“I think I was put on this earth to be the party starter. The person in the room who lights the energy up and gets everyone excited to be there. I also like to think outside the box and like creating music and art that shows people new ways of looking at things or doing things. I see founding Black Techno Matters as definitely one of the milestones of my career and a combination of both traits.”
These words come from Bernard Farley, a multidisciplinary artist whose work is rooted in the celebration of black artistic expression. Hailing from Washington, DC, Bernard’s journey from a childhood imbued with music to his work championing the innovators of the techno genre tells a story of perseverance, self-belief and the power of community.
Bernard’s introduction to audio started with tapes and beat making in his youth. “I used to have fun doing tape overdubs, distortion, and simple channel mixing effects on my sister's old karaoke machine back in 9th grade,” he says. “When my family finally got its first computer, it had a demo of Beat2000 which was this loop-based music creation software that had all sorts of fun house, techno, drum n bass, and rave loops in it. Eventually, I got into modular music software like Audiomulch and DAWs like Ableton Live. Now I record exclusively using drum machines and synth hardware like the Roland TR-8s.”
Music was prominent throughout his childhood, instilling an appreciation for a wide range of genres within him. “My mom would listen to disco all the time,” says Bernard. “She had such a beautiful voice; she would sing around the house all the time and make up songs on the spot. She was also a great dancer – that's where I got my dancing genes from. I was absorbing music from artists like Sylvester and MFSB and labels like Salsoul Records. I lived in Queens, NY while in elementary school and my mom would bring home recorded mixes from New Jack Swing DJs she was dating.”
Bernard’s father was a jazz musician and multi-instrumentalist playing several instruments including guitar, saxophone, and keyboard, with a love for artists like Sade, Anita Baker, and Prince. “He would improvise over jazz instrumentals and record it straight to tape. My dad was stiff as a board – he tried to teach me guitar, but it didn't go well. I think I prefer to learn things on my own, including playing and writing music.”
Growing up with an obsession with Michael Jackson, Bernard was one of the kids that had all of his music video choreography memorized. Middle school would open him up to artists like Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, and Aphex Twin by way of local radio in Middletown, NJ, and by high school, he ventured towards techno, becoming familiar with the music of Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin and abstract music from the likes of Autechre.
“I went to Virginia Tech and had a show on their college radio station. I would rip hundreds of CDs to my computer while playing songs on the air and that really opened my tastes to all sorts of artists including Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and John Cage. I also became a huge Bjork fan while in college and I taught myself to sing by practicing her songs from ‘Homogenic’ and ‘Vespertine’ over and over.”
Founded out of the need for a platform to uplift black artistry in techno music, Bernard started Black Techno Matters, a collective on a mission to reclaim techno as a manifestation of black expression. The collective creates online and in-person spaces that celebrate the black origins of techno, champion the originators of the genre and gives a space for new creatives to find their voices as artists.
“I started Black Techno Matters in October 2019 after doing a google search for ‘Black Techno Artists’ and being disappointed with the search results. There were some sites mentioning The Belleville Three and pioneers like Jeff Mills, but I didn't see a list of black artists making techno, particularly in more modern times. This shocked me especially since techno IS black! After about an hour of searching on the internet, I was able to fill a piece of notepad paper with the names of black artists.”
“The phrase ‘Black Techno Matters’ came to me, and I threw a party in DC where there were only black artists on the line up,” Bernard continues. “Several people who came out to the show thanked me for creating that space and that's when I realized there was a real need to highlight black artists and also to physically bring them together in the same space. Since then, Black Techno Matters has grown into a collective, organizing events, playlists, mixes, music releases, and other resources highlighting and celebrating hundreds of black artists from around the world.”
In a personal reclamation of the techno genre and celebration of black music, Bernard’s music has taken on many personas over the years. “I've recorded several electronic music solo albums as Outputmessage ranging from downtempo to techno to indie dance. I've also recorded several ambient albums as Smoke & Tea with my good friend and music partner Patrick Blinkhorn. I have a new album coming out this March, it's called ‘hell0’ and I think it really sets the stage for the musical portals I'd like to open up as B_X_R_N_X_R_D.” Bernard will release his new album as his B_X_R_N_X_R_D persona through Black Techno Matters’ music label, as well as streaming platforms and Bandcamp.
