There are a multitude of layers to unfold within the enigmatic universe that BUFFEE’s music resides, both in terms of sound and lyrical content. In her world, crunchy industrial soundscapes coalesce with sugary hardstyle climaxes, operating with auspiciously unconventional and idiosyncratic production techniques to manufacture her distinctive style palette. As the mastermind behind this sonic journey Beth, known as BUFFEE, graciously invited us here into her creative realm. From the chaotic yet liberating single Heaven, to the introspective catharsis replete within her EP Victory Lap, the artist crafts music emblematic of the vibrant and mercurial chaos ubiquitous within any young person trying to navigate the complexities of life and love in the post-Covid internet age.
Born and raised in Bristol, BUFFEE is keen to reflect on her native city and the ostensible impact it has had on her music, sharing insights into the city's thriving music scene and the pivotal role it played in shaping her identity as an artist. Beth now resides in Manchester, working under the tutelage of Bristol and London tastemakers Spinny Nights. We naturally discuss here her love of Charli XCX, but also bonded over her perhaps surprising affection towards the Brooklyn-based outfit Dirty Projectors, both of which contribute to the dynamic nature of the music she has released.
Despite acknowledging the catchiness and pop appeal of her newest track Heaven, Beth grapples with a sense of shallowness that the song's initial pop star aspirations brought. Her candidness with this admission however only adds to the rich integrity of BUFFEE’s artistry. Her music chronicles an ever-evolving digital tapestry that we have only just begun to digest; each beat and lyric a brushstroke painting an emotional and distorted mural narrating her journey from the post-punk laden streets of Bristol to the magnetic heart of the Great Mancunian metropolis.
Victory Lap takes us on a wild journey through crunchy, industrial soundscapes and sugary hardstyle climaxes. How did you navigate this sonic terrain to encapsulate the turmoil of your final teenage years?
It’s all stemmed from being in my bedroom at my computer. Some of them are songs that I wrote years ago, recorded on my phone, or written down in my notes app. I found these old recordings on an SD card of a phone I had, and I realised that, while a lot of it was unusable, there were certain bits and motifs that were still relevant. My process is based on making something and then taking something out of it and making something new again. With the sound, it's like recycling.
But lyrically, these songs feel new because they're made out of these little scraps. I didn't set out to make Victory Lap the final track; it wasn't originally part of the EP. I wanted to create a track that was almost like a joyful departure, a celebration, to balance out the negative emotions.
That makes sense. Almost as if creating these tracks were akin to self-therapy, interrogating your own anger and emotions and coming out of it positively.
I think it was specifically that I was realising there's a point at which you're stewing in your anger so much that you're feeding it and you're giving it life again. After confronting myself about reaching this point I told myself that it's time to focus on channeling the anger in a positive way.
What's your go-to process or environment that sparks the creative flame when you're diving into the creation of a new track?
I'm really bad at producing on hardware; my process is mostly based around Ableton Live. I've tried to move away from it, but for now, it's what makes sense to me. Getting in the zone involves having a night where I won't go to sleep, just sitting in front of my laptop and seeing what comes out. Heaven was recorded quietly at night; I've got housemates, so I had to be discreet. Some parts were recorded on a shitty Behringer mic, or even with Apple wired earphones that I wrapped in underwear to reduce plosive sounds. I used to hold the mic up, and then basically whispered into it. After this I would just compress the shit out of the recording with overdrive.
I think that's where the lot of the crunchiness comes from, it's using this really shite recording equipment squirrelled away in my room and then trying to expand it out. For me It's all about making do with what's available and then expanding on it creatively.
Your newest single Heaven suggests that inhibitions are left on the dance floor as it reaches its climax. How do you aim to create an atmosphere of liberation and uninhibited expression through your music, especially in a track like Heaven?
The maximalism in the sound and the overall atmosphere of the song stem from the approach to mixing I took. Rather than starting everything down at -12 Or -6 dB and then balancing it, I set all parameters to zero, adding a cascade of compressors, each vying for dominance. When I handed it over to Charles Verni, who did the mastering, I told him “Look, I took everything down to normal levels and it lost a lot of character.” He suggested mastering it from clipping and I thought, “Yeah, let's go for it.” So he did, and I believe that's what gives it that distinct rattle which I think adds to the overall sonic catharsis. I enjoy the liberation feeling in it. The vocal chops are super exciting because they're placed on a bandpass spinner, creating a ping-pong effect. I think it contributes to the vibe, ultimately giving it a more dynamic feel.
