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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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. 





Recap: Maria Minerva + Cherushii Live in Missoula, Montana

06 Nov 2013 — Evelyn Malinowski

On their US mini-tour this autumn, Maria Minerva, with glittery techno act Cherushii, stopped in Missoula, Montana to play our town's best alternative music venue, the Ole Beck VFW Post #209, a couple days short of Halloween.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, is a national club that plants community centers throughout the U.S, aimed for veterans but open to the public. They are specified by their post number coordinates. Los Angeles's has several including #9793, Chicago a few like #2024 and #1284, Seattle #9430 and #2289 Rainier Post, and Missoula's Ole Beck #209. Typically, any VFW post will be hosting country music bands and two-step dancing, cover bands, or Bingo. Rarely, especially out west, does a VFW see or hear the likes of Detroit techno or experimental pop.

Maria Minerva, a Not Not Fun all-star, whose amount of released work is not short of prolific, is a spectable before any audience: packed or hollow, fashionable or earth toned. Maria's post-grad disco, inticing videography, and striking stage presence are in many ways intellectually detached from and ahead of sober performance reception and music listening. With a warm up act like Cherushii, aka Chelsea Faith, a San Francisco producer who just released her Queen of Cups EP on 100% Silk, we are looking at a pair of powerful, professional, and unique figures from a new wave of techno and dance musicianship: the exciting female takeover, of sorts.

Missoula, Montana, however, is not a component of techno. It is not generally heard of, sees little of the global dance scene, and inconveniently bares a shortage of bank chains such as CitiBank and Chase Bank, to which Maria and Chelsea needed to pay visits, respectively. No, Sir. Missoula is a twee, country and folk, indie rock city, with fleeting movements of hip-hop and reggae. People here are generally open-minded to electronic music, at that, any music; however, electronica is, like so many other places in the States, peripheral and not a priority. This was exemplified by Maria and Chelsea's local opening support from Modality, an all-male psychedelic math-rock outfit who attracted most of the crowd, and left with most of the crowd. Modality served as something outstanding for the mini-tour, since most of the other local support in Portland and Seattle was from bedroom-synth girl bands, Chelsea told me.

How, you might wonder, does Missoula get acts such as Maria Minerva booked at a place like the VFW?

As of about four years ago, the so-called “saturated” music scene in Missoula wound up making Post #209 on W. Main Street a main hub. Shawna Lee and Tom Helgerson (of SHAHS) are widely responsible for this collaboration, and have seen a lot of success as well as frequent bookings. "The VFW crowd loves music. Our regulars are very loyal to the music seen. They buy merch and drinks for the bands and often times offer a place to crash," Shawna wrote me. Both ends of the spectrum, the veterans and the musicians, usually leave after a show with a sense of coalescence and a lot of Pabst Blue RIbbon in their gut.

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In order to get a feel for the VFW community, Shawna gave me a couple of issues of the VFW magazine, throughout which I encountered several ads for slip-free shower systems, compensation lawsuits, and hearing aids, such as TV Ears, an eco-friendly auditory enhancement device for those who have suffered some hearing loss. With TV Ears, you can listen to the television broadcasts better, without blowing your spouse away with volume.

Shawna says that Post #209 is trying to get younger veterans to come in more often as a lot of the regulars, World War II veterans, are sadly becoming too frail to go out and hit up the bar. A community magazine catering to the generation that not only saw Europe in apocalyptic confusion but also fueled the home electronic appliances of convenience-boom echoes what Lynn Spiegel called bringing your training home with you; that is, surrounding oneself with instruments that remind a veteran of the gear they were trained to use for surveillance and protection at the war front (Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America, 1992). In the American household in 1952, the stereo, television, and ice machine were of the man's domain. The women, on the other hand, had their cooking appliances, mixers, can openers, electric knives. Mix these realms together and we get a materialistic veil among or on top of a place of unrest and inability to share and cope with parts of fighting in a war, or waiting for your betrothed to return home the same young man.

For Klaus Theweleit, the Freikorps men of World War I were especially encouraged to leave women behind and embrace male companionship and militaristic machinery in order to correctly display devotion to the fatherland. Theweleit famously makes several cases where men, preoccupied with surviving the war and gaining the unswerving promise from their sweatheart, later in life and happily married to the same woman, hesitate with enumerating their spouses' attributes, behaviors during the separation, even their names: "Denial of women is only natural, and therefore worthy .... The men one meets [on the front] don't need women" (Male Fantasies, Vol. 1, 1987, pp. 33-35).

Something Theweleit neglects to establish is that, specifically for the German Freikorps of WWI, women are indeed necessary because they fulfill the role of the damsel who needs to be left behind, a part of the process of surrendering romantic love for male companionship and effeciency with machinery.

