From Paddy Free’s famously orange hair to Sachi’s white on pink presentation, Kiwi electronica artists are not without a flair for colour. Surely none though are a match for Estère Dalton, who seems to exude colour and personality in every vibrant aspect of her being, as well as her on-stage performance. With Estère shortly to release the back half of a double EP/album project Aabir Mazumdar caught up with her to talk over her design on others’ lives’.
She is a composer/producer, beat maker and singer from Wellington who has performed at festivals all around the world – including Ulsan World Music Festival (South Korea), Aarhus International Music Festival (Denmark), Glastonbury (UK), Melbourne’s Let Them Eat Cake and a series of festivals across Africa, to name just some.
Despite the likely over-exposure to questioning that comes with that variety of experience Estère is happy to look back to the start of her musical journey.
“I got into music quite young, I always had an affinity with it, I always liked to sing. At around the age of 11 I started drumming. That was the first instrument that I started to learn and gain quite a lot of confidence in. That steered me down a path of drumming for a couple of years.”
It was during a high school exchange in Germany that Estère was first introduced to her instrument of choice.
“My friend had bought an MPC and I was really interested in what he was doing with it. I started performing with him as the MPC programmer.
”Eventually Estère bought her own when she felt she could do the programming herself. She talked with NZM about the closeness of the relationship with her MPC 1000 (and best friend) Lola, back in 2013.
Transitioning from playing the drums to producing beats and performing on the MPC wasn’t without challenges.
“I had to spend a lot of time on it. Even the operating system on it and how to navigate it, it was all just really new. Most of the beats I make on the MPC are near impossible to play with just one [drum] kit.”
A more formal introduction to music production came while she was a student at Victoria University.
“I studied anthropology and philosophy at university and I took two music papers all up. One of them was sonic arts.”
Surprisingly she admits to not achieving exceptional grades in sonic arts but discovered an inclination towards beat production.
“We learnt about DAWs [Digital Audio Workstations] and we learnt about recording, and one of our briefs was to make a beat or composition that we would then show the class. That was the first time I made a track and it felt really natural. It was just about piecing something together that I could understand.”
While music making has since taken over her life, the anthropology studies were far from wasted and contribute to her musical perspective.
“For me, my ethos around songwriting is that I can write a song about anything. It doesn’t just have to be about my love life or whatever. Anthropology can focus on seemingly trivial elements of a person’s life but then goes broader and there’s suddenly so much depth and meaning behind that seemingly trivial element, and I think that’s the beauty of songwriting. You can pick anything and write a song about it. Studying anthropology and philosophy helped me come to that perspective.”
‘Electric blue witch hop’ is a term Estère herself coined to describe the music she produces.
“I think a lot of artists find it difficult and limiting when their music is categorised. So I wanted to create my own categorisation that I thought adequately described what I do. There’s a real mix of influences in my work and ‘electric blue witch hop’ combined all those components in a way that I thought made sense!”
Her latest recording output is essentially an album, but released in two parts as a double EP, with the first appearing late in 2017.
“I just decided that I wanted to release music and I decided that I wanted have space in-between both releases. I like the idea of releasing music like a chapter book. ‘My Design’, the first part, is like an introduction to that world. The second part of the album, ‘On Others’ Lives’, digs a little deeper.
“It’s about my own perspective on the world around me, and seeing things of interest or importance to me and writing about them.”
Most of the tracks were composed during mid-2017 when Estère took on the kind of musical challenge that it’s easy to imagine her relishing.
“I did this thing called ‘A Beat A Day’ where I wrote a track a day on the MPC, so I had 30 tracks. Then I ended up choosing the tracks that I thought were the best and that’s when I wrote the songs.”
Though most of the album stemmed from this month of beat-making creativity the track L’Oiseau Dans L’Etoile can be heard as far back as a performance in 2014 during Estère’s TEDxVUW Ted Talk. Her live set up has grown since, going from herself with a microphone, Lola and Korgi (a Korg MicroKorg), to include three rototoms, an electric guitar and two other musicians – one playing drums and the other percussion with a Roland SPD.
Her composition process remains focused around Lola, but incorporates various aspects of a modern hybrid project studio.
“Most of it is stuff I make on the MPC. I don’t really go through the process where I’m on Logic and then I have to bounce it out, but in saying that I will record into Logic and work on samples in Logic and then put them onto my MPC.
“When I recorded my album my set up was monitors, a pre-amp, an EQ and an interface. And every single sample on every single track was EQed meticulously and recorded back into Logic. Every single snare, every single hi-hat, it was quite laborious.”
Delving into beat production it is inevitable to begin considering aspects of sound previously in the jurisdiction of the audio engineer.
“For me, on this album specifically, it was a lot about developing in the production area. So I was listening to a lot of songs and listening to only the production. For every song that I produced I would use reference tracks to help guide me because there’s always so many options. For example, with the single Rent that I made, I used Missy Elliot and Lykke Li as references.
“In music, everything is borrowed and reassembled. Everything is sampling, but it’s just about to what capacity.”
Her work on this album, and as a producer, has only fanned the flames when it comes to Estère’s desire to delve further into the esoterics of sound.
“After I produced all the songs, I worked with audio engineers in different studios to mix. For me it’s always been about learning that side of things. That’s what I’m interested in doing. Long term I want to be able to have enough of an understanding [of audio] to get results that I want. It’s good to understand that if you want something to sound like this, this is what you do.”
Her approach to the two-part album itself appears to have two distinct parts. The first being that of a songwriter.
“It’s about my own perspective on the world around me and seeing things of interest or importance to me and writing about them.”
The second part is that of a producer.
“On this album you can still hear that I’m trying out a lot of things. I’m wandering through different production landscapes. For me it’s not necessarily about doing things perfectly as much as it is about understanding my own perspective when it comes to producing. Producers have different sounds. And I think that when you know what you naturally feel, and it’s something that’s recognisable, that’s when I feel like I would’ve reached a milestone.”
‘On Others’ Lives’, the second half of her ‘album’ sees release in late April. Following a few release shows, Estère will be going on tour again, this time in Europe, taking in the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Austria.