On My Way, the first split EP from Club Chai founders Lara Sarkissian and 8ULENTINA, is symbolic of the producers’ trans-bay relationship. Released May 1, the EP’s four tracks are inspired by locations on either side of the Bay Bridge that have been impactful for each of the artists throughout the years; they are meant to explore how the personal significance of both San Francisco and Oakland have shifted over time.
The project seems intent on soundtracking stationary rumination rather than ecstatic dance-floor catharsis. As such, Sarkissian and 8ULENTINA are not shy about heaping on the zag and steering clear of conventional beats. Confrontational fuzz and striking trance conjure images of the thoroughfares and environments they miss. “La Playa/Great Highway Midnight,” the first track in from Sarkissian, is flush with the attack of droning synths and distorted, metallic percussion. It seems to be more closely connected to the noisy hum of rush-hour than the soothing breath of Ocean Beach at 12 a.m. — although the whoosh of passing cars at the end of the track does offer up some tranquil pools of serenity.
Both artists, co-founders of Oakland’s Club Chai, came together in 2014 to cultivate safe spaces for trans and women-identifying individuals working at the intersection of electronic music and diasporic traditions — meeting the needs of Oakland’s queer, black and brown folks.
At first listen, On My Way highlights how seemingly banal memories of the everyday can take on far greater weight when the normal flow of life is unexpectedly interrupted. That boring commute to and from work, which may involve a BART station stop and a perpetually broken escalator, focuses the mind’s eye on those random characters who get their morning cardio in, hoofing it up to street level. Recalling such scenes — especially through the lens of quarantine — one may even feel a sense of nostalgia. Hemmed-in and feeling claustrophobic, these passive, ambient tunes help create some aural space and serve as a coping mechanism, a survival technique.
“Escape From Two Eighty” begins with the revving of a motorcycle and launches right into a snare-driven trance arrangement, with animated-movie-score melodies sprinkled into the second movement of the song.
“Bert’s Renegades,” the first selection from 8ULENTINA, is a pummeling three minutes of various percussive layers. Bubbling, staccato bass drum, rolling congas, and piercing tablas — aided by breakbeats in the middle stretch — reference the Amen break, jungle, and drum and bass, while Middle Eastern melodies recall Ethio-jazz and the Bar Kokhba Sextet.
This slab of revisionist breakcore — a current theme that house producers Octo Octa and Eris Drew have drawn upon recently — allows 8ULENTINA to cement their own diasporic uniqueness within this proto-rave design.