Chilean-American composer and recording artist Nicolas Jaar occupies Brooklyn Steel for a four-night residency

15 minutes into a late-night set at Coachella, Nicolas Jaar is testing the patience of an audience filled with cut-offs, shutter shades, and vape clowns. At a festival commonly associated with endorphin depleting, big-drop anthems, it was evident that Jaar’s penchant for arrhythmic distortion was a harrowing journey for some in the crowd. Soon after, caravans of 20-somethings vacated the Mojave tent to catch the last moments of DJ Snake.

As the crowd parted like the red sea, those who were migrating out were contrasted by those who stayed. True believers, not only motivated by an inevitable payoff, but by the conscious demarkation between “us” and “them”–those who believe in the sublime profundity of the genius artist versus those who would categorize that as pretentious nonsense. For those in the genius camp, to stay was to earn a status of high distinction — a dinner party story akin to boasting about finishing “Infinite Jest.”

A similar scene was emerging during Jaar’s four-night residency at Brooklyn Steel. “You wouldn’t catch me dead at Coachella,” declared one Bushwick resident, while another, referring to Jaar’s prolonged introduction of featured noise, claimed, “I could have done without the first 25 minutes.” While overheard whispers from uninvolved conversations seemed to substantiate the dichotomy I observed at Coachella, it was here, during Jaar’s Brooklyn residency, which offered a contrary viewpoint.

Off Jaar’s latest LP, “Sirens,” Jaar sings the following chorus in his native Spanish on the fourth track, titled “No.”

“We already said no, but the yes is in everything. What is inside and what is outside; what is far and what is close. What we all have seen, and what they don’t even say. We already said no, but the yes is in everything.”

Jaar wrote much of “Sirens” as a meditation on Augusto Pinochet, a Chilean dictator who is responsible for atrocities against the thousands of citizens he swore to protect. In a 1988 referendum, the Chilean people were tasked to decide whether Pinochet should reside in power by answering a simple question:

“Augusto Pinochet. Yes? No?”

56% of the population, spurred on by a movement whose sole purpose was to say “yes” to democracy, effectively disempowered Pinochet by collectively declaring “no.”

“Sirens” considers the intrinsic hopelessness in knowing that determinism and fatalism are two sides of one coin; in other words, is the progress we make an empty gesture if the pendulum continues to swing despite our presence? If one day, we say “no” to Pinochet, what’s to stop us from saying “yes” to another? Historical narratives are rarely the allegory of good versus evil we want them to be. They are, instead, uncomfortable; taking us away from the dichotomy of black and white, forcing us to come to grips with whatever is left.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the experience Jaar curates for his audience carefully strives to elicit the feelings of what it’s like living in that middle–a place with no beginning or end. His set unfolds like a three-act play of dread, displacement, and discovery; sentiments as consubstantial as the holy trinity, existing and washing over you in one moment.

“No One is Looking at U” elicited moments of introspection, and gradually dissipates into a sound so brazen it provoked a sense of dissension. “Three Sides of Nazareth” is the dark banger we all knew Jaar was capable of; as if Soulwax’s “E-Talking” was written as a soundtrack to a cyberpunk noir. “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See” is the stirring yet steady climax that had the audience gently swooning and faintly falling. By the end of the two-hour set, we observed an individual denouncing his future, as if he was watching himself perish into a residue of a dream.

An organic contradiction unfolded at the end of Jaar’s set–how can I feel concurrently displaced and comforted? If “Sirens” is telling us that there is no backward or forward in our political climate, then it’s appropriate that Jaar’s live set reflects that sensibility. Like politics, there is no linear progression in music, or there shouldn’t be at least. Once we remove ourselves from the limits of what the cultural canon (dictated by dead, white, European men) defines as great, cool, or progressive, it leaves Jaar more room to explore what the middle has to say. In the end, a visceral response made up of various emotions felt like equilibrium, which, I imagine, is how Jaar is feeling (and wants us to feel as well).

While I’ve seen Jaar live before, what I realized during the Brooklyn Steel set was entirely new for me. Jaar is both celebrated and reviled; a frivolous DJ, but a master of the fine arts; attracts both Soros scholars and Sigma Phi brothers; inspires festival-attendee walk-outs and long, drawn-out scribes of praise. By being unburdened by the traditional signifiers of greatness, Jaar’s capacity for undiscovered creative endeavors is endless. The subsequent experience, for people like me, is similarly limitless–and a call to arms, a siren, if you will, to embrace the unknown.

