There’s an air of suggestion to Beta Librae’s productions, an invitation to give in and lose yourself in the moment. Her recent releases, a track on comp 4 by 1221 and cassette S/T for Lillerne Tapes, are otherworldly expeditions into the realm of dub-tinged ambience and techno. Unraveling genre preconceptions, Beta Librae repeatedly dives into the unknown.
For Truancy Volume 170, she continues this imaginative and free-flowing approach, with the first 44 minutes dedicated to her recent musical creations. The second half explores tracks she has been listening to recently, most of them given to her by friends. From the hypnotising keys of Downstairs J to the surreal sounds of Buttechno, the mix highlights a variety of genres that have influenced Beta Librae’s own productions. In the accompanying interview, we discuss childhood inspirations, life in New York, contemporary art and upcoming plans, and she delves into the nuances of her creative process.
In what ways have your upbringing in Kansas and current home in NYC inspired you creatively? Do you have any favourite music-related childhood memories? “Growing up in Kansas, we had to get creative and make up our own rules for things. Being so far removed from any homogenizing city leaves artists with more of a blank slate. Every time I visit home, I still feel that same energy of people wanting to interact on a deeper level.
In high school I was involved in a lot of plays and musicals, which helped me realise that I enjoy working within a crew of creative individuals. Each person has their own role in the process, and I get a similar feeling when working at a community arts space or DIY music event. NYC is both similar and different. I’m lucky that every day I get to witness different lives and perspectives around the city, and attend many different kinds of events. However, it can also feel overly-saturated here and difficult to stay connected with people, even when they are geographically close.
NYC is inspiring because you can stay true to the things you love, no matter how unconventional. You can be accepted for them, find your people, and even make a living doing it. I can’t be isolated in my own world, or cyber-world, and still be creative and prospering. That’s why it’s so important to stay active in your community. Terry Radio, which started in Kansas City years ago, is a great example of how a growing collective can collaborate online and translate that into real scheduled shows and DIY music events that span across the US. It’s very special to know you have like-minded artists supporting each other. Being aware that there’s more than enough room for ideas from everyone, we are not all in competition with each other, it’s about sharing resources, sharing answers and sharing speculations.
My earliest memories of enjoying music as a kid involved a lot of dress up and homemade music videos. A lot of bad wigs. My dad used to play music for me and my brother and we’d spazz out. Anything from Deep Forest to P-Funk. I remember thinking music was the best way to get weird and release energy. I was really into rollerblading to jock jams and disco compilations. My first concert was Weird Al, incredible!”
Why did you decide to get into producing? “I’m always going to have an interest and desire to learn and acquire new music, but I was feeling like I needed to challenge myself in a different way. I also had many ideas for songs I already knew I wanted to hear—hat kept me motivated. It really comes from my own curiosity and drive, and inspiration can strike at anytime, I feel like it’s important to acknowledge it. I feel the same way about drawing, painting, and writing. I used to do a lot of wild collage and abstract neon art in school, and that creative process feels similar to how I create music. I cut a lot of things up and put them back together, so there is a visual aspect to making music that I really enjoy. I don’t always know how it will turn out, but I know the tools, materials, and elements I’m going to use. I feel like making music is an extension of myself in another realm—and it’s growing and surviving and keeping me amused daily.”
How easy or difficult is it for you to sit down and produce a track? Is there anything you’d say motivates you in particular? “It’s easy if I have an idea that I’m really fixated on, or if I’m currently inspired by something I just heard. It’s also helps if there is a deadline for a show I’m really looking forward to. I sit down everyday and try to compose something for a few hours as if it were a journal entry, nothing has an ending or beginning. I pick up where I left off the day before. If I play a show recently, I’ll listen back on the things that worked and felt exciting to me, and I’ll try to elaborate on that particular technique. I love listening to things I’ve made after time has passed, it tells a different story every time. It always surprises me and I really enjoy that elated feeling.
Being involved IRL and collaborating on events is always stimulating, and keeps me excited about real connections and spaces. Sometimes I worry that we quantify success too much in likes, friends, and followers. People buy into that system. It can become an all-consuming motivation for artists, so it’s extremely important to be active and social outside of life on social media. It feels good and helps me stay motivated.”
