Interview: Sound Locking With Katie Gately

27 Oct 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

The atmospheric sounds of a dentist's office are comparable to the metallicity and searing audio mutations of Katie Gately's work. Her new movement, "Pivot," out on Fat Cat October 27th as a part of the Split 12" Series, displays the usual Gately melodies which lead listeners to unexpected places while being followed by surreal lyrics and indiscernible buzzing that originated with Gately singing into her at home studio microphone. Around eight minutes into the track, we are left alone to some dissonant timpani-sounding drum being struck at a rate that reminds me of the ticking of a giant universal clock, before medieval vocal cadence enters, followed by all kinds of silly blaring horns and rhythmic banter. Just let it suck you in.

Since the FC Split 12" Series focuses on emerging artists, and because we've been interested in Katie's style for some years, I felt that this elevation would be a great opportunity to sit down with the artist and pick her brain. As it turns out, Katie is a friendly, funny, and exceedinly cunning individual. Here's our conversation held via Skype chat.

Read more →

We really need to get you to Berlin for CTM or something!

Oh yeah CTM invited me last year! They are so nice but I'm not a performer, more a studio person. I really aspire to be in the studio twenty hours a day!

Are you in the studio right now?

Yeah I am at home, just working around the clock on some music as I have a week off from more film editing [and bill] paying duties.

It must feel good, though, to do artistic clockwork.

Yes, when it is going well! most of what I spend time on though is the technical tweaking which isn't very artistic but it's good to get in those 10,000 hours!

Do you always decline playing live?

Yeah I've declined to play for everyone - my focus is the studio. After being at USC, the most important thing I learned was to identify my goals and stick to them and not get distracted even if there is pressure to. Does that make sense? I have a few records that are so time-consuming to make and with no budget and no help. All I have is my own slave labor to push myself along!

That does make sense, and I feel like it's a very self-respecting rule to have with oneself.

I listen to a lot of Aretha Franklin.

And this is where the whole "I feel like a cave dweller" bit comes from, right?

The cave part blows…so now I try on/off weeks instead of months at a time. Just dig in like crazy for a few solid days and then retreat a bit (get some sun!).

Sun is very important, and those shadows in the cave can start to get freaky! The world of seeing live music is so poignantly different than private listening. Similarly, the act of performing music really has nothing to do with the act of writing and tinkering with music in the private sphere, in the studio, because the latter doesn't involve performing. People still think the ultimate music experience has to be a live one. What do you think? And do you have any feelings about performance in general?

Yeah I completely agree. Performance blows me away but I also think of it as using a different part of the brain. I am more prone to listen to records (I cannot afford to see live music or movies or anything these days….loans!) Since I trained in film….I'm also just prone to think of sound as fixed and "locked." Literally, when you finish editing you say "picture lock" and "sound lock." So I draft and draft and edit and edit and do pass after pass until I'm done. Then, I honestly never want to hear my music again! I spent insane amount of time hearing it loop and loop as I mix!

Oh interesting! That's how a lot of people feel about writing, and once they submit/publish, they don't want to see it again, or maybe they're even scared to read it because they're brain will go back into editing mode or something. I mean that's how writing my thesis was for me. I'm trying to reengage with it, but I still can't get passed page three of the introduction.

Yes! I've always felt that what I'm actually doing is writing. Or editing in the same way a writer self-edits. Just because there are no instruments. Watching someone play an instrument is totally beautiful and mysterious to me. It's obviously the normal/sane way to make music, but I just can't play anything beside the computer and assortment of weird plug-ins. I have a friend doing her PhD right now and we find millions of parallels between trying to structure a record and writing a huge essay like a dissertation. It's a nightmare! But a self-inflicted joyous and indulgent one totally worth the effort.

So you said that, for you, sound is a rather fixed medium, one that you lock and save. Does that rule out other observations about sound being as fluent as water, spooky, and fleeting?

No! I don't rule out anything! I've just found this one way of making music to be right for me as a solo producer. I know it will morph and change. It's just where I'm at now, still a bit of a beginner with making tunes after all.

The process is still fluent, but the process at this point entails that the sounds you record and edit are to be contained and perceived as fixed? That's a weird half question.

Yeah, coming up with ideas is fluent - anything goes – then when I finish a song, because I make everything via editing techniques (no midi controller, no real-time singing but heavily processed voice-as-effect) it's just literally beyond me how I'd perform this kind of stuff! My computer crashes all the time because of the CPU i'm hogging to process this way you know? Imagine me live. I'd need three computers and like ten people helping me! it's totally worth exploring for sure….it's just that i have zero time! I am trying to work in film and make records and it's already like 90 hrs of work a week.

I totally just had an image of that being your live set. It'd be so trippy omg – instead of backing musicians you'd have a back up tech support choir moving around you while you sing and splice the real-time.

I just hope I live until I'm really old so I can do everything I want to do. That's my constant anxiety. Like 'please don't let me get the first case of Ebola in LA so I can release these six songs first. Then give me Ebola! I don't care!'

Aww you'll be fine! I want to back up again to something you just said – you feel like a writer though you're a producer. Virginia Woolf, who was a massive music listener, who took listening and representations of listening to a new level, famously wrote that she "pens to a rhythm," and that she felt like her novels were movements of music. Have you ever come away with any inspirations from reading VW, and do you think that crossing media (writing fiction like it's music, producing music like it's fiction or polemical), is especially important nowadays?

I remember falling in love with VW at a very young age and then well, I found out she killed herself (alongside a disturbing number of the people I've found so moving!). I wrote much more as a kid than music...I didn't make music at all. Reading was such a huge part of my childhood. Sometimes I think it's those earlier memories than most seeped into my mind and changed me – that awe at someone building an independent universe and just with text and structure!

So awesome, yes. Microcosmic construction.

Yeah I liked that she would spend obsessive amounts of time on a single sentence. I relate to that deeply. It's not even an aspiration for getting something "right" for the reader but just getting it right in the sense that it perfectly communicates something specific about how you feel. I don't know if there is even a difference. Her and Kafka and Herman Hesse were my favorites. Also, duh, Nancy Drew books. I read 100 Nancy Drew books. She was a cute little role model. I'm pretty sure all those books were ghost written and formulaic to a T but comforting for a little kid.

Holy smokes there totally is! Curating how you want your work to be for yourself is utterly different than making things as clear and stiff as possible for faceless readers. VW wrote about that, too. Do you have any thoughts on the popularity of synaesthesia/intermedialty in art nowadays?

Gosh I don't know much about that – do you mean the self-diagnosis of it? Or an intentional practice of bringing this into artwork and music?

I guess more diagnosis, and seeing it in other artworks too – what has accelerated its popularity?

Haha, I don't know. Self-obsession? There are a lot of gluten allergies in LA. I tend to veer away from diagnosis and categories just as a knee-jerk bias.

Labels, categories, contagions.

Yeah they're so comforting but often just not even remotely accurate. My brother the other day asked how I'd describe my music and I said 'I have no clue. listen to it and decide for yourself. I'm just as likely as anyone else to totally describe it incorrectly!' It's not easy describing things. Thus, this is why I did become a writer!

That anecdote reminds me again of how superficial the uses of categorizing are – it's just for short answers and explanations.

As long as someone doesn't compare me to Lil Wayne or something I'm like 'oh I can see how that description makes sense' – ha! it's incredibly hard to talk about abstract art (i.e. music and sound are literally invisible to the eyes!)

Exactly! That brings me to the next question: I usually like to ask artists what their aural, as opposed to musical, influences are; but, since your work is already quite abstract, broken, and heavily coded, I want to ask what your musical influences are, as they are not very evident in the music. Besides Aretha Franklin.

[At this point we go off on a long tangent about sonic torture and Satan and Katie doesn’t end up responding to this generic question which I respect]

Hey how was the dentist?

Oh, great. I wish I could go every day. The dentist is like fun to me. I wish I could afford weekly bone scraping and feel newborn every day.

