Interview: Gabe Holcombe (Vehicle Blues)

29 Jun 2014 — Henry Schiller

Gabe Holcombe is the founder of Chicago-by-way-of-Kansas tape label Lillerne Tapes and makes blissful bedroom pop as Vehicle Blues. Earlier this month Holcombe released his first 7" record - "Luke Song" - on Lake Paradise Records. "Luke Song" is a warbling bluster of soothing guitars and ambiguous, enveloping vocals. The perfect companion for a long weekend in the countryside or being stuck in traffic on the FDR, "Luke Song" contorts to fit the moment it needs to support. I spoke with Gabe over email about the theraputic qualities of music, best friendships, and what it means to be a bedroom artist.

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Hey Gabe - we’re coming to the end of the first week of summer and I can’t think of a better time of year for your particular brand of hazy, shoegaze-y bedroom pop. Any big plans for the next few months in terms of recording or touring, or are you just laying low this summer?

In the past, I've seen summertime as a seasonal excuse to be unproductive and irresponsible. I'd like to think that I've moved beyond that point in my life, but it still gives me reasons to procrastinate and stay up too late. I'm going to work on a lot of tapes for my label, Lillerne Tapes, and begin the first steps in writing and recording an LP. I haven't been much for touring lately, but I am going to spend a couple weeks in July in the middle of nowhere to try and get away from Chicago and all the noise around me/in my head.

I’m on a train in Scotland listening to “Luke Song” and I have to say that the track is wonderfully complimented by the endless green fields and slowly rotating wind turbines gliding past my car window. Are there any particular images or experiences that you associate with the track; any places you think “Luke Song” ought to be listened to?

I often like to apply specific imagery in my songwriting, but "Luke Song" is actually a pretty imageless track. It has no set lyrics, and it's not about much in particular. I guess for me, it evokes more intangible feelings and moods than it does specific experience or images in my life. Clearly, it's a sad, melancholy song, but it makes me kind of hopeful whenever I play it. I guess this is an easy out, but that song can be applied to any feeling or setting you'd like. Cars and trains are certainly good places to be "feeling something" and have a song be applied to that moment.

You’ve been a pretty prolific cassette releaser, but “Luke Song” has been put out as a 7” – your first vinyl release if I’m not mistaken. Was there something about this particular track that you felt made it a better fit for vinyl than for cassette tape?

It just felt like a single. A lot of the tapes I've put out in the past are in the 10-20 minute range because I want things to feel cohesive and never tired or full of filler. Complaints about a tape being too short are taken as compliments, and I want to save any kind of long-player dreams for when I have a group of 8-12 songs that really fit and feel right in the same room together. The 7" was all recorded at the same time, in the same place, with the same feelings and thoughts going through my head. I don't want to clip together releases from all over the place. They should fit and make sense. All of these songs were recorded in a very large, airy warehouse setting. You can hear the space in the tracks. I thought that it would be great to have on wax to utilize the sound and space of a record, as opposed to the more compressed and hissy sound of a cassette.

I’m curious about how you recorded “Luke Song” – can you take me through the set up and process?

The three tracks on the 7" were recorded in a space called Lake Paradise on the west side of Chicago. It's a very large, relatively raw warehouse space where some friends of mine live or have lived, including my friend Jake Acosta, who runs the label of the same name. My friend Drew M. Gibson (Katrina Stonehart, Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk) set up some amps and recording gear, and we knocked out the three songs in a fairly short amount of time. Sometimes we would move the gear into the much bigger room of the space to get that kind of open, distant sound on a track. It was very utilitarian and kind of unorthodox, but the songs came out sounding the way I had envisioned. A dreamy, somewhat sad and oddly hopeful collection of songs.

On “Luke Song” you can hear some allegiance to groups like My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. Am I off the mark, or is that kind of late 80s, early 90s dream pop an era of music you’re particularly interested in? Did you have any specific stylistic influences for this record?

I've listened to a lot of late 80s, early 90s dream pop and shoegaze. The bands you've mentioned have always been huge influences on what I like to listen to and what kind of songs I write. I could go on forever, but my holy trinity will always be Lilys, Swirlies, Unrest. I like a lot of pretty music that's buried in fuzz and hiss. At the time of recording this single, I was concentrating on a lot of ambient music as a means of stretching out powerful melodies, and sustaining and repeating certain ideas for long periods of time. I like the idea of obsessing over a certain hook or melody for awhile, and better understanding why I like it so much.

It’s mentioned in your press release that “Luke Song” is an ode to a friend. Presumably this is someone you were (or are) quite close to. Did you have things you felt you needed to say to Luke and haven’t gotten the chance to, or were you trying to create more of a totem to a cherished bond?

The Luke in question is one of my best friends. We have a cosmic bond. We live in separate cities now, but we're always talking to each other about our lives. Like I said before, the song isn't necessarily about Luke, but he may have been on my mind during the recording process. The whole 7" has a "friends-past-and-present" thing happening. "Waving Steps" is about moments of departure. Short, sweet moments and the end of those moments. "4 Tues" is about a kid that I had met in the graffiti scene in Kansas City in the mid 2000s. He passed away abruptly, and his existence and lack of existence has stayed with me throughout my life. He was one of those people who had that special aura of adventure and intensity that's hard to see in many others. It was a troubling period for me in general, and moments like that really cemented how temporary everything was, especially when, like I was at that time, you're a newly minted adult without much responsibility or a support system. I get nostalgic about the past, but I know that everything that happened back then stays with me today.

