Interview: LYKANTHEA

23 Jun 2015 — Henry Schiller

In her video for "Parturition" ambient artist Lykanthea walks slowly from an ancient Etruscan burial ground before settling in the sea. The mythic, almost otherworldy video is fitting: The Rome-based Chicagoan, whose real name is Lakshmi Ramgopal, wrote much of the EP Migration while studying ancient ruins on the remote Greek island of Delos.

Last week I spoke with Lykanthea over email about her time spent on Delos, the Sumerian mythology that inspired her EP, and the difficulties of pursuing a music career and a PhD at the same time. Check out the video for "Parturtion" below, and read my interview with Lykanthea after the jump.


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To start things off, I’d be interested in learning a little more about how Migration came together in Delos. Was there some point in your time there when you decided to record the EP, or was it something you had been thinking about beforehand?

When I went to Delos, I was in the early stages of researching my dissertation and needed to visit the island to study and photograph some of its archaeological ruins. I had decided even before I left the States that I wanted to start writing my record while I was traveling, so I brought a tiny Akai midi controller with me to Greece. I would get up at 3am in the morning, thanks to jetlag, and fiddle with the controller while I sang into my laptop until the sun came up.

How much of the EP would you say was recorded on Delos? How much of it was put together when you got back to Chicago?

The record was written and recorded all over the place - on Delos, in Athens, in Chicago. "Telos," which I wrote almost in its entirety on Delos, remained the least changed throughout the writing, recording and mixing process. I spent a lot more time agonizing over "Aphonia" and "Hand and Eye," since I spent months rearranging and rerecording them in Chicago. In the end, everything came together at different times and places. For instance, I didn't touch many of the low-fi vocal takes I recorded with my laptop mic for the demo of "Telos," since they included quirky little ambient sounds that the mic picked up from the chair I was sitting in while recording. But I replaced the original vocal parts in other songs with studio retakes in Chicago. That's also where I added guitar and live drums.

How did the experience of being in such an isolated place influence the songwriting? Did it push the record in a direction that your music may not have been going in before?

I'm sure it did. I didn't consciously set out to write a dreamy, inward looking album, especially since my old band wrote electronic dancepop. Initiating my first solo record while living alone on this rocky, raw, mostly uninhabited island put me in a mindset that helped me go deeply inward in a way I hadn't experienced in songwriting before. That mindset stayed with me for a long time after I left. I think it's what made the album's world feel so complete in the end, at least to me. And maybe even a little solipsistic. I'm speaking to myself in it because I'm alone.

In addition to being almost uninhabited, Delos is pretty famous is Greek mythology as the birthplace of Artemis and Apollo - I was also curious as to what kind of influence mythology might have had on the record.

The Sumerian story of the goddess Inanna is the original inspiration for a lot of the ideas contained in Migration. Inanna is described as a terrifying force of creation and destruction who voluntarily makes her way to the underworld and is then involuntarily held there against her will. The process of entering and finally leaving the underworld changes her, since it forces her to confront her weaknesses, her dark sides. I was immediately drawn to the Sumerian myths that frame these ideas of birth and death, of claiming yourself despite yourself. I wanted to build on their narrative structures and symbolic language to make myths of my own.

Is an interest in mythology what lead you to graduate work in Classics?

Actually, no. I've never been that interested in Greek and Roman gods. I headed to a grad program in Classics because I'm a historian at heart. I want to know what people did and why, I want to know how they come to understand themselves. Mythology definitely plays a part in self understanding. But for me, it's the people, not the gods, who pull me in.

There have been a couple of other artists who have balanced very interesting recording projects with academic commitments. Do you think there’s anything about the academic lifestyle that contributes – positively or negatively – to your work as a recording artist?

I'd say there's plenty of good and bad. Being a grad student has given me lots of freedom to decide when and where I do my work. I've been able to spend a lot of time on writing music and touring in addition to being a researcher and teacher. It's amazing to be able to do that. Plus, my academic field allows me to travel, and that travel changes me and gives my music a lot of texture.

But it's also hard being an academic and a musician. Plenty of academics think that peers who use their time for serious, non-academic work are unserious about their academic work. I've received comments about this throughout graduate school. That's really hard, to feel like you can't be yourself in a community you're part of, to feel like you have to hide an essential part of yourself.

Do you have a community of artists – removed from the graduate community that you’re a part of -  that you work with frequently?

I do! Musicians and designers and artists, many in Chicago and the rest scattered around the world. I know a lot of them through social media networks, and those relationships have yielded a lot of amazing collaborations, like the capsule collection with Hvnter Gvtherer and the video with Krist Mort. These relationships have been so creatively nourishing. They've pushed me to keep raising my standards and also defy any instinct to fit into any particular genre, musical or otherwise. It's important to work with other people, otherwise you get stuck in your head and develop an ossified way of thinking about things.

Speaking of your work with Krist Mort: the video for “Parturition” was shot in an Etruscan burial site at Orvieto – how did the two of you decide on that particular location?

I've been drawn to the textures and gloomy interiors of Etruscan tombs since I first visited them in college. They have a weird, alien quality, maybe because they're architecturally less familiar to people than, say, Roman ruins. They immediately came to mind when Kristina and I decided to shoot the video. Since Migration deals partly with the idea that we emerge from phases in life as new people, I wanted to shoot at a necropolis, which literally means "city of the dead." Our original plan to apply for a permit to shoot at a site at a town called Cerveteri. The permit was rejected by the division of the Italian archaeological commission that runs that site, probably because the video has nothing to do with Etruscan archaeology. So then we applied to shoot at Orvieto. Amazingly, the request went through.

You just played a spate of shows around Europe – what kinds of recording software and audio devices are part of your live repertoire?

My live shows are mostly improvised versions of songs from my album. I do a lot of singing, which I loop heavily and run through a mix of EHX and other pedals. I also play synth parts with a midi controller hooked up to my laptop, use backing tracks and play a guitar with a cello bow. In the past I've performed with choruses, clarinetists and violinists onstage, and I'm hoping to make that a more permanent thing. Having more people onstage makes the music bigger, more texture, more energized.


Interview: GABI

12 Jun 2015 — Zachary Taube

I first listened to GABI’s Sympathy on a ride around Berlin’s Ringbahn. It was one of those bright-yet-cloudy Berlin afternoons where you’re not quite sure where the sun is, and you’re overwhelmed with just how white the sky can be. Sympathy is equally overwhelming; nine tracks of elegant, sensitive, whimsically explorative and intuitive composition, drawing upon an amalgamation of genres ranging from orchestrated minimalism to experimental pop, electronic composition, Balinese gamelan and arcane folk.

