On a recent afternoon, Jade Ariana and Angel Castellon took turns sipping from a rose-flavored boba tea at an Oakland Chinatown cafe. Since meeting less than a year ago, the duo — who perform as the electronic noise outfit Earthbound — have been nearly inseparable. Their endearing, sisterly relationship gives the impression that they've known each other for far longer than they have.
"I gave you mushroom chocolates at the rave," Ariana fondly recalled of the psilocybin trip that first brought them together. "I was gonna get a tattoo from you."
The two artists decided to start Earthbound after bonding over shared politics, tastes in music and fashion, and spiritual practices. Castellon was raised in Berkeley and Oakland; Ariana is from Inglewood. Both are queer femmes who listened to punk growing up. They're also both painters and performance artists. And their shared passion for social justice and indigenous spiritual practices — such as the Nigerian Yoruba faith and Latin American Santería — brought them even closer.
Before the fateful mushroom trip, the bandmates saw each other around at queer parties and admired each other's performance art from afar. Both of their performance practices explore a kind of emotional intimacy and tenderness that our fast-paced and productivity-oriented society rarely encourages.
Performance factors heavily into the duo's work. At their live shows, they often incorporate ritualistic, dance-like movement and tributes to female deities. At LoBot Gallery in July, for instance, Ariana and Castellon cocooned themselves in sheer fabric, spinning together through the room while wrapped in an embrace. Their stage setup included a bowl of water commonly found on altars to the Yoruba deity Oshun — a river spirit who governs sexuality, beauty, and love.
While they've made a name for themselves through their raw, emotional performances, the duo recently took their music to the next level with the release of their debut project, The Flood, which is out on cassette and will be streaming on Bandcamp this week.
Though The Flood is self-released, Castellon and Ariana said that Mike Daddona of Ratskin Records offered them crucial support during its recording. His label features primarily experimental electronic artists of color, including Sharmi Basu's intersectional feminist noise project Beast Nest ("Decolonizing Noise," 07/26/2016) — which Earthbound credits as an influence. Castellon and Ariana recorded The Flood in Daddona's studio, where they fleshed out their stripped-down live sound by experimenting with pedals and synthesizers.
During our interview, the pair critiqued the white and male-dominated punk and noise scenes in Oakland, but they were careful to give credit to fellow female artists of color who have paved the way, shouting out experimental disco artist Tropic Green and psychedelic noise musician Wizard Apprentice.
While their work has a DIY sensibility associated with the punk scene, Ariana and Castellon said they're not too concerned with what category their music falls under as long as it makes listeners feel something. "I think punk is an old white man institution like any other in a lot of ways," said Ariana. "I'm just trying to be free and if that classifies me or doesn't classify in a particular thing — whatever."
On the flip side of that, the two artists reject stereotypes of how "woke" or decolonized women of color should look or act. They embrace their eclectic taste — even when people have accused them of "liking white shit" because they're into rock and alternative culture. "You know what? My fuckin' ancestors don't give a fuck about what I'm doing as long as I'm trying to find liberation," said Castellon. "It looks like me feeling free, or me trying to get free or die trying."
The Flood is rooted in ecofeminist theory, which posits that social justice struggles and environmental issues are inextricably linked. Castellon and Ariana view floods as manifestations of a divine, feminine rage at mankind's destruction of the planet in pursuit of profit.
"Protection Spell," one of the tracks from The Flood, conveys these complex themes in an immediate, visceral way. Over frenetic drums and tense, atonal keyboard playing, the two bandmates cry out You wanna touch her/Don't touch her. While it's a pro-consent, anti-rape song on the surface, it's also a conservationist protest chant: Don't touch her implies "don't touch the earth." The lyrics are especially urgent in light of current events, with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline and last month's floods ravaging communities in Louisiana.
As we've seen in recent years — with the Flint, Michigan water crisis being another example — low-income communities of color tend to bear the brunt of environmental catastrophes. Earthbound's work reminds us that environmental issues are inseparable from human struggles.
"Water in the last year has been coming up as something that's so sacred — it's life — yet no one cares about it," said Castellon.
"And no one wants to protect it. There's no accountability," said Ariana, visibly vexed.
Tracks on The Flood range from thumping beats to more abstract synth and keyboard playing, usually with hurried percussion that lends the project a dynamic feel. The sections that lack melody engage the listener by engulfing them in spatial arrangements. Listening to "Interlude," for instance, can make you feel caught in a gust of wind, with glitchy pauses and static tying the track to the rest of the tape's electronic sound.
The scatterbrained instrumentation conveys a sense of upheaval and uncertainty. "One of the songs, 'Infinite Spiral,' is about those moments when you're overwhelmed with depression," said Ariana. "You're maybe even laying in bed thinking of all the fucked up shit you read on your Facebook timeline, and kind of sitting in that feeling of [being] overwhelmed and not being afraid of it."