Interview: Maria Minerva

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She’s travelled across many, but there are no borders in Maria Minerva’s music. Dub basslines cruise alongside rave stabs, YouTube rips, 2-step kicks and waves of noise. Even her vocals fluctuate track to track, slipping from spoken word into torch songs. Despite the dissonant sounds, nothing is out of place. There could easily be a “look what I did here” quality to her work, but she sublimates each piece of the puzzle perfectly, get’s them to play nice. As much as her tenure in different cities, on different continents, must contribute to her patchwork sound, she’s often spoken about the internet’s role in both her inspiration and her career. That’s how she met Britt and Amanda Brown, the duo behind Not Not Fun & 100% Silk, who have released most of her music to date. She’s one of the few artists with records on both. Her tunes skirt the line between the woozy experiments of the former and the mutant club sounds of the latter. Before meeting face to face she even collaborated with Amanda Brown (as LA Vampires) on Integration, an album that sounds in the best way possible, like a Black Tambourine bootleg and a Bizarre Inc. cassette fused together in the back seat of a station wagon on a hot summer day. Shortly after the release of Histrionic, her latest album, we chatted briefly about her hometown, Naomi Wolf, Brooklyn winters, Trina and the 2080s.

Stream: LA Vampires & Maria Minerva – A Lover and a Friend (Not Not Fun)

You’re from Estonia right? What’s the artist community like? Did did you start producing there? “Yes, I am from the Estonian capital Tallinn. Well, the artist community is small, because the country is small, only 1.3 million people in the entire country, 400 thousand in Tallinn. So everyone knows everyone. I started making music in Tallinn during my last year of college but then I soon moved to London. All my friends in Estonia are really smart and well educated, the type of general knowledge of the world that I don’t often encounter in young people here in the states, where the peeps (I know) only care about pop culture OR are self-absorbed academics/intellectuals.) The Estonian scene is cool, because people have great senses of humour, they are political and sharp, self-effacing and critical. And so is their art, I guess. But my perspective is maybe a bit distorted, because I went to art school, and hung out with visual artists and curators and etc. I was never really involved in the music scene. There is definitely more happening there right now compared to when I left and I am proud to be an Estonian, I have no doubts about my identity at this point, though I sound more and more American every day when I speak. It is nice to have best of both worlds and be a part of both cultures.”

You’re based in Brooklyn now right? What do you like most about it? Any plans to settle down or has another town caught your eye? “I am moving to LA mid June. Brooklyn is cool but it is getting a bit too expensive; been here for a bit less than two years so I think I get the idea by now. Usually when people say that a city is “cool”, they mean the coffee shops, parties and vintage stores – I have been to so many cities that I’ve come to realise that the coffee shops, parties and shops are all the same everywhere. And I don’t care about any of these things that much these days, so I just wanna live in California where it’s warmer, cheaper and more chill. I really really hate the winters, I shut down completely and it is not a good time for me emotionally and socially – the east coast winters are brutal, NYC this year was all about the endless “polar vortex.” I didn’t leave the house for like 6 months. They say the music scene in LA isn’t that great there but to be honest I don’t really care, my label is there, I know a bunch of music people in LA and I just want to go hiking and cruise around, eat avocados and build this little life, I have been participating in the night life since I was 13 so it is not my priority, nor do I wanna be a fixture in a scene and always have to show my face everywhere. LA is better for being alone and since it is so big and spread out it, in the end, also makes one wanna be more social. I need that, in NYC I often just wanna hide, because here you’re always elbowing with strangers. The initiative to head to Cali came from my boyfriend and I have always been very selfish, done things my way, so this time I thought I will give life and love a try.”

Many of your records have a narrative or theme running through them. Do you approach each release with a concept, or is it something that happens naturally? “Naturally I guess. But I always only deal with the same themes which are alienation, loneliness, not being satisfied. Because that is how I feel most of the time (in a “good” way), so when I am making my music, for a moment I feel safe in that realm of art/music.”

