Sonic Identity and The Visionary World of Arca

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Cael Brennan

A cold dystopia of cybernetic spiders, bloody beige heels and a queer world become a sonic reality within electronic artist Arca’s vision. Legendary innovator Arca released a monolith of albums that are sure to define the sounds of our future and challenge the conventions of gender in their entirety. A self-described “experimental diva,” Arca shot into the early 2010’s digital underground with spacey hip hop instrumentals and challenging noise collages that felt abstracted from an alternate dimension. Her extremely distinct sound palette lent itself quite nicely to transformative moments in Kanye West and Björk’s discography, as well as shaping emerging contemporary alt legends like FKA Twigs or Kelela. 

However, this month marked her most advantageous career moment to date. Miraculously the eclectic musician dropped 4 consecutive albums over each day within a week. Kick ii, kick iii, kick iiii and kick iiiii (the i’s being representative of numbers) leap from genre to genre, push unforeseen boundaries, and prove to be an essential moment for queer art and representation. The album cycle is distinctly queer as Kick i-dropped last year in the midst of lockdown-was Arca’s first release post coming out as a nonbinary transwoman. Moreover, the thematic landscape of the Kick series consistently presents narratives that could easily be described as protest music, due to how unforgiving they are to cis and heteronormativity. The song, “Sanctuary” featuring on the final installment kick iiiii broadly clamors, “faith in abjection” a sentiment I believe poignantly captures Kick’s ethos. As, Arca herself revealed recently the intention of naming the series “kick” by stating, “If it feels oppressive, kick against it.”

The music Arca forges on these records seamlessly exceeds both expectations and the human. She mutates the visceral punches of classic reggaeton beats with icy synths on “Prada,” Deconstructs staple club music into a beguiling beast with kick iii opener “Bruja,” Encourages relentless self-expression through chilling beauty within Shirley Manson collaboration “Alien Inside,” and reaches gender catharsis at the penultimate height of final track “Crown” appearing on kick iiiii. Famed music-critic website Pitchfork upon reviewing the records stated, “It’s a slippery, unwieldy, mind-bending collection of sound design that drives home the theme of all her music: transformation.”

The kick cycle has incited many to reflect on several musical and political trans icons of the past. One such icon is fellow experimental diva, electronic visionary and musical liberator SOPHIE. As the first anniversary of her passing approaches, fans of both Arca and SOPHIE connect the two’s legacy as their music shares a similar theme of identity.

We are fortunate to be living in such a time where artists like Arca are still encountering new boundaries to crush and all-time heights to traverse. The Kick series has cemented itself within musical history. Arca’s ability to craft a central narrative over heaps of varying genres and sounds along three hours of sonic world-building is not merely commendable, it is indeed cultural shattering.