Ok, we know it’s a bold statement, but if you’ve seen this Venezuelan music and multimedia artist’s aesthetic, the way she pushes boundaries and the quality of her work, you’ve got to draw some parallels. Like David Bowie in the 70s, Arca’s entre into the art world (it seems limiting to just call her a musician) has come on the cusp of great social change and an opening of minds towards different thoughts, aesthetics and consciousness. Like Bowie, she’s pushing at the edges of that opening, making it wider, more inclusive and, well, much better.
If you haven’t seen of heard of Arca yet, don’t worry; we’re about to get into it and we’ll also elucidate much more on why she’s as important as a Bowie, both artistically and for the good of humanity’s progress. Yes, it’s that real, and so is Arca. Hyper-real is the grammatically poor term that comes to mind, but with her goosebump-inducing shows, her stark and operatic early work and now with her groundbreaking intro-to-glitch Kick album series and her visually shocking and gorgeous video collabs with equally talented visual artists, Arca knows her vision and is putting it out there, lock stock y cañón de la pistola.
We’re up to kiCK iiiii now, by the way, which released in December along with Kicks iii and iiii. A full-Kick vinyl box set just dropped last month on her label XL Recordings’ website and sold out immediately, dammit, but that just shows the scope Arca already has, as does the massive response to her latest off-Kick video single, “Cayó,” which dropped on YouTube last month and has 130k views. We’ll show the video a bit later in the article as we want to ease readers in, however, and we’re also getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk origin story.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela as Alejandro Ghersi, later changed to Alejandra Ghersi Rodríguez once she transitioned. Also fun fact: in Venezuela, people choose as adults if they want to use their maternal last name in addition to the paternal, so Arca clearly also did this. During her transition and now post-transition, Arca’s pronouns are she/it/they. We’ll go with “she” for ease of writing but that choice for Arca symbolizes much more than being trans.
Arca’s family moved to Connecticut when she was three and then back to Caracas at age nine, and she credits these contrasting experiences in her early life with shaping her understanding of the world and her need to push back at it. Likely before she knew she was transgendered, Arca was trans-culture. Binary thinking does not work on any level for Arca, and it’s why her music would later become so powerful.
The then Alejandro showed early aptitude for music, taking piano lessons as a child and by 14 she was releasing music under the moniker Nuuro, with early praise from fellow Venezuelan musicians. Inspired by glitch early on, even in pop music, Arca attended NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music where she adopted her current pseudonym and was noticed almost instantly after a series of EPs on NYC label UNO and her Stretch series, which is similar in name and intention if not in sound to the Kick series.
Here’s where some readers may already technically know Arca, as it was at this time around 2012 when she caught the ear of Kanye West. Say what you want about West, but he knows good arrangements and production, and Arca’s landed on five of the songs on his 2013 Yeezus album. Arca also did consulting on production for the whole album. While she was releasing increasingly popular solo work like her groundbreaking A/V Mixtape performance &&&&& and her debut studio album Xen, Arca continued to collab with fellow groundbreakers FKA Twigs (she produced and co-wrote the entirety of Twigs’s EP2) and her own glitch pop hero, Bjork (co-producing Bjork’s ninth album Utopia). That’s just scratching the surface in terms of famous albums she’s worked on, by the way, so there. You know Arca already, and if you like any of the above-referenced artists, you also like her.
With Xen and her 2015 follow-up Mutant, Arca began making a name for herself in the experimental/EDM crossover world. In this formative period for her sound, glitch was really the name of Arca’s game. She also began to really develop her striking (near shocking), other-than-human and also somehow glitchy visual aesthetic. Arca credits visual artists Jesse Kanda and Frederick Heyman for helping her curate these looks as well as the stark visuals in her videos, starting with the almost all-glitch title track to Xen, directed by Kanda. Sorry for the age restriction here. We promise it’s worth it.
Video and specifically YouTube have been instrumental in expressing the pain and beauty of Arca’s sound and aesthetic journey to the world, and it’s where her parallels with David Bowie start to become obvious. Looking at the videos for “Vanity” and “Anoche” have a similar effect that the first visage of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” or “Life on Mars” videos had in the 70s. Wildly different, otherworldly, unapologetically herself while presenting awe-inspiring vulnerability she dares her audience to look away from (she knows they can’t), Arca’s seminal videos from Mutant aren’t just copies of Bowie’s legacy, they’re the next logical step in both musical and social development. Yes, it’s that big, and as of 2017 when these videos were made, Arca was just getting started.
It was around Mutant that the wider EDM world started to take notice of Arca’s solo work, resulting in an exquisitely produced (Jesse Kanda again) Boiler Room performance London in 2018. Done up completely differently than your average Boiler Room set with a runway and Kanda’s stark visuals, Arca in her transitional fashion phase sang her difficult vocal arrangements perfectly while again demonstrating a shocking level of vulnerability, now in person to the fans lucky enough to be there. It was “Anoche” and “Vanity” come to life and it was pivotal both in Arca’s career and in the electronic music world as a whole. After this performance, the likes of DJ Mag, Pitchfork and even Rolling Stone began to feature Arca. Then came Kick.
The Kick series began forming in 2020, with KiCk I released in June and saw Arca making a big switch in her aesthetic and fully owning her identity as a trans female (though she’s still quite mutable about that; ’tis folly to try to box Arca in with any category). She also came up with the “trans human” idea she’s now famous for, with the Kick album art, videos, and Arca’s own fashion reflecting that idea. A sort of pseudo-cyborg, half VR-half human, intersex image was cultivated in videos and performances, starting with the now infamous “Prada/Rakata” video (dir. Heyman), off KICK ii. With amazing art that can’t be denied and a surprisingly mellow reggaeton beat, tracks like “Prada/Rakata,” “Born Yesterday” featuring Sia (yes, that Sia) and “Afterwards,” which featured old pal Bjork singing the vocals from “Anoche” drew in a more pop-oriented audience while still exposing it to the wonders of glitch and experimental IDM.
Almost overnight, Arca’s popularity ballooned just before Kicks iii-iiiii dropped, with her Instagram followers going from just over 100k to over 400k in just the few weeks between the releases. Since those three Kicks released, Arca’s been everywhere from Rolling Stone again to the New York Times to Vogue. Now the fashion world’s got a hold of the message (she’s just done a new endorsement with Reebok, by the way), we know it’s only a matter of time before that talking, murderous billboard in the “Rakata” video is a reality, and it’s none too soon. The world needs an icon like Arca, and the timing couldn’t be better.
Pushing boundaries both in music and socially, making her own iconic status amidst uncertain social and moral identities, leading the charge for marginalized people and screaming at the norm until it conforms to her and not the other way around…sound familiar yet? The interesting thing and possibly the best parallel one can draw between Arca and David Bowie is how by simply being themselves and offering up gorgeous art, they’re changing the world. They make it look effortless to be so open, so vulnerable and so different. It’s a consciousness they bring that’s so desperately needed in the world, a balance.
Arca might actually even be a better musician technically than Bowie, and like the trailblazing icon, she also knows to surround herself with visionaries who can help her create this “transhuman” world that’s so needed right now. There’s a reason so many popular artists want to work with Arca, and it’s not just musical. One can only hope that if Bowie was still alive, these two would work together. It’s almost painful to think of the sort of work they could have done together. Suffice it to say, Bowie at the very least, likely would have approved.
Now, since we teased it, please enjoy (in an NSFW-friendly space), the latest video from Arca, for the single Cayó. Click the link in the box to watch or just go straight to her full YouTube channel for all the breathtaking videos. Her Spotify is also embedded below.