With the cacophony of textures and sonic components layered upon each other, Heaven certainly follows a maximalist approach. How do you decide when a track like Heaven is complete, considering the potential complexity and layers that can be added? Is there a point where you consciously decide to stop adding and let the music speak for itself?
Sometimes it's super hard! What happened with Heaven is that I finished it maybe four times, then there was another version, and that was it finished again. But I kept coming back to previous versions, pulling them apart, and suddenly it’s not finished again. I think with Heaven, I felt I'd reached the optimal pop song balance. There's a certain feeling when crafting a real earworm, like stacking plates on a stick. I felt that if I touched it, if I did anything else, it would fall apart! That's how I knew Heaven was finished. But generally, I don't think things are ever truly finished; I just try to shoot things out my brain.
The lyrical themes present in Heaven seem quite personal. How do you navigate the vulnerability that comes with sharing your personal and artistic expressions with the world? Do you ever worry about how your vulnerability will be perceived?
I think it’s a weird song because it's such a pop song that I think is quite shallow. Even though I like it, it honestly sounds very different to what I'm making right now. I suppose it's just the trappings of being an artist who is releasing to a label. So I think that's where my anxiety comes from sound wise. When I first made it, I was like “I'm going to be a pop star!” And now I'm like “I really don't want to do that! I just want to hide behind a laptop!” I think that's my real anxiety with it. It’s not really a vulnerable song for me, but it does sound kind of horny, and I think that's embarrassing.
Talk to me about the concept behind the EP cover art. What is the narrative behind it?
The cover is made up of images on my phone taken back in the summer. I just tried to use Photoshop like it was Ableton. I was filtering and blending and processing these images loads, and I sort of felt like it looked exactly like the music sounded because it was sort of made in the same way. It wasn't a highly conceptual image, it didn't really take any planning or styling or anything like that. In one of the press images I was actually just messing around with my friend with this digital camera from the noughties and we were trying to like make fun of people in art school photography scenes and like the poses that they do! It was just us being silly really.
Very Y2k of you! Can you share insights into the collaborative dynamics shaping the EP, both in terms of lyrical content and sonic elements, or was it primarily a solo venture?
I'm not a big fan of working with other people, I find it quite challenging. Perhaps I'll improve with more confidence in the future. However, for both the EP and the single, I handled everything entirely on my own, except for the mastering. Mastering is something I struggle with, and Charles did a really amazing job with that.
[We took a brief interlude here as Beth needed to eat her dinner. For anyone wondering, she revealed to me that she ate a particularly appetising parsnip and mushroom pie from Lidl.]
So, everyone I know, including myself, has had some preconceptions of Bristol, in terms of its nightlife and its youth culture in general, both negative and positive. As someone who grew up in the city, how far do you see these preconceptions being planted in reality?
I think Bristol's got a reputation for having a really healthy music scene. It's seen as thriving, and I think that is true, especially thanks to Headfirst being a thing. I wish we had that in Manchester. I feel like there are a lot of good small venues and interesting stuff. If it weren't for being in Bristol, I didn't think I would have necessarily got into performing live, primarily because people were so willing to offer me advice. I would just go up to people at shows and talk to them, be like, "Hey, what is that? What are you doing? Where are you playing? Go to this place." That's how you get into it. It's probably changed since I left though. I don't know the extent of the change, but like Covid had a weird effect as well.
I would say definitely the queer nightlife scene has grown a lot since then! A real burgeoning of queer-friendly and sex-positive spaces and events that has contributed massively to the experimental nature of the underground Bristol scene over the past few years. I’m someone who has been in Bristol now for around four years and I’ve noticed a massive investment into showcasing queer artists, certainly far more so than pre-Covid. There showcasing of queer culture was present, but far less of a defining feature of the city’s youth culture that it is today.
I think that's definitely true. Because I remember like, pre Covid when I was in college, like all the gigs, Bristol was just a post punk monopoly, it was all just IDLES and every band trying to be IDLES. Like, it was great for punk, but there wasn't much else out there. I mean, at least I wasn't finding anything else. But then again, when I was like, 16 all I was interested in was like getting whiplash, in a mosh pit! Some of my favorites now are Crotch and Soz Lad, people who put on these crazy nights that are so good. I played at a Soz Lad night last year at the Jam Jar alongside such sound people and it was like so much fun!
Can you pinpoint any aspects of Bristol's nightlife that have left a mark on the sonic landscapes you craft today? Do you ever feel like Bristol's nightlife scene is a silent collaborator in your music?
