In 2k15 there are no mainstream female producers. If a world-renowned music festival dedicates a mere tenth of its programming to female artists it’s celebrated as progress. A worrisome amount of sound technicians do not take female musicians seriously and anyone from the unknown performer at a d.i.y. space to an international champion such as Grimes will have their instruments readjusted without permission. This is obviously unacceptable, and to be quite honest herstorically naïve. From Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire to Wendy Carlos, Clara Rockmore, and Laurie Spiegel female-bodied musicians have developed the tools, articulated the language, and laid the groundwork for what we broadly refer to as electronic music. There could arguably be no Kraftwerk, no Burial, no OK Computer without these pioneers. I would be thrilled to turn this into an exposition on the correlation between the outsider studies of sound synthesis and the marginalization of the female musician during an era that glorified the white male guitarist drunk on the appropriation of black music, but before I open that thinkpiece let’s take a mome to appreciate a powerful artist at our fingertips: Nancy Leticia.
Today we celebrate the release of Nancy Leticia’s Love Dream, a debut EP composed of seven movements that turn the outside world in. As the anticipated first release on Hot Sugar’s Noise Collector label Nancy’s collection of wondrous compositions is a voice within a larger discussion, and to only internalize the sonic surface of this EP would be a disservice to its process. For anyone who digs into the origins of this collection, or who possibly discovered Love Dream through an enthusiasm for the work of Hot Sugar, the world of associative music is a touchstone. Borrowing from the intersections of musique concrete and hip hop production, associative music is a meditation on our role as aural inhabitants within a world that is constantly sounding off at once. Car horns provoke anxiety and waves crashing on the sand induce relaxation while an empty plastic bag blowing down the sidewalk on a chilly afternoon might only amplify the most passive of existences. What Noise Collector, what Hot Sugar, and what Nancy Leticia encourage is a practice which collaborates with controllable and uncontrollable occurrences in an effort to develop a sound which is reflective of a perspective upon our modern condition. The practice of incorporating and processing these organic sounds into intentional compositions can subliminally invoke a tertiary relationship between the composer, the piece, and the listener. What was traditionally a piece of recorded music becomes a multi-dimensional space that incorporates a geography of feeling and place to become a sound, and a welcomed new field of experimentation in the reclamation of electronic music. Cover your ears with a warm pair of headphones and turn up "Le Big Mac", attempt to define the territories that are introduced, and then welcome Nancy Leticia… we’ve been waiting for you.
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.
Paula Temple's Noise Manifesto label does indeed comprise a manifesto: it summons consideration of a mentality wherein human interactions are seen as noises shooting around in synthesizers, non-phallically processed and mixed to create an altogether original product. The label, then, is a resource for cultivating new or distorted forms of remix, album, collaboration, release, and series, an altering practice which is certainly meant to be applied to other areas of society and life.
"Decon/Recon," as in "deconstruction/reconstruction," is a brand new series that offers fodder for producing dance music differently as well as an offhanded guessing game of who wrote what part. The EP is a symbiotic display of styles by Berlin-based artists Oni Ayhun, rRoxymore, Jaguar Woman (Paula Temple), and Aquarian Jugs (Jam Rostron aka Planningtorock). The tracks are not created by one person and then passed on; they are each made of different parts and samples produced freshly for the occasion by the four artists, passed around, like a fragmented techno band playing hacky sack in different buildings. Thus, "Decon/Recon" is a statement, a co-operation, and a much needed return to the puzzled heart of techno, all under a playful and nearly improvisational feel.
"DR1-1" dribbles breakbeats and clamors saxophones like that of Planningtorock's distinctive style. Meanwhile, the claps pick up protestingly, as if Oni Ayhun has been asked to play digital glass bottles for The Knife. "DR1-2" nurtures a rainy day, cardboard box atmosphere that might be otherwise seen in rRoxymore productions before slipping into a chimey dischord and metallic hit on the 3-count, which is reminiscent of Temple's idiosyncractic language of percussion. Again on "DR1-3" we are confronted by pieces of what seems like PTR's arsrenate orchestra and more beats that could have come from Temple. "DR1-4" is at first a samba, housey track that yields to a break down of linear drive and spirals downward, or upward, perhaps sideways, whose melody could possibly be attributed to Oni Ayhun... but who knows.
Overall, "Decon/Recon" is a tasty collaboration. You can hear the concept behind the music; you don't necessarily need the words which also eloquently state the purpose of the project, provided that you listen properly. It is musically as well as aesthetically progressive, with a certain type of beauty floating around somewhere nearby. It enables us to travel through neighborly uncharted territories, with smiles one our faces. We can hear the individual talent merging together softly and perceive of the succinct and prideful execution of this task of returning fragments into a whole. Furthermore, we can hear the friendship among these musicians, the community they provide for each other, and that type of message combined with the circularization of such politically motivated music is rather complementary to recent debate and dispute about the state of gender in electronic music, not to mention everywhere else in the world.
Since Colleen Green’s official full length came out on Hardly Art in February, I’ve been totally enthralled by her distinct fuzzy sound and unmistakable, terminally-chill demeanor. On I Want To Grow Up, Green traverses the ups and downs (mostly downs) that accompany the societally imbued pressure of growing up. The tracks on Green’s debut alternate between bubblegum pop and belligerent fuzzy textures, mirroring Green’s inability to decide if growing up is all it’s made out to be or just a hoax, respectively. My favorite parts of the album are the intensely lo-fi, loud moments where Green regresses into her juvenile behaviors like doing drugs or staring at the TV—the responsibility required to “grow up” is too heavy during these moments and the volume of instrumentation totally envelopes Green in a stoned comatose.
