One of techno music’s rising stars, object blue returns with a new audio visual EP Grotto released today (5th March), accompanied by a live-streamed performance (7PM GMT) which promises to be bonkers; we’re told that it is ‘a bit like if King Lear had been a millennial soap opera with a happy ending’. This release follows the success of the Hyperaesthesia EP; a collaboration with London-based Italian DJ and producer TSVI, which received widespread positive attention.
object blue has spent most of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown periods holed-up in her London home, unable to do what she really loves the most; performing live to a packed dance floor. But as has been the case for many of us, the pandemic has also provided a rare opportunity to spend quality time at home with family, working closely with her wife and creative partner, Natalia Podgorska, to create something truly unique, that will forever serve as a document of the times in which it was created.
You have achieved a lot in the three years since you burst onto the scene with your debut EP, Do You Plan to End a Siege?. Amongst so many other things, you composed the music for the Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood SS20 collection and performed it live at Paris Fashion Week. How did that come about and what was the experience like?
That was thanks to my manager Emily, who was asked by a producer at Westwood to recommend new artists to use for their shows. She said she sends recommendations every year, but they never used her suggestions - until she began working with me and sent my music! So that was very flattering. I remember going to our first meeting at their London office, and loved hearing how passionate Andreas' team was. They also let me into their archive where they store all the pieces from every collection they ever did, I was like a kid in a candy store. Fashion is a totally different world, it's so frantic. I flew to Paris the day before the show and set up my laptop to make final changes to the music I'd been making, getting real-time feedback from producers who would find a few minutes to listen to snippets and give feedback, while around me casting directors were fitting models, seamstresses at a row of sewing machines finishing the last bits of garments, everyone running amok. I saw the venue for the first time only at 10pm before the show, we sound checked, then everyone went back to the office to work more. I ate a dosa and slept.
The morning of the show, we had our first and only run-through; then Vivienne came to me and asked if the music could be calmer, more ambient, slower buildup. Which was completely the opposite of what Andreas and his team had asked me to do! I said, "I actually do agree with you, Vivienne, but am I allowed to go against the direction of the entire team?" Andreas just gave me a look like, ‘let's do what she says’. It was amazing, because she was completely right. The music only hit the energetic peak at the last look, and continued as Andreas and Vivienne happily made their way down the runway, it was perfect. Then I got to DJ a disco set at a club that night, the most glamorous after-party I've ever seen, everyone scrambling to get in after the club reached max capacity. While I was trying to make it to the door, I heard Dimitra Petsa, a brilliant designer and dear friend who made my wedding dress, scream my name; I grabbed her hand and yelled "please let us in! My set begins in 10 minutes!" We went on to dance all night, a glorious way to end the dizzying journey.
Vivienne Westwood came to prominence during the punk scene of the 1970s with her shop at 430 Kings Road at the centre of it all. Do you see any parallels with the DIY ethic and raw simplicity of techno music and the ‘here’s three chords; now form a band!’ spirit of punk?
I do see the similarity in that most techno makers don't come with ABRSM grades or music school certificates. They're not necessary. People don't feel like they need to have an institutional backing to download their first DAW, upload tunes on SoundCloud and start playing their mates' parties. Absolutely everyone who wants to make art should feel able to do so; when someone says "oh it's not good that anyone can make and share tracks now", that's bullshit! Everyone has creativity in them, and we should celebrate that.
I read a number of interviews back in the summer where you mentioned that you had been suffering from quite a lengthy period of writer’s block. The release of a new EP, Grotto, suggests that you have eventually managed to come out the other side; was there anything particular that helped to lift the fog?
Yes, it was saying to myself, "go ahead and make a non-dance EP, if you want to!" I think I tend to care very little about what people think of my music; despite the fact that the majority of an average producer's income comes from playing clubs and festivals, which means I have to think "would people play this when they’re out?" I thought, Oh never mind, I'm barely employed these days anyway, if there was ever a time to release an experimental-pop album, it's now. I've never successfully forced music out of me; I've only ever been able to break a writer's block by removing limitations, not imposing them.
A musical talent can be both a blessing and a curse; there is a real weight of expectation to deliver that comes with it. How did that difficult period affect your mental health, particularly at a time when mental health is already under such a lot of strain?