You like the sounds of the facility? Have you ever had an MRI?

Yes i love the sounds! Servos are beautiful. I have had an MRI and I was furious nobody warned me how incredible it sounded because I did not have a recorder with me! One of my biggest sound regrets and sadnesses. I guess will have to get injured again soon.

Haha, 'sound regrets.'

I try to be zen about it like 'don't become attached to things. it's all good' but I am essentially lying to myself when I do this. Just hard to carry a recorder at every moment.

Are you attached to sounds? Love at first listen?

Yes for sure. Some get made out of nothing, they start dull and then surprise me (it is so exciting when it happens). Others are like heart-stopping and just just draw-dropping out of the gate. And then there are childhood sounds which have a whole other comfort and association.

Can you give me an example of a childhood sound?

Oh damn, I walked right into that one! Let's see…well the sound of my childhood bathtub when you turn it on. It makes this crazy hyena wailing sound because the pipes are from like the 1800s or maybe even earlier! Also we owned a really old stool…my parents furniture growing up was like very very creaky and old! And we had a stool that when you stood up…the sound of it scraping against the wood floor was almost like a whale bellowing in pain or something. So dramatic! Especially with reverb.

So childhood sounds that remind us of wildlife, all contained within the walls your childhood home?

Yeah things that feel too exceptional to be from the mouth of something so mundane! Sort of teaches you to not judge a books by its cover!

One more thing super duper important: Do you know your astrology at all?

I don't at all! I am a Cancer though, which always sounded like such a bummer. But crabs are cute (and sassy!). 

***

Fat Cat Split 12" Series #23 with Katie Gately and Tlaotlon is out now and you can order it here.

Recap: Decibel 2014

15 Oct 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

While studying Sadie Plant's brilliant Zeroes + Ones, I came across her interpretation of how net programming and social media are rearranging our uses for hierarchical structures. Plant establishes that hypertext is a non-linear, weaved form of footnoting. By surfing the net and following hyperlinks, one does not abandon a main text but instead is presented a macrocosmic idea and its backing details in a more spiraling way. Such easy-access cross-referencing has begun to lessen our thinking rectangularly, limited to the edges of the page.

Hypertext programs and the Net are webs of footnotes without central points, organizing principles, hierarchies.... Such complex patterns of cross-referencing have become increasingly possible, and also crucial to dealing with the floods of data which have burst the banks of traditional modes of arranging and retrieving information and are now leaking through the covers of articles and books, seeping past the boundaries of the old disciplines, overflowing all the classifications and orders of libraries, schools, and universities (Plant 10).

If hypertext is another form of narrational text and editing protocol, it is safe to say that telling the same story through a different lens, or sending the same information through a different grid, is indeed informative as well as expansive. Undoing the straight and narrow, single-strand perception as the standard doesn't only benefit our experiences as perceptual beings; it also speaks to the circularity and mysticism radiating off of the internet, which is being absorbed by this eager stage of cultural history.

Read more →

This year's Seattle Decibel Festival incidentally offered such evolved and altered referential structure. The Experience Music Project (EMP), located at the Seattle Center, directly below, or next to, the Space Needle, served as the main ticketing and showcase hub. Arriving at the EMP and remembering the time I had been there before, I started recollecting the available exhibitions in the museum, contemplating how neat it is to have so much live, innovative, and passionate electronic music within the corridors of a museum incidentally focused on rock music.

The reason for emphasis on rock music and guitar worship is quite simply due to the non-profit museum's dedication to popular culture. Unanimously, guitars have played a huge role in shaping said culture. The museum also houses a notable sci-fi exhibit, in which we find reverent Dr. Who props and Sean Young's neo-gothic dress from her entrance as Rachel in Blade Runner. Since Star Wars, fantasy and sci-fi genres and styles have immersed themselves somewhat sustainably into the mainstream; but a larger part of sci-fi will always lie out on the outer limits, for it must have that element of unknown in order to generate dreams, or fantasy, of what will be.

Electronic music, gear tinkering, and the mystical futurism evoked by these hyper-creative soundscapes and oftentimes non-linear song structures, are the perfect links for tying together celebrating innovation in music and sci-fi mentality. In other words, housing dB primarily at the EMP makes complete and utter sense. The EMP acts as a central point of dB but without any feeling of singularity. As an added bonus, festival pass holders were granted access to the museum exhibitions during daytime hours.

While some found the fortress confusing and perpetuating of a fragmented feeling, perhaps due to our having to exit the building and walk around to a different entrance in order to access the other stage, such a requirement fascilitated getting some air, readjusting, running into friends, and glancing up at the shimmering, bulging fortress. The architecture of the museum, impressive and provocative, complements forward-thinking electronic aesthetic, which helps create a cohesive visual + audible experience that can override fragmented perception.

I was curious about how the dB team ended up wanting to use the museum has a main hub, so I got in touch with the EMP's Audience Development Programs Manager Michael Stephens, who offered the following statement:

The EMP and Decibel partnership aligned perfectly with the mission of EMP - EMP serves as a gateway museum, reaching multigenerational audiences through our collections, exhibitions, and educational programs, using interactive technologies to engage and empower our visitors. At EMP, artists, audiences and ideas converge, bringing understanding, interpretation, and scholarship to the popular culture of our time. Decibel fit perfectly within that and we look forward to a continued partnership with the festival and the community.

Something that is difficult about dB, and something that I've noticed festival regulars joking about, is dB's incongruent, overlapping schedule. There's loads of good stuff, showcases featuring personal favorites as well as artists that peak new interest, but no possible way to see everything. Schedule overlapping typically demands that we zoom around Capitol Hil and Bell Town venues via taxi, foot, or bus. It's as if a dB tradition, which is now upgraded. Having a main hub with several stages and superlative sound execution (I mean, really, one of the best I've ever experienced) ensures that festival-goers at least catch parts - yes, perhaps fragments - of acts that are playing at the same time, as one can simply swing around the building as opposed to wait for an Uber taxi and/or walk to the other venue. Again, this creates a more accommodating and correlational experience, although this year there were still plenty of performances at venues such as Re-Bar, The Crocodile, and the Triple Door, all still within a downtown reach.

[Strength] of connection derives from the partial overlapping of many different strands of connected-ness across cases rather than from any single strand running through large numbers of cases... (Plant 11).

Because it is a festival, and due to the overlapping nature of this specific one, the dB experience is already not very linear. All the showcases, happening more or less simultaneously, appeal to widely varying music lovers and philanthropists. I feel that, looking at the dB festival as such - like a wheel turning on top of other wheels, adorned with hyperlinks and gateways - reinforces its textuality and referentiality. Such conception also solidifies the festival as unique, and the EMP as a partnered main hub helps this festival's uniqueness become a strength, a multi-stranded, dense communal experience.

Altogether, dB this year had a welcoming, different, almost sleek feel to it. 'Sleek' maybe comes to mind just because of the texture of the outside of the EMP; nonetheless, I feel that the partnership between the dB team and the EMP was a very smart and graceful gesture toward both Seattle and dB communities. The action of primarily operating out of the EMP was a means of doing the same old thing but in a different way, hyperlinking events that are taking place simultaneously in the same building or at least, so to speak, just a click away.

In case you can't dig on my massive analogy, here's a linear and hierarchized list of personal highlights:

1. Kangding Ray
Gorgeous, wavering light show with driven, coherent dance beats: Kangding Ray was exceptional, and likewise a very welcomed taste of Berlin ambient techno that doesn't live under the banner of a specific club or crew. It's real artistry in the guise of minimal techno, reveling in the complex labor of blaring emotionality through restraining, gray machinery. David Letellier's latest album, Solens Arc, is highly recommended, and out on Raster-Noton.

