Vero Mota aka Espectra Negra is one of the most powerful names in the contemporary extreme industrial culture, her music can be described as ritualistic noise. We asked her to send us a track from her forthcoming album Tales of Chaos and answer us some question about political, subcultural and occult matters.
Born in Mexico City she became an important part of the political punk scene in the early 1990s. In 1997 she came for the first time to Europe where she researched new music expressions such as Brake Core & Techno. In 2000 she moved to Chicago where she digested the US-American hard core scene focused on the Latino and Black underground subcultures. After living in Chicago she moved to Berlin where she has worked since then as radio producer, experimental filmmaker, sound designer, dj, tech-teacher, curator, sound artist, ritualistic noise producer & body art performer. Vero is also the founder and curator behind Urban Arts Berlin, a non-profit arts organization based in Berlin.
Greetings from Athens. I remember that you had a performance here once. What kind of memories do you have from our city?
That’s correct. Athens is a wonderful place because of its extraordinary culture from the past and present. I remember thinking about how similar the city is to my home town Mexico City. Somehow I felt at home.
My connection to Greece began in my childhood with a vinyl my mother used to play. It was Demis Roussos. He was loved by many Mexicans in the 70/80s. After that in my humanistic college where you learned Greek and Latin. Then university studies, in my case Philosophy. I almost choose Teather instead where Greek culture is again extremely relevant because of its mythology, drama & tragedy.
When I finally visited Athens I played Demis and meet some Greek friends from the Body Art Performance culture. Their vibe was very welcoming & loving. They attended my live body art performance which was a total success even though it was a little underground event.
After, I visited the Sea, The Acropolis, The Agora, The Temple of Olympian Zeus, The Planetarium, The Olympic Stadium, Pláka, and Anafiotika. I ate excellent food & hang out a bit with the Queer scene because my trip was very short. I certainly want to go back. Many things that interest me come from Greece. The ritualistic aspect is as strong as in Mexican culture. I want to experience that level too.
Taking part in the underground culture and owning an academic degree brings you in front of two different worlds. What is your opinion about them?
I do not believe in academic titles. I think a degree often does not make much of a difference unless you are a humanist and have a strong compromise with the people. Most of the educated come from an elite. They are pretty bourgeois and sustain pretty conservative ways of living and thinking unless knowledge knocks them spiritually. In my case, I had very relevant mentors in my family. We were not rich but had strong ethical values. The father of my grandmother was a teacher and a plant doctor who educated the very poor in his community. His daughter, my aunt, became a doctor specialized in children: a pediatrician. I grew up with medical stuff around but, most important, I saw her at Christmas or any important family gathering leaving the dinner table because someone rang the bell in need of a doctor. She never said no and since she also had a good job at a hospital she often did not charge who she saw could not afford the visit. She also traveled around the country helping indigenous people in extreme poverty. She died of cancer some years ago and her table was fulled of flowers, food, and people who loved her. Many people were so grateful. She was a mentor for me. I learned from her why you do studies: to share what you learn with others not to oppressed and keep the elite. She was a consequent example.
As a young woman, I chose the same humanistic university as her. After about five years of hard learning (Philosophy is not easy), I left because even though I had excellent critical teachers and managed even to be chosen as an assistant by a Hegelian important professor, I knew life takes place on the streets, not in a classroom or institution. I never dreamed of becoming part of the academic mafia. My dream was to see the world with my own eyes, learn as much as I could, help when I can, and eventually become a writer. So, back to your question: I chose the underground, not the academy. I never regret that step. Since then I am mostly autodidact.
At death industrial/power electronics scene many times we see misogynist and racist themes used either as provocation either as statements. What do you think that should we do about it?
I think we should de-construct symbols and meanings and vomit our intelligence on certain faces. I have had some intense conversations with people doing art which they use to provoke and play the bad boy role. That approach in culture is quite old now. It is the same with artists that use a nazi helmet or swastika these days. That was provocative in the 70/80s but by now it only tells you that the artist is a copy of the copy of the copy. Nothing new there angry boy! I questioned once a famous musician who turned to be younger as me and he could not answer my questions regarding why the need to use violent images against women from the male gaze. He said: “I do it because it looks cool.” No reflexion of any kind. Those are the heroes some people have. Decadent, stupid & pretty embarrassing.
