Paranoia plays a key role in Anthoney J. Hart’s music: you can hear it in the endless repetitions of his drum loops, in his atonal drones, and his decayed textures. The music he makes under the name Imaginary Forces is alert; constantly on-edge. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising—Hart cut his teeth in London’s jungle and drum’n’bass communities as a teenager in the ‘90s, immersing himself in music defined by dark moods, sinister atmospheres, and breakneck tempos. The name of his current musical project evokes similar themes—'Imaginary Forces' was originally a chapter title in “a work of semi-fiction that I never really finished.”
As a teenager, Hart spent his time in record shops, pirate radio stations, and raves. But as drum’n’bass grew in popularity, Hart felt it was becoming more formulaic, losing the unpredictable, anything-goes qualities that drew him to it in the first place. He found himself embracing a more abstract compositional process, incorporating the sampling and looping techniques of rave music into drone, musique concrète, and techno. Respected underground labels like Fang Bomb, Bedouin, and Type released his tracks, and now Texas-based, Tri Angle-affiliated producer Rabit’s budding Halcyon Veil imprint is the latest to issue his work, following the label's releases from other bold artists like Danish experimentalist Why Be and South African club producer Angel-Ho.
As much as the sound of drum’n’bass impacted Hart, it was also the genre's roots in the working class communities of London that made this music so important to him. In 2016, working class creativity is under threat in the U.K. more than ever: as property developers continue to drive up rent prices and push out London’s poorest residents, it’s inevitably going to become harder and harder for unconventional musicians to emerge out of the city in the near future. A recent survey from Create London found that 76% of respondents who worked in the arts had a parent from a middle class professional background, while 90% said they’d worked for free at some point. Artists do exist independently, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to survive without the support of independently wealthy parents or a large, commercial record label.
In Hart’s music, a preoccupation with financial insecurity is reflected in track titles like “Make Ends Meet,” “Shift Work,” and “Wage Packet,” with the drudgery of wage labor being brought out sonically in the instrumental drones and imperceptibly changing repetitions of his music. In a Skype call with The FADER from his current base of Stockholm, Hart is bright and engaged, talking at a mile a minute despite having been kept awake all night while construction work took place in his apartment building. He’ll go from discussing the work of cultural theorists like Paul Gilroy and Stuart Hall, to his time DJing on pirate radio stations like Rude FM—always linking his more academic interests back to his own music and experiences. “I'm not trying to make some political statements about the state of the U.K.,” he says. “I'm just talking about stuff that I know.”
How did you first connect with Rabit?
I have really bad Twitter habits. I follow and unfollow people all the time. I followed Rabit and unfollowed him and then I followed him again, and he ended up sending a message. He has similar areas of interest to me outside of music. We got chatting about class, race, and gender. If you talk to me for five minutes you're gonna end up talking about class—and if you talk about class then you're obviously gonna talk about race.
When did you first start to think about these things?
When I started off [in music], I was younger. I didn't really think about these things. I just wanted to make some tunes, play on the radio, play in some raves, and that was that. Looking back on it, it really felt like there was a real sense of... I don't know if ‘integration’ is exaggerating it, but you had everything, especially in jungle. I would walk into the club and there was black, white, Chinese, [and] Indian [people]; women; there was a huge Jamaican influence. There's also loads of legendary Asian producers that are often overlooked in hardcore and jungle retrospectives. They leave out people like [drum‘n’bass producer] Nookie, who was incredibly important.
I don’t really go out raving any more—I’m a bit older, I’ve been living here [in Stockholm] for a year and a half, and there’s nothing to do here. And it is really segregated here. But I talk to a lot of my mates and they all say the same thing—it’s probably 99.999% white, largely middle class kids [who are going to raves in London]. Quite a lot of other DJs and producers I talk to say the same thing. I feel like who’s dominating and who’s ruling these [dance music] scenes is a real mirror of the political situation in the U.K. at the moment. Look at the stuff that’s played and the stuff that’s popular and really being talked about, and then look at the government we’ve got in the U.K. But then, I was a young teenager in the ‘90s, so maybe there’s a little naivety in the way that I saw things back then.
