Art on the Edge

"Should federal funding of the arts be tied to content? My answer: Of course."
--Sen. Jesse Helms.

"It's the Job of Congress to Define What's Art,"
USA Today, September 8, 1989

THE times, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, have a'changed. In the six years since the opening salvos of the so-called culture war, Jesse Helms and his legislative ilk have mostly given up their attempts to define art. Instead, they're hoping to end public arts support altogether.

Is this the death of the arts? We don't think so. Most young artists take it as a given that they'll be picking up the tab for their own creative lives. Like the rest of the working and middle class, they're being forced in these craven political times to operate with less. And to judge from the Twin Cities artist profiles that follow, this is not exclusively diminishing art--in some cases, it's causing it to mutate in interesting ways. As the romantic ideal of the art-maker as disengaged loner becomes more untenable, artists and supporters are banding together (like Concrete Farm and No Name Exhibitions) to secure more economic clout--and finding creative benefits in the process. Global networks of fans and artists (see Chris Sattinger, E.F. Tapes, and the Universal Parliament of Hip-Hop) are producing and consuming art outside of conventional channels. And others (see Detour Press, Piotr Szyhalski, The Nomadic Press, Mary Worth Theater) are simply making art, to paraphrase Isak Dinesen, without expectations and without regrets, feeding mouths and muses as best as they can.

This is not to say that public support of the arts doesn't remain a critical part of our ostensibly democratic society, since class divisions and racism continue on as gatekeepers to certain channels of artistic development. Note, however, that the following portfolio doesn't represent every tribe within every art community; instead, we sought out artists who--either through process, product, or both--reflect a new sensibility in a time of diminished expectations. Look at them as a testament to creative tenacity, and as a sign of things to come.

--Will Hermes & Julie Caniglia

Chris Sattinger

LIKE punk, techno is an American art form--in this case, born in the dance clubs of Detroit--that had to go abroad to get its due. But for the most part, it has yet to come home. Dance records produced in the Midwest (Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities) are among those most prized by international DJs, and nearly 80 percent of this local music is sold in Europe. That includes the records made by Minneapolis DJ/musician Chris Sattinger. "Oh, I'll sell maybe 30 copies of a record locally," he confesses over a cup of Japanese tea. "And a bunch of those might be to friends. But my last 12-inch sold 1300 copies overseas."

Talking shop amid the tangle of ancient and cutting-edge electronics he calls his "pod," Sattinger slaps one record after another onto his Technics 1200 turntables, praising the work of other artists and production teams: Detroit's Underground Resistance, Milwaukee's Drop Bass Network, and especially St. Paul's Woody McBride, a master of "classic acid" (one of techno's countless stylistic branches) who operates three thriving techno labels. The cuts Sattinger previews--stripped-down rhythm tracks with no lyrics and little, if any, melody--vary from harsh, rapid-fire electrobeats to warmer, more liquid grooves. "Techno is slowing down a bit, becoming more feminine," he points out. "It used to be the hardest acid beats were what got the most respect. But that's not the case anymore."

Sattinger's own work continues to evolve. He began cutting trance (slow techno) and ambient (really slow techno) tracks a couple of years ago, recording under the names Mothering Noise and Happy As Hell for the NYC-based Instinct Records, one-time home of techno godfather Moby (see the Plug In & Turn On and Trance Fusion: Techno Redefined collections). Sattinger's latest work falls somewhere between techno and house, techno's funkier Chicago-born cousin--it bubbles and swings like the soundtrack to a cyber-circus.

While he currently works part time as an engineer/producer for Rev-105, Sattinger says he's devoting most of his time to his own music, "trying to do the starving artist routine." But sometimes the arts get funded in backhanded ways--the late writer Raymond Carver, for example, completed a groundbreaking collection of short stories while drawing unemployment after a job layoff. For his part, Sattinger used to live in an apartment building on North First Street, until the city slated it for demolition to make room for the new Federal Reserve Building. The residents all received a small cash compensation from the city, which Sattinger parlayed into the small North Side house where he currently lives (with a roommate and a pair of cats, #13 Baby and Feedback Satan the Destroyer) and works.

To those who find techno monolithic and boring, Sattinger explains that the music "is a learned communication... Records get made with unchanging beats so DJs can mix them easily. It's all about subtle changes. On a dancefloor, at 130 decibels, even the slightest shift in volume can make for a great emotional shift." And while the music's appeal remains a mystery to many folks raised on straight rock & roll (techno's core fans are mainly in their teens and early 20s), the form is nevertheless in full flower: This year's Berlin Love Parade, Europe's carnaval of techno, drew 500,000 revelers.

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