What is the role of the artist during unsettling times?
That’s hardly a new question. Every twist in history compels a response, and Minneapolis-based electronic band Poliça and the Berlin orchestral collective Stargaze offer their own sonic answer with their adventurous collaborative album Music for the Long Emergency, released today.
In 2015, Kate Nordstrum, Liquid Music Curator and Executive Producer of Special Projects at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, played matchmaker for the groups, hoping for a cross-Atlantic meeting of the minds. She got her wish and then some.
“It was like a school assignment that we were put together,” says Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh. “It was magical that we all got along. It was an opportunity to reignite my love of classical music—it’s my first love and I grew up playing it.”
After connecting in Berlin, the partnership deepened via Skype and email, leading to a concert at the Fitzgerald in November 2016, the record, and a desire to keep collaborating. “It’s not a Poliça or Stargaze album, they are a new entity,” says Nordstrum. “It’s great to see them work together, they have this brother/sister family relationship now.”
For Leaneagh, working with conductor André de Ritter’s Stargaze presented an opportunity to “be up to the challenge of writing music with other people.” The groups bonded over a “similar ethos,” she explains. “Everyone has an opinion that’s listened to. They get to build their plot of land, their house, in the utopia of the world we’re all trying to complete.”
They bonded during the run-up and aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. According to Leaneagh, the project offered a welcome counter-experience. “Nobody was trying to be the leader or the boss,” she says. “It was really different from what we see in the current political arena where people are not listening to each other and being really rigid and not being able to make compromises.”
The album’s sound reflects the emotional complexities of the here and now, ranging from the undercurrent of panic within the dystopian texture of “How is This Happening?” to the darkly romantic “Agree” (“I want to be with you and blow it all to hell”) and the distorted resolve underscoring the title song “Music for the Long Emergency.”
Despite the context, though, Leaneagh says “it’s not a political record topically.” She adds, “But it’s part of the vocabulary of how resistance can be found in a lot of ways. We still fall in love and we still procreate and people are still getting married in times of war, they are still getting divorced, having crushes, wanting to feel these things.
“Loss of hope would be shutting down and forgetting other people exist,” she continues. “Sometimes a song isn’t about making you feel hopeful,” but rather knowing others also feel lost or afraid.
The music is disconcertingly visceral. “It’s a deep physical reaction that feels like the sounds are coming from a place we all come from,” says Leaneagh. Fittingly, dancers will share the stage at First Avenue to further that experience, as will lighting production by Paul “Arlo” Guthrie. Opening acts are Divide and Dissolve of Melbourne, Australia, a “heavy two-piece” devoted to dismantling white supremacy, as well as IN // VIA, a solo synth project by Nona Invie.
“I’m putting all of myself into these performances, we’re communing with each other,” says Leaneagh. “Music that makes you feel uncomfortable makes you feel something.”
And that’s our best defense against apathy.
Poliça and Stargaze
With: Divide and Dissolve, IN // VIA
Where: First Avenue
When: 7 p.m. Wed. Feb. 21
Tickets: 18+; $27.50; more info here