2. Cherushii (played in town with Golden Donna festival week but unaffiliated with the festival. Speaking of overlapping...)
I went to see Cherushii at Seattle's small clothing shop and DIY concert space Cairo, and it blew my mind. I've seen Cherushii aka Chelsea Faith several times at this point, and I've even had the pleasure of playing alongside her at the NFOP event in August: this set blew my mind. It was focused, lush, full of new sounds, and demonstrative of Faith's unlimited talent. Looking forward to her forthcoming releases on 100% Silk.

3. Sassmouth
After some arsenide broke out at a Chicago regional airport, Sassmouth made it safely to Seattle's Re-Bar on Sunday night and her set blew pretty much everyone away. The stars were right. This glorious celebration wasn't just because it was the last night of the festival, or because the vibe in Re-Bar after Nordic Soul's set was completely radiant: it was because she authoritatively spun pure house at perfect tempo for hours. What more can I say?

4. Braids
Admittedly, it's taken me a while to fully get on the Braids bandwagon. After seeing them a second time and letting my mind grasp their style, I am completely enamored. Their performance was dense, beautiful, and spellbinding, and left the devoted audience speechless. They announced that they are "working very hard" on new material and played some of it. I can't wait to hear the new album when it is complete, or, better yet, at least see them live again.

5. Loscil
I've listened to Ghostly+Kranky icon Loscil for years and years, and thanks to this year's dB, I've finally experienced that world of ambient sound live. The visuals performed by were perfect, and the set quite simply spoke directly to my insatiable appetite for pad.

6. ASC
James Clements aka ASC's performance was a proud part of the Silent Season showcase. It was a calming, meandering, and slightly aberrational set. His latest Truth Be Told is undoubtedly one of my favorite albums of 2014, so why do I say abberational? The showcase was moved from its original assignment to the EMP Level 3, which is more of a dance space. Sitting on the floor, listening to ASC, and watching crystal clear images of the moon over northerly boreal landscapes hardly fit the Friday night festival head space. Nonetheless, I appreciate the mismatching mostly because it sparked contemplation over how to better experience ambient music, which rouses very private emotions, in a public space. Furthermore, I love paradox.

FKA twigs: Against a Musical Vocabulary of Phallocentrism

29 Sep 2014 — Jennie Freeburg

As a girl, we sat along the wall under the barre and played a back scratching game in between ballet class: inscribing words, letter by letter, on a back while we simultaneously absorbed and read the letters being pressed into our own. My younger sister, grown now and still dancing, once conspiratorially confessed to me that the feeling of letters on her back and shoulders often created a line of sensation down there.

Dancers are acutely attuned to how down there is bound up with a host of sensations and processes— sinewy ligaments transmitting messages through body, mind and space. Moving is thinking is feeling is speaking.

Read more →

I dance feelings like they’re spoken

How does it feel to have me thinking about you?

The artist FKA twigs—Tahliah Barnett, her nickname bestowed by her body, “twigs” for her cracking joints—was the daughter of a dancer and grew up in Gloucestershire taking ballet and attending Catholic school. She has recently released her first full-length album to general acclaim and another few consensuses: She is mysterious. Her music is sexy. She is (alt-)R&B, whether she likes it or not.

A few matters not so agreed upon or even addressed: What does it mean for music to be about sex? To be sex as one review declared? How might that meaning be different for a woman? For a dancer?

The Internet informs us that sex is about the right rhythm. Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” And a recent study shows that music with heavy bass makes us feel powerful because we associate power with men’s deep voices. Instead of male ejaculation, twigs’ music is about sex and power in a musical and lyrical language centered on female pleasure. This vocabulary, and the very concept of female pleasure, is somewhat of a befuddlement to popular culture and its critics.

General reaction to this disorientation has been to circumscribe the music and maker within reductive genre borders and comparisons—R&B and trip-hop, Aaliyah and Björk—and when those fall short, to declare twigs herself as cultivating a sense of mystery, likely for marketing purposes. Her songs are often called contradictory and she is accused of deliberate misreadings—by those for whom trust and sex, sexual appeasement and knowing that you can count on your lover, are separate things. Conversely, female listeners likely understand those connections and cannot help but recognize in the ways that blood, ripping someone open, and sex are not contradictory or easily separated in “Two Weeks”.

Twigs (despite her mysterious ways) has spoken out on the more insidious aspects of genre labels:

When I first released music and no one knew what I looked like, I would read comments like: “I've never heard anything like this before, it's not in a genre.” And then my picture came out six months later, now she's an R&B singer.

Certainly categorization can have its utility, but genre and sub-genre designations have not only replaced substantial criticism to the detriment of general music knowledge and listening abilities, they have also been doled out and defended with a zeal that uncomfortably approaches colonial and eugenic impulses. A musician is only as good as her lineage. The talk of twigs as mysterious and sexy can sound like a thinly veiled way of calling her exotic, further reducing her to an offensive cliché instead of a distinct artist worth being judged by her art.

When twigs points out other influences that might be getting more attention if she were white and blond—church hymns, classical music and opera—and repeatedly implores us to “talk about the actual music,” The Guardian’s Ben Beaumont-Thomas describes her demeanor “as if I've asked her to take the restaurant's bins out.” Seemingly unwilling to accept that assumptions based on race are offensive and can lurk in unexpected places like convenient genre labels, he mollifies an irrational pop starlet: “In an attempt to placate her, I ask if she feels singular.” She may feel singular, but we know what sub-genre she really is.

LP1 (even the album titles—EP1, EP2, LP1—ask us to focus on the content and not the label) opens with a hymn. The melodic and harmonic intervals hark back to Gregorian chant and medieval counterpoint, but where hymns are straightforward and driving always homeward, “Preface” loops back upon itself. Choirboy vocals swirl around the cathedral dome and introduce various imposed rhythms and sounds that add to the dizziness—at times aligning with the melody, other times ever-so-slightly out of sync. The church pipe organ one would expect to accompany the hymn appears instead on the next track (and an even more traditional hymn structure and lyrics come later in the album, on the song "Closer"). It is an appropriate introduction for the sounds to follow.

“I love another, and thus I hate myself,” a line in “Preface” is from Sir Thomas Wyatt’s sonnet which describes seemingly contradictory states as not just coexisting within the poet, but also causing the other. I love another and thus I hate myself. They are not contradictory, they are inseparable.

“Preface” opens with a technique of percussive vocal staccatos that are employed elsewhere on LP1 as well as on both of the EPs. This motif technically and symbolically calls attention to the relation between rhythm and melody, between the individual notes that connect to form musical ideas. It calls to mind “Hocket” by Meredith Monk where two singers sustain the eponymous musical technique of splitting a single melody line note by note. Elsewhere, like on “Water Me” and “Weak Spot” off twigs’ first two EPs, her vocal staccatos come closer to the more computerized “ha ha ha ha” of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”. All of these works address the ways music and people come together, the connections formed, and what can come in the spaces between.

Discussion of FKA twigs’ music cannot ignore that she is writing about sex more directly, effectively and consistently than any popular music artist of the last few decades (other than Prince). Twigs would likely agree with Wilde that everything is about sex. As such, everything cannot be expressed with just words. Discussion of sexuality in her music should therefore not be reduced to only lyrical content. Rhythm, movement, melody and lyrics interact to create the overlapping arcs of desire, pain, trust, power, loss and anger that create erotic space. This is music for when the lights are out, indeed, but if we trust her, we can do it with the lights on and “it” is so much more than fucking.

Twigs brings the body into her music through rhythm, and she knows that to do so masterfully is to create much more than a beat one can dance to. Oftentimes it is the absence of such a beat that gets her message across: “Hide” is an unraveling tango of absence—of space—where the metronomic percussion becomes subsumed and slowed in the course of the song, disorienting and separating from the melodic rhythm and accompanying guitar. The beats wind down as twigs finds satisfaction elsewhere: “I found another way / To caress my day.”