GABI aka Gabrielle Herbst is trained in both composition and vocal performance, and it shows; she breaks the voice apart, down into its most basic elements, and composes from that point of reference. Sympathy is less about what Herbst sings (her lyrics are sparse, minimal, and at some points nonsensical) but about how she sings it. She truncates the voice into short bursts or articulation, hocketing with nothing more than a short expulsion of breath to form a skeleton around which the rich fleshiness of her cry, the anxious hesitance of her stringed orchestrations and the eeriness of distant percussion can wrap.

I sat down with Gabrielle a few hours before her recent show at Acud in Berlin to talk about Sympathy, intuitive composition, longing and synesthesia. Check it out below.

Sympathy is out on Software.

Photo by Amanda Hatfield.

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Your music is compositionally very vivid and ethereal. How do you experience music? How do you want people to experience music and how do you want people to experience your music?

Well, I guess that I have a lot of different influences. I come from more of a classical background, so I myself have a really strong, deep background of studying classical instrumental music, and then studied composition at Bard with Joan Tower and also Marina Rosenfeld and Zeena Perkins, who was a visiting professor at the time. So that’s a huge influence for me, as well as all kinds of world music growing up, pop and rock, pretty much everything was in our household, folk, Americana. So for me music is, simply put, music is music, you know? And I like to not pay attention to thoughts of genre while I’m composing. Though I’m really interested in music that has a conceptual intellectual framework that drives it, my music does not have that, so I like to compose from a really intuitive place and write music that just particularly speaks to me. It's either something that I want to hear or something that, you know, really describes the state that I’m in at the moment or a feeling or a vision that I think is really inspiring in the moment and share that with people. I want people to go into a state when listening to my music and it's not really meant to be…well, it can be anything.

Of course it can be anything.

I hope that it kind of engulfs people in a sensual way and creates a state and mindset for them that maybe brings them to new thoughts or new feelings of themselves.

Sympathy especially feels like such an organic album. I was listening to it and hearing all of these influences, from Bjork to Reich to John Adams, especially when the songs really start to break down. What’s your process of composition?

Well what you were just saying, you know, [is that] the music has a lot of abstraction. But it's very deeply personal, so it’s sort of meant to be – not even meant to be, it became – a state of mind. As an album, it’s a state of mind, it's very organic to me, it’s very intuitive. How do I compose? Well, it really depends on the project. I also compose in a more classical vain, and I wrote an opera last year which was a fully notated score for a chamber orchestra of singers. That was composed in a way where I notated every single instrument. It was a very…classically composed piece, very set-- a set narrative and language for the conductor to take and work with the musicians and pull it off in three rehearsals, because everything’s there in the score.

With this album it was much more…there are certain notated sections and a lot of un-notated sections…I wrote most of the songs from a place of exploring my voice, not sitting at a piano and writing down specific notes, but experimenting with electronics, my voice and my pedals…my really simple loop pedal, and sort of creating layers and sounds I was drawn to and realizing that with my self, you know, I could create such a huge sound. And so that became the palate of the album, me exploring new terrain with my voice in solitude. And then I brought those songs to musicians who I work with, my band right now, and I said – or I notated – certain things. I arranged parts for them from a very vocal intuitive off the page free form place. So, very different. I have two sides to myself…there’s Gabrielle Herbst and then there’s GABI. And they’re different mindsets. I think they influence each other quite a bit, but they’re different personas.

The whole project is shrouded in a very specific aesthetic. Everything is coated in this whiteness and this purity. How much does visual culture play with your music, persona and (alter) ego?

When I’m composing, I see things very visually…I see music.

Are you a synesthete?

I don’t really know, I do know that when I listen to music I see different colors and work from that place, so music for me is both felt and seen. It’s like vibrations in your body and visual fantasies. So visuals are super important for me always, but visual culture I think is…in the age that we live in now is a huge component of getting to know a musician and understanding and connecting with them. I’ve been working with Allie Avital Tsypin, who’s a really close collaborator, and it’s nice to work closely with someone who really understands you and your music. It’s nice to have that relationship when creating visual elements to the music. I want to go much further with the visual components of my live set.

There’s so much longing in Sympathy, especially in the last three or four tracks.  There’s this ache in it that’s so painful on one hand, but on the other it’s almost sublime. Do you feel like Sympathy wants to ask questions or to provide some sort of answer or closure or resolve in that longing?

I think both. It’s interesting that you brought up the idea of longing, because that’s really true. There’s a lot of that feeling in the music, but that sublime element that goes along with that is this sort of realization that the pleasure doesn’t exist without that pain and you need the two to define each other and you need the one to know what the other means. That’s the sublime uplifting nature of the longing, is to realize that it needs to exist and to indulge and have a catharsis and take it as it is and give it…accept it. That’s something that I sort of found for myself through the album that I hope can reach other people in the same way and [be] pretty uplifting for them. And, in the same way, I love the idea of people enjoying it, getting into a state while listening to it that is exploratory for themselves and brings them new sensations or new questions and is ultimately a soothing and loving experience.

You’re opening for David Longstreth soon at David Byrne’s Meltdown. That’s a pretty big deal. How’s it feel to be recognized as a peer in such an early stage of in your career as GABI? What’s next other than finishing up this European tour? Are you touring the States? Are you recording more? Collaborating?

Kind of, all of the above…I’m doing some collaborations, various ones, that are in the works or starting, so hopefully those will emerge soon. I love collaborating with people and interpreting their music with my voice, it’s really exciting. The dates in August are being set right now, so there will be another European tour around those dates. And we’re playing some US dates this summer, and a bigger US tour in the fall. So yeah, I think that the live show is a really important way to reach people. And I think where the label and I were prioritizing that as a way to connect with people. As you’ll see at some point, the live set is actually a really different experience than the album, which it always is with bands, but I think with this case performance is really important to me, a big part of reaching people. So, a lot of performing, and I’m already thinking about the next record. I’m really excited to write it. It’s not there yet at all, but I’m already, you know, imagining songs and thinking about new songs and we’ll probably start trying that in later shows, because that’s so much fun.


Norway According to Boska

11 Jun 2015 — Lukas Dubro

I first met Jon-Eirik Boska two years ago at Torstrassenfestival in Berlin. Ever since, I am impressed by his work. Aside from his dance music project Boska, he plays drums with my most favourite Berlin band, Fiordmoss, and for Kaia, a new pop musician who just moved in from Copenhagen. In April he toured Norway with a jazz trio, and over the years has played various styles and genres, from Senegalese music to the orchestral Star Wars soundtrack. Jon-Eirik is somebody who lives and loves what he is doing. He tours, plays, records, teaches and practices more than anyone I know-- maybe he got it from his father who used to play in the famous '80s pop band Ken Dang.