As a POC it has not been easy to be accepted in the industrial and power electronics scene. This because my message confronts precisely a lot of bullshit in this scene. I have two types of encounters: either men how have developed and understand that what is coming is a more heterogenous scene and have no problem with it, and men who “ignore” you and bitch on your back in their macho clubs because they hate to have more women on board, and certainly women questioning their misogynistic programming. A funny phenomenon is how tolerant and welcoming the bad boy club is when the girls scream on stage, have no clear radical message and look like models showing off their bodies all the way through. I think the reason is clear. You don’t need to be that smart to understand why this type of woman gets more support.
I find always fascinating my encounter with men from the original scene in the 70/80s. Many of them have no problem with my message. The opposite, they encouraged me to continue and welcome me as an equal on board. I think the young generations have degenerate with time. The radical meaning got lost. The bad boys today are the young ones who think they discover industrial & underground music. The ones who play the rock star role. Those are the very, very worse. I tend to laugh at them because I know where I come from and what this music is about. The new industrial noise scene is the women who reclaim their human rights within the scene. And POCs are even more radical because of the White Supremacy this scene has suffered from too.
How is it to survive at the noise scene as a poc and a queer woman?
Not easy. But after many abusive experiences in all levels imaginable including class, race, gender, and post-gender, experiencing exclusion by many ignorant people there is a time in which it does not hurt as much anymore. You learn to be a warrior. You learn resilience. You learn to process the shit and understand it has nothing to do with you as a human being but with them and their traumata & deep complexes. I normally even feel sorry for certain mean people because hatred does not bring respect or love from your community. When you look at them they are mostly very unhappy people. They might pretend to have everything but that is only a mask. They use power, in a negative sense, stepping on you to feel strong, to be someone. They put their frustrations and anger on you thinking you are the problem. Lazy people. Normally they don’t use the wonderful brain nature gave them. So I have become a bit Buddhist, a bit Satanist & a bit Shaman. I practice compassion, I slap on the face when necessary or nourish them with knowledge if there is dialogue. What I don’t do is to let stupid people ruining my days. I am loved. I am respected. I am valued. I have a strong network of intelligent & critical people. Those are the ones who deserve most of my time. I am happy to help but I won’t take any shit. Period.
During the last years there is a strong presence of women in the noise scene with artists like you, Pharmakon, Puce Mary, Pan Daijing, Luna of Operant, etc. What do you think that has changed?
There are two fundamental levels of change: it has been historically difficult to access a place as a music female producer in a male-dominated terrain worldwide. We have always had exceptionally talented women in the past such as Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Grace Jones, Janis Joplin, Diamanda Galás, Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna, etc. -not to forget the electronic pioneers such as Delia Derbyshire, Pauline Oliveros, Wendy Carlos or Daphne Oram, the list is long!- but we have not gotten visibility until now. The radical change is the internet, the socialization of knowledge, and women worldwide pushing names and stories into the archives and supporting each other.
In the context of noise music what happens is what happened in punk music where I come from: women decide to break their silence, stop being mainly the girlfriend of the bad boy, and start their own music projects. As you can notice you began pointing out White women in the question. And this is the process we are experiencing right now in that context: first, White sisters, and right after POCs are joining, this due to racism, class, and misogyny which affects much harder people of color. For POCs success takes many more steps.
Even though we are in a very decadent moment we are also in a very interesting time where musicians, bookers & music journalists see how important it is to integrate women and female-identified in a male-dominated scene. We have always been there but today we are reaching more visibility and support also from our male supporters, partners, other women, our gay allies, and the good boys. We understand it is time to rescue an inclusive scene in times of hatred, neo-fascism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, gender-based violence, and misogyny. I am very thankful to all the people who are taking a step and joining forces. It’s about time.
Can you tell us some of your influences? (Doesnt have to be music only)
The influence after all these years is massive. Doing my best to recall the most important ones.