Stream: Maria Minerva – The Beginning (Not Not Fun)

Do your lyrics contain any autobiographical detail? There’s an honesty to them, they feel very direct. How much do you separate your everyday experiences from your musical identity? “They do and they don’t. Autobiographical details – definitely. Just details. I like to write generic lyrics in a way, because the weird thing is that this IS what people relate to, no one relates to your absolute psycho-manic ramblings. Generic is good! But there are some more personal songs for sure, off the new album Histrionic I’d maybe bring out the track called “Treasures”, it is about this sex-based affair I had with a dude; kinda nice as it was happening but looking back I realised I was never once sexually satisfied with/by him and it struck me, because I was like – what WAS the point of all this in that case, if I wasn’t even satisfied, and most of the time we weren’t really getting along that well. So this theme of torturing yourself or weird submission to another person, emotionally and sexually. I feel the theme of female sexuality in music is not often present, there are female rappers who are “ballsy” enough to make a complaint about a guy being inefficient, like Lil Kim or Trina or whatever, but in the realm where I operate it is not very common. So when I listen to these female rappers for example I feel really super empowered and moved, and I guess every woman, be black or white, does too, because the not-being-satisfied is actually VERY predominant in the life of a woman (like 95% of the time) as opposed to a guy basically always getting what he wants. And I was tired of that, so the best thing I could do was to make a song. “Spirit of the Underground” is essentially about the same thing, of not being satisfied – with a social scene. I guess when I made that song I was in a bad mood! It samples “Don’t Stop the Music”, the funk classic by SOS Band, so it is supposed to be kind of an opposition between not wanting to stop the music and really wanting to make it stop. And feeling bored. But also I guess it is a typical case of having a first world problem, cause seriously there are bigger issues in the world than being bored with some big city underground scene (laughs). Get a life, Maria!”

Your past work has referenced philosophers Avital Ronell and Helene Cixous, are there any nods to thinkers in Histrionic that we should look out for? “As said, feminism means everything to me. On every level. Returning to the previous answer, then actually last year as I was making the album I was really influenced by this book “Vagina” by Naomi Wolf, I think it came out in 2012. Basically she talks about the same thing, women always being left sexually – and therefore also emotionally – unsatisfied throughout history; the difference between vaginal and clitorial orgasms and the taboos surrounding the latter (and the former, too). Almost like she wrote down the real history of female sexuality. That book is a must read, also for guys – who I guess generally have no idea of what goes on inside a woman. Cause it really IS complicated. She talks about everything, from emotions to some spinal nerves. It is not a philosophy book per se, but Wolf is a feminist thinker and amazing at what she does. She once did a talk at the same event where I performed so I almost met her. Another track,”Wolves and Lambs” is based a text I borrowed from Lautréamont, once again resonated with me cause it’s about self-sabotage, longing for love and understanding but then forbidding that to yourself, not allowing yourself to become a better/happier person.”

The album art on Histrionic is super entrancing, much like your music, just when you think you’ve nailed it there’s another layer. Mind if we ask how the design came together? “The album art was made by Antonio Trecel Diaz and Alexander Fleming, the photo is by Dan Allegretto and the legs belong to the NYC sound/noise artist Cammisa Buerhaus. These are all my friends. I guess we were on the same page with Antonio and Alex from the start, I wanted to use a physical detail; almost like a fetish object, and make it glam, make it roxy music, so we did just that! Really happy with how it turned out, it’s kinda 80s, but more like 2080s.”

Your music has such a broad palate yet remains unique, what’s your approach to folding other genres into your sound? “There is no approach, I’m just wandering in the dark actually, trying things out. I guess I constantly wanna pay homage while remaining unique, also I am a really bad producer and singer so I guess this is where the Minerva sound emerges from!”

Stream: Maria Minerva – Galaxy (Not Not Fun)

And finally, The video for Galaxy nails that early morning commuter haze. What do you listen to while traveling from place to place? “Well, sometimes I find an album or make a playlist and then listen to that like 2 weeks in a row, everyday on repeat. Like a kid. My favourite thing to do is actually walking while listening to WNYC/NPR, it really sucks that you can’t listen to the radio in the subway, so sometimes I just walk like 45 minutes somewhere in Brooklyn instead of taking the train so I could listen to the familiar NPR voices and think my thoughts, it has become a form of relaxation at this point. Old soul vibes!”

Histrionic is out now on Not Not Fun

Words by Stephanie Neptune, 25 June 2014. Leave a comment

Recommended: Obsession Recordings 002

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Two minutes into Primitive World‘s ‘Purple Caps’ there arrives a jagged, distorted guitar-like bassline. In tune with the warped synth globs that have preceded it, it points the track in a rugged, industrial direction. What follows isn’t quite expected, however, as bright, expansive synth lines hover above within a minute, an abrupt yet welcome offering of light in an otherwise murky underworld. This track, the first to feature on the second Obsession Recordings compilation release, is a study in contrasts. A deep and grinding techno groove meets chopped vocal samples, yearning synths hover over murky sludge. It’s this tension that informs the track, and indeed the release, as each entry defies logic and operates just outside the staid realm of formula. ‘Tides of Lust’ is a hotbed of rattling drums, thrillingly vibrant percussion that sits just above a fizzing, ever-present droning bassline. Its urgency is unparalleled, its lack of melody moot. This just bangs, a votive for frenzied dancers.