The negotiation of multiple contrasting and/or ambiguous rhythms is at the heart of twigs’ work. This is the language of interplay between bodies, thoughts and one another (not just where you bump and grind it). The best composers for dance are the ones who understand this language. In a scene from the ballet Petrushka by Stravinsky the ballerina is performing a waltz; when her would-be paramour joins in, their incompatibility is apparent by his clunky insistence on dancing to a slow duple meter against her triple waltz.

Compare this to “Breathe” from EP1. The rhythms here convey not just divergence but also the struggle to regain synchronicity. Twigs protests, “All I see is the reflection of who you are not,” the melody races to try to catch the drumbeats until she comes to focus on the unconscious rhythm of breathing, “I breathe easily in your arms.” The music slows and the beat lets up for a moment as she tries to gather the rhythms together: “Just breathe / Breathe in / Just breathe / Breathe in.”

These complexities and nuances of rhythm haven’t been mined to such depths in pop music since Radiohead. Björk too uses rhythm to express emotion and states of being. Twigs’ rhythms add a distinct awareness of the body and intimate relationships that is decidedly feminine. She is knowledgeable and wary of how one’s personal rhythms can be overtaken by seemingly more powerful, deeper voices: “Your love / Made my heart go boom / So I might lose myself in you”. But she is also aware of how one can learn to incorporate those opposing forces within oneself: the expansive gesture of dance counted “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,” and the mathematical motion of music, “one, two, three, four” (or even, “one-e-and-a-two-e-and-a…”) alongside the linguistic common meter of hymn, the iambs and anapests of speech.

One of twigs’ most powerful and stimulating (erotically, intellectually, viscerally) tracks is “Two Weeks”. The song is a major convergence of rhythmic, harmonic and emotional elements. Lyrically, twigs is at her most explicitly desirous and commanding, and yet music and lyrics together make it clear that her lover is already gone—there are no disparate rhythms to gather, the loss is clear and acute. Beyond the math and theory of rhythm and harmonies, there is something inexplicable at work. It has something to do with the particular sharp physical desire felt in times of loss and the ecstasy of a sorrow that reaches full expression.

The electronic vibrato of keyboards in “Two Weeks” gradually swell and abate (in a way that recalls the first movement of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3), but the song doesn’t wait for abatement before it ends—as twigs' songs often do—seemingly unfinished. While this has proven noteworthy in pop music, it is less remarkable in the realm of female desire.

“Kicks” directly acknowledges the inherent difference in male and female approaches to, and definitions of, pleasure. Common interpretation of the end of LP1 finds twigs alone “giving up and having a wank”. But there is so much more happening here than simply an ode to masturbation. By the close of her album, we know twigs better than to believe she needs to “take your lead” in order to learn how to get herself off. She is experimenting with more than mechanics. No longer feeling for someone else, no longer waiting, she finds her rhythm in accepting absence and asking, “What do I do when you’re not here?” Until now, sex involved another person—even just their absence. It accommodated multiple rhythms and spaces. But here, to go her “own damn way” and “get her kicks like you” is simply to touch, to define getting her kicks as just that, separate from the ambiguous unfinished stuff of life.

Twigs’ voice is often described as airy and delicate, even too pretty (apparently vocal as well as physical beauty distracts from what a woman is saying). Her range is impressive and, as is often the case with sopranos, much is lost in the compressed digital translation. To hear her live is to understand the presence and force of a controlled, impeccably pitched soprano that resonates through the concert space, down through your toes, leaving goose bumps in its wake. That’s sex. That’s power.

 

Preview: The DAT Music Conference

07 Jul 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

I wrote about Missoula once before in an essay about what it's like to see electornic music in a rock town that thinks it has it made. Relatively, Missoula does have it made, since it's the single best spot in the state for music and art. Now it's time to announce its techno side. Next month, Missoula will host a three day electronic music conference, which displays a brilliant line-up, including John Tejada, Natasha Kmeto, Lusine, and Nordic Soul. Yet, the DAT will do more than bring quality electronica out from different corners of the states, and join them in this particular corner few people have ever heard of: it is bringing to the fore why a place like Montana is a hitherto under-considered most excellent location for experiencing techno, as its geography has the potential to poetically complement aspects of electronic music culture.

Read more →

This year on August 1st to 3rd, the Digital and Analog Technologies Music Conference, or DAT, will launch in the small city of Missoula. While the acronym is colloquially catchy and urban, and the spelled out name seems rather relevant but not overtly laudable, the unique thing about this conference does not reside in the name. Or does it?

Like anything, we easily do but usually shouldn't judge a thing by its name. For example, what about the name “DAT” says Montana, rural electronica, and celebration of how both digital and analog technologies have shaped dance music? Does “DAT” by itself equal to what Wolfgang Voigt once called “adult techno”? Yes, this conference proudly calls itself a “conference” rather than “American rave” or “Burning Man” or “EDM Party of The Northern Rockies,” which is one way of clearly stating its mature and intellectual intentionality, even though, jokingly, "dat" is baby talk for "that." In what way does this event really display its polygonal complexity?

According to an outsider, Missoula, a town of about eighty thousand occupants, seems like an unlikely hub for electronic music, nor does it appear as a destination for discussing the integration of digital and analog technologies. At the same time, Missoula is a likely hub. It's the most city-like, artistic community in the state, although worldly and fascinating individuals pop up just about anywhere throughout this expanse of breathtaking land. Montana, if you aren't sure, can be found north of Wyoming, south of Alberta, northeast of California, and west of everywhere else. With its statewide population only recently reaching one million, Montana offers unexpected geographical, as well as cultural, diversity. Yes, some of the redneck stereotypes are true, but until you see what's going on here, you may not be able to conceive of the majesty, true-spiritedness, and capacity for the diversity this place possesses.

First of all, there's space. Montana gives you space, whether you need a cultural break, are seeking out a concentrated utopia somewhere off of the mainstream radar, or escaping into the mountainous wilderness (be careful because there are loads of bears, wolves, lions, and moose out there, so let's not over-idealize); or if you just need a long drive, bike ride, or horseback tour out on the plains that lead up to the Rocky Mountain Front; or if you need space for throwing expansive festivals, pow-wows, for building ranches, a new self, etc. Not sold yet? Unsure of how electronic music would fit into this equation, especially now that I've mentioned horses?

Seeing as how this is a space-giving destination, there is of course plenty of space for cultivation of not only of crops, but also dreams, imaginings, individual development and methods for diversification. Be that as it may, we do not take kindly to developers - especially if from out of state – conducting their business here and forcing property taxes to reach the sky; we see not only exploitation in this prospect, but also unsustainable triviality, and this observation is a symptom of the attitude here, part New Age, part cowboy: it is an attitude that accepts stoically the fact that, in the end, the mountain wins.

Montana has been diverse even before the white man made it this far northwest. This landscape has been the home for various Native American tribes for centuries upon centuries, reaching back to the mystical pre-time world, where they lived with, hunted, utilized, and celebrated the diversity of wildlife available at the time. Today, Montana is one of the states with the most federally recognized Indian Reservations, and one of few states to proudly enforce Indian Education for All curriculum within the public school system.

Among many noble perspectives of Native tradition is the one that calls on us to remember what the land means, and how the landscape can inspire stories, ancestry, and growth. With that in mind, and in recalling the idea of a space-giving, imagination-cultivating location, we begin to assemble thoughts on how Montana and music, especially instrumental, ceremonial music, can go hand-in-hand, as music with little to no lyrics certainly leaves plenty of space for imagination by minimizing verbal disruption in listening. One of the chief characteristics of quality techno, as we well know, is the extraneousness of lyrical verse. We need more beat and less conceit! What this amounts to is the possibility that Montana is actually an unbelievably ideal place for listening to and experiencing electronic music.

Tara Emery, co-creator and head curator of the DAT, met me for coffee recently at one of local bakeries, where one goes to acquire the best espresso in town. We laughed about how some of the artists booked for this first year might be expecting a truly rural setting, where there's a town that tourists pass through in the blink of an eye, and that the showcases will be out on leased acreage, Summer Of Love style. “Let them think that, so they can have that Montana surprise!”

