Berlin photographer Wolfgang Tillmans talks to New-York based DonChristian on ahead of their experimental evening at Berghain’s Kantine.
Starting in 2013, rapper, beatmaker and visual artist DonChristian released three mixtapes that led up to last year’s album, Where There’s Smoke. He’s performed at the MoMA, the New Museum and the Whitney Museum while also painting murals with incarcerated youth. Meanwhile Wolfgang Tillmans is more than a world-renowned photographer, he also sings and writes songs with his band Fragile. Both acts make their Berlin debut on June 16 (sold out) and 17.
You’re trained in the visual arts. Have you always done music?
Music has always been my lifeblood, but I never took it seriously until college. I started making electronic music, thanks to friends like Le1f, while simultaneously painting my thesis at Wesleyan. That was the first time I ever felt encouraged or inspired enough to really pursue it.
Le1f was in college with you?
Yes, we founded a collective called Camp & Street and put out records together. It started with writing and producing with my friends. We folded three years ago, but that was really the impetus of my confidence. I really couldn’t have done it had I not been surrounded by people telling me: “Hey, you can do this!”
What was it like to see your album reviewed in Forbes magazine and Broadway World?
Those were totally unexpected. I think a lot of my inspiration, sonically, is so vast and eclectic. I grew up on soul, R&B and rap, assuredly – but also show tunes, Gershwin, bossa nova, Afro-Cuban stuff, jazz. So when my music gets to seemingly random places, I get excited.
In the context of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, can you tell me what it feels like to be a young, gay black man in America right now?
I always identified as black before queer, and I still do. The struggle for me as a black person is so much greater than as someone who’s occupying queer space. But the intersection of the two is hugely important to the overall Stonewall history and to the future of the movement. There is more and more awareness around that intersectionality. So much of the aesthetics, the sonics, the language, have come from brown and black and indigenous queer people – since the twenties, shit! Langston Hughes, [James] Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston – people who were occupying “queer” space before we knew what to call it. I feel like I’m a part of a legacy for the first time, in a greater community that is holding me up, as much as I hold my peers up.
There’s this sentiment that politically challenging times create a good place for art. I know what people mean by that, but I really resent it. Do you agree that something horrible has to happen in order to galvanize an art scene?
I hate that trope and that dichotomy, but I also see the truth in it. It’s unfortunate, as it pertains to my individual practise and my life. I’ve found that my best work was produced amidst despair and feelings of hopelessness. I don’t know how to counter that. I just know amidst all of this turmoil and strife, it’s easier to work together, to have a dialogue with one another, so we don’t feel like we’re alone. Succumbing to this loneliness is dangerous.
I can really relate to that – feeling the most satisfied with my work when I know it resonates with somebody else. It makes me feel less alone.
Right, right. And that’s why I enjoyed your show at [David] Zwirner. The scale seemed to counter how personal it was. It just made it very accessible. You’re generous in letting people access your personhood and your feelings. That is really something I am trying to embrace: an authenticity to my vision, my speech, my rhetoric – to be unabashedly myself as much as I possibly can. The work speaks louder when I do that.
Have you been working on new music since your last album?
Yes, I really want to play some new stuff in Berlin, so I think my set will be half songs from the album, half new stuff. I’m going to fuck around in the studio tomorrow.
I’m really looking forward to having you here. We’re gonna have an interesting evening together, I’m sure.
Absolutely. I just love trying new things. Exploration is a great way to focus.
DonChristian & Fragile/Wolfgang Tillmans Jun 16 (sold out), 17, 20:00 Kantine am Berghain, Friedrichshain