friends with all of the artists we sign,” says Matos. “The Lisbon scene consists of a lot of different people with very different opinions. But our own ‘scene,’ if you will, happens one night per month at [the club] Music Box. There you will see what Príncipe is all about. You only get the real feel for it through the music and the visuals in combination with the DJs. They are who we do all of this for.”