Emery was born and raised here in a “hippie household,” she says. She graduated from Hellgate High School (Thurston Moore's favorite high school in the country purely due to its name (it refers to the canyon barricading the east side of the valley)), spent time in Pacific Northwestern cities, and is a mother, as well as a grandmother. I asked her when it was that she first realized that she was surrounding herself with everything electronica, despite the fact that she and her family are happily planted in rock-loving, small-scale Missoula. “I'd say late 90s. It was The Orb.”

For years, Emery was geared toward participating in festivals dedicated to tilling and expanding techno culture hubs. After several years of regular volunteering with family festivals like Communikey in Boulder, Colorado, and Decibel in Seattle, she realized what drove her to be so involved: it was about gaining inspiration, experience, and general know-how, for curation of her own festival. Thus, it's DAT time.

Apart from their love for the music, Emery and her partner in DAT curation, Logan Foret, share the dream of a mature techno culture in the States, as well as a more substantial one in Missoula. Deliberating on how to benefit that cause from Missoula, they are calling the DAT a “conference” rather than a “festival,” which reserves the more intellectual experience, somehow. By announcing Missoula to the techno scene, Emery and Foret wish to simultaneously awaken the reality that techno can be anywhere, even in Montana, and perhaps this can temper the overall American attitude toward techno.

Wait, we have to back up again: other than this being a special conference in a small city surrounded by bear-infested mountains, and besides it being Emery and Foret's maiden launch of their long-in-the-making brain child, this festival carries a feminist, egalitarian hue. From its purple and pink banner, to its greater mission to nurture the growth of this sub-culture, like a mother, the DAT is undeniably feminist, and proudly expects that, by its second flight, the artist line-up will be at a fifty-fifty gender ratio. If you have read any of our pieces on the topic of gender in electronica, you will already know that NFOP finds this commitment highly important and supportable, as does Natasha Kmeto, who is booked to blow the DAT away. More broadly, the geographical factor of the DAT persuades us to realize that, while we advocate gender equality in electronica, some of us may have biases when it comes to where to experience quality music, culture, and art. The DAT awakens city/rural prejudice and engenders some consideration for smaller communities that have hub potential.

Conclusively, what is remarkable about this conference, besides it being in Montana, an adult-techno party, gender-aware, and nationally recognizable, is that its name quite simply testifies against any conservative, black or white attitudes that may arise when considering any kind of duality, and in this case, the future of electronic music: will it be digital, or can it still have an analog turntable at the stand. Shit, why not both?

So throw out your stereotypes and put your leather boots or rubber sneakers on! The DAT is a premiering powerhouse fueled by passion for music, techno lifers, regional and international artists, and a whole bunch of what it takes to make you think differently. The premiere line-up includes the legenadry John Tejada (Kompakt), Lusine (Ghostly International), and a NFOP favorite, Natasha Kmeto (Dropping Gems). There will be live visuals from Albertan soundwave artist Clinker, and a spout of sets from Seattlites Cyanwave (Innerflight), J.Alvarez (Hypercolour), and Decibel Festival daddy Sean Horton aka Nordic Soul (Basic_Sounds). On the roster we also have Chicago's Sassmouth (God Particle), local techno pundits Kris Moon, Hendawg, and Mike Stolin, and other people, like yours truly.

If you happen to be passing through the area at the end of July or at the onset of August, or feel inspired to go out of your way, you can find more information and purchase tickets on the DAT's website.

Follow Up: Natasha Kmeto on Permeation

24 Mar 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

A few weeks ago I met up with Natasha Kmeto in Seattle to chat with her about her submission to No Fear of Pop. Her piece, revolutionary, eloquent, and diplomatic all at once, was a response to our critical coverage of 2013's Decibel Festival and their lackadaisical shortage of female artsits in their line-up. Kmeto was one of the featured female artists of last year's festival, and thus her reaching out to discuss the touchy topic about gender dispropotion or "under-representation" in electronic music struck a strong chord across many realms that have experienced and continue to experience chauvinism. What she and I landed on after an engaging conversation was that permeation, or being encouraged or educated to permeate rather than belong, in musical style, gender, politics, and whatever which way, seems a most sincerely innovative way to contribute to the ongoing pursuit of equal rights. Here's a recap of what we had to say.

Photo by Patti Miller.

Read more →

Natasha Kmeto is a truly unique individual who, by genuinely implementing that individuality in her music, is benefitting the forward movement of electronic music's aesthetic as well as politic. Biographically, Kmeto is an ethnic permeation. When I inquired about her heritage, she smirked and said she's "Hungarian, German, Greek, and Phillipino," originally from Sacramento, raised in a feminist setting, with a grandmother from Berlin. Coming from a multicultural background, it's no big question that Natasha branched out to find space that supports experimentation for better artistry:

I went to school in LA and the way I was plugged into the scene in LA was very industry-heavy and the school I was at was into training back-up singers or back-up dancers for other artists and doing the pop machine scene where you can be disillusioned about the state of art ... It's like divorcing yourself from consciousness … where you're constantly bombarded by images of success. I wanted a change of pace and wanted a place where I could go and explore art as opposed to the standard music scene and I visited Portland. It's a very supportive art scene and proved to be more open for me.

In effort of finding a community that promotes deviation from models, these set "images of success," Natasha relocated up to Portland, Oregon, where she felt she could cheaply rent a studio space and comfortably "make weird shit" without any fear of ostracization or loss of good conscious. Her statement about divorcing oneself from consciousness speaks to the authenticity of her world of music. For her, it seems, music shouldn't only be good and brooding, like the climate of the Pacific Northwest and that which is found all over her album Crisis: music should also be aligned with experience, with consciousness and open perspective. This is best achieved after one is given space to find his or her own space. Alas, as a female artist, it's sometimes too easy to have plenty of explorative space and yet too difficult to be treated equally when it comes to booking. It is challenging, as we all know, to not be marginalized by the label "female."

You could be thrown into a roll ... it's either you're a woman or you're a human. I'm not trying to come from the perspective of manhating, because I'm not. I'm not trying to marginalize men ... I'm idealistic and I understand it's being idealistic to say that we shouldn't assign gender roles. Part of me would like to see that done away with but at the same time I want to represent other strong female producers. There are many who aren't tauted as highly as male producers, so I think the way out of that is to familiarize the public with the fact that women do other things besides get married and make babies, and I think that the vast majority of people still imagine it that way because they're not shown examples in their day-to-day lives. They're socialized that women are teachers, nurses, or moms, and they can be all those things and there's nothing wrong with it all. But looking at younger generations, I can see that they are already less rigid. So we'll see. I think electronic music is a great avenue for women because we can do it ourselves and it tends to be a more alternative scene. I feel like most men I meet in the scene are usually cool and not chauvinistic.

I agree, but I still think there's this intrinsic, unclaimed chauvinistic trend that dominates electronic music, making it a boy's party, and that was the feeling I came away with after Decibel. I had a good time, and felt that I was constantly surrounded by crowds so in love with the music; those crowds just happened to mostly be bros dancing to bros. And I felt that that's ok but someone needs to be aware of it, and if they don't want that type of festival, then maybe they should make a better effort of equivocal booking. But are there enough acts? Is having such discussion even helpful, or is it a detriment?