Bernard’s determination to celebrate his existence as a black artist and the history of black artistry is the driving force behind his work, both personally and within his community. His mindset refuses to yield to an oppressive narrative, and so he creates his own.
“As a black man, I have to choose hope over fear, patience over anger, and joy over despair in order to stay sane in this racist society. I also have to think and work outside the system in order to accomplish goals because the system doesn't work for people that look like me. The music world is no different. The intention of my music as B_X_R_N_X_R_D and my work with Black Techno Matters is to create an alternate timeline where the immense power of black creativity is properly respected and celebrated.”
There is an unmistakable sense of pride and celebration conveyed through Bernard’s words as he recalls these moments with Black Techno Matters.
“I live for the moments like the crowd chanting ‘Black Techno Matters’ to techno music at our Liber8 party in San Francisco. Black artists commenting and showing respect and love to each other in the comments of our Instagram Takeover series, artists telling me how welcomed and appreciated they feel after playing at our events.”
The Black Techno Matters website also functions as an extensive resource for black electronic music, including the ‘Blackness is Revolutionary’ playlist which contains over a thousand songs by black electronic artists. “Seeing the artists who have connected and collaborated because of their paths crossing on our platform, artists growing to see themselves in the genre after feeling isolated, all the black faces on our ‘Contributors’ page on the website – I could go on. All of this energizes me to keep going and keep growing Black Techno Matters.”
The future is community
“2023 marks 20 years since my first music release, ‘Bernard's Song’ on Ghostly International,” says Bernard. “I see Black Techno Matters as a way for me to direct my artistic powers and music industry experience back to the community in a way that creates opportunities for newer artists. In general, that's how our crew works – we all contribute to the Black Techno Matters mission in our own ways using skills and experiences we've picked up along the way.”
While techno forms the foundation of Black Techno Matters’ inception, the collective also champions other forms of artistic expression outside of music, which in turn creates a more unified and all-encompassing artistic community. ‘Audio and video documentation of our events is a big part of what we do. Graphic design is essential for promoting and setting the vibe for our events and the dancers who show up to our events bring their energy to the spaces we create. Also, the candid words used in our Instagram Takeovers to highlight artists is a real tapestry of love and pride for black music.’
2023 presents a year of growth for Black Techno Matters. “We're spreading the black fire we started in Washington, DC and taking it to other cities around the U.S. As usual, we're doing something special for Juneteenth, but that's all I will say, so stay tuned.”
With Black Techno Matters acting as a year-round initiative to celebrate and inform others of the impact of black innovation in music, arts and culture, Bernard is actively challenging the minimised perception of the contributions of Black individuals and collectives in world history and trying to change the concept of Black History being seen as “a special chapter toward the end of a United States history textbook that the teacher may never actually get to covering in class” to quote Bernard.
“To be clear, Black history IS United States history. This country was built on the backs of slaves and the suffering of black people. Black people have made countless contributions and innovations to music, art, culture, and technology that have quite literally changed this country and the world,” he explains. “This of course includes the global phenomenon of techno and dance music which would not exist without us. We are not just a part of the story, we are essential to the story, and treating it as anything less is whitewashing history. With Black Techno Matters, we celebrate our black heroes every day.”
Supporting black artists throughout the year is integral to the work of Black Techno Matters, and as well as supporting the collective through their online channels, Bernard shares ways that everyone can help to support and uplift black voices. “Subscribing to our mailing list or buying a t-shirt, attending one of our events, following the artists we highlight on their socials, attending their events, purchasing their music, leaving a comment or sending them a message of appreciation. Even connecting them with other artists or venues in your area so they can get more gigs. People can donate to our Venmo or CashApp (@blacktechnomatters) and also support other artists this way. Every small action counts.”
Community and shared knowledge are core values of Black Techno Matters’ ethos. Through sharing, their community is strengthened and, in that strength, lies power. “The future is family. The future is community. People power is the new power. Don't wait for a white man to give you something. Build it yourself if you need to. Lean into your community to build a stronger future for everyone.”
Find Bernard on Instagram.