Our latest guest blog feature comes from Sona, an Armenian DIY musician based in South East London. In conjunction with the recent release of her Pity Party record, Sona writes here about her experiences living in London as a foreigner and the impact that has had on her music….
24th June 2016. The day Brexit was announced. Britain divided into two, with hate crimes soaring within the first few days. And, tragically, my 20th birthday. A heaviness plagued the air, infecting the otherwise sweet summery breeze and smell of various lemon-flavoured drinks. Two years later, I began to truly realise how these events, and other experiences I had since moving to London, had affected me.
There are so many layers to being Armenian or an immigrant – I don’t want to declare anything I’m about as whole or concrete, and my experience won’t be the same as someone else’s. The fact that I pass as white gave me a degree of privilege from the discriminatory crimes resulting from Brexit, but I was still subconsciously ashamed of being Armenian in public. An irrational yet rational fear of being undermined, scrutinised, and my ancient language being mocked explicitly or behind my back. I came from an unapologetic and loud Armenian household, to somewhere, where self-expression and emotions were regarded as uncomfortable or only available when intoxicated – somewhere where docility was praised.
Being foreign isn’t new to me – I grew up in Prague -, but in a cosmopolitan city like London, my otherness was pushed to new levels. London is so diverse, yet so segregated at the same time, and the narrative around culture or race is still taboo. It was hard to find people who actively wanted to engage with my culture/foreignness and weren’t uncomfortable around it, which consequently made me fixate on what it meant to me. I started writing and recording music that reflected my culture shock.
Months later, as I scrambled for ideas for a university project, I realised I could merge what I love doing, which was recording music, with academia. What attracted me to DIY recording was its availability and portability. It’s evolution over time with DAWs and modern interfaces allowed me to craft all layers from scratch and witness their progress. Digitisation meant I could delete and restart and work at any pace. I found the basis of my analysis – the effect of current DIY recording technology on songwriting. As I researched, a time obscured in my memory by fruitless trips to the library and endless bagels, I came across “The Temporary Autonomous Zone” by Hakim Bey, a piece of writing about DIY culture that resonated with me. Bey claimed that the act of creative self-expression by minorities created a temporary autonomous zone; a literal or metaphorical space “like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it”.
Soon, these songs became a coping mechanism against the disillusionment and isolation I felt whilst living as an immigrant in the UK. In my bedroom in Deptford, I was creating my own temporary autonomous zone, where instead of the British government and Queensbray estate agents, I was in charge. Whether consciously or subconsciously, minorities are constantly trying to create safe spaces for themselves in the virtual, in public spaces, or simply within their homes. Therefore, I chose to keep each recording imperfection – to document that space within the interstitial, to transport the listener to my most vulnerable and intimate space. I experimented with temporality, with the shortness of the songs, as a response to the fast-paced listening and recording culture of our time – our processes are non-linear, fractured, and immediate, transcending any notion of form or time. It was also an homage to the small everyday moments of my life that had their roots in my otherness. I felt strangely liberated by my self-imposed time and volume limits and it was my small rebellion of self-expression that I didn’t feel confident vocalising in real life.
In April 2018, after decades of extreme corruption and unspeakable crimes by the government, Armenia underwent a peaceful political revolution, overturning the previously authoritarian regime. Watching these events unfold from somewhere, where Armenia is either associated with the Kardashians or completely unheard of, was excruciating. I wanted to release this project to transcend us from popular discourse and contribute to my culture the best way I knew how. In a way, I regret sharing this as I feel that the beauty of music lies in our own personal connections. To say my whole project is about my cultural identity would be false – it was just the backdrop to what I was writing about. I invite personal connections, but I hope this gives my audience, whoever they are, some insight into what it represents to me.
Huge thanks to Sona for writing for us. You can check out her music via Bandcamp.