I think that there's a lot of women out there right now just crushing shit and it's different from what men do. I'm not saying that women's music is different or it should be different, but women do have a different approach because they kill it in a way that I relate to on a soul level. More women just need to go out to shows and experience that and look for that. And I think they do. I come from a completely different perspective too, coming from the queer community. In Portland, there's a disconnect between the queer community and underground electronic music ... they're not like "oh my god Mike Q!" and instead going out to dance to some top 40 stuff ... If they could go out and relate to it on a soul level then that would help too. That's what I'm trying to do. Maybe they come to a show because they really like singing or they really like R-n-B but then they hear some techno in the works or some drum-n-bass and then they'll be like 'I wanna explore that.' One of my favorite DJs in Portland, DJ Bianca, plays mainly top 40 to keep people happy but she'll also mix in Grimes, or mix in some Disclosure or start mixing in stuff like Jessie Ware, stuff that's a little left and center to the American top 40 but easier for trying to get people hip to that ... subtle moves like that is what is going to moves things forward. 

One of my favorite things about Natasha's essay is how she validates permeation or equivocality overall. It's not just the crossing over of boundaries that we want, but rather the melting down of boundaries and letting all the contents pervade each other. Some individuals may choose to keep their boundary-defining label because they think it's empowering and relevant; still, rearranging things so that less power goes to out-of-date constructs also leaves room for those who wish to be identified in this way, or however they want, to be identified as such. It's really all about awareness, finding your own space to think about and arrange or fuse things, and making a choice.

Some of my favorite music is music that fuses things ... and I'm going to try and bring those elements into my music. Putting a fusion in front of people can be an uphill battle ... they won't know how to categorize this. I could've easily sang back up in Los Angeles or moved to Portland to make dubstep ... but there's still a lot of headscratching going on as to what kind of bills to put me on. You have to fight the big fight, though, in my opinion, to be singular, to be your own voice in order to voice to a lot of things, or to permeate and break down boundaries so that everyone can imagine a reality where a woman is on stage with electronics and executing it well, or someone is combining R-n-B and house. It's all about fusing, and breaking people's minds open. The human brain is programmed to categorize but for the people and artists I relate to the most, those categories are smaller. They're not big, broad categories of 'THIS IS WHAT IS;' it's about being able to step outside of yourself and seeing 'WHAT ISN'T?' ... it's about freedom of consciousness that I feel like a lot of people don't own. Some people can't imagine eating apples and cheese, they'll be like 'Ugh that's just backwards, I don't know what you're talking about,' and then there are some people who are like 'You know, I want to try that,' and those are the people who change things.

The people who don't try eating apples and cheese likely remember that foreign combination, and eventually the thought makes its way through the mind like a worm until they may decide when given the opportunity again to try it. And then they will have permeated with, or fused what someone else knows and what they know.

Let's all be permeable and permeable-minded. This is challenging with the paradoxes given by electronica, that is, its at times genre-specific, hard rhythm and metalic (and so less fluid-like) personality yet multicultural, equal-rights-for-those-who-wish-to-dance tradition. It's been brought to my attention that my favorite music tends to be the stuff that permeates even these, tracks that possess some kind of dreamy reverberation, atmospheric, slippery melody behind, beside, or maybe in front of delicious, crunchy, and solid beats. Let's apply these themes to our personal music tastes and learn more about how we can expand, give ourselves more room to fill and explore, and ask ourselves why we should in the first place. Let's be everything but exclusive, and take what we like but not exclusively.

Interview: Jessy Lanza on Women in Electronic Music

02 Dec 2013 — Evelyn Malinowski

Jessy Lanza kicked off her first European tour last week at Berlin's Berghain Kantine. I had the opportunity to speak with her about numerous topics, including the endearing and well-known fact that she is a music teacher on the side of being a producer. When I told her I wanted to learn some of her thoughts concerning women in electronic music, she enthusiastically complied but warned me that she dislikes how she has to come across as fussy or bitchy in order to gain recognition where it is absolutely due. That's where the topic opens up: why shouldn't the issue aggravate producers who are limited in recognition by their gender? The following article is another contribution to No Fear of Pop's discussion on women producers, their under-representation, and a suggestion for steps toward finding antidote, informed by the talented Jessy Lanza.

Read more →

When Henning asked me to write the review for Pull My Hair Back in August, I found myself imagining the album as instrumental. I always thought that the composition was very unique, full of some kind of comforting space between big R'n'B beats and references, which I hadn't encountered in music for years. The review concluded with the proposition that, while Jessy's voice is indeed one highly enjoyable narrative element, we should treat the work like an already excellent production with a beautiful voice on top as a special treat. Plus I was of course thinking about the issue with labeling women as singers and not producers.

Chart Attack's recent interview with Jessy complies with this theorem in stating at the outset that, “Hamilton's breakout electronic star would like you to know she's a producer first.” Better yet, Jordan Darville, the interviewer, asks that Jessy explain in her own words her adversity to being labeled a songstress:

There have been certain articles that have left me out in terms of production, like completely. And obviously that’s pretty annoying to me, when it’s been pretty explicitly stated in press releases that I’m not just a singer. I produced the album as well. But I think that’s just a reflection of the general popular scene being really sexist. It’s not something I spend all day fuming about because I understand that the record’s under my name and Jeremy’s an already established producer. It sucks that people always fall to the natural assumption that the guy does this and I do that, but I think that as time goes on and I put out more music I don’t think it’ll matter anymore. But yeah, it sucks when you read something and it says “songstress,” I hate that word. I don’t consider myself a vocalist.

Most interviews and reviews have been not an inch short of praising Jessy and her debut album, recommending it to a wide audience, and celebrating the emergence of a musician with an enjoyably nostalgic take on R'n'B; alas, it should again be reinforced that these reviews are often short of commending Jessy's production, talking sometimes instead about the lyrics' overt sexuality or a reputed producer's collaborative presence, omitting clarification that she's a producer before a singer. 

Here's what Jessy had to add to this overshadowing when we met:

The project with Jeremy is a collaboration and I understand that maybe people would get confused about who does what based on the fact that he has been doing music in Junior Boys for ten years. It's always the underlying assumption: why is it that automatically just because I'm a girl and he's a guy and we're working on something together it defaults to that, and that's what pisses me off. I read stuff on Twitter where people are like, “This song's awesome! Jeremy Greenspan from Junior Boys produced it – it's great,” I'm like “Oh fuck you I produced it too!” [laughter]. I hate how that's the natural assumption.

I also hate how if I want to get my point across that I had a role in this, I have to be so hardline ... if I was a guy and working with Jeremy, then nobody would ask these questions like, “So what did you, and what does he do?” and I have to make a check list of, “Yeah he did the closed hats and I did the fucking open ones.” That would never be a question for a band that was two guys, but when it's a girl and a guy there has to be this delineation between the work. It gets annoying when you get asked to specify what you've done in this collaboration, where I feel like if it was two guys the question just wouldn't come up. It can't just be a girl and a guy working together? Why can't I just say that and have people understand that it's a mutual project. That's what pisses me off.

These misteps and "natural assumptions" do indeed reflect sexism and negligence in spheres far behind electronic music. But the big question is: who is perpetuating this myth of production hierarchy?

Natasha Kmeto's recent submission, which is also a response to our discussion of the lack of female artists at festivals in hubs as big as Seattle and Berlin, confirms the contemporary criticisms about treatment of female producers vs. male producers – just “producers” – vs. female singers. She asserts that women in electronic music are experiencing “under-representation,” that no real fruitfulness comes from pointing fingers when dealing with gender issues which expand far behind the microcosm of electronic music, and that, staying local, the discussion needs to be left open and engaged with:

I just think that the dialog about women and what women generally do and don't do needs to change, or even be had in the first place. Same goes for men. It's imperative ... It makes me endlessly happy to see these things being discussed because I believe that all conversations around this are a microcosm of women's experience in almost any industry. It also opens up the gates to a much needed discussion about gender roles and about women and technology in particular.

Jessy's take lies usefully congruent to Kmeto's and, in combination, the discussion is furthered to construct why the women in electronic music – henceforth playfully shortened to “girls in techno” – discussion falls into lulls and is defended against rather for. There is an obstacle at the core of this behavior which is that no one wants to hear a producer demand recognition where it's due, and people don't want an angry woman on their hands. 