Jon-Eirik is a storyteller, and I've heard many about his hometown Volda in Norway and all people he's met and places he's seen along the way touring through Norway and other European countries while playing his beautiful music to the people. With the recent release of his new EP, Cascades, I asked him if he didn't want to share a few of them. Read the feature after the break and listen to his EP below.

Cascades is out now. Get it over here.

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(1) The Brothers

My friends and I were djing at a party in Tromsø. It was amazingly fun, but at 3 o'clock we had to stop. That's how it is up there, the fun always stops at 3. And because of that there are after-parties everywhere.  So we ended up at my friends place accidentally because the door was open. Suddenly this "russ" (what we call high school graduates in Norway) walks in with a friend. Someone holds a short speech where he says the following: "It's really great to be here and to have fun. But we also need to remember that there are other places where things aren't so good. Like in Syria and stuff." We toast and drink to Syria and stuff. The friend of the russ also wants to hold a speech. But he is really drunk. He says something about "the man can hold his liquor." And proceeds to pour a tea cup full of gin for him and his friend. At the end of the speech he just drinks it. He was expecting enthusiasm. But the only thing somebody said was: "See you tomorrow!" He screamed for a while, shouting random stuff and punching his friend the russ. Finally he passed out, vomiting and pissing all over the rug. The host who is a doctor didn't say anything about it until then. I guess she was used to after-parties. Anyhow, she decided enough was enough and called for an ambulance, but they wouldn't get him. Then we called the cops, but they didn't get him either. So we took his phone and called his brother, who finally picked him up. When he walked in he said, "Yep, that's my brother."

(2) The Polar Bears

The next one is clickbait. We have these crazy friends who decided they want to do a concert in Spitzbergen. But these guys are cool kids, they wouldn't do their show in one of those settlements up there called Barentsburg and Longyearbyen -  you can tell by the name the first person there suffered so much that they had to call it that way. Instead, they wanted to play at one of the abandoned mining settlements from the soviet era called "Pyramida." There you can find a statue of Lenin on the foot of a mountain looking like a pyramid. Mining and eating walrus was the only reason why people would go up there in the first place. We got there by boat, because there are no roads. We took all of our equipment with us and power generators, because there is no electricity. We also brought several guns. Because it is illegal up there to leave a house without a gun-- polar bears could eat you. Yes, they eat people! There are a thousand humans on the whole island, and 3,000 polar bears. This is not fair, is it? After our arrival we walked right in to an abandoned movie theater. Everything was covered in a centimeter of dust because nobody had been there for decades. We cleared space on the stage and tried to set up some fancy canvases for my girlfriend Petra to project some visuals. They recorded a music video in there and had an exhibition. The third day we invited people to a concert - but remember: nobody lives there but polar bears. Literally. It's a 4-5 hour boatride from the closest place. Still: 150 people managed to show up. The lesson is: It was a better crowd than the average crowd in Berlin. And remember, we were at an abandoned mining settlement at the north pole.

(3) The Lyngen Alps

I toured in northern Norway for two weeks in May. I played with the father of a good friend of mine called Kaia in schools where we were teaching kids history and played baroque music in a modern way. The Lyngen Alps is a quite small area with mountains up to 1,500 meters high. Right now it's full of ski tourists too. All of northern Norway is very awe inspiring. It's full of these mad landscapes. You could drive endlessly without seeing anyone. No houses, no cars. The Lyngen Alps are particularly brutal. We were driving on a beautiful sunny day, the white mountains around us. We were on the way from one little village to the next. We were driving by the fiord and suddenly there was a lake at the foot of the mountains. We had to stop the car and to go outside. It was so magnificent. It was warm. Four geese took off from the lake, large black and white ones. Most of the water was frozen. I almost cried, it was so heartbreakingly beautiful. With our iPhones we pathetically tried to capture the splendor on our three inch displays. That's when a colleague received a message, which brought him back to reality  "I am getting an invoice," he said. It seemed completely absurd. When we arrived at the school we asked the people how it feels to live in such a place. They weren't impressed at all. "We are just used to it," they said.

Watch Boska eating the artwork of Cascades:

Review/Interview: Jenny Hval

10 Jun 2015 — Ethan Jacobs

On the opening track of Jenny Hval’s second full-length release Apocalypse Girl, the Norwegian singer quotes the Danish poet Mette Moestrup. “Think. Big. Girl. Like King. Think. Kingsize,” Hval punches with a soft whisper, enunciating the final consonant of each word so that you can almost hear the flicks of her tongue. The track is like a confessional overview of the album, sprinkled with jarring phrases that Hval pronounces carefully like “soft dick rock” over a backdrop of discordant, bending samples. While the word “kingsize” might inspire associations with the super-size-me mentality of the United States, the word here is more akin to Hval’s zoomed out, big-picture approach with the record. Even with softened, broader themes and more open space, her meditations have never been more poignant.

This may be Jenny Hval's second proper LP, but she has been making music since she was 19 when she joined a goth band called Shelly’s Raven (they couldn’t use Shelly’s Crow because it was too similar to Sheryl Crow). She eventually left the group to record her own music under the moniker Rockettothesky for her first two albums, which mostly gained traction in her native Norway. 2013’s Innocence is Kinky was her first eponymous release, whose critical praise more officially made a name for Hval’s brand of sample heavy, nonconforming pop music that guides blindly through spaces with smart and disarmingly confrontational lyrics. Although the soundscapes of each of Hval’s releases vary, her fascination with language and her ability to use it as a device of confrontation always remains central. On Apocalypse, her command of words allows her to explore broader themes like spirituality and death that she avoided in her previous records.

The last time Hval toured, her frustration with shoddy sound systems at various venues gave way to the erratic explosions of sound and fuzz on her 2013 release. The accompanying lyrics, via some form of mimicry, assumed a predatory, active function. Innocence deliberately objectified the human body using shallow definitions of language: The album begins with Hval saying, “That night I watched people fucking on my computer.Apocalypse Girl boasts the same amount of profanity in its lyrics, but the record more clearly capitalizes on Hval’s desire to create the softer, more emotional music that she deviated from on Innocence. Tracks like “Why This_” and “Heaven” are more sentimental simply because they are quieter pop songs, each element easily traced back to Hval’s aim to create spacious tracks.