“I feel like who’s dominating and who’s ruling scenes is a real mirror of the political situation in the U.K. at the moment. Look at the stuff that’s popular, and then look at the government we’ve got in the U.K.”
Have you seen anywhere that challenges that?
One of the few places, where you do just see everybody, is Radar Radio. It really has this energy and this vibe to it. Everybody just comes in, wants to hang about and meet each other and do some music. I really have not felt something like that for a long time. They’re doing something right.
What’s your own background like?
I’m white working class. I have Romany heritage on my grandmother's side. My older brother and sister—from my mother's first marriage—their father's Jamaican. We grew up in a mixed household; it was just standard for me. All this stuff influences you as a person and in what you do. Obviously I've seen things that my brother and sister have gone through and had to put up with. I experienced them vicariously, but it still has an impact on you as a person. These things are really important to me.
Your music doesn’t follow traditional lyrical and musical forms. How do you convey ideas about class and identity?
To be honest, this is something that I’ve had real problems with as I’ve moved away from more abstract territory to trying to convey something more directly about my own experiences. It’s not like I sit down and watch a TED talk, take some notes, then go into the studio—I just make music. I’d been making a lot of these abstract things, and it was a bit self-indulgent being like, “Oh look at this fairly esoteric, pseudo-intellectual idea that I’ve arbitrarily applied [to the title of] this fucking drone track.” It’s rubbish. I got bored of that and wanted to do something that was a bit more direct.
This is part of the reason I want to start working with vocalists—specifically MCs—on my next album. They’re working at a similar tempo and basic structure [to my music]. Obviously I come from a pirate radio background, so MCs were important, but a lot of drum’n’bass MCing [had] more party lyrics. Radar has been instrumental in me being able to [work with vocalists]. I’ve done a couple of sets up there with MCs—the last set I did [was] with Kwam, Darkos Strife, and Saint.
“I see a lot of people following the same patterns of what was once perhaps radical, extreme, or experimental. Not much else. I don’t even think what I’m doing is particularly experimental.”
How do you feel a culture of permanent austerity affects musicians who aren't well-off—especially with artists making music that isn't commercially viable?
It’s the same as it ever was really. Someone who has some inheritance, or a well-paid job because of their good education, family, or whatever, can fund their own label and make moves and connect with people and get mentioned in all the right places, and with a modicum of talent maybe get through on to bigger things.
Whereas someone who scrapes by, and saves enough over a year or two to take a risk pressing up 200 white labels to try and flog [sell] themselves—[someone] who can’t get press coverage, can’t make the right connections because they have a myriad of other priorities...ends up sitting on those 12”s for a couple of years and goes nowhere.
Careers in music are becoming more and more closed off to people who don’t come from wealthy backgrounds, but at the same time it feels to me like people are more receptive to experimental musical forms than ever before. Do you worry that your own scene is a closed shop for people from poor backgrounds?
A loaded question—but yeah, it pretty much feels that way. This can’t really be answered in a neat little caption or paragraph. There are so many facets to it with relation to class, money, race, gender, and so on. I should also say I don’t really feel that I’m part of any particular scene, but I know what you’re trying to get at.
There are so many things to say here I don’t know where to begin. I don’t think because a bunch of techno artists have started playing with noise, and some noise boys have added beats to their meanderings, that it follows that people are any more open to supposedly experimental music than they have ever been—play some Merzbow in Topshop and see if people are feeling it. I also don’t really hear much experimental music about these days. I see a lot of people following the same patterns of what was once perhaps radical, extreme, or experimental. Not much else. I don’t even think what I’m doing is particularly experimental. Arguably, this is traditional music now.
Regarding the question of class: yes, there are barriers, but they have always been there. The use of institutionalized language, the way events are presented, and where they are advertised all feed into this. They’re all modes of exclusion. It feels to me like this has always been the case, only now some middle class people have noticed it and would like to discuss it.