Is it not ok to get upset or proactive where it's due? Wouldn't an up-and-coming male producer demand credit for the guitar part he played on a friend's album in the event that his name is left out of the album sleeve? Would women be annoyed by his claim to fame?

Is gender disproportion present due to the technology being genderized, the male and female audio cables, color-coded pitch ranges, the higher, the brighter, the lower, the bro-er?

Perhaps making who produced who and what clearer, delicately, without the marginalizing indicator “female producer,” is one of the next steps to take, although it is conversely empowering to stand out as female. Taking charge in this way could boil down to individual awareness of assumption, catching ourselves quietly before stating things, thinking to check the facts first, or overall avoid speaking in a grandiose style - be more sensitive and sensible. An alternative antidote could reside in education, specifically a free type like what Jessy and other producers, such as Christina Sealey (the modular half of Orphx), in Hamilton, Ontario have established. In the Loop is a freshmen workshop for girls aged fourteen to eighteen, advocating the spread of girls doing techno. It demystifies electronic production for young women and, in a way, places electronics back into the hands of its perhaps rightful owners (in recollection to Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, whom Sealey definitely replicates as she dances wearing a vintage-looking dress turning the oscillator, next to her bandmate Richard Oddie).

We got Ableton and Korg to give us a bunch of monotrons, we rented a bunch of shitty laptops, and got some shitty soundcards, and taught them the basics how to set up an interface ... Christi got a nice grant from the government and we got about twenty girls enrolled in it. The end project was us putting together clips from the movie Carnival of Souls and had the girls do a soundtrack for it. It's amazing what they came up with, and how they responded to the software. We helped them a bit, but I didn't want to get too in their face. I'd be like "Hey, do you need some help?" and they'd be like "Uh... fuck off."

Working for a rather extraordinary cause, Jessy seems to have found a way to combine both music teaching and electronic production. It also advocates girls in techno without the risk of coming across angry or pissed off. It is instead a proactive and communal antidote against gender disporprotion and under-representation. Interestingly, Jessy's description of coaching young female producers reflects on a defensiveness when it comes to girls using technology with their "leave me alone" reaction to her pedagogically checking in on their progress with the software.

In conclusion, the general unwillingness to listen to an unaccredited artist become slightly pushy in her limited recognition is cultivated by irresponsible attitudes toward women. It is what keeps mouths closed, what continues to push this disucssion into lulls of silence as it creates an acute fear of coming across as problematic or inconvenient for bringing it up. However, an effective antidote against such attitude can be implanted in education and advocacy; Hamilton's In the Loop workshop more than likely will sustain and re-manifest itself in various ways, this article's praise being one. As for now, before we arrive again to the future, let's keep the discussion going further, and be articulate, inarticulate, angry and subtle as we need.

Jessy Lanza's Pull My Hair Back is out now on Hyperdub. You can catch Jessy in Europe or the UK during her current tour, or stateside next year.

The Sleep of Reason? Cuddle Formation and the Politics of Dream Pop

11 Nov 2013 — Henning Lahmann

When it comes to names for musical ventures, Cuddle Formation – Los Angeles native Noah Klein’s guise ever since discarding his former project Philip Seymour Hoffman – is as harmless and reassuring as it gets. The artist’s latest release, a fifteen-minute side on a split tape with Dan Goldberg aka The Spookfish named Earthbound, appears to confirm all images of withdrawn coziness his nom de plume might evoke. Starting with the fittingly entitled “Dreamhaus”, the music quickly evolves into a calming maelstrom of unobtrusive drones and layered, reverberating vocal tracks that instantly creates an atmosphere of peaceful introspection. The tone is kept up for the entirety of the four tracks; even more tellingly than “Dreamhaus”, the opener is followed by “Lullaby for Twenty-Somethings”, and who’d argue with Portals’ verdict of describing the loop-based, meditative composition as “anxiety-soothing”? At least on the face of it, there’s no question that Cuddle Formation is almost a textbook example of that ubiquitous undercurrent that we’ve learned to call “dream pop”.

Commonly associated with bedroom production, for most dream pop has become the epitome of romanticist escapism, an indistinct longing for an alternate, unburdened reality or state of being, as exemplified by songs such as Washed Out’s early ‘classic’ “Feel It All Around”. And even more than the music itself, it is the by now clichéd means of production that has become paradigmatic for the denial of reality connected to the genre: the archetypical locus for the creation of dream pop is the bedroom, hence the quintessence of the domestic. Perceived as a shelter, the frightening outside world is debarred.

The thus observed orientation towards the domestic safe haven might even warrant a careful comparison with the epoch of Biedermeier in post-Vienna Congress Central Europe, when the political oppression that followed the restorative backlash after the revolutionary uprisings at the end of the 18th century and the subsequent Napoleonic wars constrained artists to avoid open politics and to focus on the retreat of their own homes. Considering societal developments of the last twenty years, it does not seem entirely far-fetched to see similar mechanisms at work today. Indeed, the surge (or resurgence) of music that might fit the umbrella term of “dream pop” in recent years, together with other, related backward-looking or even implicitly reactionary genres and sub-genres such as chillwave or hypnagogic pop, is probably not entirely incidental.

Read more →

The paranoid post-9/11 society that superseded the brief glimpse of jaded optimism following the fall of the Berlin Wall has produced and by now firmly established conditions that oh so perfectly suit the restorative forces’ aspirations for ever more authority and ever less freedom of the individual whose dignity is reduced to the role they ought to play within the ingrained mechanisms of late capitalism, and dream pop’s remarkable success since the late noughties may at least to some degree be read as a tacit reaction to the forces that govern the society at large. It is music that inherits and adopts some of Biedermeier’s functions of providing a refuge where the harsh reality is ultimately shut out: thus understood, dream pop becomes the lullaby for that part of society that is usually observed as the most uncompromisingly political.

Listening to Earthbound, in particular the gently soothing, mesmerizing “Duckfangs Tickle my Ankles” – sort of a Klein classic, as other versions of the song were already part of his repertoire as Philip Seymour Hoffman – there’s probably no harm per se in perceiving his music a place to seek comfort in, as a form of art that allows the listener to enter a state of disconnected contemplation.

But the sleep of reason produces monsters, as Francisco de Goya reminds us with the most famous of his Caprichos from 1799. And a more careful examination of the music on Earthbound reveals that it would be all too easy to dismiss Klein’s take on dream pop as just another manifestation of the opium for an agonized generation.

Upon closer listen, it becomes clear that despite singing berceuses for his peers, Klein – he himself now in his mid-twenties – isn’t here to put his contemporaries to sleep. One minute and fifty seconds into “Lullaby”, the voice of an old man unexpectedly disrupts the track’s encompassing, gentle delirium, stating that “every person must have a star, an ideal to which they cling. The ideal may not be realized today or tomorrow but you must have an ideal which will carry you forward in life, to inspire you to do deeds and act”. The words taken by themselves may not stir revolution, neither today nor in the near future; though the source of the audio clip is certainly noteworthy. But nevertheless, with this sample it takes Klein a mere thirty seconds to undermine any desires of surrendering escapism that dream pop so easily evokes. More than the reference to the necessary ideal that everyone should have, it is the ideal’s connection to the deed that substantiates Klein’s music as a rejection of the denial of today’s realities.

In this vein, “Lullaby for Twenty-Somethings” becomes the starting point for a more comprehensive look at the artist’s agenda and his work. As founder and integral part of the FMLY collective, Klein’s music has always been aimed at something that necessarily leaves the bedroom behind, that transcends notions of the private and domestic to create a unifying, collective and thus progressive experience. It is here, beyond the obvious, where Noah’s art becomes political and thus unfolds its emancipatory momentum. Significantly, the “Dreamhaus” that is the subject of the cassette’s opening track is not a place for withdrawal for the tormented individual, but a very real (though now sadly defunct) location in Allston, Massachusetts, that served as the cradle for the building of a politically aware community.