With more afforded space for fragile emotion, her crude lyrics explore sexuality as something expansive and natural rather than further exploiting Innocence’s emphasis on a lustful, animalistic notion. For example the recurring comparison of the soft dick and a banana dissolves the sexual connotation of the penis as well as its association with power and success. By softening up (literally) and zooming out, Apocalypse Girl directs more attention to Hval’s intelligent lyricism, especially when it comes to sex and gender. “And when I touched you, I turned you into a girl, only for a moment,” Hval coos over a backdrop of soaring synths and gentle harp plucking on “Angels and Anaemia.” It’s not that Hval hasn’t tackled the issue of gender on her other records, but Apocalypse’s overarching quiet inspires more profound introspection than her other releases. The record leaves space for tender emotions and deep thought, which makes the pictures she paints more vivid and her own experiences more accessible.

Hval may have quieted down on Apocalypse, but her hypnotically shrill and crystalline vocals remain integral, especially when you consider the words they’re responsible for. In “That Battle is Over” Hval’s repetition of “heaven” is so piercing that it sounds like glass could shatter. It’s all very purposeful, though: Hval puts a sharp inflection on certain words and thickly enunciates syllables as if she wants you to hear them echoing in your head after the song is over. Her words resonate the most on Apocalypse because they are impactful in the album’s stiller environments. She’s can’t be easily figured out, but her zoomed out perspective on this album better shows us the bigger picture she was looking at.

Apocalypse Girl is out now via Sacred Bones. Continue reading for the interview. 

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Do you enjoy being loud and being soft?

At the moment I'm enjoying doing what we're doing live, but it's not so much about being loud anymore. I think I enjoy dynamics, but the way dynamics work for me always changes. So sometimes for certain period of time it can be about actual dynamics as in loudness and softness of volume but at the moment I feel like the dynamics are different, there's a different range and it's more about emotional content. It's more about something endearing and humorous or autobiographical and fantastical; it's between something quiet and whispered and something more like emphatic religious singing. So it’s not so much about the loudness as about the level of ecstasy or something like that.

There’s a softness, but contrasted with harsh lyrics.

Maybe this comes from experience working with very frank lyrics for a long time, but I feel like the lyrics this time, even though they have the same level of what people would call profanity I guess, it means something else now. In the sense of Kinky, most of it was focused on the gaze: people looking at other people as if the gaze is actually killing the object you're looking at. This wound being made by your looking at somebody. This time I don't feel like I'm using sexuality as something that's objectified and a natural part of life--something you grab like when you do the dishes, not something that you grab onto for the kind of successful climax, not something you look at and sexualize but more something almost frighteningly normal.

I was thinking on the last album that you were more aggressive and attacking certain ideas and really indulging in them, and this one I felt like is more--especially in conjunction with the way it sounds--it's more of a meditation on things. Would you agree?

Yeah, that's good. I also listened to a lot of Alice Coltrane. I listened to one album that she made in the 80s that's very spiritual called The Divine Songs. I listened to that a lot before I made the album..

What`s your experience been with the lyrics you write? Have people gotten more used to it? Do you ever get scary mail from people or anything?

Never. I just don't think I'm popular enough. I've had my share of reactions, but when it comes to direct confrontations with people who get annoyed by my lyrics, no. I also think that here in Norway people are more likely to have heard of me because I released a few albums here before any of my albums got any sort of attention elsewhere. So people have more of a history of hearing my work here. People find it weird, but Norway is quite liberal, or we think we are quite liberal. What people do here is avoid something if you find it confrontational,. Just avoid it. Make sure you don't ever hear it and we'll all be fine and have good times. I'm avoided a lot I think.

If I'm reading you correctly, I feel that I'm the same way. Confrontation is a beautiful thing, not for the sake of creating drama but just being straightforward with people. Have you always just been that way in not beating around the bush?

Oh, I’m not like that at all. I'm just like that when I write. As a person, I hate confrontation. I hate it, but all the people I admire can do it. I aspire to become better at it.

What's an example of a situation that makes you cringe because it's confrontational? What would that look like? Telling someone they smell bad or something?

I do love confrontational art. When you look for it, you can find really confrontational stuff. And there's a reason sometimes that things are called confrontational because sometimes it's just very hard to watch. But I do take a great interest in it. But when it comes to telling people that enough is enough or being extremely clear but fair, that to me is hard. I'm more of a conversation person. So the negotiations, the business of negotiations, that's not something I like. I think I could tell someone that they smelled, but I also think that I really wouldn't because it's OK to smell a bit. But the business stuff is a better example.

And so your art, your music is where you are able to explore that facet of being confrontational, and you enjoy that?

I enjoy being direct. It's the way I write. The way I write is pretty much the way I am too, but when it comes to being in a room with important people, I wouldn't speak like that. I wouldn't be in song or art mode, I'd have to speak normal language. And that is a different type of confrontation for sure. In my music, even if we're talking about lyrics, I'm inside a musical structure so I can dictate how the directness and confrontation are being put to the listener, and I can also find great freedom in the way that I compose the music and make the sounds align with the content of the song. So it's more about being free and working very freely allows you to be that way, but reality doesn't. Isn't that what it's like for everybody? There are some parts of your favorite things in life that make you feel free and then there is ordinary everyday life where you feel really restricted.

It's true you can only be confrontational in real life to a certain extent before you become evil.

But the people who can be confrontational and yet seem fair, those people I try to learn from.

Interview: Erika

06 May 2015 — Taylor Bratches

You could say Erika is an explorer, if not a Renaissance woman. Techno producer and DJ, founder of the long-running Internet radio station, member of the Detroit-based electro group Ectomorph, and “co-conspirator” of the Detroit-based label Interdimensional Transmissions, she’s been steadily working – and her music, pulsating like a strange and beautiful nebula – in the Detroit electro/techno scene for over a decade.  Her debut release, Hexagon Cloud – a futurist landscape showcasing her range as an analog producer  – was well-received in the electronic community at home and abroad. After a transportive set at Communikey, the boutique techno festival in Boulder, Colorado, I caught up with Erika about her past and her present, and her experience as a female producer in an endlessly shifting scene.

Read the interview after the break.

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You grew up in a household influenced by science and technology. Was the intersection of science and music a natural avenue of exploration for you?

Yeah, it was – though [the synthesis of the two] was something that happened for me later in life. I fell in love with music by listening to radio broadcasts in elementary and middle school. I was also heavily into computer games around that age, too. Those were two of my primary interests: listening to music and using the computer. And that’s pretty much what I do now., which has been in operation since 1999, defines itself as a freeform internet radio station. How did that start?

I knew one day I wanted to be a radio DJ, and I got my start doing college radio when I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for school. That was when I started to get my true music education, because that station has an archive for all kinds of music. I used to go down there for hours and hours – and listen to records and do weird overnight radio shows. I was program director there too. But at some point I wasn’t a student anymore, yet I still wanted that platform, and to listen to music everywhere. And I thought, well, that internet thing exists, I’ll just try that and see what happens.

