Wintec graduate masters the art of techno music and protest
Techno might not be what immediately comes to mind when the term ‘protest music’ is mentioned, but for Auckland-based musician Samari, no other music genre fits that label better.
Sam Mentink, who goes by the name Samari, graduated with a Master's degree from the Wintec School of Music and Performing Arts in 2019. Hyper Normal, the name of his debut album, is the result of his yearlong master’s project that saw him create music in the service of protest and activism.
“The aim was to try and use techno as a vehicle for social critique and social commentary. I was looking at how techno music could inspire change. I felt really compelled to try and describe how I was feeling, or what was going on in the world through music.”
“Techno initially came from Detroit in the 80s with Jeff Mills, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Robert Hood. Techno was being used as a vehicle to bring black people out of poverty. Then shortly after that it transferred to Berlin, because of the Berlin Wall coming down. So techno has been, for the last 30 or 40 years, a voice for change, or a release valve.”
Inspired by Jeff Mills’ conceptual rewriting of the soundtrack to the 1930s film Metropolis, Samari decided to do his own rewriting of a film soundtrack, this time to a politically-charged documentary called Hypernormalisation, directed by Adam Curtis.
“Jeff Mills reinterpreted Fritz Lang’s Metropolis soundtrack. I was really looking at that process when I came across Adam Curtis’s Hypernormalisation. I saw that and just thought, this is really encapsulating ‘now’...that feels like right now. At the time I was looking at the Anthropocene and a whole bunch of different things and then I saw Hypernormalisation and I just couldn’t get that out of my head. I threw everything else out the door.”
This conceptual rewriting of a soundtrack is a distillation of the documentary. After extensive research, Samari broke down the fundamental tenets of the film that informed the structure of the album. With track names like Scapegoat (Violence, Attack) and Dissolve (Scatter, Fall Apart), the political themes of the soundtrack are overt.
The Music and Performing Arts Master’s programme at Wintec places an emphasis on the practical, and while the actual production of the album took up the majority of his year, a lot of time was put into research and theory for the dissertation component.
“I’ve never been an essay writer, but it was actually developing that framework [in the dissertation] that was probably the biggest influence in writing the album. I’ve now found as I write the sophomore album that I’m actually going back to research, developing that framework again. Without the theory, the music wouldn’t have come.
“The degree really pushed my skill level as a producer to the next level. The magic of it was that it honed my skills, and I was able to get feedback, to keep researching down the right path.
“As a music teacher as well, I think it’s important that there is some legitimacy there, so that students see I’m not just some dude who makes kick drums, I’m a teacher with a Master’s degree.”
Samari is a musician that defies categorisation. Hyper Normal moves through different sub-genres, none that are easy to put your finger on. When asked what style best describes his music, Samari’s answer, “abrasive modern punk for a dystopian future” further exemplifies this sentiment.
The politics behind Samari’s music are also reflected in the ethos behind Auckland-based club night ‘Klang’ that he is the facilitator of.
“One of the biggest crises people are facing right now is rising housing prices. Klang is a safe haven from Auckland house prices. Anyone can go there for the night and just feel like they’re away from the pressure of capitalism in Auckland, away from New Zealand economics, how the economy here has completely run away with itself and the oppressive nature of it.”
Samari, who has held club nights around the world, says that although New Zealand’s electronic music scene is still quite new, there is an astounding amount of talent here that he is just “blown away” by.
His advice for those wanting to ‘make it’ in the music scene is simple.
“Keep making music. Establish your practice. Be organised and prepare to present to an audience, don’t just take the jam session you have in your room to the stage. Take the crème de la crème of what you have and present that and keep working on those other tracks that aren’t quite there yet.”
“But most importantly, don’t listen to the naysayers.”
When asked what we can expect from Samari’s next album, he already has a mass of ideas running through his head.
“For the sophomore album I want to evolve from protest. How are we processing the events that have just happened, or are happening? How can music be used to help us process this? It’s from music as protest, to music as process.”
If you’re hoping to catch Samari play Hyper Normal live, watch this space.
“I have a gig lined up at Flux in Christchurch on September 19, and potentially the festival season in summer.”