To be sure, all this does not delegitimize dreaming as such. Idealism necessarily depends on the ability to conceptualize the counter-factual, but as explained by Goya in view of “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos”, if fantasy (i.e., dreaming) is united with reason, it may become the origin of the art’s marvels (“unida con ella, es madre de las artes y origen de sus marabillas”) – and one of those marvels certainly is its inherent ability to trigger change. After all, the post-Vienna Congress period of oppressive Restauration not only spawned the subjects’ weltflucht into the introspective Biedermeier but also the pre-revolutionary Vormärz, not only Schubert’s soothing and reclusive “Winterreise” but also Heine’s subversive “Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen”. And there’s more than a subtle hint that Klein’s work – as that of the FMLY collective as a whole – is conceptually much closer to the latter piece of art.

With his own interpretation of common dream pop tropes, Cuddle Formation’s music actualizes Goya’s insistence on the necessary interplay between escapist dreaming and reason. As a consequence, his dream pop may serve not as a safe haven but as the nucleus for the emergence of true consciousness as the necessary condition of the possibility of the political in a 21st century that is ridden by post-modernist disorientation. Skip to Earthbound’s closing track: it is in this sense that ending an EP with one minute and thirty seconds of voices repeating “We will love each other” does ultimately imply more urge towards a profound change of society than the ancien régime might be ready to accept.

Listen to all four songs from Klein's part of Earthbound below. The split cassette was released in September by Colorado's Patient Sounds. There might be a few copies left, so be quick and head over here.

Picture: Francisco de Goya, El sueño de la razón produce monstruos, c. 1799, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (source)

Label Profile: Orchid Tapes

11 Nov 2013 — Andi Wilson

It's challenging to portray the emotions obtained from watching something you really love and believe in grow tremendously, like a flower. Or rather, an orchid. In an environment such as Brooklyn, the aspect of community can be one of the most difficult things to achieve. With the continuance of bustling, competition, among other strivings in this enormous city; the most imtinate and gratifying moments have been spent knowing we have community and each other in the music scene. Being said, there are aspirant people here that are achieving and sharing intermutual relationships digitally and virtually in an extroardinary way. In this case, a label few and far between. Today we share the thoughts, devotions, and a very personal interview from Warren Hildebrand, founder of Orchid Tapes.

AW: When and where did the idea of Orchid Tapes first begin and how did it evolve into becoming an actual label?

WB: Orchid Tapes was first conceptualized in late 2009 right after I moved out for the first time and into a small apartment in downtown Toronto, I had already released a few tapes as Foxes in Fiction while living at my Mom’s house in the suburbs but I hadn’t put them out under any kind of name or anything. In February 2010 I released Swung from The Branches and it was kind of the official kick-off for Orchid Tapes existing. For the first few chapters of it’s life it really felt more like a pet project than an actual legitimate label, it took bringing Brian Vu onboard with the label and getting to know some really talented musician friends to really bring it into it’s current incarnation.

From top left to right: Foxes in Fiction, R.L. Kelly, and Happy Trendy performing at the first Orchid Tapes showcase. May 18th 2013 @ Living Bread in Brooklyn. Photo set by Daniel Dorsa.
Read more →

AW: What was the initial response like for Swung From the Branches being OT’s first release in 2010?

How has OT changed in growth since the first few releases?

WB: The initial response to that album was really swift and weird and unexpected. It’s a really long and convoluted story, but a few days after I posted the record for free on my old Blogspot a completely renamed and retitled version ended up going viral on 4chan and there were a bunch of rumours circulating that it was secret side project of Bradford Cox or something stupid. Some blogs ended up picking up the story in an attempt to figure out who was behind the album, and I did my best to try and clear everything up. Thankfully it didn’t become too much of a viral wildfire before I intervened and everyone who heard it was able to put the proper name to the project. I think all-in-all it was more of blessing in disguise because that weird wave of awareness around that album is definitely one of the big things that caused people to hear that album. Just a month after it happened Pitchfork ended up posting some of my music, which was really cool and unexpected. The internet is insane.

Orchid Tapes today is almost completely different than when it was when I first started it. In the beginning I didn’t really know too many musicians who had much interest in releasing things on a brand new label (this was right after Arcade Sound Ltd. had been revealed to be a scam label so there was an understandable amount of apprehension hanging around a lot of people that I associated with). Also, a lot of the early releases I did were really amazing, but I don’t think there was much of the sense of cohesion or togetherness that defines the label these days. I would basically just say ‘yes’ to anyone who asked to do a release, and got turned down by 95% of the people I would ask to put out a tape.

Even just in terms of resources, there’s a lot more available to now; for the first 20 releases I would dub every single cassette tape on my stereo tape deck, which would literally take days and days to finish. It wasn’t until last fall that I got a proper cassette duplicator. Also, since moving to New York it’s become a lot easier to get things like blank tapes, j-cards and other goodies that we use to put our packages together. And there’s two of us now, which is great!

From left to right: Coma Cinema and Alex G performing at the first Orchid Tapes showcase. May 18th 2013 @ Living Bread in Brooklyn.

AW: What have been some of your biggest accomplishments/struggles with OT?

What kind of advice would you recommend to anyone wanting to start their own DIY label?

WB: For me, the biggest accomplishments have been the three showcases that we’ve done this year. Not only were they fun in every way, but they represented a culmination of everything positive that’s happened for Orchid Tapes, my music and the music made by all the people I’ve become so close with in the past three and a half years. It’s one thing to have a cool project like this that’s based largely on the internet, but to have a group of bands / musicians come together for one show AND have people actually come out to listen is a really amazing and indescribable thing. Definitely some top 10 life moments in there. To someone thinking of starting their own DIY, I would recommend to just start small and be very ambitious and dedicated with it. It can seem sort of daunting at first but the more love you put into it the more you’ll get out of it.

AW: How have you found most of the artists you release on OT? Internet relationships, shows, through friends?

WB: Most of the releases we’ve done have been the product of internet relationships. Thankfully we’ve all met and hung out in real life a bunch of times now but I had become internet friends with people like Mat (Elvis Depressedly / Coma Cinema), Rachel (RL Kelly) and Dylan (HAPPY TRENDY) long before we ever made any plans for them to release music on Orchid Tapes, but that’s been a really nice thing, and it’s made doing releases a lot more fun and easy going since everything’s discussed and arranged just as a friends. I also met Tom of Home Alone after he started dating my best friend Amanda, and I met Dan of Four Visions, who we’re working on a release for right now, at a show we both played in Brooklyn.

AW: Having seen two out of the three OT showcases, it has been so impressive to witness how cohesive and moving they have been, especially to the community here in Brooklyn. Were the showcases relatively easy to organize?

WB: Aw thanks! Honestly, we had no idea how the first one was going to turn out and it was a total shock to see that many people show up and have there be such feeling of positivity. It’s all really thanks to all the bands and musicians who travelled from so far away to come and play, and to the fans who travelled just as equal amounts of distances to come and see us do our thing. There was a lot of organization that went into planning each one, but it definitely wasn’t as much as I thought it would be; we’ve been really lucky with the spaces and organizers that we’ve worked with who’ve helped to make everything a lot easier for us.

From top left to right: Julia Brown, Four Visions + Warren, and Home Alone performing at the third Orchid Tapes showcase during CMJ. October 19th, 2013.


AW: Ricky Eat Acid’s ‘Three Love Songs’ will be OT’s first vinyl release. Do you think there will be more vinyl releases in the future?

WB: Definitely, this is something that we’ve wanted to branch off into for a long time, and I think this is the perfect record for us to start off on a new format with. It’s honestly such an incredible album and we’re so excited to be involved in releasing it. We’re still in the planning stages with everything, but there’s gonna be a lot of neat extras and pretty things included with the physical release. Stay tuned.

You can visit Orchid Tapes' website and bandcamp for details and news on upcoming releases and events.