Stream: Obsession Recordings 002 Clips (Obsession Recordings)

German producer Yør contributes two sides of the same coin with ‘Rites Of Passage’ parts I and II. The first, a growling acid bassline the only point of consistency amidst a raft of computer-game signifiers and other-worldly utterances and sound effects, is a haunting ride down an imagined Amazon, a narcotic trip through a vicious nightclub hazing. Midway through a simply modulated acid riff takes things down an even darker route, while those one-up sounds are blasted and distorted in searingly twisted fashion. It’s a real rabbit hole of a track, any number of outcomes possible depending on the mind that receives it. The second ‘Rite’ takes a more straightforward and upbeat approach, at a much faster tempo to boot. The classic sound of its bass kicks is offset by tribal wailing and electronica-ready chord patterns though – it’s dancefloor music, yes, but not without heart and soul, a melange of ideas taking it beyond the domain of the functional. With its second release Obsession has managed to capture perfectly its moniker in sound and feel, and has truly set the bar high for its own output henceforth.

Obsession Recordings 002 is out now

Words by Aidan Hanratty, 24 June 2014. Leave a comment

Truancy Volume 99: Beatrice Dillon

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The London-born and based artist Beatrice Dillon first came to our attention with her Folkways 2 release on Will Bankhead’s buy-on-sight label The Trilogy Tapes. As well as that project, she has released an impressive number of works ranging from experimental solo and collaborative compositions, musical pieces for art installations as well as soundtracking films. Her mix for the consistently brilliant Blowing Up The Workshop series is a great example of her unique and broad tastes, and we cannot recommend Beatrice’s shows on Resonance FM highly enough.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Beatrice over email about her musical background, past, current and future projects, her music-making process and creating compositions for different contexts. She also provided us with our 99th Truancy Volume, a mix of typically wide-ranging and fascinating sounds that provides a taste for her impeccable crate-digging and selection skills.

Stream: Beatrice Dillon – Folkways 2 (clip) (The Trilogy Tapes) 

What was the idea behind this mix and how did you go about selecting the music for it? “I knew I wanted to include “Reshadub” and I suppose that set the mood, there’s stuff on here I’ve liked for a while and new things that have been listening to.”

What is your musical background? When developing an interest in music, were there any formative artists or labels? “My older brother was really into music so I copied him and then found my own path. I was never particularly into teenage-indie music and later during college I got into buying country, reggae and soul stuff. Those big singers like Donny Hathaway, James Carr, Toussaint MacColl, Percy Sledge. I still love that music, it’s very powerful.”

On your Soundcloud I came across your album with Rupert Clervaux, Studies I-XVII for Samplers and Percussion. Could you perhaps talk about the record, the inspirations for it, the recording process and any whether you have any future plans for the pieces? “It’s a record of seventeen pieces for percussion instruments and samples of those instruments. We just started by doing things like pitching down a xylophone and balafon to the point of abstraction, playback through a snare, shifting on beat/offbeats, what happens when you remove that 4/4 anchor.. We had rules like each piece should be under two minutes with no other instrumentation, melodies/effects at a minimum, etc. I suppose some of it might be a kind of mock of ethnographic records, too. We wanted to use the computer in a basic way, so none of it is looped or built on the grid to a click. In that respect, it’s kind of a remixers nightmare! Having said that… Karen Gwyer and Rene Audiard will be reworking them and it will be amazing to hear their interpretations. The LP will be released in autumn this year on the US label- Snow Dog and we are working on a live/DJ set.”

This album is not the first time that the two of you have collaborated. How did the two of you start making music together and how the collaborative process between you works? “Collaboration between us  is very natural. He has a love of literature and I of visual art and music is where we meet down the middle. There’s usually quite a lot of talking and filter coffee involved. He masters a lot of records for improvised / free music and so it’s nice to be played different things whilst he’s mixing them. We have quite different technical skills with a lot of taste overlap so it’s a good combination.”

You also have a cassette due for release on Where To Now? soon. What sort of record is it – is it in the vein of a mixtape like your Trilogy Tapes release, or your own compositions? “This will be my own stuff, there are some other things in the pipeline later this year. It’s quite hard making music when you love it so much.”