In music the pioneers of industrial & noise music such as Throbbing Wristle, SPK, Test Department, Einstürzende Neubauten, Laibach, Skrol, Ministry, and Merzbow. Since I come from the punk scene in Mexico City punk and rock are extremely relevant to me because of the lyrics and content with bands such as Crass, Dead Kennedys, Killing Joke, Vasc rock, Skorbuto, Masacre 68, Lucha Autónoma (were I did vocals), Los Crudos, Paralisis Permanente, Lydia Lunch, Swans, Neurosis, Kim Gordon, Bikini Kill & Fugazi.
In terms of theoretical background that has influenced the lyrics I write or the concepts I develop: Nezahualcóyotl, Heraclitus of Ephesus, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Ricardo Flores Magón, Immanuel Kant, Hegel, Marx, The Frankfurt School, Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Marquis de Sade, Michel Foucault, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Zygmunt Bauman, J.G. Ballard, Angela Davis, Valerie Solanas, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Juan Rulfo, Maria Sabina & Anton Szandor LaVey, among many others.
From the gay-queer corner, the influences are William S. Burroughs, Annie Sprinkle, Aleister Crowley, Coil, Kenneth Anger, John Waters, Norman McLaren, Bruce La Bruce, Judith Butler, Paul B. Preciado & Tim Stüttgen.
In terms of theatre, performance & visual arts: Otto Dix, Goya, Francis Bacon, Bertolt Brecht, Augusto Boal, Hermann Nitsch, Maya Deren, Yoko Ono, David Alrafo Siqueiros, Pablo Picaso, Fakir Musafar, Marina Abramovic, Ron Athey, Mao Sugiyama, Petr Pavlensky, Stelarc & the Aesthetic Meat Front.
You have lived in many places around the world. What attracts you to berlin?
What attracted me to Berlin was its amazing history. The city was the main bridge between East & West under Communism, and it is still a very important bridge towards Eastern Europe. I came for the very first time in 1997 where Berlin was not as it is today thanks to gentrification and the wave of migration with the crisis in countries like Spain, Greece, the UK, The US, etc. At that timeyou could feel what I call the ghost of Communism: falling apart buildings, empty spaces, post-industrial textures, people organizing free and solidarity events for political reasons, squats alive and running, popular prices for everything, access for everything and everyone. It was an amazing time.
In 2002 I chose to stay because I realized this city has a strong power that attracts some of the most rebellious creatures around the world starting with Germans. In the 60/70s Berlin was the only city where you were not forced to do military service so many radical Germans came here and build an important rebellious capital. I credit them 100% for doing that. After many years of living here, I have met excellent critical individuals coming from critical movements and underground arts. The understanding and tolerance you have here to clothing, to have tattoos, to live an underground way of life, to critical thinking, to party, to sex, and to protest were the main arguments for my decision. Berlin has changed on many levels but there are still many positive things this city has to offer. It’s a cultural mecca with a long background on resistance.
Is there a certain way that you compose music?
I come from the electroacoustic music scene this is why I teach music theory & technology for music production fighting the Gender-gap. My workshops focus on teaching women. For my own music productions, I use techniques developed by the main pioneers of electroacoustic music such as Pierre Schaefer, Delia Derbyshire, John Cage, Stockhausen & Kraftwerk. I also explore the Dadaist Cut-up method which became popular with William S. Burroughs in the 60s. From field recordings to sampling to improvisation to composition and sound design. The machinery I use to produce electronic sounds is mainly analog synths such as the MS20 or Dark Energy. I also use cassettes from time to time, a professional sampler, vocal effect pedals and ritualistic acoustic instruments such as my Siberian Shamanic Drum or my Aztec whistle precious instrument.
Since I come from precision doing radio and sound design for movies & dance, I put tremendous importance on composition. For me it does not matter how it is produced, if you use analog, modular or software or both, what matters is the talent you have bringing elements together creating a whole. I often produced up to ten versions of the same track until I find the “right” one. In this sense, I can tell when I listen to other’s works how professional they work or not. And this is why I teach too to show that is not about producing whatever but about doing great work. These days young people just want to be famous and fast. For me, it is about the composition, not the likes on Instagram or Facebook or if you have already played at Säule or Tresor. Content is what matters the most.
Talking about the occult, is there a certain path that you are dedicated to?