Your music is classified as bedroom pop, which I think is a fair assessment, but is one that gets thrown around so much I think it might replace “independent music” as a catchall for anything not released on a big label. Do you think categories are unfair to musicians or do you appreciate the sort of stylistic lineage they provide for up and coming artists like yourself?

I literally write and play music in my bedroom, so for me it's a perfectly fine descriptor for what I do. I think that sometimes people associate "bedroom pop" with "lo-fi" or "no-fi" kind of aesthetics, but I feel that it's so broad in scope that it's hard to nail down a sound. Certainly, it's not studio music. I'd also venture to say that it's not always a stereotype for it to be considered a loner's game and a solitary/solemn act, but the idea of "bedroom music" could mean anything. Many of my friends make dance music in their bedrooms, but nobody's calling it "bedroom techno" when it gets put out on a 12" to wide acclaim. I play, and often record pop music in my bedroom, so it's totally fair to call what I do bedroom pop.

You live in Chicago, which I don’t think a lot of people outside of Chicago (especially here in the UK) realize has a pretty diverse music culture. Are you a part of any scene in particular? Do you have a crew of artists that you tend to gig with?

I'd like to think that I'm pretty active in the DIY music scene in Chicago. For me, that entails going to a lot of shows, playing DIY shows, and releasing music for my peers and those around me in that scene. The music culture in Chicago is extremely diverse and widespread, and I enjoy existing in one of the smallest, off-the-radar corners of its universe.

I think there’s a perception of so-called bedroom artists like Daniel Johnston, R Stevie Moore, or Ariel Pink (though less so him these days), as being these strange, asocial, or otherwise enigmatic figures. Do you think of music making as a lonely process, or do you feel as though you’re making music as part of a community (whether it be of artists, colleagues, or friends)?

For me, making music is a solitary and therapeutic act. Much of what I try to do creatively would fall under that category. Chicago can be a very lonely place. It's not that I truly find solace in the music that I make, but I do find some sort of distraction in the process. It's a never-ending battle between myself and my mind. The community I exist in is tight-knit, but I feel like many of us have similar temperaments and lifestyles that keep us out of contact with each other. I can't always call somebody up when I'm feeling down, so I can escape for a bit and try to write a song. It sounds very trite, but it's a real and honest way to pass the time. Escapes are hard to come by. I can't even do drugs right. I'm almost 31 years old, and I can't express myself in the ways that I'd have as a teenager or in my early twenties. I was running across expressways and being bad and truly living day to day. I don't want to self-mythologize here, but it's helpful to put it into perspective. Distractions are not always lifetime sports. I see a future now and I want to try to do something with it. I work a day job to pay my rent, and when I get home I want to involve myself in music as much as I can. It's very important to have community, but it's even more important to have yourself be somewhat okay with who you are on a day to day basis.

No one would read No Fear of Pop if they didn’t care about listening to cutting edge pop music that Pitchfork doesn’t cover. Do you have any artists, albums or tracks that you’re particularly interested in right now?

Lately it's been mostly just pretty new age cassette tapes and Chicago rap music. Pretty much anything on SicSic Tapes, too.

Interview: Amen Dunes on Confinement, Astrology, and The Masculinity of “Love”

12 May 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

Bob Dylan, Tim Buckley, and, especially in the case of the new album, Love, Nick Drake, are all influences considerably easy to decipher out of the Amen Dunes sound. Yet when I talked with the man behind the dunes, Damon McMahon, I wanted to try to learn about other areas of influence, perhaps more ethereal, groundless ones, as the other striking quality of the new album is its rapture. In that process, I gained some extra and candid insight on McMahon's thoughts on women and music, growing out of old habits, and contemporary artist-friends. This is how it went.

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Hi Damon! What's up?

Hello Evelyn! Not much, just in my natural habitat. [Walking through the streets of Brooklyn – sound of cars rushing by]

The last interview I did over Skype was with Mike Silver of CFCF, whose latest album was broadly inspired by traveling nonstop and a lot of the time between NYC and Montreal via the Catskills. You recorded your new album in Montreal and live in New York, so I'm curious if that commute had anything to do with the captivating, rather calming yet mouthwatering mood on Love, because you also have actually recorded in the Catskills?

Yeah, I recorded my first record in the Catskills. I don't think it necessarily contributed to the mood. Montreal is sort of a harsh vibe so it was actually a challenge to the mood. It depends on what mood comes across – there was sort of a mood of perseverance I guess and I think with Montreal being a difficult, harsh place, that played a small part in it. I guess I could say it that way.

I'd say the mood on the album is totally one of perseverance and overcoming, so if you recorded it in a place like that, you had even more to overcome apart from what you wrote about. I hadn't heard that interpretation of Montreal. Well, a good friend of mine lived there for several years and he said it was actually quite traumatizing.

I can see that, the winter was really brutal. We started recording in late February and there was like two feet of snow everywhere. But yeah also circumstances were challenging, so yeah that contributed a small part to the record. But whatever, the environment you record in is a minor part of an album. It effects it slightly, but this record is not all about where I recorded it.