I think, to be honest, I haven't been like that sonically inspired by Bristol's nightlife. When I really started producing my own stuff was in lockdown. So, given that all I had access to was the Internet, I was massively influenced by Internet subcultures. I turned 18 in lockdown, and obviously I couldn't go out to the clubs. So I was just in my room listening to hardstyle and hyper-pop, which definitely influenced my sound more. In terms of dance music. I'm not really one of those cool dance music people who knows a bunch of underground records and all the different subgenres, when I go out, I don't always know the tunes. So I’d say my sound is significantly more influenced by like the music I listened to at home than what I listen to on a night out.
That's fair, would you say that your music is wholly influenced by more current Internet-inspired soundscapes like maximalist hyper-pop, or are you also influenced by other less contemporary genres?
I think the music I listen to is pretty much across the board pretty contemporary, its all come out in the past like 10-20 years, but it's not exclusively electronic. A lot of music I’ve been obsessed with for a very long time doesn't sound a lot like the music I make. I mean, Charli XCX was for sure the foundations of my hyperpop obsession, but I mostly listen to a range of musical forms. Do you know Dirty Projectors?
Yes, I love them!
Great! I’m obsessed with Dirty Projectors and James Blake and really a bunch of musicians that aren’t necessarily aligned with my sound. But I can’t really say Dirty Projectors have influenced my music because I could never fucking write a song like them, I wish!
I mean, shoutout David Longstreth, that man is a genius! I feel that, because of the dawn of streaming allowing for the on-demand access of any track, everyone who makes music currently has developed a multifaceted taste in what they listen to and how they extract the sounds of the different genres. Like, even though your music may not sound like a Dirty Projectors record, I feel like some of your output lyrically has pertinent similarities that can be drawn which I think is great. Has there been any gig that you attended recently that particularly excited you?
I honestly haven’t been to enough in the past year. There is one that comes to mind though; there was this night in Leeds at this place called Wharf Chambers, I think around Halloween last year. There were basically a range of musicians there who were all doing cover songs of different bands, and there was one guy, I think he was doing Joy Division, but on an Electron Digitakt, it was mad. It was a tiny crowd of goths all going for it and it was great!
Sounds like a good time! You joined the Spinny Nights roster last year – what's it been like working with them? I've heard that one of the founders is a notorious collector of yoga balls that can be somewhat of an obstruction?
Collect yoga balls?
Indeed, that’s what I’ve heard anyway from a few reputable sources; I’m surprised you haven’t tripped over on one of them while at the Spinny Nights HQ!
That is weird. I didn’t even know about this!
At least you know now! Yoga balls aside, how has it been working with them overall?
It's been really good. They're incredibly enthusiastic about the music which is great and they're friends of people who I know from the Bristol music scene. I feel like I can really trust Arthur and Rafi [Spinny Nights founders] because I know they really care about the music and they [have] done so much to help their mates and others on their label get exposure.
They’ve certainly made tremendous progress from their pre-Covid beginnings putting on shows at The Old England. They’ve become fundamental tastemakers of both the Bristol and London underground scenes.
For sure. Can I tell you something funny? I actually sent them a demo back in 2022, I sent them this EP that I've made that I scrapped. It was called Exit Mania. The cover was this ugly picture that I'd made on Photoshop. I sent them over the EP and they replied saying "thanks Beth, it's not really our thing". It's nice that nearly two years on I've finally made something that they like. But I appreciate how they didn't write me off from the demo and two years down the line they were up for working together, it was like a little dream come true for me.
They really know how to get the right artists the right exposure! I know for sure they’re going to aid in making your career blossom in the near future. Looking beyond Victory Lap, and Heaven, what's next for BUFFEE? Are there any uncharted territories or experimental directions you're eager to explore in future projects?
I really want to write an album. I’ve stated the process of that which is exciting. I've got a lot of music stored up, some of it I think has been left for too long needs letting go but some of it for sure needs to come out, some of them are songs I've played live but haven't released yet. My next release will be a collection, whether that be an EP or mixtape, but I doubt I'll be releasing a full album this year, but hopefully a mixtape. Gig wise, I'll probably be playing a bit less than I did last year because I sent myself a bit insane with the amount of shows I was doing. I want to not take all the gigs and just make my live set a lot better, a lot more skilled, I want to try writing songs as I would perform them rather than the other way round and see where that takes me. I look forward to playing in Europe, in Berlin on March 29. Ritual Union in Bristol March 23 will be fun as well as London’s the George Tavern show April 2. See you there!