On a sweltering summer afternoon, the writer and techno musician DeForrest Brown, Jr., welcomed a visitor into his cozy East Village apartment. After the usual, awkward covid-19 theatre—disclosing negative test results, adjusting masks—he climbed a vertiginous iron spiral staircase to a sun-drenched loft, stuffed with enough books to comprise “a library for the End Times,” he said.
“Anyhoo,” he continued, as we sat on some cushions in front of an overworked fan, “I was upstate visiting my mom’s brother, who has a nice house and a kid. He says, ‘I’m going to go out to the car and show you something.’ He comes back with this laminated letter that was my great-grandfather’s signing for his freedom. He said, ‘I keep it there for spiritual protection.’ I was, like, ‘Our great-grandfather was enslaved?’ And he said, ‘Oh, shit—they didn’t tell you.’ ”
This revelation came two years ago, when Brown, who is now thirty, was navigating what he called the “compromising life situations of being Black in America under capitalism.” Frustrated with his poorly paid freelance-writing career, Brown returned from upstate New York and launched a new project, Speaker Music, which on Juneteenth released its second album, “Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry,” a ferociously beautiful collection of fragmented, bruising techno and spoken word. Later this year, Brown will publish his first book, “Assembling a Black Counter-Culture,” which explores the links between Black experience in industrialized labor systems and Black innovation in electronic music.
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