This book tells the story of club music across ten cities in Africa and Europe
Published by Spector Books, Ten Cities is an incredible compilation of text and imagery that investigates the “nocturnal practices” of clubbing, music and dance.
- Ayla Angelos
- 2 December 2020
Many of us are longing for nothing more than to be in a crowded, darkly lit venue, swaying closely to one another to the beat of a sound system. Because, quite frankly, the last time any of us went ‘out out’ and danced in a sweaty venue with a crowd of strangers feels like the bygone days of yesteryear.
Here to give you slice of nostalgia and to perhaps (partly) fill the hole of socially interacting with one another, is Ten Cities. A new publication from Spector Books, the hefty book tells the story of club music and cultures in 10 urban centres across Africa and Europe, a project that evolved over the course of 1960 to March 2020. With its functionally designed pages, conceived by designer Adriaan Van Leuven, Ten Cities looks beyond the typical signifiers and turns a focus on Nairobi, Cairo, Kyiv, Johannesburg, Berlin, Naples, Luanda, Lagos, Bristol and Lisbon. Comprising two essays per city, a playlist and a photo sequence, it’s an in-depth look into the musical history of club culture.
The idea to publish Ten Cities first arose ten years ago, while the team had been organising co-productions between musicians and producers from Nairobi and Berlin at the Goethe-Institut Nairobi. A fascination and a load full of research began, which soon evolved into building a much larger narrative. “Let’s try to speak about cities and their societies through the lens of music cultures,” says Johannes Hossfeld Etyang, one of the editors of Ten Cities on the topic of what drove the publication. “Let’s write music history in combination with political and urban history. Maybe we will see societies and cities in a clearer light if we look at them at night, and in particular at their sound spaces.”
Co-editing with Joyce Nyairo and Florian Sievers, the team looked to bring in a wide mix of writers and photographers, including Tilman Brembs, Anita Baumann, Beezer, Royce Bett, Giovanni Calemma, Martin Eberle, Mosa’ab Elshamy and many more, plus writers such as Rui Miguel Abreu, Vitalii Bard Bardetski, Vitor Belanciano, Tony Benjamin and Kateryna Dysa, among others. Upon doing so, they asked the Goethe-Institutes in various cities for contacts and, says Johannes, “in some cases, we travelled to the cities to do research and find the right people.” This meant they could build a network of 25 authors, “an amazing group” of cultural scientists, music journalists, club activists, musicologists, urbanists and historians. “They are both in the cities they write about, they live in them, or least have a long research relationship with the scene and city. This makes the book so multifaceted.”
Alongside this medley of voices, the team brought in Adriaan on the design – briefed to create the visual language for an already “enormous background,” he tells It’s Nice That. With an aim to design and present all ten cities equally, “as this is the purpose of the entire project”, Adriaan needed to work in a way that was exceptionally systematic. “If a well-known club capital such as Berlin, for example, had been the biggest chapter, that would have been inappropriate.” As such, he proceeded with a typographic system that fit every piece of text on the same number of pages; each text features three font sizes, two line-heights, two margins, and one or two columns. “By combining these different options, we could control the length of teach text and create important layout variations,” he says, “while still keeping a clear unity throughout the book.”
What’s more, Adriaan proposed the idea of keeping two separate flows of text and imagery running in parallel. “You could see it as two decks of cards,” he says. He continues to describe how they wanted to avoid a repetitive book structure – one that's like a “layered cake” – instead opting for a structure that's quite the opposite, alternating between 18 pages worth’ of text per essay and the imagery, “like layers of chocolate and pastry.” While drafting the pages, Adriaan searched for script typefaces, rococo ornaments and marblings, going against the usual underground aesthetics found within the music scene. Yet the result was very much a “pale imitation of punk graphics”, he says, something that appeared fake. So to combat this, he concluded with function and simplicity, putting the content out there in the most logical and clearest form.
Interested in the many personalities collating within Ten Cities pages, Adriaan cites the stories gathered from Africa and Europe as a “reversed Big Bang – elements from the world are brought into one point”. Working in a manner of collage, Adriaan found the process stimulating. “I’m sure it will trigger readers to take an active position when going through the book,” he says, provoking the audience to “definitely” search for tracks on YouTube, to Google certain events and go deeper into the content.
Florian, on the other hand, hopes the reader will look at these “nocturnal practices” of clubbing and notice its differences in music and dance, as well as its many similarities. “The latter, because everywhere humans are just humans, and to every human the night is a special time of imagination, open possibilities and the chance to try to be somebody else,” Florian concludes. “Plus, everywhere people are looking for distraction from their everyday life; people want to get in touch with other people, people want to enjoy themselves.”
Ten Cities is available at Spector Books.
Goethe-Institut: Ten Cities, published by Spector Books (Copyright © Spector Books, 2020)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.