MADANII & LLUCID do not just have cool spelling of their artist names, the two musicians also radiate the edgy coolness inherent to Berlin. I meet the musicians behind the capital letter spelling, Dena Zarrin and Lucas Herweg, on a cold November afternoon in the district of Wedding. In lockdown Berlin the options are limited, so we decide to get some coffee and go for a walk in the nearby park. Dena and Lucas joke about their perceived coolness as we find a bench to sit down. “We are actually not that cool. We have the least cool hobbies and like to listen to nerdy podcasts like Zeitsprung or Harry Podcast,” Dena laughs.
The artists have been making music together for about four years, they tell me. Even though this year put a halt on live performances, MADANII & LLUCID released two EPs – one of them, 3RD 3YE, just recently. “On the EPs, we worked with a lot of sketches we have had from the previous years of working together”, Lucas says. Still, the finishing touches were laid on during the pandemic-influenced months as songs like Don’t Come By clearly reflect. The cheeky RnB-infused track is the perfect anti-love song for social distanced affairs.
The songwriting process usually happens in unity. “Half an hour, teaser for Spotify, hook, and you have the perfect 30-minute-hit”, the two joke about songwriting guidelines. When you hear the smooth production style and the RnB-vibes of MADANII & LLUCID songs it comes as a surprise that Lucas initially started out playing drums in Metal bands. He laughs as he tells me about his engagement in the genre and explains that he applied to the music school in Mannheim where he met Dena for drumming but ended up focussing on production instead.
MADANII & LLUCID are not just a musical effort, but combine visual arts with the aural outputs. Several songs on 3RD 3YE are accompanied by intricately directed music videos following strict aesthetic layouts and color schemes. Likewise, the EP Title and the names of the musicians are influenced by their knack for visuals (and other less influenceable circumstances, like lucid with one ‘L’ already being taken). “We think it is funny to play with the way things are spelled and to add a visual component to the concept of the songs.”
The framing of the EP also follows a cohesive silver lining. From the first song, Daffodil, dealing with human narcissism – a play on the German translation of the word (Narzisse) – to the last, they tell a story. “Where does the human start?”, is kind of the question that drives the first song, Dena tells me. Dominvs was written when the pandemic advanced further and the Black Lives Matter protests shook many people awake to the social injustices and discrimination that are part of the everyday experience of BIPoC living in a world shaped by white privilege. It builds up, channels the rage, to unleash it in the following Dngr.
Space To Bloom
Dngr is an outcry against the everyday racism that Dena, as the child of Iranian parents has to face in a predominantly white and Western society. “Oh, you wanna know where I’m from? I wanna know what you see”, Dena sings and confronts the question that many people who are not read as ‘German-looking’ have to answer on a daily basis. “My nose is bigger than your whole vocabulary / my dark skin makes me thing I shouldn’t be here”, the song continues applying witty lyricism to unmask a severe societal problem.
“We did not want to end the EP on the rage of Dngr. Rage is never the end. Instead, we wanted to go a step further and end on a note of growth and empathy,” the duo says. Dandelion is exactly that; an attempt to find a self-soothing outlet for the rage to not be caught in its cycles and claiming “space to bloom“. “It is also about letting go of things that are not good for you”, Dena adds.
The topics that circulate throughout the EP also found another outlet through the band’s collaboration with Dr. Martens. “We wanted to do something else to raise awareness for the themes we discuss on the record. Through the collaboration with Dr. Martens we hope to reach more people.” The project ORI3NTATION is about the concept and the term “orient”, which has been used by the white academia and pop culture to marginalize and objectify People of Color – from North Africa to the Middle East.
When reading the word “orient”, you probably have all kinds of associations pop into your head, am I right? That is exactly what the three-part interview series created by the duo is about; what kind of clichés and stereotypes exist regarding the so-called “orient”? Where do they come from? And how do we get rid of them?
“We spoke to ten artists with North African and Middle Eastern background – regions that are considered ‘oriental’ by the West – about what the term means to them.”
Images and Stereotypes
For Dena this is a project close to home. Growing up in Germany as the daughter of Iranian parents, she explains that she was socialized as ‘German’ and her friends were predominantly white which made her stand out as the only PoC child amongst others. “I don’t think I reflected any of this until I was confronted with the concept of Orientalism at university. That really triggered something in me, and I have been obsessed with the topic ever since. I spent most of my life not knowing about the way the Western dominance constitutes and depicts the ‘orient’ but as soon as I started learning about it I was like; oh my god. People need to know!!”
