Anonymity is an interesting construct, one that feels so elusive in modern society. How do we determine how much to reveal of ourselves and to whom? At what point does anonymity itself become constricting instead of liberating? The flow of information from those who have been elevated is a curious phenomenon; sometimes gushing, sometimes barren, sometimes fits and starts.
With Blood Cultures, an emergent musical talent, it feels like each drip or drop is designed to leave us asking more, while shifting the point of focus back towards ourselves. Each reveal seems to blur perception and try to highlight what little we really know.
What we do know is that Blood Cultures is a Pakistani-American artist, their face obscured by a burka, their body clothed in a suit. Their new body of work, the eight track LUNO, dropped last week. As for the rest, read on and see…
Hello Blood Cultures, thank you for taking the time to speak with us at Flaunt today. To begin, as an artist who has long remained completely anonymous, what inspired you to strategically begin revealing more personal details of your life and story?
Thank you for having me. It was just necessary in terms of the progression of the project. In order to tell the story I wanted to tell and expand Blood Cultures into this new direction, visually and sonically, the context of my ethnic identity and why that was important to me was something that I needed to address. Had I not shared this information about my Pakistani roots, I think the material could be severely misunderstood and misread. The narrative and the project needed to change. I felt like it's what the world needs more than just an anonymous project—we need more representation, we need more voices sharing our stories. Media is a powerful tool and it has the capability of changing minds with new ideas, so why not use that platform to expand the conversation, to expand the collective consciousness, to make others feel understood.
The month of May was the celebration of AAPI Heritage Month. With the idea of self-identity being prominent throughout your upcoming record, LUNO, it would be interesting to hear your opinion on what the month means to you.
Honestly, it means nothing to me. I didn't even know it was a thing until this year and then I researched the history only to be disappointed by the fact that these were two very different national and ethnic peoples (Asians and Pacific Islanders) who were individually seeking a way to be celebrate their unique historical contributions to this country, only to be lumped into one month by those in power to appease “everybody”, and thus nobody. When it comes to identity: all these different ethnic and national groups and even those within them (South Asian and East Asian) have completely different experiences, struggles, and histories in this country. The only reason we are lumped into one month is because it is what we are "allowed" or given by the powers that be. This is not for us, it is for them. To those who do find it meaningful, I respect you and don't mean to rain on your parade.
What are your current thoughts on representation of POC in entertainment and culture? Who are some of the figures that you idolize both with regard to the actions they take to make the world a better place and the art they create?
I think we're doing a lot better than we were ten years ago, but still have a long way to go. I don't think I have many idols. I think what I and many have learned recently is that it is safer to connect with the material of an artist rather than the artist themselves or the values of a politician rather than a politician themselves. Humans are humans, we are inherently flawed, but ideas are powerful. Ideas have the power to oppress and liberate. I respect anyone who spreads ideas that encourage liberation and condemn oppression.
The combination of your burka-suit outfit presents a significant cultural and political message. From a cultural standpoint, what do you hope gets communicated from your art?
You can't change without acknowledging the problem. In a lot of ways this is why the project had to change. These days a lot of people say they want change on a national, political, and systematic level, but are too uncomfortable to face the truth, to face their own truth and the truth of who we are and what got us here. I wanted to take the burka, a symbol of western female oppression, and the suit, a symbol of western male repression, and combine them in order to redefine them - both are cultural garbs that represent the dual nature of my own identity as a Pakistani-American. By wearing them together you make this sort of paradox of these dualities and by embodying them I am allowed to redefine them. The way forward is to acknowledge the problems, not to pretend like they don’t exist.
It’s been much talked about that LUNO is the point at which you reimagined yourself as an artist and the story you want your art to communicate. Can you explain this idea of rebirth and renewal?
In order to change, one must accept themselves as they are, not only as they want to be—that’s just skipping to the end without doing the work. As an anonymous artist I was able to present an ideal: no race, gender, orientation, etc. but the truth is that this ideal does not yet exist. In a utopian society these things would be meaningless as they are arbitrary in defining who we are and reduce our existence to a binary categorization. However this does not reflect our current state as a people and does not reflect my own experience as an individual. The truth is that ignorance still exists and that ideal can only be achieved by progressing forward through self awareness. Speaking about the truths that unite us is important, but it is also important to address the injustices of the world that divide us.
Can you speak to some of the similarly complex themes represented in LUNO such as change, self-discovery, the internal exploration of darkness, and any other key themes you felt important to emphasize?
As a society, what we've been craving so badly, what we've been fighting for is change. But when you look at your system, your institutions, your government—It's all just people. If you want to change these things you have to change people and you cannot change people unless you can change yourself. But often I find that people don't know how to do that, they don't know how to face themselves. By showing the change and telling the story of how one can change, by looking at themselves and acknowledging their own blind spots of their psyche, I hope to show that change is possible to those who feel like it is out of reach. That you don’t have to look further than yourself if change is what you seek. That is the story I wanted to tell.
LUNO explores the idea of facing and confronting one's own darkness in order to accept it and thus be reborn again as someone new, to fully change. The project reflects the 8-phase lunar cycle and 8-step hero's journey, both archetypal symbols of change through embracing of their shadows, through 8-tracks which each confront these concepts in their own unique way.
Your most recent track “Set It On Fire” centers around themes of both nihilism within the lyrical content and toxic masculinity within the visual content. Can you speak more to your personal viewpoints on the ideas of gender identity and the repression of femininity?
The theme of nihilism is criticized as unquestioned hopelessness. How do you even know who you are if you've never questioned "the way things are done"? Observing the collective conversation around these topics, I've seen a positive trend in de-programming and re-thinking the way we see and define ourselves by questioning the norm. When we limit ourselves in the way that we have been programmed, we limit our own humanity and our potential of discovering who we are and who we could possibly be.
Who were some of the influential figures in the mythologically-inspired storytelling of LUNO? What made you decide that this was the way you wanted to present the project?
The philosophy of the record was heavily inspired by Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Dan Harmon. What's beautiful is that they are all students of one another and have found ways of sharing a similar message in different and unique ways. Harmon's 8-Step Story circle is inspired by Campbell's Hero's journey which is inspired from Jung's concept of the shadow and the collective unconscious. What fascinated me about them was their central message - that stories are universally about change: that in order to change you must look within yourself, test the darkest parts of your psyche, learn who you truly are in order to become who you've always needed to be. We change by letting go of who we used to be and thus our past selves dying, for our new selves to be reborn.
Can you describe the idea of LUNO being its own “universe”, and how listeners can gain the deepest appreciation from this project?
Due to the pandemic, we were unable to tour, so instead I started a multimedia experience (or ARG) for our fans to engage with: consisting of cryptic YouTube videos, an interactive telephone line, and a website with hidden back pages telling a non-linear and ongoing story that ties all of the music videos and a lot of the artwork together into one big overarching story. It's something that you have to search to find, so those who seek it and choose to play with the elements are rewarded with additional context and backstory, but you can still enjoy the videos as stand alone pieces.
Is there anything else you would like us to know, whether it be about LUNO or the entire Blood Cultures project?
I've said too much already. I just hope you enjoy it. Thank you for reading and thank you for the thoughtful questions.