That makes sense. I couldn't help but look up some interviews you did after Spoiler came out, which enlightened me to the frenzy of discomfort and rejection that particular album created. I was laughing actually about that because, come on, it's not that weird, it's a rad work, and it's the coolest thing for an artist to do something out of character. Anyway, you described your music to our buddies at The Quietus as 'negative music,' which I find interesting. Could you expand on that?

Thanks! That used to be true, and when I did that interview, let's see, I had done the first record in like 2006, and the second one in China in 2009, and so I was doing that interview around Through Donkey Jaw in 2011. All those records were 'negative music,' but I think that's not the case with the new Amen Dunes stuff at all. I was trying to be, well, not positive, but definitely but open, I think. The idea of this record was to be open. 'Negative music' was just, you know, aggressive music, sort of cathartic, aggressive music, antagonistic in subtle ways.

Ok so emotionally negative?

Yeah.

I was thinking you could have also meant like sonically negative, like the sound could emulate a negative aesthetic, like inverted colors, like on film. I was wondering if there's a textural element to that description.

Definitely! I think the negative I meant was negative emotions, like vengeance, and it was a tool for me to have catharsis. I don't make punk rock and I'm not a Japanese noise band from the 80s or something, but all those people have emotional agendas that I related to at the time. Their music is a way of striking out at people, and, in turn, it's medicinal to listeners. That's what the old Amen Dunes stuff was about. Texturally, I mean that's interesting, that's not what I meant by it, although Amen Dunes is influenced by certain films and just shit that I've absorbed over the years. I was trying to get away from that. I mean, I never made lo-fi music because I wanted to; If I could've gone to the studio with some engineers I really admire, and made it sound good, or if I could've gone to Muscle Shoals, if it still existed, for the first Amen Dunes record, my god, I would have! But at the time I could only afford a small tape machine for three-hundred bucks, so I was working within my means. So texturally it has a film negative quality – I like warm music, but I don't like lo-fi necessarily. I was trying to make the best warmth out of lo-fi.

That's interesting because if you feel like you can't do what you dream, like go for your first recording project to the dream studio with producers who you admire, you could feel confined. Feeling as if within confines connotes a negative feeling, too, so it's a duality of negative emotions placed into the music.

It's tricky because it's confining, it's limited, it's pro studio dudes in that world. They're not always creative oftentimes; they're stuck inside the confines. It's kind of an ideal scenario to be able to make free music in a good studio. I don't know how that's possible anymore, unless you have like ten million dollars and people let you do what you want.

Yeah it's weird how when you become so rich, you don't have to pay for anything anymore.

Right!? Yeah that's not the case with Amen Dunes. I wouldn't say 'so rich' with 'Amen Dunes.'

At least the Canadian dollar is a little behind ours right now, so you recorded in the right place.

That's true! Here's some money...

So it's about the challenge and overcoming of making warm, genuine music within the confines of lo-fi, negative music. It's like a sensitive paradox, and just talking about that with you makes me view your music differently.

Cool! It's not intentional, you know. I just want to make beautiful music that feels a certain way emotionally. I don't think I'm looking for a sonic aesthetic to convince something.

Yeah, it's free, as you say.

Yeah.

Well the new album has that freeing mood. I think the musicality and emotionality of every song is just... relieving. There's a big sense of relief.

That's what I want!

Well I can't help but pry, but what led you to that place? Do you also feel more in your personal life that you've arrived at a, not a plateau, because that sort of has a negative connotation, because then it's like 'ok, where the fuck do I go from here?' – but to a stable, flatter ground, or a new level where it's prettier and easier than where you were before and you can rest from the exhausting hike or whatever.

Yeah, the hike... I think in my case it was rolling down a hill. It came from years of self-destruction or, you know, years of bad living, which I did with Amen Dunes. It was my vehicle for dealing with bad living. So I think this new record is about moving beyond that and not being hindered by that anymore. Yeah, like you said, that 'relieving' feeling. It's great. I want all the music to have that medicinal quality. That's nice that that comes out.

It does! From the first chord onwards... but how old are you?

I'm thirty-three, a ripe thirty-three.

Ok so I'm really into astrology and...

I am also highly superstitious myself.

Ok right on! Well I'm not about to do a reading for you or anything, but I actually would be curious as to when your birthday is.

Yeah I think it might make sense, too: I'm a Virgo.

No shit me too!

You are? Now that's funny. [Chuckles]

Are you a September or August Virgo?

I'm September 12th - my music is very Virgo.

I never attributed any astrological stuff to your music actually but now I'll do it every time I listen to it. Well, I ask because, in astrology, there's this huge transit we have to all go through when we're in our late twenties and early thirties called Saturn Return – have you heard of that before?

No, I haven't. See, I'm superstitious enough that I stay out of this stuff. Anyway, what was it?

So when we're in our late twenties and early thirties, depending on where Saturn is in our respective natal charts, it transits back through that place where it was when we started life, and that whole process usually has an air on dropping things that no longer work for us, like ending bad relationships, divorcing our parents, feeling like nothing will ever actually change... but it's really a giant growth spurt.

That's very apropos, because I am thirty-three, and I began this record right after my thirty-third birthday and I was just ending this really longterm, serious relationship. So, superficially, this record has been a way of processing that relationship. So that's funny, that record comes right out of that part of my life...I like your thesis.