That is what ORI3NTATION is about. It is less a project to point fingers and ascribe guilt and more of an effort to open the eyes of people who what not questioned their perception of certain cultures yet. “The West has the power to present cultures, however it sees fit. When you hear ‘Orient’ you probably think of a genie and flying carpets. We are conditioned to reduce whole cultures to single images we are being fed by media, pop culture, and Western-shaped history”.
Dena points out that even from a young age on, we are constantly exposed to imagery displaying cultures, however the dominant Western discourse deems fit. “Disney also has a huge part in this. Children’s movies engrain the images and stereotypes from a young age, and they don’t even need to be realistic. It just needs to be obvious to Western viewers that we are somewhere else.”
Under the art direction of Andjani Autumn, who also worked on the music videos of the duo, the featured artists reflect on their experience with the concept of the orient. “It was interesting to also think about whether migration background would play a role in a utopian society or whether it should be completely indifferent,” Dena says. “My Iranian roots are part of my heritage and my identity, and I would not want that to not matter at all. I think the most important difference is to get away from stereotypes and single images propagated in the Western hemisphere being the only thing people see when they look at you.”
Also part of the creation of the video are the duo behind the fashion brand Habibi whose sweatshirts and face masks Lucas and Dena are both wearing. Imad El Rayess and Jessica Rees are the driving force behind the brand and aim to destigmatize Arabic letters. The neatly stitched letters on her purple sweatshirt mean Habibi (sweetheart), Dena tells me.
For MADANII & LLUCID these topics are of daily importance in their private lives and in work. “In our creative collaboration between a Woman of Color and a white man we constantly confront ourselves with questions of cultural appropriation and representation”, Lucas says. When it comes to making music and their creative output, the artists are keenly aware of the power structures they move within. Their style is shaped by Lucas’ RnB-inspired production style, but incorporates elements from Iranian folk music as well.
“I use elements of Iranian music because it is part of my identity and what I grew up with. But of course, it is not really true to Iranian music tradition. It is a fusion of different elements I was exposed to translated through my musical lens.”
Using instruments from different cultures and putting them into a Western context is something that Dena has spent a lot of time thinking about. “I am not sure where I stand really. I think we have to accept that there will always be a certain tension to it when a person in a position of privilege uses something from another culture. As a person socialized in Western society, you are always in a dominant position, whether you like it or not. We have access to a certain platform that others don’t. That is something that cannot be erased and that is why it is essential to be aware of these power dynamics and how they affect you and the person on the other end. You can do everything right, work with the best intentions to lift up marginalized voices, but it will always leave a bitter patronizing taste because it inevitably comes from a position of supremacy.”
When working with music thinking about cultural appropriation is as important as in other aspects of social life, yet Dena notices that this aspect gets less attention than, for example, cases of cultural appropriation and stereotyping in fashion. MADANII & LLUCID mention that regarding the contested video to a Rihanna x Coldplay song (Princess of China), the main criticism was targeted at the visuals as opposed to the musical elements also ripped from different cultures caricaturing their traditions.
“The responsibility for aural outputs has not yet been as widely recognized as for the visual counterparts. Often times ‘traditional’ instruments used are merely soundalikes, forced to fit Western tuning and beat measures. The instruments are made to sound pleasingly foreign, ‘other’ and ‘exotic’ to the Western ear.”
As problematic as working with elements from other cultures from a privileged position is, separating by culture also seems strange. “It is such a grey zone really. I cannot call rules for how to do it. There will always be tension”, Dena says. “If you have to work with elements of a different culture ask yourself why, and be aware of your position,” Lucas adds. “If you cannot explain why you are borrowing elements from a culture, you are already disrespecting it by not engaging with its content and context.”
In their musical output MADANII & LLUCID merge the Iranian roots of Dena with Lucas’ production style to a personalized version of pop. 3RD 3YE is the crystallized essence of the momentary musical cosmos of the duo. The lyrics, as well as, the unique musical style of the two artists are urgently contemporary and hit the nerve of various societal issues. Like ORI3NTATION, the songs inspire to learn, unlearn, deconstruct, and to move a little closer towards a world which does not need to be hit by “a meteoroid” to be shaken awake and to make change happen.
The duo’s great EP 3RD 3YE is out now via Filter Music Group and they are also hosting a really good playlist at:
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