Hexagon Cloud, your debut album on Interdimensional Transmissions, is impressive in the way it makes the analog sound pliable and ethereal.  What was your process of creation like?  Did you have a clear concept in mind when you set out to make the album?

The process of writing came from the perspective of putting together a live PA. And then I started becoming conceptual – thinking about the Hexagon Cloud: that cloud part of Saturn. I needed some ambient tracks to make it feel like a complete thought, but I started with some individual tunes that began with the idea of a live set, and then used the concept to help fill out the rest.

You’ve been a part of the Michigan and Detroit scene for over a decade. Much of techno’s beginnings were influenced by science fiction. With your science-influenced upbringing, do you feel a part of this tradition? How do you relate to that aesthetic?

I’m a huge lover of science fiction. When I was a kid I basically read the entire adult sci-fi library. That’s what I was into and that’s what I cared about. That sci-fi mentality and ideas of the future are definitely part of who I am and what influences me. When I moved to the Detroit area and heard artists like Rob Hood and Dan Bell – that was mind-blowing; that music really affected me. Those early Detroit underground vibes and artists had a major influence on me musically. I was learning about that stuff around the same time that I was learning about jazz. You could say I was getting a multifaceted, futurist music education on all fronts.

You perform with both analog hardware and with vinyl. Do you have a preference? Can the two inform each other?

Oh yeah, it’s not the medium that makes you a DJ, it’s what you are presenting sonically that really matters. I spend my entire day sitting in front of the computer doing tasks for my job. At the end of the day I don’t want a computer screen blaring in my face when I’m doing creative things. And I DJ with records, mostly. It’s just a personal preference, not a statement or judgment – I’ve seen really amazing laptop DJs and I have respect for all of that.

Do you relate to the music as a dancer?

Oh yeah. I’m a dancer first – at a good party the dance floor is where you’ll find me. If there’s amazing music on a soundsystem, you’ll find me in front of the speaker. 

Does that visceral, physical experience of dance have something to do with your interest in the tactile aspect of DJing?

Yes. That’s what I enjoy about analog – there’s a specific thing that I can reach out and touch and do small or big adjustments on. I really enjoy synthesis and the process of shaping sounds on a synthesizer, but I have a hard time when it’s something that’s trapped in a computer. When I have to use my mouse to get into it, it’s not as interesting, creative, or fun to me.

You are often referred to as an electro artist. How do you relate to that term now? Are you interested in blurring the lines between techno and electro?

I think it’s a super blurred line. When I DJ people say I’m playing all these different genres or types of electro but, in a way, it’s all still techno. And a Detroit DJ is going to play a mixture of what he/she think is awesome – whether it’s techno, house, electro. The term electro has gone through so many changes. I understand why people say I’m an electro artist, because I’m not just using 4/4 beats and because I came into existence as part of Ectomorph, which is a classic Detroit electro project. But it’s just part of who I am;  it’s not where I live. I care about a lot more than just one kind of kick drum pattern. I think it’s also a Midwest thing. I have a background of going to raves in various cities and hearing a lot of different kinds of music. The American aesthetic is very broad-minded. 

How have your collaborative efforts with BMG and Ectomorph shaped you as an artist?

They’ve hugely shaped me. It was through my participation with Ectomorph that I learned how to do live music. I learned how to collaborate with another person, which comes first for me. I got started as someone who was a keyboard tech for Ectomorph live shows, and I learned so much about how a live show feels and works. I just got a lot experience, that I’m really thankful for that. I made every mistake that I could possibly make. I’m so glad I got to do that 15 years ago!

I just saw you perform at Communikey. You were part of a primarily female lineup with Paula Temple from Berlin, Orphx from Canada, and Chicago DJ Christina Chatfield. You also were part of Chicago’s female-centered Daphne series. Can you speak to your experience as a female in the techno community?

To me it’s really similar to my experience as a programmer, or a heavily tech-minded person. It’s the same issue that engineering and math have in the world at large, which is that women get spoken down to, or they’re not believed in – all of the big picture sexist stuff that is a part of our culture, even though it shouldn’t be. In my utopian techno universe this problem doesn’t exist because techno is raceless and sexless and faceless but here we are in a world where there are so few women that hold prominent positions of power, in part simply because there are fewer women participating in things like math, for example. But there is also the issue of women not speaking up and not taking credit, and going with the flow. We get all of this training to be nice and quiet – it’s all over every piece of pop culture in the western world. It’s our job, in a lot of ways, to make sure the next generation of women has better opportunities.

There has been a lot of mention lately surrounding the lack of females in the techno industry, or of subtle and/or overt discrimination against them. Have you yourself faced challenges in relation to this gender disparity?

I’ve never been pushed out; in fact I’ve received a lot of support. Being good at what I do speaks volumes. What you are good at should always take precedence over gender. Back to Ectomorph, when I was traveling with Brendan [BMG] in the 90’s, people would talk to him and not to me, perhaps because of the perception that “she’s just a girl.” I wasn’t upset at the time, but regardless that kind of thing gets really frustrating – when people don’t take you seriously. People will pass judgment about all kinds of things. To a certain degree it’s human nature.

Do you think techno is by nature a masculine sound or is there a feminine power in it as well?

It’s definitely both. When you strip back to techno to what it really is, it’s the heart beat, the life-force. Letting go and dancing is a fundamental human thing that we’ve been doing for thousands of years – seeking a trance state through which to let go. It’s not about being a man or woman, it’s about being an animal trying to have a transcendental experience. Techno seems male heavy because it’s technical – because our society is technical. Frustrating but true. When there’s gender balance, it’s a way better party. When you get that balance and the female perspective, that’s when it’s more whole and more true.

You tour actively in the states, which I think is laudable. Despite techno’s roots in Detroit, more and more American techno artists are moving to Europe. What do you envision for the future of techno in America?

I hope it continues to grow. In the past few years, I’ve seen more and more regional parties, and promoters starting their own small scenes and working with American artists. Yes, there was a Midwest rave scene in the 90’s. But recently – in Columbus, Ohio for example – there are small crews doing really awesome monthly parties. I think we will see more of that in America. Scenes have to be built from the ground up. It takes people willing to be vocal and work in their communities. I hope we see more of it, and we have been seeing more of it.

Certain cities have the benefit of abandoned warehouses, and DIY culture can thrive in those places.  As America’s electronic culture evolves, do you see more people playing in warehouses or in clubs?