There is absolutely no accusation that the members of VFW #209 or any post were in such marital situations, nor attached to mechanical gear reminiscent of what they used in their branch of the military. With all due respect, this an observation that, traditionally, machines belong to the man of the house, and this is a plausible reason.

Maria Minerva is known for her singing and sampling, using a "basic" but impressive array of equipment. Cherushii's setup is double the size of Maria's, with a fascinating assortment of drum machines and glowing mixers – and, no, not the handheld mixer for making batter. These girls, as are many women prevalent in the global techno scene of the moment, are very much in charge of their gear, and their gear is devoted to them. Maria's voice and relentless looping samples are a bit like can openers for the preserved mind that predicts certain things from women's music, and Cherushii's beats are a little like electric knives, the handles of which glow warm milky neon colors. In this case, instead of consuming some kind of entree, we are consumed by dance.

The show had an embarrassingly slim audience, perhaps because it started so late on a Tuesday night. While Modailty took some extra time to set up and sound check, Cherushii and Maria promptly played after the local opener, keeping the motivation and rhythm going. Nobody there apart from a few of us was accustomed to live electronica or the girls' recorded work. Still, they owned it. Cherushii went for a "quieter set," which was very auspicious and focused, and Maria chanted and swayed the way we've seen her impressively do so before at Berghain Kantine, Unsound, Chez Jackie, and more, all under the turned-off electric Bingo sign.

At the end of the night, as Maria and I were sitting at the bar talking, a young guy started asking Maria about her equipment. He was nice, genuinely inquisitive, and meant no harm; nonetheless, in my mind, his inquiry naively furthered the problematic tradition of machines belonging to men, not to mention the paradox of professional female techno musicians playing at the VFW. He said he had some of the same gear, asked her whether she tried some of the newer versions, before we said we had to get going. He didn't say anything about the music or performers. He just wanted to assert something about the gear she uses that he recognized.

Such a showcase not only sifts out issues like gender in music, but also conveys the beauty and usefulness of contrast. Maria Minerva at the VFW in Montana hits several different layers of cultural criticism. In the recap I did on Seattle's Decibel Festival, I asked whether the problem of disproportionate male-female ratio in electronica, and all of the music industry, stems from a subconscious cultural enjoyment of continuing to see boys operate toys. Maria and Chelsea's gig at the VFW coincidentally helps address or at least undermine the tradition and tabooed history, as well as America's militaristic personality. Altogether, it can perhaps now be seen that, in search of an efficient way of readdressing the issue of gender in techno, concurring with women's dominance over their gear is a healthy step. Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire were uninterrupted masters (mistresses?) of their machines, straight through the decades of television and rock-n-roll, in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

If guitars are the rock-n-roll toys for boys, shouldn't the Oramics machine, the Wobbulator, and various mixers be the girls'? Should we focus more on women's historical relationship with technology, and highlight their massive non-lyrical contribution to electronica, or treat it as undiffereniated? Or does this further the gap? Should we listen for feminine qualities in music produced by women and celebrate them, or should we consider the sensitive and outworn context of who better knows how to operate and maintain machines? While some say that gender in techno boils down to the beats, bass, and the emulation of violence, it seems that, on the visual level, it quite accessibly resides at the sound board.

Maria Minerva is expected to release a new album on Not Not Fun in 2014. Cherushii's Queen of Cups EP is out now on 100% Silk.

Preview: Decibel Festival 10 (& Hush Hush Records Showcase Giveaway)

06 Sep 2013 — Kelsie Brown

Seattle is a city that has been known for quite some time as a prominent music city - though not quite for its electronic scene, it's rapidly changing. This can be attributed almost entirely to the presence of Decibel. Starting in 2003, every September Decibel hosts a multi-day electronic festival, bringing in prominent artists from all over the globe. Each year the festival expands, bringing in bigger and bigger audiences and hosting more and more events. Decibel now is responsible for a large portion of electronic events throughout the entire year.

Coming up on its tenth year, Decibel is ready for its largest event to date. Taking place from September 25-29, the festival includes five days and nights of shows, after-hours parties, boat parties, experimental & audio/visual events (OPTICAL events), educational panels & conferences, and film showings. For full details, lineup, and information on how to acquire individual show tickets and full festival passes, visit the Decibel website.

As No Fear of Pop's sole Seattle writer/editor, and has someone who has been attending Decibel for several years, I am thrilled to announce that we will be conducting a ticket giveaway for a showcase that fits directly with NFOP's vision as part of our series highlighting Decibel. Follow the break to find out more information on #dBx, and how to win a pair of tickets to Hush Hush Records' official showcase.