Before I started making music seriously, I was already at a point of not caring if people liked it or not. I was only making music to satisfy myself, my own needs and cravings, and if anyone out there liked it, it was a happy accident. But, when labels and agents get involved, it goes beyond "like it or not". You take on a new responsibility: it would be so disappointing if a label was putting money, time and effort into releasing my music, but they didn't even like the final tracks. When I handed in Siege I laid in bed all day thinking it's horrible, they must regret signing me. Then I received so much genuine praise from TT, listeners, other producers, DJs, which was so shocking. Since then I've become much better, I don't freak out like that any more. Communication is key! Instead of holing up and rewriting over and over, I'm learning to send snippets and WIP and get feedback as I write. Doubt is such a destructive thing; we all need to find our own ways of countering it. Music is my biggest saviour; I'd still be making it if no one listened, and that's the truth, acting like a lighthouse, that I depend on. The devastation will come when I write music that I dislike, not when others dislike it. And of course I organise a routine dose of therapy, antidepressants, love and good food to take care of my chronically disordered mental health, outside of Ableton.
I know how much you love performing live, feeding off the energy of the crowd and making people dance. Do you think that being unable to perform to an audience recently has had an impact on the sound and style of your music at all?
Grotto probably would have been postponed to a later date if I had still been playing weekly, yes! The sounds and energy I feel on the dancefloor always influence me. I always listen to non-dance music too, but having massive systems and the crowds completely taken away for a year have definitely made my sound mellower, sweeter. Like I said, I allowed myself to write Grotto now because it's not like we're in clubs anyway! I want people to get cosy in their homes and blast it loud.
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You have said yourself that ‘Grotto is a stage’, and you are live streaming a performance tonight (5th March), to accompany its release. To what extent do you think this project has been dictated by circumstance? Is it an outlet for the frustration of not being able to perform, or a creative direction that you were very much planning to take anyway?
I always knew I would write non-dancefloor music, it would have happened sooner or later. It turned out to be sooner, because of this. I still very much enjoy listening to club tracks at home, but I know a lot of people feel sad and melancholic because it reminds them of what's missing. I hope Grotto can provide some fun and solace for them. Also, Grotto centres around a theme I'm forever preoccupied with; the absurd relationship we have with home and family. Now that everyone has been confined to their homes with couples breaking up, housemates fighting, feeling lonely, feeling claustrophobic, I think Grotto is a timely piece of work.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has meant that many of us have spent a huge amount of time with our partners, housemates and families. This has inevitably put a lot of these relationships under strain. How have you found it to be working so closely with your wife and creative partner, Natalia Podgorska, on this project at this particular time?
It's been so satisfying! It gave us a routine and an exciting goal. I would be sewing my costume, she would be collecting reference images. I would be singing the opener while cooking, and she would hum along as she made 3D graphics for my video. We would talk about what we were working on while we ate. It was similar to when we would be watching films or taking a walk together, but grander. It gave us a new splash of energy. I'm probably the luckiest person in the world to have a lockdown experience like this. Natalia is an incredible person to live with and work with.
My well-thumbed copy of the Collins Dictionary says that a ‘Grotto’ is ‘a small cave, especially one with attractive features’. What does the Grotto of the title represent to you? Is it a reflection on the living accommodation that you have spent so much time in, or did you perhaps just fail to get the record out in time for Christmas?
Ha! I actually didn't know that ‘grotto’ usually means the Santa setups in malls until after I decided on the title. I knew it meant a cave, which reminded me of homes, this half-open, half-closed space in which we move around and interact with one another, as a stage. Also it's a reference to the word "grotesque". Finally, I mostly chose it due to how it sounds: it's a guttural word with harsh consonants, but also the continuation of "o" is melodic. The paradox of sadness and comedy, the grotesque and the beautiful, is central to this EP: I think the word sums it up well.
With the recent UK government announcement of the roadmap for lifting Covid-19 restrictions, there is potential for clubs to start opening up again from June 21st. Do you have any plans to take Grotto onto the physical stage?
Yes! The most fun I have is forcing non-club music into club sets. Of course I'm down to do a sit-down performance of the whole EP as well, but I'm not sure if anyone would come to that instead of a mental rave! Either format, I can't wait to do it. Also the more I play live sets, the more the original material gets embellished, distorted, etc. I love watching that progress. It's like watching my kids grow up.
You have just walked back into a packed club for the first time in over a year. What is the first tune that you want to hear thumping out of the sound system and why have you made that choice?
I almost answered something nostalgic, but actually I'd love to hear a tune that sweeps me off my feet, as I hear it there for the first time. That's the addictive thing about clubs, isn't it - to be swallowed whole by sounds you don't even know the title of? I can't wait to hear what people have been making during the past year. I want it to shake me from the ground up!