On the track "I Know Myself," there's sort of crooning, shaky singing style that is always sort of in your singing but here very prominent. What is that style called?

I don't think it's called anything, but it comes from my process of listening to music over the years and absorbing singers. When I was a little kid, I started off by not writing songs but copy other singers. I was a huge Bob Dylan fan when I was a kid, and Texas blues, old acoustic blues people. I loved Tim Buckley when I was a kid. I liked The Band when I was like fifteen or fourteen, and I'd sing and started using this vibrato thing. And over the years, I just worked it out; it's like a tool that I know how to use now. It's just in me, I don't know. Comes from the stuff I listened to growing up.

I thought of Jefferson Airplane.

That's funny – someone told me that once years ago. Yeah, when I was a kid... that second Jefferson Airplane record, Surrealistic Pillow, that is a very overlooked record. It's kind of annoying: people love obscure reissues and all this shit; but, the best stuff is often the most obvious stuff, in my opinion, especially in the 60s. That record is my favorite psych-folk record. Anyway, she was one of my biggest influences as a kid.

That segways us a bit into my question about female musicians. On "Lilac In Hand," it sounds like you and some lady backup singing in the chorus. Is this the case?

No, it's my brother, actually. His name is Xander Duell, and he put a record out on Mexican Summer, and he's putting a new record out this fall on a label called Ingrid. He is an overlooked gem, that guy. Yeah, but it's not a woman, just my brother. He's got an incredible range … he also sings on "I Know Myself." Those harmonies are my brother also.

Ok well he sounds beautiful! Let him know I say so.

I will! [Laughter]

So were there any ladies on the collaboration for Love?

Sophie from Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Jess from A Silver Mt. Zion play violin on the song "Rocket Flare." You know, I don't mean this in a weird, misogynist way, but this record is a very masculine record. Amen Dunes is very masculine in general, or like man-focused.

Yeah, man-focused and also man-folkist because of all the masculine folk music influence.

[Both laugh]

Do you think you could ever see yourself doing a riskier album than Spoiler, like do a collaboration album with a female artist you like, or like a favorite contemporary female artist?

To be honest, I don't think my energy would work with that. I mean, I love women, and I have plenty of female friends, but I don't think my energy would work with a woman. I don't know, I can't imagine it, actually. It's just not my vibe, and I don't mean that in any kind of disparaging or critical way; I just don't think chemically it'll work.

Explosion in the lab!

Totally!

That answer makes me feel like you've thought about it before.

Well I can feel it, instantly, even when you ask me that question. I've never thought about that too much, but all my musical choices are incredibly clear to me, like what would work and what wouldn't work. I'm also picky about who I play with.

I would say that both of those things, the feeling what wouldn't work intuition and being picky bit, are strong Virgo traits. So you're a good Virgo.

I'm a total Virgo!

Before I let you go, I wanted to learn a bit about your favorite contemporary music. Who are your favorite contemporary artists? I'm always curious about what's being collected and loved by artists.

Well the music I love are kind of polar opposites – I love like much more experimental, and electronic music on one end, and then kind of a few more popular things. I don't like stuff in the middle so much. So, I listen to a ton of European/English experimental electronic music. I love this label out of London called Alter … this guy Helm, he's playing my record release show. I like Posh Isolation out of Denmark. I like this Three Legged Race project, and this guy LG out of Belgium. Then I like these more popular guys. I like Kurt Vile, I mean these happen to be a lot of friends … I like The War on Drugs stuff … and Iceage, you know, Elias is a good friend of mine. He actually sings on two songs on the record. I really like those guys, all the Danes.

The duets you guys do on the record sound really good.

I'm so psyched about that, man. There are very few people who are very good singers. And he's a really good singer. I don't often trust someone when I hear them sing, like I hear it, and I instantly know whether it's believable or not.

Like someone is singing and it's a lie? It's not raw, good singing? Lie-singing?

They're not believable, they're phony or something. Most singers don't have balls, and I don't mean that in a masculine way – I don't know how to put. You just don't believe them. But Elias, I believe him.

Did he join you in the studio in Montreal?

No, he was in Brooklyn, coincidentally. It was so awesome. [Snickers] He had been tripping all night, so he came into the studio and he was still hallucinating, was telling me all this stuff, like he had been an old black man from a past life and was shining a candle on the ground – it was very unusual behavior. It was pretty awesome.

I totally have to include this in the interview! [Both laugh]

Love is out tomorrow, May 13th on Sacred Bones, and is, in my opinion, an achievement for Amen Dunes.

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: Nils Frahm

21 Mar 2014 — Lukas Dubro

While watching Nils Frahm perform, it’s clear that the musician from Berlin devotes all of himself to his work.  Crouched over his keys, his body moves to the rhythm of his music with his lips pursed in concentration. One moment he is sitting on front of his piano, the next, he’s turning buttons on his effects units or playing a line on his synthesizer. Most of time, a lot is happening at once. The sweat always runs.

Frahm works with the same intensity beyond the stage. Before shows he puts up his own lights and soundchecks for as long as four hours. His recordings are a testament to the investment of time in both composition and production. Still, when he does have free time, he works to maintain a studio where he knows every single knob and screw.  It is the same studio he’s done most of the work on his ten albums since 2005.  Equally impressive is the list of his collaborations; over the last few years he’s worked with Ólafur Arnalds, Anne Müller and Peter Broderick.

