KINSHIP: Solitary Survival Isn’t Cute

The artist known for their musical works disrupting gender binaries and probing the human consciousness is here to remind us we are all connected. Read our interview with Colin Self.

Colin Self is more of an “instigator” than an auteur when it comes to creative pursuits. Eschewing a singular vision for a multiplicity and seeking collaboration at every turn.

“I think we’re moving into a time where individualism, in a deal-with-it-on-your-own sort of way, doesn’t really work anymore,” says Self. “And I’m happy that’s changing.”

This artist, who joyfully embraces all pronouns, alternately using he, she, or they depending on the context, is bringing to a close the Elation Series – a collaborative body of work that has spanned over six years and at least as many mediums: from opera to sculpture to performance art. The project has culminated with Siblings, Self’s latest album released in November of last year which explores non-biological forms of kinship in the queer community.

Pitchfork’s Ruth Saxelby calls Siblings “a compost of sonic vocabularies”. Indeed, Siblings interplay of disparate genres (from choral to techno) makes for rich soil, and the ideas that blossom are both radical and familiar. The main one? We need each other.

In an age and economic system that values individualism, if not difference, Self is making space for interdependence.

“Building interdependence,” Self shared with the online publication Electronic Beats, “means problem-solving together and recognizing that queer families are not all utopic. I wanted Siblings to illustrate the emotional complexity of these spaces.”

From Oregon originally, Self was inspired by the queer feminist communities surrounding the bands like Riot Grrrl and Sleater-Kinney and they hope to model some of those ways of existence for today’s queer youth.

Now a full-time resident of Berlin, Self talks with Kink today about their latest album, family in all forms, and why apocalyptic thinking is too easy.


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You talked about wanting to reach people living in places where it isn’t so easy or safe to be queer with your latest album, can you talk about this?

I think that desire came from my own experience of growing up in a small town. I sometimes felt alien in a place that was very normal for everyone else. Quite often, and with queer youth in particular, finding your people is a matter of survival.

When I recall those initial encounters walking into a room and seeing people who were also different was life-changing. Even now as an adult, I’ve had so many life-changing experiences through finding people. I actually have no idea if it’s even reached that audience, beyond a couple of conversations.


Let’s talk about the song ‘Survival’ off of Siblings. You say it alludes to boundaries both physical and emotional, would you give us some background on this power ballad?

Survival is a very high drama song. It’s the part of me that feels akin to Celine Dion.

The narrative is a compilation of interpersonal experiences. You know, assemblies of nonbiological family almost always get there because they experienced some kind of trouble. The lyrics in ‘Survival’ are about reaching across but it’s also a boundary event both in terms of a personal boundary as well as an emotional breaking point.

It’s funny. This song was a throwaway track, where I thought ‘I can’t release the song, it’s way too emo.’ But it ended up becoming my favourite. It’s weird to make a song that can make me cry. I think the reason is that so many of the words are real, not acting. I can think of many times in my life where I’ve said things like this, or someone has said it to me.

It was hard to let myself be like: demonstrate vulnerability and embrace this song as a true part of the bigger picture of Siblings.


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You introduced us to the term ‘homo-capitalist’, can you explain this concept for us?

I’ve recently heard the term and part of what I hoped to demonstrate with Siblings is that there are different ways to be visible as a queer person, beyond selling a product or ‘fabulousness’.

I think homo-capitalism is the commodification and marketing of products for purchase through being like ‘This is queerness! Buy this!’ or ‘You will be celebrated, loved, and taken care of if you wear this makeup or this brand of clothes.’

In the time I grew up, this homo-capitalism didn’t exist as much and the communities I was part of were in direct opposition to these kinds of things, which makes me feel now that the youth need a demonstration of queerness that cannot be commodified and sold as a product.


When you started thinking about the Elation series in 2012, the Mayan apocalypse was the topic du jour. You said part of the object of this project was to combat the atmosphere of nihilism and apathy – why?

I came to realize that people were obsessed with apocalyptic thinking because it’s much easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine solutions. I even heard people in my own social circles be like ’oh, well, you know, it doesn’t matter because we’re all going to die.’

I think of nihilism as being kind of inevitable, we all have to live in partial nihilism and apathy is something that will never go away… we have to have it as a survival tactic.

Even though I think hope itself is also an ugly politic, as it requires that you anticipate disappointment, I still think a lot about how to make stories that can lift from the doom narrative and talk solutions. Because whether we’re here on this planet for 20 or 20,000 more years, we have to take care of each other.



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Colin will be presenting the last performance of “Siblings (Elation VI) at Trauma Bar in Berlin, Germany November 16-18 and will be premiering a new opera in early 2020 at The Julia Stoschek Collection.


Colin Self: Website, Instagram
Interview: Kaya Payseno
Photo credit: Jonathan Grassi