Salford-based choreographer, MC, poet and performer Blackhaine, and Hull-born contemporary artist Richie Culver join forces on DID U CUM YET / I'M NOT GONNA CUM, a two-track 20 minute audiovisual project released by UK record label and creative studio Participant. The release is an extension of Richie Culver's now infamous canvas work ‘DID U CUM YET?’, itself a wry reference to the inherently masturbatory act of posting art on social media.
Did U Cum Yet / I’m Not Gonna Cumby Richie Culver & Blackhaine
Having destroyed the original painting and released a 300 page book featuring the vitriolic Instagram comments received in response to the original piece, DID U CUM YET / I'M NOT GONNA CUM is a sonic extension of the Instagram project gone rogue, the coming together of two artists that share working-class roots and a commitment to low culture, as well as a belief in the transcendent potential in creative expression. Each artist has one leg planted firmly in Northern soil and both are united in their unflinching focus on England’s liminal spaces, as Culver told Abstract back in 2018, “I wanted to paint within the grey areas of English culture. The things that people don’t really want to talk about or admit.”
“Some things are easier to say with writing, some things are easier to say with moving,” says Blackhaine of his origins as a dancer. Creating uncompromising work that is aggressive and vulnerable in equal measure, Blackhaine's work is the product of a multidisciplinary practice that incorporates movement, film, sound and poetry, all united in service of catharsis and confrontation.
“With the original painting, I wanted to paint the most basic sentence that actually had meaning... to work backwards. Literally to pre birth. Do as little / paint as little as possible.” - Richie Culver
Fiercely unconventional, Culver’s self-taught approach is the perfect companion to Blackhaine’s unbridled id, an artistic partnership made all the significant by Heyes’ fundamental distrust of arts institutions, as he recently tweeted: “mental how people go to art school for 3 years and still have nothing to say.” When Culver initially approached Heyes to collaborate on DID U CUM YET, his initial thoughts were less of sex and more of numbness. “A lot of this footage represents anticlimax, the realisation of a numbness,” he explains.
Accompanying the EP is a film, assembled by British/Belgian filmmaker William Markarian-Martin. The film “explores two narratives, one as a monologue from a small town drug dealer, realising his life has no meaning”, and another from Heyes himself, as he stares down from the top of Preston Bus Station as he contemplates the inevitable. Stitching together footage gathered by Blackhaine in Preston, Barcelona and Salford, shot in an underground car park “to represent a kind of purgatory, as if I had fallen through the pavements into a hellish place once I’d taken the leap”, DID U CUM YET exists in the tension between climax and anti-climax, a mode of frustrated oscillation that Blackhaine enters into mid-air, as he intones “Drifting, falling, dancing”, at once the fleeting thoughts of a soul trapped in limbo and a more general description of Blackhaine's’ instinctual art practice.
“For all intents, the algorithms and recommendations performed beautifully, earning the image such titles as “white, straight, basic,” “pinhead” and “go fuck your stupid art. Seriously though.” That this has become a book, [and now an EP], therefore, is the rogue element. The event that transpired was experienced centrifugally by Richie; a swirling mayhem of voices, tags and comments that must’ve felt dizzying and disconcerting to be at the centre of. Is DID U CUM YET a poem? An abstract narrative? A transcript of a call-in radio show? Telepathy en masse? A coroner’s report?” - Oliver Morris Jones
DID U CUM YET / I'M NOT GONNA CUM is online digitally through the Participant Bandcamp with a limited edition concrete grey 12” vinyl released in April 2021. The digital release will be accompanied by an exclusive piece of Richie Culver's digital artwork, signed digitally by the artist.
1. How did this collaboration come about?
Tom: Richie got in touch, loved his work it really struck me, could tell we would get on and when we suggested working together I was more than happy to do something.
Richie: I saw Blackhaine’s movement work and was amazed. Then I realised he also makes music. The idea was built from there.
2. Why do you think it’s important to work with people from different art fields?
Tom: Different approaches are always interesting, but then I don’t think that learning about other arts is the most important thing to focus on, there’s practices in industrial work and computing/commerce that I’d rather learn.
