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Blacktronika’ online exhibit showcases Black pioneers of electronic music

todayFebruary 29, 2024

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Blacktronika' online exhibit showcases Black pioneers of electronic music

With its pulsating beats and synthesized timbres, electronic music has long been a canvas for futuristic exploration and technological innovation. Yet, the genre’s narrative is incomplete without acknowledging the profound influence of Black culture and artists. The online exhibit “Blacktronika: Afrofuturism in Electronic Music,” curated by King Britt and featured on Google Arts & Culture, stands as a powerful testament to the indelible impact of Black musicians on the electronic soundscape.

The roots of Black influence in electronic music

The history of electronic music is deeply interwoven with Black communities’ rhythms, melodies, and cultural expressions. Black artists have been at the forefront of electronic music’s evolution, from the genre-defining Detroit techno movement to the soulful pulses of Chicago house. They have consistently pushed the boundaries of what is possible, both musically and technologically, often out of necessity and innovation born from limited resources.

The artists and their enduring legacy

The exhibit features pioneers like Sun Ra, whose otherworldly compositions laid the groundwork for Afrofuturism in music, and Bernie Worrell, whose mastery of the Moog synthesizer revolutionized the sound of funk and electronic music. It also highlights contemporary artists like Suzi Analogue and Moor Mother, who continue to break new ground with their innovative approaches to sound and narrative.

 “Blacktronika”: A virtual exhibit of Afrofuturism in electronic music

The Google Arts & Culture online exhibit “Blacktronika: Afrofuturism in Electronic Music” (part 1 and part 2) is a natural extension of Britt’s academic and creative endeavors. It presents histories and perspectives on 17 Black and brown innovators in the electronic music universe, including Sun Ra, Bernie Worrell, Hank Shocklee, Moor Mother, Suzi Analogue, James Poyser, and King Britt himself. The exhibit features richly informative text, vivid photographs, and immersive video clips, along with a meditative score for each artist by King Britt.

 The Artists and Their Contributions

1. Sun Ra: A pioneering figure in Afrofuturism, Sun Ra’s avant-garde fusion of jazz and electronic music set the stage for future explorations of cosmic themes and Black identity in music.

2. Bernie Worrell: As a keyboardist for Parliament-Funkadelic, Worrell’s mastery of the Moog synthesizer helped define funk’s sound and influenced countless electronic musicians.

3. Hank Shocklee: A member of the production team The Bomb Squad, Shocklee’s innovative use of sampling and sound design in Public Enemy’s music has left a lasting mark on hip-hop and electronic music production.

4. Carl Craig: A central figure in Detroit’s second wave of techno artists, Craig’s work has been influential in developing the techno genre, known for his innovative and experimental approach.

5. Low Leaf: A multi-instrumentalist and producer, Low Leaf blends harp, piano, and electronic elements to create a unique sound that pushes the boundaries of electronic music and spirituality.

6. Ari Melenciano: An artist, designer, and creative technologist, Melenciano explores the intersections of art, technology, and activism, often incorporating electronic music into her multimedia works.

7. James Poyser: A Grammy Award-winning songwriter, musician, and producer, Poyser has contributed to the sound of neo-soul and hip-hop, working with artists like Erykah Badu and The Roots.

8. Suzi Analogue: A producer, singer, and songwriter, Analogue’s work is known for its genre-blending qualities, combining electronic beats with elements of R&B, hip-hop, and experimental music.

9. Don Lewis: A pioneer in electronic music and sound design, Lewis’s work with synthesizers and electronic instruments has paved the way for future musicians.

10. Moor Mother: An artist with a powerful voice in the experimental music scene, Moor Mother’s work combines elements of electronic, hip-hop, and spoken word, often addressing themes of social justice.

11. King Britt: The curator of the exhibit, Britt is celebrated for his contributions to electronic music as a producer, DJ, and educator, as well as for his role in promoting the legacy of Black artists in the genre.

12. Christina Wheeler: A multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and composer, Wheeler’s performances often incorporate electronic processing and live looping, creating immersive sonic landscapes.

13. DeForrest Brown Jr.: A theorist, journalist, and artist, Brown’s work focuses on the Black experience within techno and the socio-political contexts of electronic music.