His commitment paid off. Frahm is one of the most celebrated German musicians of our time. We visited the artist at home a week after his show at Radialsystem in Berlin. As you might expect, Frahm gave 100 percent. Despite his demanding schedule, he gave us plenty of time to ask all of our questions. Before the interview he made some espresso; afterwards, bread and cheese. In between, it felt like visiting an old friend. Nonetheless, the real highlight of the day was viewing his famous home studio.

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This is it, the spaceship. Makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable! Why?

Depends on who is coming, of course, but most people feel overwhelmed [by the studio]. They don't understand what I’m doing here. But I like it when someone commits to something and becomes an expert-- no matter if it's kayaks, canoes or stamps.

Do you know a lot of people like this?

Yes. Matthias, for example, is helping me take care of the studio. He’s a total nerd. He knows everything between 1920 and 1950. He can explain to you exactly what instruments there were, how they worked and who used them. We both think that this time was the golden era of sound recording. People used less tracks, but every single one had better quality. The same goes with every part. We are experimenting a lot with stuff from that time. We unscrew them, exchange parts and maintain them. The studio is our Klanglabor (sound laboratory). 

When did you start collecting instruments?

When I was 12. My first piece was a Fender Rhodes piano, a friend of mine showed it to me. Next was a Moog and then a Juno. That was the beginning, and I never wanted to use anything else again.

Where did you find all these instruments?

Sometimes I read the back of my favorite vinyl records. They’ll have studio photos...then I connect to internet, type in the name and see what comes up. And what I’ll find is a small shop somewhere in Tennessee whose owner put up a photo online. I’ll call him up and talk to him until he realizes that I’m like him. We’ll become friends and he’ll tell me that he knows somebody who might help me.

And what draws you to gear specifically?

I always liked artists that worked hard every day. And I always saw myself as a craftsman. I can't write a song every day, I’m not creative enough. Still, I want to have something to do. So when I’m not feeling inspired, I’ll work on my studio. It’s like meditation. It keeps my life in motion.

Are you ever afraid you’ll neglect the music?

There are different phases-- times when I’ll work meticulously on my studio and times that I have to tell myself to stop. When I’m recording I recognize that it’s valuable to put so much time into my gear, because I can put up four microphones, press the record button and have it sound finished. Jazz musicians from the ‘40s and ‘50s did the same thing. They were able to record their albums within two days because everything was ready for it.

So it’s about creating the right setting?

Exactly! I try to create an environment where things can happen. It's the greatest part of my work and it's what makes me proud at the end of the day. Chord progressions don’t matter as much for me. What’s more important is the sound and how it comes across, how the details are treated. Those are the things that matter.

Noted.  Then how do you feel about people making music on their laptops?

It’s a tendency that I don't like. I think things shouldn't be too easy. The industry is always looking for new ways to make things easier. But that’s very dangerous, because people will be coddled and become lazy. They’ll get used to the fact that you could do an expensive sounding album for 2,000 Euro. I know the people that are running studios, buying expensive instruments, and they really know their stuff. They should be in charge. That would be good for music.

And what about the people who get on stage with nothing but their laptop?

This trend concerns me. Concerts are the last pillar of the music industry. It will fall if these people keep bringing only their laptops on stage. Put yourself in the place of the audience: They travel far, wait in a long queue, and pay a lot of money to only listen to a backing track. This will eventually keep them from coming back. In the end, I’m profiting off people like that. I am the old fossil that troubled himself to tune real instruments and play everything in real time without loops or playbacks.

Then are you always travelling with your instruments?

Not really, but my effects units, my Rhodes and some small things I always take along. The rest of my equipment I rent on location. Before I play the first note I’ve already invested 2,000 Euro. And of course I could ask myself, Do I want to keep the money for myself and only use a laptop? But that would be a bad business idea. The consequence would be that the price would lower. But thanks to my approach, they are rising. And so, I invest money to install good light, get a hazer and pay a light and sound engineer. Ultimately, I am only doing what I would want from a concert.

Why is Spaces a live album?

I realized after trying to record them that many of my songs don't work at a studio. They were missing the energy of a live show.  I wanted this live moment, the madness when the sweat runs and I am doing so many things at once. A lot the album was written on stage during soundchecks, when I found a particular sound. I just couldn't capture that at the studio. Some other tracks I wanted to compare to the original version, to see how they had changed over the years. So I told myself that the extra expenses didn’t matter, I am going to record some live shows.

You recorded 30 shows. What was your method for selecting the songs?

It was important that the room sounded good. Every song has its environment. Some work best at a church; others in a small room. The biggest challenge was to put them all together, to create a flow with the effect that that the listener won’t know when something stops and another begins. Just like my shows, I wanted the audience to be carried away.

There’s a funny moment on the opening track, "An Aborted Beginning". The music abruptly stops after 90 seconds, then laughter and baffled handclaps. What happened?

That song is a tool. I put it there so people set the right volume on their hi-fi station. Originally I wanted to put "Says" as the first track, but because it starts so quiet and gets so loud at the end, I was afraid that the song could be ruined. That’s why I decided to put the short drum machine jam at the beginning. Speaking about the clapping at the end, don’t believe the album.

