I don’t often take note of federal holidays, especially when I’m not let off work, but Martin Luther King Jr. Day is perhaps the most important one in American history. It’s a modern holiday celebrating the life of a man whose passion for justice and equality changed the shape of our country undeniably for the better.
Unlike our other named holidays, nodding to historical figures with dubious or downright depressing impacts – can we end Columbus day already? – this one is an unquestionably good thing. King is one of the truest heroes my nation has ever produced. Recent world-shaking events have shown how vital his lessons continue to be.
Because this is a music site, I feel like sharing my favorite song that samples King’s words. This tune takes the fiery energy from his final speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” and wrings every ounce of suffering from it. This is a harrowing but strangely soothing epic. It’s called Motorik Life (DJ Sprinkles’ Mountain of Despair):
DJ Sprinkles, aka god-tier electronic artist and transgender activist Terre Thaemlitz, crafts some of the most wrenchingly personal dance music ever made. Even her remixes, like the above track from a two-CD set of remixes called Queerifications & Ruins, evoke the deepest sense of empathy and true blue sadness. Any sense of uplift comes from the triumphant construction of the music itself, a bulwark against the hurt that Thaemlitz painstakingly draws outward into the light.
This song in particular draws a connection between the words of Dr. King and the hardships facing those in the LGBTQ+ community today, making clear the through-line of human rights battles throughout time. Wrapped up in the cascading piano tones and hip-shuffled percussion, the struggle is defined and realized as an eternal one, a spectrum running through our lives that must never be forgotten or ignored. In that way, although repurposing the civil rights leader’s words, Thaemlitz breathes new, urgent life into the sentiment. King’s words separate and float untethered, highlighting the sharpest pieces: “from every mountaintop.. despair, despair, despair.”
It’s undeniably tense stuff, more gut-wrenching than dance music usually has any right to be. But in this case, it’s an essential listen. Using the dance format allows for a deeper emotional impact, letting the listener in on the groove before slipping in heavy, uncomfortable ideas. After all, it was Thaemlitz herself who said, “The house nation likes to pretend that clubs are an oasis from suffering… but suffering is in here, with us.”
Instead of nodding to the dustbin of history, I choose to celebrate King in my everyday life, being the best ally I can be to friends and strangers in every way possible. I also celebrate his message everywhere it appears in art. In that light, I hope this message resonates with someone reading now.
You can purchase the Queerifications & Ruins set right from Comatonse Recordings, the label run by Thaemlitz herself. It’s possibly the most densely philosophical set of dance music you’ll ever hear.