Eric Han

Eric Han is a NYC-based photographer. See his work at www.kengjuan.net.

Chilean-American composer and recording artist Nicolas Jaar occupies Brooklyn Steel for a four-night residency

15 minutes into a late-night set at Coachella, Nicolas Jaar is testing the patience of an audience filled with cut-offs, shutter shades, and vape clowns. At a festival commonly associated with endorphin depleting, big-drop anthems, it was evident that Jaar’s penchant for arrhythmic distortion was a harrowing journey for some in the crowd. Soon after, caravans of 20-somethings vacated the Mojave tent to catch the last moments of DJ Snake.

As the crowd parted like the red sea, those who were migrating out were contrasted by those who stayed. True believers, not only motivated by an inevitable payoff, but by the conscious demarkation between “us” and “them”–those who believe in the sublime profundity of the genius artist versus those who would categorize that as pretentious nonsense. For those in the genius camp, to stay was to earn a status of high distinction — a dinner party story akin to boasting about finishing “Infinite Jest.”

A similar scene was emerging during Jaar’s four-night residency at Brooklyn Steel. “You wouldn’t catch me dead at Coachella,” declared one Bushwick resident, while another, referring to Jaar’s prolonged introduction of featured noise, claimed, “I could have done without the first 25 minutes.” While overheard whispers from uninvolved conversations seemed to substantiate the dichotomy I observed at Coachella, it was here, during Jaar’s Brooklyn residency, which offered a contrary viewpoint.

Off Jaar’s latest LP, “Sirens,” Jaar sings the following chorus in his native Spanish on the fourth track, titled “No.”

“We already said no, but the yes is in everything. What is inside and what is outside; what is far and what is close. What we all have seen, and what they don’t even say. We already said no, but the yes is in everything.”

Jaar wrote much of “Sirens” as a meditation on Augusto Pinochet, a Chilean dictator who is responsible for atrocities against the thousands of citizens he swore to protect. In a 1988 referendum, the Chilean people were tasked to decide whether Pinochet should reside in power by answering a simple question:

“Augusto Pinochet. Yes? No?”

56% of the population, spurred on by a movement whose sole purpose was to say “yes” to democracy, effectively disempowered Pinochet by collectively declaring “no.”

“Sirens” considers the intrinsic hopelessness in knowing that determinism and fatalism are two sides of one coin; in other words, is the progress we make an empty gesture if the pendulum continues to swing despite our presence? If one day, we say “no” to Pinochet, what’s to stop us from saying “yes” to another? Historical narratives are rarely the allegory of good versus evil we want them to be. They are, instead, uncomfortable; taking us away from the dichotomy of black and white, forcing us to come to grips with whatever is left.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the experience Jaar curates for his audience carefully strives to elicit the feelings of what it’s like living in that middle–a place with no beginning or end. His set unfolds like a three-act play of dread, displacement, and discovery; sentiments as consubstantial as the holy trinity, existing and washing over you in one moment.

“No One is Looking at U” elicited moments of introspection, and gradually dissipates into a sound so brazen it provoked a sense of dissension. “Three Sides of Nazareth” is the dark banger we all knew Jaar was capable of; as if Soulwax’s “E-Talking” was written as a soundtrack to a cyberpunk noir. “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See” is the stirring yet steady climax that had the audience gently swooning and faintly falling. By the end of the two-hour set, we observed an individual denouncing his future, as if he was watching himself perish into a residue of a dream.

An organic contradiction unfolded at the end of Jaar’s set–how can I feel concurrently displaced and comforted? If “Sirens” is telling us that there is no backward or forward in our political climate, then it’s appropriate that Jaar’s live set reflects that sensibility. Like politics, there is no linear progression in music, or there shouldn’t be at least. Once we remove ourselves from the limits of what the cultural canon (dictated by dead, white, European men) defines as great, cool, or progressive, it leaves Jaar more room to explore what the middle has to say. In the end, a visceral response made up of various emotions felt like equilibrium, which, I imagine, is how Jaar is feeling (and wants us to feel as well).

While I’ve seen Jaar live before, what I realized during the Brooklyn Steel set was entirely new for me. Jaar is both celebrated and reviled; a frivolous DJ, but a master of the fine arts; attracts both Soros scholars and Sigma Phi brothers; inspires festival-attendee walk-outs and long, drawn-out scribes of praise. By being unburdened by the traditional signifiers of greatness, Jaar’s capacity for undiscovered creative endeavors is endless. The subsequent experience, for people like me, is similarly limitless–and a call to arms, a siren, if you will, to embrace the unknown.

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