And here I thought that you’d hit a wrong button…

That’s exactly what I wanted. I like that it’s awkward. You think, Woah, something went terribly wrong here. I wanted to make the listener feel unsure, Is this really Nils Frahm? I like to toy with expectations. This is my working method.

Piano is the main element on Spaces. Why not a keyboard?

The piano is the only instrument where I can create a feeling in real time without needing to edit it afterward. I couldn't do this with a keyboard. I’ve been doing electronic music with the computer for a long time. I’ll spend hours in front of the screen, glass of red wine in hand, programming depth into a hi-hat. A couple of years ago I sat again in front of my piano and realized how beautiful it was. Besides, I thought, I’ve put so much work into the instrument that it wouldn’t make sense to ignore it. Through the piano I found a sound that sounds like me. I have always been focused on this.

You do a lot of collaborations. What do you like about them?

You always learn something. When you’re with someone at the studio it’s like you see them naked. You learn a lot about their working method, their manner, their attitude. You get to see how they do things and get the chance to analyze your own process. I’ve always learned this way. Instead of doing professional training, I made music with other people at the rehearsal room. It’s extremely effective.

From whom did you learn the most?

Certainly Peter Broderick and Anne Müller. I collaborated the most with them. I produced whole albums for Peter and he demanded a lot from me. Peter taught me about playing live, that it’s important to be courageous and improvise on stage instead of arranging everything before...The willingness to take risks was always a part of me, but Peter helped me access it. He’s a man with a lot of self-confidence, an assured person, and that’s inspiring. You can learn a lot from him.

I saw your father at your show at Radialsystem. Does he always come to your shows?

He doesn't always manage to come, but when I am playing in Hamburg he comes every single time.

What does that mean to you?

My father has been very important to me. To begin, he provided me with good music so that I always stood out in class. At home we were spinning the gods of modern jazz, Nordic jazz and classic, as well Massive Attack or Portishead. He supported me when I decided to become a musician. He is a freelance photographer. We wouldn't have anything to talk about if I had become a lawyer or a brain surgeon. Becoming an artist was in the family.

Weren't you afraid to follow your father?

No, I always knew that I could live up to his expectations. I didn’t become a photographer, because it's a bad idea to compete with your own father. He was always was a big motivation, because he set the bar so high for me. That’s why I’ve always been so critical with my own work. I always knew when I showed him my recordings that he wanted me to push myself even further. I remember the day that he first told me he was proud of me. It was in my early 20’s when I showed him a piano recording. I saw it in his face-- the perfectionist approved. I knew that I had done something good. This moment was so important because it’s when he started to become a fan.

So your father is a perfectionist too?

My father does large format photography. He knows everything about chemicals, technique, print, scan and bookbinding. But, like me, he didn’t study or do any professional training. He just did it himself, because he was on fire. He’s always worked hard to achieve his goals...I would have never had the self-confidence to become an artist without such a great example, without seeing that it is possible firsthand.

Spaces was released last year on Erased Tapes. Nils Frahm is currently touring the US and Canada. Check out the dates over here.

Stream: Fog Lake “Virgo Indigo” + Interview (exclusive)

04 Feb 2014 — Andi Wilson

St. John's, Newfoundland is home for Aaron Powell who is the marvel behind the lo-fi ambient dreaminess of Fog Lake. Following bedroom-recorded releases, farther reaches and holy cross [ep]Virgo Indigo is a step into new waters especially production-wise, collecting all emotions within the tracks' clear fidelity. Powell's lyrics and moody vocals are so vulnerable, becoming immediately relatable. While still absorbing this record, it overall makes one feel like embracing a sort of visceral state of mind and losing sense of time in a hazy, beautiful surrounding. 

Virgo Indigo is available to download for free through bandcamp or you can purchase one of the 50 lavendar cassette tapes via Orchid Tapes

Listen while reading this lovely interview with Aaron himself about the release and how Fog Lake all began. 

For those who aren't familiar with Fog Lake, when did you start recording under the name? Also, when did the project become to materialize for you?

AP: Fog Lake began in January of 2012 when I resurfaced some old ambient/drone recordings from 2008-2009, my high school days. I originally intended FL to be just a drone recording alias, but that drastically changed when I started tinkering around with more pop oriented 'songs'. I decided to stick with the name Fog Lake. I feel like the project began to materialize when I finished up my first record, and I got a little bit of exposure from that. I gotta say I was quite surprised and flattered that anyone would even bother to listen to what I was doing, so I decided to try pushing it further.

How did your relationship with Orchid Tapes establish? We are major fans/lovers of the label.

AP: It's an interesting one, I knew Warren way back on this music forum. This was around 2008-2009 as well. He'd always be posting about his new recording project "Foxes in Fiction" which I was heavily into and inspired by. "Swung from the Branches" remains one of my favorite albums of all time. Over the summer of 2013 Warren asked me if I would like to do a release with Orchid Tapes and it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I was so excited that I scrapped what I was working on at the time and began work on what would become "Virgo Indigo".

What does Virgo Indigo as a phrase mean to you, in relationship to the album or in general?

