A Question of Identity
Posed by NYMA and Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström
Who are you? What is your identity? Where is the point where everything exists? Is there a third gender? How do you pronounce »anonymity«? This, and more, is discussed by Berlin producer NYMA and Profet’s Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström in an identity-seeking interview.
Photo by Marie Streikt
Berlin is a proven haven for producers of electronic music, inviting in its openness and inspiring in its diversity. One of the Berlin residents who gives us interesting work is NYMA, whose new record »XYXX«, featuring vocalist Noisy Vibration, closes in on the subject of personality and identity. NYMA himself shows off a warm and inviting character when we speak over a video call, and keeps his mind open to every question I throw at him, no matter how near or far from the subject it may land.
NYMA and Noisy Vibration are both covered in burkas on the cover of »XYXX«, each revealing one eye to the spectator. The album very much breathes Berlin, but I start our conversation by asking whether the cover art, or any other feature of the record, can be traced back to NYMA’s Iranian heritage.
- You grew up in Berlin, would you say that the album has something of Teheran in it or is it just Berlin?
- I think because I’m from Iran originally, it always resonates in that frequency but I wouldn’t say it’s an oriental album. I would say it’s more influenced by the urban kind of feel, and when you live in Berlin it’s all melting in it. All the influences come together. The artwork with the burka has no religious touch, or shouldn’t have, and it has nothing to do with Iran or the political situation there. The idea with that is a piece of fabric that covers you, and that we actually don’t know each other. It’s about anonymity. The album’s name is »XYXX«, which stands for the chromosomes of the female and male. It’s about personality, or let’s say identity.
- Is it a comment on people being too anonymous?
- Yes, in the end, we don’t know each other. Even if you think you know someone very well, you really don’t know them. It’s also about the fact that you were born as a man or as a woman, but how you feel inside is always an interesting topic. Maybe you feel more female, maybe you feel more male. People say you are this and that, but as soon as you put something on, like the burka, you give yourself an identity and a direction gender-wise. Also personality-wise, if I don’t see your eyes and if I don’t see your mouth it’s really hard for me to grasp who you are. Growing up in Berlin, looking different than a normal German guy, that was always an interesting topic to me: Who are you? What is your identity?
»You’re a man, I’m a man but I’m also a woman and you’re a woman«
NYMA’s questions are exciting. Who am I? What is my identity? I think much of my identity is, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder. An identity is crafted only in relation, or reflection, of other identities – what people think of each other. I therefore build my personality, unknowingly depending on thoughts that aren’t my own. My choices and actions are always affected by what their consequences will be. Whether I care about those consequences or not is of no importance, either or it will be the foundation of who I am.
Whenever I hear the question »Who are you?« in a philosophical context, I think of a scene in the horrible film »Anger Management« starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler. Nicholson, playing Sandler’s therapist, asks his patient this question and is not pleased when Sandler starts listing his interests, career achievements and personal traits as an answer. Good old Jackie calls Adam’s explanation of who he is incorrect, and the scene ends in Sandler’s outrage before the query is properly answered. This scene has left me wondering, how do you tell someone who you truly are? Finally, I can answer Nicholson’s question: I can’t say who I really am, because that doesn’t only depend on me.
NYMA’s recollection of growing up in Germany, not looking like everyone else, reminds me of a current topic being brought up in my part of the world at the moment.
- In Sweden right now, there is a movement called No Stranger. I don’t know if it’s an international thing, have you heard about it?
- No, tell me about it.
- It’s similar to the Me Too campaign but for Swedes with different ethnic backgrounds. Even though Sweden as a whole sees itself as a very accepting nation, these people still are being treated differently and unjustly because of that background. That can be linked to some of the questions that you’re raising, like who you are and what your identity is if you look different from someone else.
- I have to mention that I don’t have that feeling here in Germany. I’ve never had a feeling of a disadvantage.
- That’s good. You mentioned the chromosomes earlier, and in Sweden there is also a discussion of the third gender. Is that going on in Germany?
- The third gender, what is that for you? Just to define it better.
- If you can’t really apply yourself to either the male gender or the female gender, if you feel somewhere in between.
The idea of the third gender has existed for years in Sweden, where its subjective pronoun is »hen« which is a separate middle point between the Swedish word for »him« (»han«) and »her« (»hon«). NYMA’s curiosity allows me to think that there is no equivalent in the German language, or in Germany either for that matter. But, what do I know? Berlin is a very progressive place, and I am certain that there must be at least a couple of »hens« in the city.
NYMA, photographed by Marie Streikt
On the back cover of NYMA’s »XYXX«, there is a sign that stands for infinity (you probably know it, it looks like an 8). The point where the infinite lines cross is something that NYMA can relate to the topic of the third gender. He poses a rhetorical question about the matter.
- Where is that moment where everything is? Where everything is at the same time? Maybe that’s the third gender. You’re a man, I’m a man but I’m also a woman and you’re a woman. We’re actually both everything at the same time. When you inhale and exhale, in between the inhalation and the exhalation there’s a spot where everything is. That’s the idea of what you call a third gender. There is not only yin and yang and the game of it, there is also a third option created through this game or many other dimensions.
- We’ve all been raised with the thought of the definite opposites, like female or male being the only definitions of a person.
- It’s a definition to make life easier, because if you take the infinite possibilities and choices, who could handle that much data? But, that’s how it should be actually. We should see things more individually. Generalizing people is a system that we feel is an old consciousness. Especially in bigger cities, you can’t nail down people because of what they do or what they look like, it’s so old fashioned.
I decide to further the conversation on the subject of anonymity (»anonymity« is a word that both me and NYMA have difficulties pronouncing, with me having a Swedish accent and him a German one). NYMA speaks of what happens when you cover yourself, like he does do on the cover of »XYXX«. He thinks that it clouds the identity of a person, embracing the freedom of not being defined. As an artist, he is not very definable, because there is a stroke of intriguingly mystic anonymity that surrounds him, at least before I get to speak to him. I always try hard to be as personal and identifiable as I possibly can, the exact opposite of anonymity. A creative critic could call it attention seeking or desperate attempts on fame, and they would be absolutely correct in both assumptions. As a form of counterpart to my view on my anonymity, I am interested in how NYMA perceives his visibility as a performer.
- In a way, I’m present but then on the other hand I’m not, he says. Every artist wants to be seen and recognized. I’m not an underground person who says »I don’t want to show my face« or »I don’t want to be present«. I use the social media tools just like anyone else. You can hide yourself, and if I would like to do that, we wouldn’t be doing this interview right now.
Identity and anonymity is open for re-definition at all times. My idea of NYMA as somewhat mystical was changed by his answer above, and in a way also his identity. My identity will be interpreted by the readers of this article, and so will NYMA’s. There is a possibility that we will be seen in a different light than we see ourselves, and whatever we do we change with the way we are seen.
»XYXX« is out now on NYMA's own label ITS ALL IN YOU.February 22 2017
Read another interview on Profet:
»In Lack Thereof, Hated and Loathed: An Interview with Louisahhh«