The hardest part to deal with, as a promoter, is that you want to have a legit legal venue with an occupancy license because you don’t want to put your artists and sound crew and partygoers at risk. Because ultimately you are throwing a party in an illegal space, which I’ve done myself. But the worst part [of having a party busted] besides losing money, is knowing that everyone has to have this negative experience. In Detroit, now, we are using a place called Tangent gallery and promoters have a 24-hour permit, which keeps it legal and keeps people are dancing until the party is done. The bar laws in America are what make it the toughest, and finding the spaces that exist in that in-between zone – whether it be galleries or art spaces – those are becoming the real places to have a proper underground party.

What’s on your own personal horizon?

I have a few more weekends of traveling and doing gigs – I'll be at No Way Back at Movement, in Detroit.. Then I’m going to stop playing for a couple of months. Because I work a job too, I can’t travel and record at the same time. After doing these next few gigs, I’ll be finishing a new album and a couple EP’s as well. I have so much music I’m sitting on now, but I plan on hopefully getting the album done by the end of the summer so that I can release by early next year.

Interview/Premiere: Pascale Project

05 May 2015 — Henning Lahmann

As Mathematique, Montréal artist Pascale Mercier gave us positively manic synth pop, some kind of 80s-informed proto-charts pop seen through the lens of an extraterrestrial sociologist or, in the words of my esteemed colleague Parker Bruce, music that "sounds like it was recorded underwater in Atlantis". Whatever the association, however, Mercier's work under that moniker was, while usually featuring vocals, heavily focused on the instrumental aspect. Indeed, her voice mostly served rhythmic functions almost more than being included for the purpose of delivering a specific message, as most distinctly shown by Mathematique's stellar singnature tune, "Summer, But I Don't Know". On her forthcoming LP Just Feel Good for a Moment, this has changed. The record is further exploring tropes of classic popular music, which entails a more prominent emphasis on singing along to Mercier's lush synth melodies. Marking the shift with a new name – Pascale Project – the artist's compositions benefit greatly from her newly (re)discovered alto.

Just Feel Good for a Moment will be out this summer. Listen to the premiere of the first single "Super Natural" below and read a brief interview with the artist after the break.

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What has happened in your life since your tour and the release of Feel?

After the tour I did last summer I played a lot of shows in Montréal, then I decided to take a brake in the fall cause I needed to concentrate on finishing the new album.

Why the name change? Did you just want a new name that you're more comfortable with or is it also a change in your approach to making music?

I had been thinking about changing the name for quite a long time...  But I didn't do it earlier cause I thought it would be confusing for the people and too complicated. But at some point when I was composing the new album, I was having trouble finishing songs and I wasn't sure of what direction I was taking...  It just felt like I didn't have any attachment to 'Mathematique' anymore, I associate this name to the early stuff I used to do, which was instrumental. I just felt like I needed to change my name to be able to finish the album and move forward in my project, it's like a new start, it feels really good and it's inspiring.

Would you agree that while Just Feel Good for a Moment is certainly not a 'sad' album, there are more pensive, maybe melancholic undertones?

I agree this is not a 'sad' album, I would just say that all the songs are about normal feelings, good or bad, and they're just really sincere. I'm just writing about what I feel, I sing mostly about love and life and not thinking too much, I guess the song "Just Feel Good for a Moment" is all about those themes. 

The album feels even more inspired by the glory days of 80s pop than its predecessor. Did you use mainly analogue hardware to record it or was it made on the computer?

I only use digital stuff to make my music, it's all composed with Ableton Live and I also use some external digital synths. I used to make music with analog stuff before but now I'm really not into that kind of sound...  I never wanted to make music that sounds like something in particular, everything I listen to inspires me.

Is Montréal still a good place to be a musician, or is the city changing a lot?

I really enjoy being here, it's crazy how everyone is making music...  I'd say it's not so easy to get your music known because of that, everyone works really hard and it's sad to think that a lot of very talented people will never get the exposure they deserve, because there is just too many bands here. It's mostly a question of luck I guess.

Do you feel like you're part of a healthy creative community there?

Yes, totally, all my friends make very good music and they inspire me a lot, everyone helps each other here. It's nice that all the scenes are kind of blending together and that there's no restrictions, like you can go to a show where the lineup is very diversified but at the same time it all makes sense.

Who is gonna put out the album?

I am working on starting a label called Géocités, with my friend Philip Karneef, who also mixed and recorded my new album as well as the EP I released last year. I also might release it with an other label in Europe but it's not decided yet. 

Are you planning on touring with the album? Is it gonna be solo performances?

Yes, I am coming to Europe again this summer from May 21st to June 24th, touring with Bataille Solaire, another solo project from Montréal. Still performing solo, I enjoy it so much and it's very easy when you travel, hehe.

Will you come to Berlin again?

I will be playing the Torstraßen Festival on June 13th and also at Loophole on June 18th!  Here's the FB event of the tour if you wanna know when and where we're playing.

Aural Cinema: An Interview with OOFJ

20 Apr 2015 — Andrew Darley

Reading the history of how OOFJ came together, it almost seems as if the realm of film was pushing them together. The classically-trained saxophone player, Jenno Bjørnkjær, was attending a New York conservatory before becoming disillusioned with the structures of jazz standards that he had to follow. He decided to leave the school in his third year and began composing his own instrumental pieces. One evening he saw a production of Twelfth Night, which featured the South African vocalist, Katherine Mills Rymer. The two hit it off and bonded over their shared love of their favourite directors: Bergman, Carax, Kubrick and Roman Polanski. By this time, Jenno was working with electronic music and creating Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia film score. The two not only fell in love and married – they formed a band. Performing as OOFJ (abbreviation of Orchestra of Jenno), they made an album of idiosyncratic electronica, strings and soaring vocals. OOFJ are now about to release their second album, Acute Feast, which pushes their established sound into new territories. Staff writer Andrew Darley chatted with Katherine and Jenno about their determined desire to add something new to the art world and how cinema has both formed and guided their unique bond.

Acute Feast is coming out tomorrow, April 21, via Ring The Alarm (USA)/Fake Diamond Records.

Read the interview after the break.

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How does this album’s energy compare to your debut, Disco To Die To?

Katherine: Looking back now it feels like Disco To Die To, the first album I ever made, was more icy in energy. In an emotional sense, I look back and see some of the grief and the distance I was feeling because my father had just died. I mean it was kind of like you have a numb heart and then you make sounds through ice cubes.

Jenno: Disco To Die To was more a question of feeling around in the dark for the sound, whereas this album's energy is almost like taking the sound we found and opening it up. It sounds like its reverbing around the universe.

Katherine: But also its underwater, both places are similar. And there is a warmth, even if the warmth comes from strange places – it's more nourishing.

Jenno: Hence the name Acute Feast.

So that’s where the album’s title comes from?

Jenno: When I first heard Katherine's suggestion, it sounded like "a cute feast". I'm Danish so this word ‘acute’ was a bit strange to me.

