by Davis Braswell ‘21 (he/him), Music Critic
Few labels have been productive like HAUS of ALTR amid the pandemic.
MoMa Ready and AceMo, the DJs spearheading the label, established a niche sound a few years before the lockdown; MoMa Ready founded HAUS of ALTR as a skateboarding brand but quickly shifted its focus towards electronic music in 2018. A host of Black and queer musicians have worked with the label since. Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, these artists have been relentlessly producing albums and compilations without their typical packed schedule of live gigs. They release new mixes on a weekly basis, alongside collaborations with popular musicians like Toro y Moi. HAUS of ALTR embodies a collective at the forefront of electronic music, as their influence permeates deeper than just a unique sound.
Their style is a fresh take on deconstructed club that incorporates the Black roots of house and techno. Lush R&B vocals that engross the listener are accompanied by constant rhythm switches consisting of industrial beats. It’s difficult to keep still while listening through their projects. HOA010, released on Juneteenth of last year, marked a turning point for the label. The compilation album mixes songs from Black artists like Akua, DJ Swisha, Galcher Lustwerk, and James Bangura. Quick transitions between Jersey beats and harsh grime make it clear that the label is trying to push the boundaries of New York club, while moments of trap-inspired dubstep set their sound apart entirely.
The album’s cover art features two prowling Black panthers, reminiscent of the undaunted attitude AceMo and MoMa Ready have towards their musical careers. The two are trying to establish an inclusive label that brings house back to its foundation: Black and queer communities. However, HAUS of ALTR also emphasizes the universal nature of electronic music. It’s a genre accessible to a diverse audience because of its nonconformist style. It can be difficult to pinpoint specific influences, but that said, certain elements of their mixes are distinctly Black and the label draws from a tradition of music whose impression is only understood by Black and queer audiences. Many listeners, including white listeners like myself, are unable to fully grasp their impact.
Within this context, the group is actively reclaiming a genre debased by white seizure. “What we’re doing is trying to bring attention to music made by Black artists because they are Black, not because it’s a rigid profile that it needs to fit in order to be considered techno,” explained MoMa Ready in a Bandcamp interview.
HOA011 was released just two weeks after HOA010 with a clear message: HAUS of ALTR claims that while its previous project was a call for reform, the new album establishes the collective as assuming “the role of Vanguard in the war against white supremacy in electronic music.” Their breakbeats and captivating drum loops are ideal for a lively dance floor, but one cannot ignore the project’s urgent purpose. House and techno, styles of electronic music born in the underground Black culture of Detroit and New York, have evolved into distinctly white genres. Headliner DJs are typically white, systematically racist policies have permeated the industry, and few labels have worked to revive the presence of underrepresented groups responsible for their music’s origins.
HAUS of ALTR intends to uproot all of this. These musicians are consistently working on purposeful music, with proceeds going towards nonprofits that provide Black communities with the resources to succeed in the electronic industry. It’s necessary for all to engage with this mission, but it resonates most with the communities that it uplifts. A style founded in Black and queer communities has been gradually appropriated to the point where this influence is almost unrecognizable. These artists have emerged to bring back the vibrancy of early house with a futuristic panache.
Oftentimes it feels as if house music is an echo chamber of the same style. HAUS of ALTR is distinct in that its projects are assiduous and its purpose revolutionary. They’ve introduced an invigorated sound to the genre while making it clear that their intentions are far from compliant. The label is succeeding in a business where the odds are stacked against them, but COVID-19 has proven particularly difficult for these artists. Without the capacity to perform live, most of their livelihood has disappeared. They need help from patrons who are willing to purchase their music on platforms that respect musicians (not Spotify or Apple Music). If you follow electronic music, then consider looking into the label and its members. Their movement needs supportive fans to continue effecting change in the industry.
Davis Braswell ‘21 (he/him) is a Economics and Philosophy major and minor from Cary, NC. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.