14. Antipop Consortium: An alternative hip-hop group known for their fusion of rap with electronic music, their work has influenced the evolution of underground hip-hop.

15. Computer Jay: A producer and musician, Computer Jay melds hip-hop with electronic and funk elements, creating a retro and futuristic sound.

16. Elizabeth Baker: A composer and performer, Baker’s work in new music and sound art explores the relationship between the body and electronic sound.

17. Attica Blues: A British electronic music group, their work in the late ’90s and early 2000s combined elements of trip-hop, soul, and jazz, contributing to the evolution of electronic music.

The Future of Electronic Music Through a Black Lens

Looking to the future, “Blacktronika” underscores the ongoing relevance of Black artists in electronic music. As the genre continues to evolve with advancements in technology and shifts in cultural landscapes, the contributions of Black artists serve as both a foundation and a beacon for emerging talent. The exhibit honors the past and inspires the future, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and celebrating the Afrofuturist visionaries who have helped shape today’s sounds and those who will continue to influence the genre for years.

The Birth of “Blacktronika”

“Blacktronika: Afrofuturism in Electronic Music” is meticulously cultivated by King Britt, a figure whose relationship with electronic music is deeply intertwined with his exploration of Black culture and innovation. This journey is not just about music; it’s about realigning the narrative of electronic music to include the pivotal contributions of Black artists, a mission that King Britt has championed through his academic and creative endeavors.

Early Inspirations and Musical Evolution

King Britt’s musical journey began in a household filled with the sounds of funk, soul, and jazz, thanks to his artistically inclined parents. His discovery of Kraftwerk marked a turning point, introducing him to the possibilities within electronic music. This early exposure laid the groundwork for a career spanning over three decades. Britt would collaborate with various artists, from De La Soul and Madlib to Kathy Sledge, and become a respected figure in the electronic music scene.

The Academic Platform

Britt’s move to academia as an Assistant Teaching Professor at the University of California, San Diego, provided a new platform to expand his exploration of Black contributions to electronic music. Here, he developed the course “Blacktronika: Afrofuturism in Electronic Music,” which delves into the influence of people of color in the genre..

The course explores a wide range of topics, including the breakdown of Afrofuturism, the origins of Sun Ra and his impact on house music and the responses of underrepresented communities to socio-political issues through music. Students engage with the history and development of jazz fusion, Chicago House, Detroit Techno, Drum & Bass, the LA Beat scene, and other significant movements in global sound history.

“Blacktronika” as a Concept

Before becoming an exhibit, “Blacktronika” was a term that encapsulated Britt’s efforts to highlight the role of Black innovators across all genres of music, particularly in the realm of electronic music. He demonstrated how Black artists have been at the forefront of utilizing technology in innovative ways, from the turntable and sampler in hip-hop to the Roland 303 filters in acid house and techno. These innovations have not only changed the way modern music is made but have also shifted the pop-cultural fabric.

The Importance of “Blacktronika”

The significance of “Blacktronika” lies in its ability to realign the history of Black electronic music, reaffirming the validity of Black musicians and creators within the musical landscape. By exploring and honoring the innovators of color who have contributed to the advancement of genres rooted in Black music—such as Chicago House, Detroit Techno, Dub, and Hip-Hop—Britt’s course challenges the narratives that have often overlooked these contributions, especially in the context of the commercial rise of EDM.

The Role of Education

King Britt views his role as an educator as an extension of his creative practice, aiming to bridge the gap between aspiring Black artists and their musical heritage. Through “Blacktronika,” he seeks to inspire the visionaries of tomorrow by pushing sonics into spaces that have not been explored, breaking out of the cut-and-paste production world into a more organic and meaningful purpose behind the music.


King Britt’s “Blacktronika” is more than an exhibit; it’s a movement that seeks to educate, empower, and celebrate the Black origins and future of electronic music. Through his course, collaborations, and now the Google Arts & Culture exhibit, Britt has created a platform that showcases the achievements of Black artists and inspires the next generation of electronic music visionaries. His work ensures that the legacy of Black innovators in electronic music is recognized, honored, and carried forward into the future.


Written by: Tarik Moody

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