Richie: For me it’s all about personal growth and learning more / being inspired. Working with him has opened my eyes more towards the more avant-garde movement stuff and new music coming out of Manchester.
3. Any surprises on working together?
Tom: Not really. The whole process just travelled naturally. Found working with Richie great, as we come from different places artistically, but our backgrounds the same, we made something real here.
Richie: Blackhaine’s and my practice are naturally not that similar, but the further we got into the project similarities kept popping up and it ended up making more and more of sense. Blackhaine has done more in 2021 / lockdown than most artists do in a 50 year career and 50 years after their death.
4. Three words each to sum up your experience?
Richie: Get in there.
Tom: Project out now.
5. Do you have any advice for those who are struggling to be creative right now?
Richie: Maybe look for another career path.
6. How did the project and your working process evolve, especially as the pandemic got progressively worse?
Tom: Wouldn’t say it did. Michael-Jon Mizra and myself holed up in a studio in Cheetham Hill and just went for it. I’d have conversations with Richie over text, the project was conceived over ig so I can’t imagine it in a real setting at the moment.
Richie: It’s been really seamless. The lockdown has not really affected anything.
13. William: In 2021 you founded Participant, a new record label. Why start a label, and why now? Could you tell us about how it came to be?
Richie and I met in Berghain around 2013. 2021 felt like the right moment to bring all these elements together and set up a platform for various projects moving forward.
12. William: Is there a story behind the name ‘Participant’?
Participant originally started as a sportswear brand in Hull in the late 80s that fell into obscurity following a factory fire in ’93. It reemerged in 2019. The label and studio are its latest incarnation.
13. William: What is your long-term vision for the label?
7. Blackhaine: You have a résumé of incredible intrigue. Would you mind speaking a little bit about your dance background?
Tom: Yeah. I wanted to physicalise how I felt, so I just went for it. I’m interested in pain and stress, anxiety and how it affects the body. External factors, drug use, weight, heat etc also can come into play - I watch a lot of butoh, the spice heads in manc picc 2016 -18 inspired me a lot, I don’t see it as dance, don’t really get on with the dance world it’s full of strangers.
8. Blackhaine: Tell us about your creative process: when do the choreography and song come to life?
Tom: I get these flashes of film scenes in my head, sonics and physical just becomes strings I can pull from myself, threading a more accessible, realised work. They come to life in the moment, then I have to record that moment and develop it, structured reactions and stretch that out into something.
9. Richie, from your perspective, what kind of discussions and intellectual collaborations led to the development of this project, and what kind of role did you see yourself playing in its production from the beginning? Things change fast when working with others, so how has your role shifted since the project began?
Richie: It was all about handing it all over to Blackhaine to do as he wished. It became his for the time while he was working on it. The title / concept was mine.
When I was young I used to bet a lot in the bookies .. I would put all my benefits money on a horse or dog at decent odds like 14/2. When they started running I would go and hide in the toilet and listen to the muffled noises of the commentator. I’d give it 5 minutes then come out and go to the till with my ticket and see if I had won or not. This collab has that vibe. I handed it over and when he sent it.... If he was happy I was happy. In this case... My horse came in.
10. Richie: Were you expecting the kind of response that ‘DID U CUM YET’ was met with?
Richie: People took it in all kinds of different ways. A few people have had it tattooed. I get tagged all the time... With someone asking if I like their tattoo. It’s an interesting four words to intellectualise. So I have stopped trying to.
People started linking it to posting on social media.. which I kind of like and perhaps subconsciously that was it all along.
11. William & Blackhaine: Making a song with such a strong presence and then making it a film— how does that work? How do you make them gel?
Months of editing.
14. William: So let’s talk about the film. What was your inspiration and what was the process of filming like for this video?
Just as the track was a response to Richie’s concept, the visual is a response to the audio. Tom collected footage that was shot in Salford and Preston by Patric Kuo, Joseph Reay-Reid, and Louis Ellis. The whole process was collaborative, ultimately a dialogue between everyone involved.