AP: I'm gonna keep it real here because I simply thought it sounded cool. The name popped into my head one night and I liked it. Combining words and phrases that kinda slip off the tongue is a lot of fun to me. "Virgo Indigo" sounds like some weird color you'd see in a paint shop, or some bullshit psychic hotline.

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The album's theme seems to particularly play with a notion of heartbreak and loneliness, attached to a dreamy nature and glimpses of hope. What are your current surroundings like and did they inspire your lyrics/sounds?

AP: I have to spend a lot of time by myself to make these records, which I hope can change in the future. 2013 was another bad year and I moved to the city during the writing/recording of Virgo. I tracked it in a pretty cramped room, right in the heart of downtown St Johns. You know, jelly bean houses. It was a drastic kind of change for me, so everything from the sounds of traffic at night to the orange glow of the city sky inspired the sound of the album.

Do you plan on touring for this record? I feel like you would melt many hearts / make people cry (in a good way).

AP: Aw, thank-you! Well I've only played a few shows so far in the city of St John's but touring is something I've been thinking about a lot. I've been talking to my friend Michael of The Raspberry Heaven who is based in Toronto and I can see us definitely doing a tour there sometime soon. Michael's been a great supporter of my music and I would recommend anyone to check out his. We collaborated on a track over the summer and you can find it on youtube I believe. I am also considering touring the island of Newfoundland or trying to get a gig at the Halifax Pop Explosion or something. It's definitely something I need to put more thought into.

What is your favorite genre or artist to listen to on a rainy day?

AP: That's a good question. I think my favorite "pouring rain" band would have to be Slint. I love rain and Slint goes well with that. Spiderland really does it for me. I wanna go back to 1991 every day.

 

Interview: Avalon Emerson

04 Dec 2013 — Henning Lahmann

San Francisco-based producer Avalon Emerson has been on our radar for a good while now, so the recent news of the imminent arrival of Emerson's debut physical release, the Pressure/Quoi! 12", met our unashamed excitement. The vinyl includes four tracks – two new productions by herself, and two different remixes on "Quoi!" on the flip side, both provided by German duo Tuff City Kids. In anticipation of the release, we've talked to Emerson via email about her work and the electronic music scene in the Bay Area. Read the interview after the break.

The Pressure/Quoi! 12" is out January 13 on San Francisco's Icee Hot. Stream clips below.

(Photo by J. Astra Brinkmann)

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You've been producing tracks for a while now, but this is your first – physical, "proper" – release. When did you first start making music, and when did you start DJing?

I was in a couple bands in highschool, but I have never been a fan of 'jamming', or really collaborating with other musicians beyond a remixing relationship, so pretty quickly I fell in love with producing and the studio environment. I was the go-to person to record, mix down and produce my friends' music. I have been working from a scrappy DIY, experimental perspective, systematically teaching myself what I needed to know on pirated software, borrowed microphones, and faking-it till I make it trial-and-error. I began really DJing when I moved into this 14-person warehouse in SF's SoMa district. I was 20 at the time, so it was the only place that was available for me to play in the US. I didn't realize then but soon found out that playing all night at private warehouse parties was actually MUCH more fun than trying to cram a decent vibe into 50 minutes in between local electro partyboys or warming up for apathetic indie band bros scraping together a boring serato set.

How would you describe your development from your first tracks to "Pressure" and "Quoi!"? I find them both a bit harder, perhaps more leaning towards techno compared to the first ones. Has something changed regarding your influences or the stuff you're into?

I believe if you want to get good at something, do it in a constant, tight iteration loop, and take advantage of the public stage the internet and blogosphere affords. When I was just starting out, I released a track a month for about a year (made many more that never saw the light of day) on Soundcloud. I feel like I've gotten over most technical learning curves, and I'm at the point where I feel very efficient at translating the idea I hear in my head into audible tracks. I've learned a lot, technically from working with Christopher Willits, who helped me mix down "Pressure" and "Quoi!!", and my new release with Spring Theory later in 2014. A lot of this stuff is actually quantitative science, with rules and best-practices to learn and formulate a framework to creatively work within. When I listen to some of the stuff Carl Craig and Kevin Saunderson did 20 years ago I know I still have a TON to learn. It's exciting.

How's the electronic music scene in the Bay Area? How is the situation concerning spaces to make and perform such music and to throw parties?

There is no shortage of talented, driven and creative people involved in music here. The influx of tech money, even since I moved here in 2009 is palpable, and is most felt in the club/nightlife industry. Every big city deals with something similar, the dramatic struggle between the traditionally warehouse/industrial/club areas of town, and the new MBA's who are moving into the new, multi-million dollar condos next door.

You've visited Berlin before. As an artist producing electronic music, did you find the city immediately inspiring? What clubs/spots/scene did interest you in particular, and did you find anything you're missing in SF?

I had always heard about people coming back from visiting Berlin and just gushing about how awesome it is. It can be kinda annoying (though I'm very much THAT person now too). To say Berlin today has achieved an impressive level of professionalism when it comes to techno is a boring understatement. I'm from Arizona so I know the cold would eventually REALLY get to me, but I would like to try out living there for a time.

How did you get in touch with the Icee Hot crew?

I've known the guys for a while. I was an intern at XLR8R when I was 20. And I even used my fake ID to get into (editor in chief of XLR8R and co-founder of Icee Hot) Shawn Reynaldo's old party Tormenta Tropical. I went to the first Icee Hot parties and Will and Ryan (Ghosts on Tape) have been friends for a while. I'm very impressed with what they have managed to build in such a short time and super excited to contribute to the label.