Katherine: At the time, I was revisiting my Peter Greenaway love affair which I developed while I was a lonely teen. The thing is that I was thinking graphically when I thought of the name. I like the idea of ‘terrible pleasures’. Extremities of the best and the worst kind interest me. So I suppose Acute Feast is the sumptuous, the warm, the tasty, the sexual and loving with the flipside of gluttony, the rot, the smell and the disaster of a heavy meal.

Jenno: It’s the extremes of things that are the most interesting, the most destructive.

Were there any plans made about how the band’s sound should progress after Disco To Die To?

Jenno: We never set out with anything definitive musically as to how we should sound on this record. We knew we found a sound together on our debut, so it was more a question of how to progress past ourselves.

Katherine: Without trying to be like other people or try to become a reggae band or something! This time around we made more than 40 songs and the process of throwing stuff away and sitting on songs for a year definitely carved out what we actually ended up pursuing versus what we thought we wanted. As much as we are into classics and a ton of stuff that is influential, we think it’s important to make music that you can hopefully listen to 10 years later and it still sounds fresh.

Jenno: Not to become a reference of a reference.

What was your initial intention for OOFJ to become?

Katherine: I had no clue. I just blindly did things without really thinking about it, besides from giving my opinion to what sounds I liked. I think as we began to be like "Okay we’re in a real project", we just wanted to try make OOFJ a complete world.

Jenno: Before I met Katherine I was making instrumental music under this name so our partnership definitely changed my musical aspirations. We have similar taste but my sound before meeting her was slightly different. Katherine was born with a darkness that I tap into. More and more, we realize our controlling streak. From press images to videos to making music, we like to make everything ourselves. I think we just want to contribute to music and art – by creating something new.

It’s no secret that you're both creative and romantic partners. Making this album, did you feel that you knew much more about how each other worked?

Jenno: We are very, very close. We make our music wherever we are living so there is no break between things. Honestly there is nothing I didn't know about how she works. I think we just established more of a work flow. But making music like we do also gets into the details of things. Minute idiosyncrasies, ways of hearing and such. Since it was Katherine's first time doing all of this she had to work out what she was trying to say as an artist. As did I, but from a vantage point of experience. I think this time around both of us were more prolific.

Katherine: I knew more of the process of making something. I think I had more conviction in myself this time around. But honestly Jenno and I work in a very compatible way. I wish we could say we fight like Fleetwood Mac – that would make for a better novel!

Can writing lyrics be sometimes awkward or difficult, given that you could be referring to each other in the words?

Katherine: I write about life. The heaviness of it, I guess, is where it all comes from. Jenno will suggest changes once we lay stuff down. I like the feel of words more than concrete meaning. Words have different timbres. Jenno and I both feel like there is something very affecting in repetition.

Jenno: We never put out the lyrics Katherine writes and a lot of the time we're not letting it be very clear. But if you actually had to listen and hear what she writes, she is very clear about something secret. She likes this meta data thing which I think is great. You are affected on your own terms in your own life, without knowing why hopefully.

How do you agree or decide when a song or record is done?

Jenno: That's a good question. You can fiddle away on small things forever if you want to. The biggest fear for me is if I hear something we have released that I’m not satisfied with. I never want to have regrets, like maybe I should have changed the mix, or I don't like that synth completely. The list can go on on and on.

Katherine: Jenno is very detailed, so he can deal with the intricacies of things for a long time. Also he has the patience of Job. We listen and keep the record for a long time and see how a song can still be liked by us after that. Even if we are hearing it and rehearsing it like a 1000 times – from the beginning stages to the geeky mastering side.

Cinema and film are clearly important to you. The obvious giveaway is that you met during the making of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Were there any films in particular which inspired the mood of this record?

Jenno: I think the films we watched at that time were very Russian. One film called Come and See was a big thing for me. It’s a horrible nightmarish but beautiful war film from 1985 – full colour horror.

Katherine: When we first met we went to see a film called Krystaliov My Car! which I suppose in some way was very influential. And as always and forever, we were both heavily interested in Polanski. Chinatown I would say threads through everything in Jenno.

Also, reading reviews of your music to date, one of the most common words that comes up is 'cinematic'. Do you hear your music in this way?

Jenno: Yeah, I understand it. If you have symphony music like we do in our music, of course you are going to hear that. But actually what is strange is that only the older films have really special composed scores that have a definite personality – composers like Morricone, Komeda or John Barry. Today a lot of films are sparse atmospheric so the cinema people hear in our music is there, but it's almost like an echo.

Katherine: I hear it in this way but more like you score your own soundtrack. Somebody said the other day that listening to us while driving to Tesco's made it a much more glamorous experience. This is what its about. I think we want to put you in another world, which is like cinema. Maybe we should come up with a new term: Aural Cinema.

Are there any songs on the album that you are particularly fond of or mean something to you?

Jenno: It changes, radically. But as of today. I would say "Cherry". It is really beautiful from the composition work, to Katherine's melody.

Katherine: I think we both have that as a favourite right now, because we are in rehearsal and we are finally working out how this song should work live. I enjoy singing it. It’s delicate with adult themes. Personally for me, its nice to sing on a track that is so refined and sing  the word 'sweat'. Its the meta thing again.

The video for "I Forgive You" pulls on both beautiful and disturbing elements and leaves a lot to the viewer’s imagination. How did its concept come about?

Katherine: Banal things are terrifying but also comforting. As I said earlier, there is something to this life, at least to me, where everyone is shut inside their minds. Language can only do so much.  How we function with all this unsaid stuff and hidden dark thoughts are very interesting but it’s also about how we manage not to lose our minds. I like images that are a bit strange. A lot of the times we work off  the idea of making something normal become expectational in some way like the close-up scene of the man cutting his toenails.

Do you think visuals, both in music and film, can be too explanatory or literal in the time we live?

Katherine: I think the problem in this age is maybe we are all iconizing ourselves. I mean it's weird that everyone is connected to technology. Creating a simulacra of themselves, which if you're in a band involved in this process is something very odd and interesting. I think the problems comes in when people become too perfect in this realm. Everything is a calculation. There is a danger of explaining yourself into the ether.

"Sailor" features a saxophone which Jenno is classically trained in. What was it like playing that instrument, especially in a completely different context?

Jenno: I like playing saxophone in environments that are not strictly jazzy. I prefer making the instrument new. I don't really dig 'shredding' on a saxophone playing the classics like I did for years. Its seems pointless to me. I like the sound of the saxophone – the voice, not the jazz association of it. Even though I love jazz, our live set has a lot of improvisation built in, as a jazz band could have. However, we are doing it with electronic music instead which in some way is our take on what jazz can be nowadays.

