HOW TO DJwith Russell E.L. Butler
Saturday, Octobe 21 at 2pm
601Artspace, 88 Eldridge Street
How to DJ is an experimental performance investigating the artistic form of musical programming, known in radio and the night life space as DJing. In this performance Russell E.L. Butler engages with records in their collection spanning time, space and place. They will play music from vinyl records, tell stories, and open up discussions related to the records they play.
How to DJ is not an attempt to elevate the form of DJing, but rather to ground it further in its social practices. These musics are not easily summed up by singular words. Rather than allowing genre to dictate the progression of this musical presentation, Russell utilizes personal and historical anecdotes to encourage participants to create their own language around these musical forms. Russell borrows from her experience as an audio engineer, as well as, some of the exercises present in Pauline Olivero’s Deep Listening, in order to create a system of feedback with the audience; a closed loop for the duration of the performance. The participant is the performer, the administrator of the performance is the participant.
What is DJing, if not relationships negotiated between artist, institution, and audience? This performance responds to the rotational, revolutionary, and cyclic elements addressed by Spinning In Place. The turntable is symbolic of a fixed kinetic environment that appears to progress through linear time, though it’s motion will be repeated, this process beginning anew. A record ends, another appears to take its place, reifying the confines of this closed system.
Russell E.L. Butler (she/they) is an artist living and working in NYC. Over the years, Russell has been an active member of the underground DIY music scene and created sound works and performances for several diverse art institutions. She has released cassette tapes, 12”s, and albums with labels like Opal Tapes, Ghostly, Tresor, and Mr. Saturday Night. Russell can also be found on a diverse array of lineups in clubs and festivals in NYC, San Francisco, Berlin, and London to name a few. Russell’s artistic pursuits span the myriad of cultures and sonics related to Dub, Experimental, and House music. Most recently, in 2023, they have signed on with T4T Luv NRG to release two projects. The first, a 12” of 4 club ready bangers under their elusive DJ Autopay alias and the next being their first solo album since 2018, titled “Call Me G”.
Russell’s work has taken the form of social practice performances and audio educational workshops. In 2017, they were a visiting artist at the ACRE residency program in Wisconsin, in 2018 they were awarded the Traveling Scholars Grant from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, which they used to support a residency at the Synthesizer Library in Prague, Czech Republic. In 2021, they were a featured artist and digital archivist at the Gagosian Gallery as part of Theaster Gates’ piece A Song for Frankie, a project documenting and engaging with the remaining vinyl records in the collection of Frankie Knuckles, one of the founding figures of House Music. Russell has also taught workshops for the Black Artists Database in collaboration with Ableton, Voluminous Arts, and Nowadays.
Russell weaves narratives out of their personal and social experiences as a participant in cultures that are being stamped out by the machinations of late capitalism. She forms a kind of propaganda with her work; presenting ideas and practices that invert the cynicism born from violent disempowerment and encourage a direct engagement with societies institutions with the aim of strengthening collective power.
Photograph by Ian Colon, courtesy of the artist.