There's a lot of discussion going on this year about the position and role of female producers within electronic music. What are your thoughts on this, from your personal perspective, would you agree that women are still marginalized in this field? What are your own experiences regarding being booked, or concerning journalists covering your music?

So, during the day I'm a Ruby on Rails and UX dev working in SF tech. It's an understood and boring fact that men grossly outnumber the women here too. Just like in electronic music, I keep an open mind and try and go into every situation with the best intentions, do my job the best way I know how, and help to be an example for the future generation of women who want to enter a predominantly male field. There will always be the few faux-alpha-male-red-pillers out there who want to remind all the little ladies of their place, but they're a dying breed and I'd rather not focus on the few bad apples. For the most part, whether in tech or in techno, I think women bring a unique and valuable perspective to the table. At the risk of sounding cheesy and namaste, all genders, races and orientations dance and listen to music, and the more voices we get to hear from, the richer all our experiences will be.

What's coming up next? Any further releases or even a full-length in the works?

Working with the hyper-talented interactive 3D artist Cabbibo for a piece to go along with "Quoi", which will be beautiful. Then after the Pressure/Quoi! EP comes out in January, I've got another 12" coming out on a new SF/Paris label called Spring Theory in the spring, which I'm fantastically happy about. Right now I've got about a full-length's worth of material I'm trying to decide what to do with. Records take a long time, man! Gotta be patient!

Are you planning on performing outside the Bay Area or go touring sometime soon?

I love going down and playing parties in LA and I've got a couple of those lined up. The low density and year-round warmth of the city makes it perfect for cavernous warehouse parties downtown. I'm also working with a crew up here on a party series called Play it Cool. It's a roving party where we go crazy with the decorations, bring in real DJ's DJs to guest, and I even built this scrappy lighting control rig out of a bunch of dimmers and a photo box to control a bunch of lights to the music. We're having a lot of fun with it.

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.

Interview: Aïsha Devi / Danse Noire

15 Nov 2013 — Henning Lahmann

Tomorrow on Saturday, November 16, it's finally happening: together with our friends at Urban Mutations, we're proud to present and host a night at Kreuzberg's Chesters to showcase one of Europe's most exciting new underground dance labels, Geneva-based imprint Danse Noire. Featuring live performances by label founder Aïsha Devi and DN alumni Vaghe Stelle plus Lorenzo Senni aka Stargate as a very special guest, you may expect hours and hours of finest forward-thinking electronic exploration. 

To learn a bit more about Danse Noire and the ideas behind this amazing project, we talked to Aïsha Devi via email before she's arriving in town tomorrow. Read the interview after the break, and check out some tracks off of Devi's Aura 4 Everyone EP, released on DN earlier this year.

For more event details, check out Resident Advisor or Facebook.

 

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When did you start Danse Noire?

I had fantasies about a collective platform for a while, I also wanted an other angle on music than my own solo production, a wider vision. So I started the label with my boyfriend and my best friend about a year and a half ago and some other friends joined us in the love circle. We found the name exactly a year ago, while driving back from a show in Turin. The whole trip was hazy and mystic, the name Danse Noire came to us. Things have been pretty intense ever since.

What did make you want to start a label in the first place?

Having a total autonomy and a subversive medium to feed.

What do you want to achieve with the label? What is the concept behind it? It feels like there’s a very distinct idea that characterises DN.

As the whole society is generated by materialistic capitalization, I think the revolution will be spiritual. The label is an experimental terrain for alternate languages, consciousness, activism and magic explorations. Music should return to its fundamental and ritual function. The music I'm appealed to put out is not a functional product but the result of an illumination. 

Aside from the releases, we've been running label showcases and parties. Clubs and raves are the new temples. There's an entertainment side to it, fun is fun but I like the gathering as a possibility to reach transcendence, collectively.

How do you find your artists, and where?

We're truffle pigs, yo. We do hours and hours of Soundcloud and Bandcamp subterranean digging and we also do have some magic friends-connections operating.

Is it easy to run a label from a rather small place like Geneva? How is the music scene in the city? Or is location irrelevant today?

In terms of livability of a label, location tends to have less and less impact. Our communication and audience is rather emerging out of Switzerland, but dealing with your direct environment is a nice challenge too. I feel Geneva is in a bit of a luxury era, avant-garde and non strictly danceable music is struggling out here, Danse Noire is also a reaction to this statism, we don't correspond to the local scene and we have that cool underdog position.

Exporting the label worldwide is awesome but i also like the reverse idea of bringing an alternative here, transforming Swiss media's prejudices about digital culture, curate events and build up a new scenery.

What is the reason behind the decision to abandon your moniker Kate Wax in favour of your given name?

Sometime you feel like what you've created has a story of its own and has reached some limits. I wanted to start the label and produce music as instinctively as I breathe, and I breathe as Aïsha Devi. I reunited with myself, I'm one. I feel like a virgin.

What’s up next, for your own music as well as for Danse Noire?

I'm working on my new album at the moment and we are readying three or four releases for early next year. I'm really excited about this, spectrum extension at its maximum, exploration 2.0.