You’ve said previously regarding your background in jazz and classical music, that the idea of making an album that doesn’t exist already is what’s most interesting to you. Do you feel you’ve done that with Acute Feast?

Jenno: As egomaniacial as this sounds, I think we have come pretty close. The trick I think is using all the influences we have together – jazz, classical music, modern progressive music, pop music, dance music, bossanova – and swirl them into something that hasn't existed. I think our sound is pretty special, obviously otherwise it would be very depressing right now here for us. Luckily we are in a position to make stuff we like and are not constrained by making things to fit within a specific time or sound that is happening at the moment.

Katherine: At best we hope that Acute Feast sounds like the 'past-future'. We are not into nostalgia and glorifying analogue or digital moods or sounds. We like to jumble it up and almost squeeze it through our filtering system. We make what we think is honest and uncalculated and that comes from us. So I think in that respect we have done that.

Interview: Hama

27 Mar 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Throughout our conversation, Hama referred to his synthesizer as a piano. This is telling. The Niamey-based musician insists that his music is, all in all, traditional Nigerien music – despite the futuristic quality that the vibrant synth tones and processed drum-kits lend to Hama’s latest album, Torodi. It’s perhaps this play on the ancient-future that has brought Hama such critical acclaim across The Republic of Niger and the countries that surround it; however, Hama’s music was virtually unheard of in the United States until Sahelsounds, a record label founded by ethnomusicologist Christopher Kirkley, which features the music of 50+ musicians whose music Kirkley came across during his travels in West Africa.

About the futurism of Hama’s Torodi, Kirley says, “I would say it's futuristic in the sense of the innovation, being the first person to do this – programming the traditional rhythms on the drum machine. I don't think he's necessarily composing with that in mind – the songs are really folk guitar songs that he has worked out versions of on the piano.” Hama’s thoughts are similar. He calls his compositions “modifications” on music he has heard and collected over the years, including traditional music, but ranging from contemporary American pop music to Detroit techno.

In many senses, my coming to hear the album at all was a matter of serendipity. “Sahelsounds became a record label by chance,” says Kirkley. “I had lived in West Africa for two years and was back home in Portland. I had a blog, but no intention to turn it into a label. I met the folks at Mississippi Records who suggested releasing a record. After time it's turned into a label, somewhat reluctantly. There's a demand for the music, people in West Africa can get exposure, get paid, and I can finance trips back to West Africa and have a part in releasing what I think is important and overlooked music.”

When I first called Hama, he expressed being quite happy that I’d taken interest in Torodi. I, on the other hand, was surprised to find that no one had yet interviewed him about it. The compositions, to my ear, are significant insofar as they provide a point-of-reference for modern American Afrofuturism. Though I may be alone in drawing such comparisons, when I tune into Hama, I can’t help but hear the synth drums in the intro to Kelela’s track “Cut 4 Me” or certain elements of FlyLo’s “Turkey Dog Coma.” Or even, reaching in a slightly different direction, Phil Cohran’s “The Dogon” from the 2010 album, African Skies.

Hama and I spoke in a mix of French and English, each of us struggling to overcome the language barrier. (As a result, I’ve translated the parts of our conversation that occurred in French into English.) In many ways, it is a conversation I am still processing. I wonder, in particular, whether music can do the work of Afrofuturism without doing so deliberately. I wonder whether it is misguided to hear the future in something that insists that it is, in fact, traditional. Nonetheless, Torodi is an important release for its innovation, regardless of whether that innovation seats itself in the past or in the future.

Read the interview after the break. 

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When did you meet Christopher Kirkley?

It was around the month of November in 2014. Christopher asked me if I wanted to go on tour and I said no problem, because I’ve been playing music for a long time, since 1986. I was very young when I started composing. I’ve used mostly the piano, the synthesizer. I play the guitar a little, but I play the piano much more. I program everything on it. After creating the beat, I add the melody. But I don’t compose on paper because when I started playing music, it was just in my house. I didn’t have a teacher. So the music is very traditional; it’s not modern.

That’s interesting. It has a futurist quality –

Futurist? No. My music is 100% traditional.

And has it changed over time?

Yes, very much. When I first started playing music, I never thought it would reach the United States. And I have a lot more albums than Torodi, which are much better.

More albums?

I made Torodi a long time ago, around 2002. Since then, I’ve produced ten more albums. But Torodi is the album that everyone likes the most.

Why do you think that is?

Well, my music is for everyone. It’s reached Algeria, Libya, Mali – everywhere. In a sense, everyone hears the music but they don’t see me. They don’t know me as a person. They don’t know who Hama is.

Who is Hama?

I am Hama. I mean, for example, I have a friend in the States, who lives in Iowa. In 1992, he was here in Niamey. I learned a bit of English while he was here and I spent a lot of time with him. After six months, once he finished his work here, he went back to the United States. One day, I called him and asked him if he knew that I play the piano. He didn’t believe it. So I sent him my music and he said, “Wow, why didn’t you tell me this before?” So we’ll see what happens in the future. I hope my music goes far. I know how to compose all kinds of things – techno, rap, zouk, traditional. I have it all in my head.

Zouk? Do you have zouk in Niger?

You know about zouk?

Yes, I’m Haitian, so I’m familiar with Haitian zouk, but I don’t know anything about Nigerien zouk.

Oh, no. I use Haitian zouk. I make selections. Modifications.

So when you compose, you’re combining various genres –

No, not at all. I’m not combining; I’m modifying. For example, I might take a melody from Haitian zouk and then turn that into a completely traditional Nigerien song. I can do the same with techno and hip-hop, by changing the speeds of things.

All that on the piano?

There’s the piano, but also the computer. I make the melodies on the piano, but I use the computer to build the beats. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved European and American music. That’s where I pick up my melodies.

Did you come from a musical family?

No, I’m the only musician in my family. My little brother started making music when I did. He’s since stopped, but I continued.

Why did he stop?

He died.

Oh wow, I’m sorry.

It’s okay. It happens. One day, you might call asking for Hama and someone will say, “Hama’s dead.” It’s just like that. That’s life. My mother has died, my little brother died, my father has died. So now it’s just me and my two little sisters, who I live with here in Niamey.

Have you found a lot of support in Niamey?

My music is popular here, yes.

You said before that the music has changed over time –

Yes, the music is different, very different from Torodi, but I’m still using the same piano. Since I don’t have the piano in front of me, I can’t really show you the difference. I can’t play the piano with my mouth. I’m actually working on an album right now, but people have been making good music for a long time, for years, and hoping that it will change something. But we don’t know what will happen in life, what fate is reserved for each person.