You have created a very wide range of different music projects, as well as doing a radio. How do the different facets of your music making or “curating” interact, if they do? “Seems natural to me that all these things should feed off each other. I love reading those hardwax descriptions ‘…big room DJ tool‘ or ‘…fine tripping DJ tool‘ – the idea of a DJ set being hundreds of rhythms or ideas sewn together, just a different pair of hands handling that collage each time. It’s easier than ever to discover music and make your own collages now which can only be a good thing.”

The artwork for your releases, which I am most familiar with – the Trilogy Tapes cassette and the Blowing Up the Workshop mix, is quite striking. How do you choose artwork for your projects? Do you make any visual art yourself? “The artwork for my Blowing Up The Workshop mix was done by Matthew Kent who (as well as running BUTW) is an artist. He sent me the image of the monk playing the pipe organ with the bright yellow wash and I really liked it. Folkways 2 uses a slanted photo I took of some of my LPs on my floor at home.” Continuing from the previous question, am I right in thinking that the visual aspect of a record is quite important to you? Are there any specific labels whose art direction you especially like? “Tons.. Jack Goldstein’s Suite of 7 inches, the  brilliant weird illustrations and lettering on things like Fat Eyes, Mentally Disturbed, etc. the shiny futuristic sleeves of the Prospective 21e siècle series more recently Frauke Stegmans work for Treader, PAN’s beautiful delicate sleeves, the span of ideas from The Trilogy Tapes. I know I must’ve missed a ton of great music over the years by being put off by the cover! There is also a blog I follow called bracebrace which though not especially dedicated to music, is wild.”

All of your mixes which I have heard contain lots of music which is completely new to me, so I imagine that you must discover lots of new music all the time. In the last several months have you found anything that particularly wowed you? Either an artist or single piece, or perhaps even an entire (sub-) genre of music which you found or that finally clicked? “I’ve really enjoyed Rene Audiard and Düve (Blank Slate/ Supply) also Keith Hudson. I had Michael Talbot Affair on a Blood and Fire comp and always loved it and was familiar – without realising – with lots of his productions stuff for Ken Boothe, but I’d but never bothered to investigate his weirder solo stuff until very recently. Darkest Night on a Wet Looking Road, Man From Shooters Hill or My Nocturne are just so atmospheric and incredible, Flesh of My Skin Blood of My Blood is probably what I’ve listened to most in the past 2 years. I’ve bought that CD three times for people like an evangelist!There is a brilliant interview he did with David Rodigan you can stream online.”

Stream: Beatrice Dillon – The Brilliant And The Dark B-Sides Remix (Live at Cafe OTO)

Do you have a preferred way of finding new music? Any favourite record shops or particularly special record shop finds? “I’ve tried to quell that urge a bit! Though I do still go to record shopping a few times a month. There have been many finds that have been important in bargain boxes or car boot sales or things I’ve been given. There used to be a store in South London in someone’s front room called These Records that had some stunning things. It was fun going to Gramophone and Dusty Groove for the first time last year.”

In 2011 you contributed a score to Claire Hooper’s film Eris, and previously you soundtracked NYX by the same director. In writing an original score for a piece of film, did you find the process to be significantly different from when you compose for an art installation or your own project, and if so in what way(s)? “I love making soundtracks, I love the set framework, having to produce in such specific parameters in contrast to how I go about making my own music. Working with Claire was great – we have a very trusting working relationship and I’m very familiar with her sensibilities and ideas. We adapted it for the ICA with a choir, which pushed it into another direction.”

Have you ever considered releasing pieces, which you wrote for an art project (such as the ADA installation or ‘Two Changes’) or the aforementioned film scores as standalone works, or would you rather have them be experienced in that original context? Do you think they could work outside of those specific accompanying images or art objects/spaces? “I would love to release “Two Changes”, I hired a 3-octave vibraphone for the piece, which Rupert played – it sounded incredible reverberating in the swimming pool. A 12” of “Ada” is due for release later this year.”

Beatrice Dillon’s release on Where To Now? is out in July and can be previewed here along with other interesting material from the label, while ‘Studies I-XVII for Samplers and Percussion with Rupert Clervaux is due for release on Snow Dog this Fall.