Mexican and Siberian Shamanism mixed with Chinese Medicine, European Paganism and Satanism. I use this eclectic mix at different levels: mainly as an educator, as a music producer, as a sound artist, as a body art performer, and as a therapist. We live is a very sick society so many fellow humans suffer from anxiety, existential fear, depression, loneliness, schizophrenia, bipolarity, and other mental diseases. We also have a strong problem with dyslexia and anorexia. I come from doctors so I have a natural tendency to help. This causes some times misunderstandings because I do not see people as fucked up but as people in need of help. I must be honest here: the terrains that I find the hardest are pedophilia, gender-based violence, and misogyny. The last two are for many individuals part of the normativity they have never questioned. I try to formulate questions, to confront not always aggressively but firm.
In the creative scene, my scene, I try to help when I can with the knowledge I have. On the way, I learn a lot. And I also collaborate with other people who understand the importance of helping each other particularly in bad times which affects us all. Mental diseases are a serious matter and I think we need to acknowledge that & take solidarity actions.
When you perform live many times you wear a fetish mask. What is the relationship of your art with kink culture?
The influence began in a negative way as a child with the BDSM provide by the Catholic Church. All the sado-masochism and physical violence I experienced were pretty brutal and marked me forever as a kid. The art inside the church with gore paintings and sculptures -blood & suffering everywhere-, as relationships within the family, and as a very strong social practice in general. Not to forget the influence of the mythologies of horror you are also forced to believe. I was a rebel so I always questioned these lies.
Two decades later, I was here in Berlin where I learned to de-constructed all the violent past and turned it into something positive: kink culture. I learned the rules of such a way of living due to many deep friendships with Queers, gay and sex workers and my attendance to parties at Kit Kat Club, Berghain or even the punk squat known as Köpi were queer punks turned it some times into a BDSM quartier in some parties. What fascinated me the most are the rules within kink culture. No matter if submissive or not there are certain rules to follow starting with consent. You can research your tendencies, try things out, get more involved or stop as you please. Nobody forces you. Red means stop and your partner listens. Game over. Period. I think people outside this circle has a lot to learn out of it. People might think is all about sex sordid habits, but often I realized there is a sense of total freedom, care & mutual respect which we do not see much in the normal sex world where sexual repression, violence & misogyny rule.
The mask has also a second background: Mexican wrestling and comic culture. The name Espectra Negra comes from the excellent comics Love & Rockets by the Bros Hernandez. Espectra is a dark radical female wrestler. And the comics are Chicano feminist punk queer art from the underground L.A. culture in the 80s. Those comics are legendary for the feminist, queer & punk Latino front. The Bros. Hernandez based their characters on the matriarchy they live in Los Angeles as part of a big Mexican family were women ruled. They both loved Punk and created two excellent strong female roles who inspired many punks like me in the 90s. Their social impact due to Comics was very strong. They opened a very important radical door to young POC people. It all began with the original wrestling heroes of any Mexican child such as El Santo or Blue Demon, real wrestlers in the 70s. who always battle against evil. Espectra Negra’s fetish mask is a hybrid symbol from Chicano punk comics, kink & Mexican wrestling culture.
How is to combine the roles of being both a mother and an artist?
Difficult. An artist I respect very much Louise Bourgeois who was also a mother. I saw her amazing huge spider sculpture in Mexico City located outside Bellas Artes. Very impressive. I also went to her exhibition inside the building and all her work is just incredible. She was super prolific, extremely intelligent, very sensitive, often a bit lonely, but very strong. This artist is one of my idols because
I understand her on many levels: as a creative, as an intellectual, as a child who suffered a lot in a broken home, as a woman, and as a mother. Having children is a huge responsibility, particularly when you do love your kids. Often you pass through depression or anxiety but have to keep the show going no matter what. Many times you need to be nourished but there is no one there but your child & your art. Our children give us hope and the force we often don’t have. Many people ask me: “how do you do it? work, creative life, politics, motherhood, etc.?” I just do it.
Children take a lot but they also give you a lot and one of the most wonderful things the give you are discipline, time management, a strong will to survive, wonderful anti-depressant hugs & unconditional love. My son Fernando Blake is the most wonderful star in my complexed creative universe. A loving impulse to keep ongoing.