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Considering Decibel's location, it's only natural that one of Seattle's most prominent music labels is hosting a showcase. Hush Hush Records have been responsible for the releases of several of our favorite Seattle electronic artists, like Cock & Swan and DJAO. Taking place on Saturday, September 28 at downtown venue The Crocodile, the lineup is a hefty one featuring six prominent artists. The night starts off with three of Hush Hush artists, all well-established Seattle beatmakers, taking the stage for a while. Domokos opens the show, followed by buddies DJAO and Kid Smpl.

The second half gives the reigns to three international producers: Henry Krinkle, Ryan Hemsworth, and Cyril Hahn. Relative newcomer to the scene, Henry Krinkle makes stunning, lush house beats from his home in Shanghai, China. Ryan Hemsworth, of course, is a poster child for NFOP - we're straight-up addicted to his cheerful breed of dance music. Bern, Switzerland native and Vancouver, BC resident Cyril Hahn struck gold with last year's house remix of Destiny's Child's hit "Say My Name". His house-infused remixes of classic R&B tracks intertwined with indie classics (Haim, anyone?) will be the perfect way to close out the night at nearly 2am, just in time to head over to the Kompakt 20 or Mixmag afterhours parties. Ticket information, set times, and venue details are over here.

Want to win a pair of tickets to the #dBx Hush Hush Records showcase? All you have to do is go over to the No Fear Of Pop Facebook page, make sure you've "liked" us, and comment on the preview, part 1 post by no later than Sunday, September 15 at 9pm PST. The winner will be selected randomly and will be contacted via Facebook sometime that week.

We're also quite excited about XLR8R's showcase at Decibel, taking place the night of Thursday, September 26 at Capitol Hill venue Chop Suey, featuring extensive sets by three artists of whom we're big fans: Huerco S., Vessel, and Evian Christ. Advance tickets and Decibel passes can be purchased through Decibel's website.

CTM and Diversity: An Unprovoked Rejoinder

03 Apr 2013 — Henning Lahmann

In his account of last month’s CTM festival, published two weeks ago, author Warren O’Neill originally had included the following paragraph:

However, one cannot talk about this year’s CTM without mentioning the distinct lack of female artists. Over the course of the whole week, I saw only three women performing, and though for sure there were female artists I wasn't able to see even including those, I’d be surprised if it reached double figures. Of course some might argue that this is a problem of the experimental music culture at large and that the blame shouldn't be put on organisers (Considering that just about everybody’s label of 2012, Berlin-based PAN, has had only two women on its 40-strong roster, both as a part of a male-female duo, lends some weight to this point of view). But due to the theme of the festival you would think they’d have done a better job. The same can be said of other aspects of diversity; and for a festival aiming to be ‘full of contrasts’, rather disappointingly it was composed mainly of white males in their 20s and 30s coming from Western Europe or North America.

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After some back and forth with both Warren and Jan Rohlf, CTM Festival’s main curator (before someone feels inclined to point out the obvious irony: yes, male white dudes in their 20s and 30s from Western Europe discussing the topic), I eventually decided to remove the paragraph during the editing process. Not because I believe the assertions to be incorrect or not justified. In fact, most readers will be aware that the observations are in themselves not exactly new. Shortly after the end of the festival, Berlin’s BarbNerdy sparked some discussion and indeed some outrage with a post on her blog that initially counted only one performing female artist during CTM, before eventually settling the figure at six. Despite that uncertainty, the DJ/writer’s rage was voiced in unambiguous terms. "We have 2013 and you really make us to bring up the mad discussion about ‘do we need a quota?’ again. I’m against it. (…) But If you do not start digging deeper and check out the fantastic female musicians out there (…) [then] we need a quota just to gain more attention." The intervention was backed up with some bare facts by the website female:pressure, a self-described ‘international database and support network of women in the fields of electronic music and digital arts’. Numerically assessing various global festivals of recent date, female:pressure came up for CTM with a total of 18 female and seven mixed artists/projects. At the same time, 153 male musicians performed at the festival, alongside three of ‘unknown’, or probably rather undetermined, gender. A perplexing figure indeed.

So what about Warren’s assessment then? When confronted with his critique, Jan Rohlf, while admitting that it "surely would have been good to have more female musicians" at the festival, pointed not only to common organisational restraints – such as past bookings, other Berlin bookers’ recent activity, theme, current productions, financial capabilities, availability of artists, conception of individual programme items – and CTM’s more favourable record in this regard, with past editions of the festival itself but also considering the organisation’s numerous other activities over the course of a year. He also compared the Berlin festival’s lineup with that of other thematically similar events, in particular last October’s edition of Krakow’s Unsound Festival, which by his own account did not feature a higher proportion of female artists. This impression is in fact supported by female:pressure’s findings. While CTM ‘at least’ exhibits a ratio of 16.3 percent female musicians, Unsound hits at a mere 12.6. The conceptually akin Mutek Espagne and Mutek Montreal come in at 8.3 and 17.9, respectively.