You seem to be very interested in visual art, particularly anime and comics—could you explain your connection to this particular genre? Do you have any favorite artists or films? “I feel waves of anxiety while presenting myself as an recording artist on social media. That’s why I love to incorporate visual art. I feel like I can share part of who I am quickly with an audience, while also protecting a bit of myself. Lately I’ve been inspired by a blog called Neuromancer, which focuses on dystopian imagery organized by colour.
Some of my other favorite artists are Hajime Sorayamas’ 80s airbrush artwork and manga illustrator Katsuhiro Otom. I love Studio Ghibli films, as well as a lot of Satoshi Kon’s films. The Aeon Flux tv series is also really cool and demented. Suspiria is still visually my favourite horror film, because the colours and lighting are so evocative. When it comes to contemporary artists, I love Jamian Juliano-Villani paintings, Anne Vieux, Johnny Negron, surreal tattoo work from Johann Moon, and the personal erotic illustrations of Rechelle Payne.”
What draws you to the dubbier kind of sounds common in your own productions? “The history of ambient/drone music is so interesting to me, but I still don’t find it to be the easiest to connect with at any moment. Has to be the right time, place, and mood. I listen to ambient music and it usually ends up making me cry; sometimes I just don’t want to feel too overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve always gravitated to groove, but I don’t always want to listen to club tracks or music with vocals, so I lean more towards the dubby melodic stuff. You can listen to it for days and not get bored, and you can listen to it with practicality anyone. It’s like a warm hug.”
Agreed :) Do you have a favourite piece of gear? “I don’t have a favourite piece of gear because I actually don’t have a lot of gear. Gear is money, so I have to work with what I’ve got and push it as far as I possibly can. I have a couple favourite combinations for jamming like a Blofeld synth and whatever sampler, or Ableton with a drum machine. I recently got a small patchable synthesiser, and I think I’m ready for that new chapter. I also like working with other people and wish that could happen more frequently.”
Where are some of your preferred places to play live? “I’ve had some killer times in the Trans Pecos basement, RIP?? I’m always excited if I have the opportunity to travel and play outside of NYC. I recently played a snowy, bizarre show in Detroit and a cozy show in DC. There was also a show I did in Chicago recently that was really special. I just want to get out.”
What was it like playing Sustain-Release’s first pool party? “It was very surreal, mostly because I wasn’t able to sleep for a day before I played. Having such a long time slot was an honour. I really have no idea how two hours went by in what felt like minutes. I would definitely play for two hours again, it was a really fun challenge. Playing outside was also a first for me!”
Could you discuss your involvement with Technofeminism and Bossa Nova Civic Club? “I’ve been djing and booking along side Emma/Umfang since the club opened in 2012. We started with a Monday night than eventually got moved to a Wednesday, then a Thursday, and now weekends. Having a weekend residency has opened up a lot more possibilities for us when booking artists. Our main focus is booking new female identifying artists, it’s nice when people reach out and show interest in playing the night. It’s exciting to be able to book artists from out of town now, and provide opportunities for artists who are just starting out and learning. It’s the best place for people to meet that could share some knowledge and benefit from each other on top of countless hours of dancing :)”
Do you have any upcoming releases planned? Any particular shows you look forward to attending or playing? “I have some things in the works for a label you might know that just raised money for the ACLU with an awesome compilation, maybe you can guess. Looking forward to a fundraiser for Safe Horizon at Knockdown Center with DJ Haram, Ariadne, RIOBAMA and Via App. That’s March 10th. Soon!”
Could you tell us a little about the mix you made for us? How did you go about selecting tracks? “The first 40 mins are tracks I made in the last few months, excluding a few. Very influenced by house music always. Each piece represents a different day, a mood timeline. I didn’t spend more than a day or two on each part to keep a fast and exploitative work flow. It was fun to document your imagination, just make one thing a day or when ever you can and don’t over think the production aspect. The second 40 mins are all tracks I’ve been listening to lately. Most of them were given to me by friends.”
First 44 minutes are original tracks produced by Beta Librae
YYU – Karaoke
Cienfuegos – El Mundo Alucinante
Uon – Door
Pontiac Streator – Spurious
Downstairs J – Help Yourself
IUEKE – Tape 4.1
Buttechno – B4
Yu Su – Early
AceMo – Time 2 Change (Regular ass chord)
Downstairs J – Lizard Sand
Header image by Elizabeth Herring