When I went to Shea Stadium in Brooklyn to see Green perform songs from her new album, I was mainly looking forward to the prospect of being swallowed by the loudness of her music—the same thing I instantly loved about the record. However, the songs that Green performed live didn’t hit as hard as I had hoped because the sound wasn’t loud enough—she felt bigger than the music, whereas I wanted the opposite. It was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at Shea Stadium, so I was expecting Green’s sound to devour the room to compensate for the fact that there was one of her and more than a hundred of us. Between songs Green kept asking the audience, “Is it loud enough?” For the sake of not being “that guy,” no one really spoke up until about half way through her set when the crowd unanimously decided it was time to crank up the noise. This happened just in time for “Grinding My Teeth,” one of the fastest tracks on I Want To Grow Up with an ostensible punk aesthetic.
Green redeemed the performance in other ways, namely just by being herself to the utmost: She maintained charming banter with the audience between songs, specifically on her desire to smoke a lot of weed once the show was over. It's such a turn off to see a musician act superior to an audience, so the humility in Green's ability to interact with us on a personal level was deeply appreciated. Still, the first half of her show left me underwhelmed. Sometimes you just have to turn the volume up--way up.
Joey Hansom is a person who cares. Over the last couple of years, the artist has tried to push Berlin's alternative scene forward on different levels, whether on the forefront as performer and DJ, or in the background as producer and event organizer. Last month saw the release of Alexander Geist's soaring new single "Malediction", which Joey co-wrote and -produced, and he is also behind Expatriarch, a platform to showcase queer/feminist music in the city, as well as the Boo Hoo party.
Perhaps most notably, however, Joey has a band called Godmother that are set to release their new EP Transgenre this week. Joey started the band a few years ago as a project where he didn't have to "make compromises," as he told me once at a party. And this is exactly what it feels like. He not only has a clear vision of what he wants, he also puts a lot of effort into making it come to life. "It's a challenge sometimes, because this is all very DIY, but I'm not aiming for a lo-fi aesthetic," he explains. Yes, whether with arrangements or eyeliner, Joey likes to lay it on thick. Transgenre collects four catchy songs, with a theatrical approach recalling Queen, David Bowie and Of Montreal (yet with a distinct lack of guitars). Style and substance unite.
Godmother songs don't have just a musical directness, they have a clear message. "MTFTM" is about finding utopia beyond the gender binary system, while "One-eyed Snake Oil" is an ode to the failure of hegemonic masculinity and capitalism. This mixture of pop and politics is never heavy-handed, though. With his lyrics, Joey proves that he has a great (and deranged) sense of humor: "Now all our troubles we forgot 'em, because we're topping from the bottom," he sings in "MTFTM". "We're living in a no man's land, no dicks, no tits, just our prostate glands."
Do we need more people like Joey in Berlin? Yes. These are the heroes that are capable, whether behind the scenes or in the spotlight, of helping to achieve a greater good and sustaining a vibrant music community in the city. Joey is a prime example of someone who doesn't follow styles and trends, but has cultivated his own significant path and voice.
His new EP will be released on Joey's own label New Pangea as an edition of 100 cassettes and as a free download. Berliners can catch Joey, Rocco and his bandmates T-Word and Sara onstage for the Godmother release concert at Mitte's ACUD (Veteranenstraße 21) this Friday, April 24.
Ólafur Arnalds has made a quick turnaround in returning to Dublin. After his theatre show with his band in March, he has returned a month later for an entirely contrasting performance. Kiasmos is the music collaboration of the Icelandic composer and fellow musician Janus Rasmussen best known for his work in the electronic outfit, Bloodgroup. The pair released their self-titled debut album in 2014, which became one of the most compelling records of the year. They took reference points of each of their work to date and concentrated on pushing them further – interweaving dancebeats, string arrangements and sparse piano motifs – to make an album of vivid imagination and wistful memories. The swirling sound of the album’s opener, "Lit", blanketed the crowd in the Opium Rooms before the duo reached the stage. Behind the decks of two laptops and other digital equipment, they radiated a great bond between each other. Their midnight hour-long set featured songs which did not stray far from the album recordings amongst plateaus which saw the two jump around behind the decks like mad scientists finding the newest discovery. "Thrown" twinkled with its xylophone melody and propulsive bassline, while they closed out the set with the rumbling basslines and abrasive takes on "Bent" and "Burnt". They also featured new songs which were up-tempo and more techno-driven. Overall, it was an enjoyable set and fascinating to watch Arnalds perform outside of his contemporary classical context. With the strength of their chemistry together, it may prove rewarding if they incorporated other musicians on stage to play strings and piano, which could potentially give new life to their songs in a live setting.
Chicago-based songwriter Ellis Swan is a musician with a knack for mood. For me, his songs conjure up mythological imagery of the American south, of driving down an endless country road at night, of that mysterious glow that pulsates from beyond those trees, of cigarillos and longing and the devil and sweat. I listen to Swan and imagine Screamin’ Jay Hawkins trying to sing a lullaby to his granddaughter. Dice Rolled, a song recorded for but ultimately left out of his brooding 2014 I’ll Be Around, is as ghostly as it is laconic, a murmured memory of loss and envy that pulsates to an unchanging beat, that builds into a whisper, that floats down the river and gets snagged on an ancient willow.
I'll Be Around came out last September. Check it out over here.
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.
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.