However, insisting on the latter clarification, what Jan Rohlf stressed first and foremost was the overall situation of society, emphasizing the point already conceded by Warren as well: there simply are fewer female electronic musicians than male, which necessarily leads to a lower presence of women performing at electronic music festivals. And for sure, at first glance it appears difficult to escape the argument’s validity. Asked about her opinion, UK-based journalist Steph Kretowicz, whose own apt take on the festival week can still be found over at Dummy, concurred. "I think the problem of representing women in electronic music is much more complicated than placing an onus on a festival organiser to fill some kind of ‘quota’. The fact is, there are fewer women working within the electronic arts. In the same way that there are fewer women journalists and fewer women construction workers – it’s simply a reflection of the systems of society at large. This is an issue, not only of opportunity but of conditioning. We still exist in an extremely gendered, patriarchal society and those people, defined as women, are not encouraged to excel in traditionally masculine fields. That's not to mention issues of ‘raced’ artforms, which I think is also crucial for analysis. As Holly Herndon said, when asked about being one of few women appearing to take part in artist talks at CTM, ‘it’s not just not women’." And it surely isn’t just festivals: Looking at this very website, I would be surprised if an actual numerical evaluation would not bring to light figures somewhere close to female:pressure’s findings, despite the fact that both our favourite album of 2012 and our favourite track had been produced by female electronic artists. Artists, by the way, who were both present at CTM, a fact that’s somewhat telling I suppose.

Strikingly, in his response Jan Rohlf pointed to an essay by pansexual/transgender artist Terre Thaemlitz aka DJ Sprinkles entitled "Statement of Purpose. Identifying Social Content in Japanese Electronic Music", included in the anthology Gendertronics. Der Körper in der elektronischen Musik [The Body in Electronic Music, ed.], edited by club transmediale and published by Suhrkamp in 2004. Thaemlitz basically arrives at the same conclusion, while furthermore asserting that "[o]ne of the keys to developing and spreading practices on a wide-scale basis is wide-scale necessity. But frankly speaking, the fundamental assumption that there is a necessity for more (white?) women producers of electronic music (not to mention transgendered producers) imbues electronic music with a degree of cultural importance that (…) I ultimately find lacking". Eventually, she even "dare[s] to suggest there are some cultural spheres in which ‘equal representation’ will never exist on a material level".

So is that it? No doubt – I do agree that curators of contemporary music festivals are not the first ones to blame when it comes to the blatant lack of woman artists present at those occasions, which is why both Warren’s initial review and BarbNerdy’s piece might come across as slightly unfair to those directly involved in the organisation of a festival as complex and challenging as CTM. And I also don’t really believe in any sort of actual conspiracy to preserve male dominance at the event, as suggested by BarbNerdy. If anything, what the festival revealed last month was the need for a discussion that’s still to be started. Still, I also wonder if it is that simple the other way round, too.

However, I’m not so sure if I can agree that we should accept that ‘culture’ might simply not ‘need’ more non-male electronic musicians, as Thaemlitz bluntly asserts. That would essentially entail asking already active woman producers to basically accept the fact that they probably will continue to not be booked in the future. Quite the contrary, I wonder why we don’t assume the possibility that festival booking could actually make a crucial difference insofar as an increase of female artists at such much-noticed public events may set an example that could in itself encourage more women to get into electronic music, or to put their stuff out there, or getting more labels to sign them. Why not, instead of relying on a bottom up conjecture and just continue with the assumption that once there are ‘enough’ women in electronic music, booking will follow suit automatically, why not just as well suggest that what we should establish in fact is the exact opposite. After all, it is not really ‘the women’ – or, rather, the whole non-western white male part of the population – who somehow need to step up and ‘emancipate’. If the ideas of enlightenment ever meant anything, it surely is that society at large that is in urgent need of progression. And when it comes to avant-garde pop culture, I wonder if music festivals couldn’t play a much more significant role in attempting to achieve that than they seem ready to admit.

For now, I’m unsure if the talk about quotas will lead anywhere ultimately; so I’m not willing to advocate them here and now. But if the real issue is a question of conditioning, as Steph suggests, why not start conditioning society by means of progressive booking and journalistic coverage? In other words, where should that necessary and anticipated change come from if not through those who write about electronic music or organise music festivals? If perceived correctly, forward-thinking curatorship in whatever field shouldn’t be the conclusion of socio-cultural shift, but stand firmly at its outset. It’s not called avant-garde for nothing. So for what it’s worth, maybe we should just all try a little harder next time – because it seems to me that The Golden Age is still a long way off.