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Words by Eradj Yakubov, 23 June 2014. Leave a comment

Recommended: JoeFarr – Sentry EP

JoeFarr (Truants -Antoin Lindsay)In a stellar couple of years Bintus‘ Power Vacuum label has established itself as one of the finest purveyors of the harder club-flattening side of techno. JoeFarr brings us the label’s ninth release; having shared a track with J.Tijn on the labels’ eighth release, the four way split Vectors EP, this one continues Power Vacuum’s consistent tradition of unmistakable warehouse acid. JoeFarr has had a busy half a year, releasing EPs on Belfast’s DSNT (complete with blistering Truss remix), Origami Sound, and Tiga‘s Turbo. With his release on Turbo exploring a less abrasive sound than his DSNT release, JoeFarr returns to the darker sounds of the latter. Power Vacuum then seems like a perfect fit and Sentry doesn’t disappoint.

“On Your Life” as a title, sounding like someone threatening your very existence, is rather appropriate considering the feedback that resonates through the track makes it sound like some kind of electronic animal breathing its last. Title track “Sentry” doesn’t hold back either, pulverising and screeching that make you unsure whether you should be listening to it at a rave or it should be soundtracking dodging bullets from a sentry gun in the most intense Goldeneye 64 level ever. The workout doesn’t stop with “My Sixth” which serves a straight up amelodic pulsing late night club tool. Like the rest of the EP it’s loud and mechanic, made for the warehouses and factories. “Rampart” takes up a similar mantle with the piston-like growls permeating the track, again the lack of melody showing a marked change from JoeFarr’s relatively tuneful Llarose EP on Turbo. Similarly, there’s little that resembles vocal samples, apart from in the final track “What Time Is Now”, where an exasperated robot-like voice calls out over the Farr’s relentless machine funk. It’s a highlight of the EP and ekes out every last bit of sweat in the listener regardless of the context its listened to.

It’s not really been too much of a secret that there is a slew of techno artists over the last couple of years embracing the abrasive; Perc, Truss, Tessela, Inigo Kennedy, all showing that you can make techno hit hard without having to sacrifice the fun. Power Vacuum are very much proponents of this ideology, you only have to look at the cover of label owner Bintus’ Live* & Locked to get a sense of this. JoeFarr continues this tradition and has created five tracks of equally satisfying basement tracks. With this release he’s treading a now familiar path but make no mistake, with Sentry, JoeFarr will make every effort to floor you.

Stream: JoeFarr – Sentry EP Preview (Power Vacuum)

Words by Antoin Lindsay, 18 June 2014. Leave a comment

Truancy Volume 98: Beneath

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Another mad one for you: Truancy Volume 98 comes courtesy of Beneath. The depth and weight of Beneath’s output – initially released on his own white label No Symbols – always has us queuing up for more damage, and he’s found himself in the position of truly being a favourite of critics and punters alike. His productions stand menacingly at the crossroads of dubstep, grime and UK funky, but more recent experiments have proved that even at that deviant intersection, there’s room for manoeuvre. One result of this kind of expansion is that his work really is consistently effective on the floor. It stops you in your tracks mentally an instant before it pulls at your strings and picks up your limbs, with a sound so big you can happily shack out in the long shadows it casts. Another result is that his EPs have showed up on labels as diverse as the legendary Keysound, new spot Niche ‘N’ Bump (which brought us one of our favourite tracks last year, the daintily murderous “Bellz“), and Bill Kouligas’ PAN, which released the mind-warping Vobes EP earlier this year.  You can go grab his latest EP, which sees him moving back to No Symbols, right about now

As well as being a young producer to watch, Beneath has also caught our ears as a selector: his set at Unsound’s closing party last October in particular was nothing short of magnificent, displaying both a burgeoning dexterity and a real passion for the potency of UK dance music. With that in mind, and after appearing on Truancy Volume 71 around this time last year (delivered by Hodge), we’re nothing short of delighted that he’s somewhat shyly agreed to drop a mix for us. Clocking in at around the eighty minute mark, it’s as deep and expansive as the productions we can’t get enough of and goes in some directions you won’t (but maybe should) be expecting. A word from the man himself on his mixing style: “[I]n the past I’d always been quite narrow, in that I would just play my own tracks mainly and some other UK stuff. But I’m starting to bring my other influences into sets and stuff that generally just fits with the vibe I like – so this mix represents that shift maybe, becoming more of a DJ than just a producer who can DJ. Still got lots of new music from mates in the mix though.” No tracklist this time, but we’re sure you won’t have much trouble identifying some of those mates… Without further ado, a mix we’ve all been salivating over: Truancy Volume 98 by Beneath. Stream and download below. 

Truancy Volume 98: Beneath by TRUANTS

Words by Tabitha Thorlu-Bangura, 17 June 2014. 1 comment

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