The robots have arrived, but here's the thing: We're the robots, and Mother Cyborg is prepared to lead us into a future where we embrace — as opposed to fear — the technology that has already engulfed our lives.
Mother Cyborg — born in Chicago, raised in the tiny town of Frankfort, Indiana, and transplanted to Detroit about a decade ago — is also 36-year-old Diana Nucera, who is the director of the Detroit Community Technology Project and DJs under the same name; you may recognize her monthly gig at Temple Bar, appropriately named Temple of Cyborg.
On April 29, three years of hard work and a lifetime of experience culminates in the release of her debut album, Pressure Systems. A trip through Nucera's multifaceted musical influences — from Chicago-style footwork to house and global bass to Cumbia — the album is her vision of a cyborg's journey to consciousness. It's as grand as it is cellular, a moving opus to the power of both personal self-realization and the science of cell regeneration as it occurs in a moving body — all in the context of science fiction, the perfect genre to explore the tech-infused world of electronic music.
In terms of sound, the album is a bit of an exercise in genre-blending, though mostly in the electronic realm, with the majority of tracks created using synths and computers. "Cyborg" stands out as a haunting, melodic rock song, with guitar, drums, and bass performed by Kinga Osz-Kemp, one of Nucera's first musical collaborators and the person she credits with helping her find her musical voice.
Nucera also plays cello on the album, but it is her gorgeous voice, swelling and diving through the sonically computerized landscape, that injects a sense of humanity and grounds the songs. The overarching style is what Nucera has coined "cyborg soul," a unique combination of techno's cold, harsher side with the spirit and emotional resonance of soul and R&B.
In her daily life with the Detroit Community Technology Project, Nucera's identity is intimately connected with that of Mother Cyborg, as her main focus is teaching community members how to build and maintain their own wireless communications infrastructures — in other words, teaching people how to build their own internet — as well as demystifying technology in general and working to create what she calls a healthy digital ecosystem.
"Most people think of it as bridging the digital divide, but technology is integrated in our lives in such complex ways that it's not as simple as a bridge," Nucera says. With so much time spent thinking about how technology can be accessible to anyone, and how it influences our relationships and connection to the planet, it's plain to see how Mother Cyborg the entity, DJ, and performer is an entirely organic extension of Nucera the human.
A record release party for Pressure Systems is taking place on April 29 at El Club. The event is presented by feminist collective Seraphine Collective and is also a fundraiser to help the group match their 2016 Knight Arts Challenge Finalist funding. Through the Knight Arts Challenge, the collective plans to grow and sustain a series of workshops known as Beatmatch Brunch, designed to train and build community among female-identified DJs and taught by none other than Nucera.
In anticipation of the release show, Metro Times spoke with her about the birth of Mother Cyborg, the Midwest's deep influence on her, and how to create the future you seek — among other things.
Metro Times: When was Mother Cyborg born?
Diana Nucera: October 31, 2011. I first used the name at a Halloween show at the Old Miami. I was going to dress as Lady Gaga, but I was getting frustrated about how mainstream that was. I had all these tech parts around because I learned tech by taking it apart. I would use those to make Halloween costumes, and in the process of doing that my friend Darby just called me Mother Cyborg. I was like, "Whoa, that's amazing." I teach tech, so it made sense on so many levels. As time went on, the name also became this defense mechanism, being a woman in technology and DJing, where if you walk into a club and say, "You can call me Mother Cyborg," men start off the conversation by calling you mother. They're more likely to have a little more respect for you. It became this amazing entity that I could also use to protect myself.
MT: DJing is obviously very straight male-dominated. How has it been for you, as a queer woman, to work in this scene?
Nucera: It's been an intense emotional rollercoaster. I was lucky to find the Cupcake Collective [a local collective of mostly queer DJs] and work with them when I first started, so I had a learning community. Without that, I don't think I would be doing what I'm doing now. Meeting other women DJ collectives and having people to call and process some of the scenarios we deal with, like people undermining you and questioning your equipment, was really important.
As far as my sexuality goes, it's played a role in how I see space and how I create space with music. Being a marginalized woman — I'm queer, I'm large, I'm brown — I was really critical about my own experience walking into a party, and what it takes for me to be comfortable. I just want a space in which I can feel freedom, because the dance floor is where I first felt freedom in my life. How can I recreate that? The music that is playing plays a role in that ... so I believe that my identity has shaped what I play and how I play it. I searched for my Latin roots through Cumbia, I play a lot of women and queer artists, and I refuse to play music with lyrics that are derogatory to anybody. I also like to try to mix it up. I think about the dancer. I believe the dance floor is sacred and that it has potential to organize and transform lives.
MT: How did growing up in small town Indiana inform you?
Nucera: The idea of cyborgism came from there. My mother is from Colombia, my father is from Sicily, I'm a first-generation American along with my sister, and growing up was just weird in a small town that didn't really understand. I lost my language because people harassed me for speaking Spanish. I am trying to pick it back up now, and that's why Cumbia is so important to me. My culture was stripped away because of the homogeneity of Indiana, but [at the same time], I experienced the Midwest DIY punk movement [within Chicago-based 'zine Punk Planet and events like the More Than Music Fest, among other things], and that changed my life. That led me to the first Allied Media Conference, which at the time was called Midwest Zine Fest, in Bowling Green, Ohio, when I was 17. We were punk kids that would go around and find other political punk kids, follow bands, look for 'zines, organize shows. That is most certainly the foundation of who I am today. I don't regret it at all, and when I do go back to Indiana, there are moments when I really appreciate the countryside, but I also know its cruelty, so it's kind of a mixed bag of emotions.
MT: To move to the musical side of the album, what can you say about the influence of the Detroit scene?
Nucera: The Underground Resistance in particular influenced me as this collective group that refused to show their identity. That was so radical. How they organized people to get their rights back when their music was stolen and how they created this movement without climbing a musical ladder.
MT: How does Detroit fit into the picture more broadly?
Nucera: Detroit has been informative in my life since I was a teenager, [but] within the time I've spent here, Detroit has influenced the way in which I see and think about the future, mainly because people are working with what they have, envisioning a future that they literally have to make themselves. Maybe it's because I came out of the DIY punk movement, but that feels good to me. I'm like, "Let's make our own future and not have Apple make it for us."
MT: One thing I really liked about the album is that it feels both haunted and haunting. Can you speak to this at all?
Nucera: Sometimes I feel a little witchy so maybe that's why. The album is about a cyborg coming to consciousness and realizing what they are in this world — that is really intense. Oppression is very intense and haunting. Coming into understanding yourself is a struggle. The idea was to take you through this personal transformation and that is by no means easy, so I wanted to be raw, vulnerable, and honest about real feelings, even if they are in the context of science fiction. I wanted to make something that gets people to think about difference and how intense difference can be, whether you are experiencing it or whether you are causing it.
This whole idea about cyborgism is that we all are cyborgs, with our devices. It's fascinating how we still believe it's something way ahead in the future, but we're practicing it right now. When I first say my name, some people look at me and are really into it, and some people are really scared by it. There's this interesting perception around the future of technology and the future of humans intertwining with one another, and I hope, as the mother of cyborgs, to really help people walk into the future with a mindfulness when it comes to tech, when it comes to relationships, and when it comes to caring for the land.
Pressure Systems is out via London-based Pink Lizard Music on April 29.
Catch Mother Cyborg at El Club with special guests MPeach, Britney Stoney, DJ Ripley, and Techno Poetics on Saturday, April 29; doors at 8 p.m.; 4114 Vernor Hwy., Detroit; elclubdetroit.com; $10 advance, $15 door.