Christchurch electronic music artist Gemma Syme recently dropped an ethereal five-track synth/vocal release she emotively branded ‘The Wet EP’. In asking regular NZM contributor Briar Lawry to interview Syme, who goes by the ‘musical username’ of Instant Fantasy, we thought it opportune to also give coverage to some of the other upcoming Kiwi women in electronic music.
Remember the Björk interview on Pitchfork earlier this year? The one where she called out sexist attitudes around female auteurs in the music industry? That’s right. It’s 2015 and these sorts of attitudes are still pervasive in the music industry worldwide.
Which means it’s no wonder, really, that when it comes to women in electronic music right here in Aotearoa, people scratch their heads a little. But there are some highly talented women across the country changing these perceptions, making intricate beats and beautiful tracks – kicking arse and taking names all the way.
Meet Gemma Syme, the Christchurch-based artist and producer behind Instant Fantasy. With a sound described as ‘hypnodrone’ or the wonderfully peculiar ‘synth-drone ego-miner’, Instant Fantasy’s debut release ‘The Wet EP’ is a dreamy, carefully woven soundscape across five tracks.
But first, let’s rewind to before Instant Fantasy. Gemma had been involved in a variety of projects across different cities and different genres. To name a few, she’s been a part of Trimasterbate, Feline Groovy, 47 Diamantes and Fantasing (an on-going performance collective from which the name Instant Fantasy evolved).
“I’ve just always made music with people. I’ve always been an artist.”
Artist is certainly right – as well as making music and working at RDU she is a performance and video artist, with an MFA from Massey. Clearly a woman of many talents, but when she started creating music under the Instant Fantasy moniker, drumming wasn’t yet one of those.
“It took a while at the beginning,” she admits. “I had to just chill out with the music, and not try to construct.”
Dedication paid off, though, and in the end, Gemma can say that she did 95% of the instrumentation.
“For this project I just wanted a clean slate. This sort of electronic stuff was in some ways borne out of necessity – I’m a performer and I wanted to be able to depend on myself. I didn’t want to have to compromise. And I wanted to solidify myself as a producer.
Symon Palmer, who plays with Doprah, came in towards the end of the recording process to help finalise the production and add some polish she says. For the rest of the time, it was just Gemma. Frequently featuring her preferred microKORG, she also beefed up her music-making set-up while developing the record.
“I invested in myself – and in some equipment – to confirm with myself that I was serious about making some good music. I’d go through songs and write out different structures. I’d been working on them for about a year, always saving lyrics on my computer and later compiling lyrics out of different bits.”
When composing on her computer, the ‘save as’ function was very freeing.
“It meant I could just go for it,” she laughs.
‘The Wet EP’ is about “… all things surrounding love and breakups.”
‘Wet’ managed to encompass all sorts of related bits – “…tears, sexy stuff – a nice rounding up of things.”
Given Gemma’s background, it is understandable that the cover design was close to her heart – in more ways than one.
“The cover is my boob! I did this photoshoot mimicking Maxine Legroom, who’d been in Playboy.
She quickly realised that both the original photos and her own shoot were really from a male gaze, so had second thoughts.
“I sent them to a friend who agreed. I just thought, ‘I can’t do this, it’s not what I want to be saying’.”
But while editing the photos a wayward mouse caused a serendipitous strike of inspiration.
“I accidentally zoomed in on my boob and realised that it looked like a teardrop.”
With a bit of tweaking and colouration, an object of the male gaze turned into something more abstract, and entirely concept-appropriate. Which leads us back to that Björk interview, and being a female producer in what is still so often a boys’ club.
“People do ask me if I produce my own tracks. Last week I was training DJs at RDU, and the guys couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that a girl knew so much about this stuff.”
Gemma mentions the importance of projects like the Visibility tumblr (femalepressure.tumblr.com), created by female:pressure –– a self-described ‘international network of over 1400 female artists from 65 countries in the wider fields of electronic music’. She talks about fellow Kiwi Misfit Mod’s (see brief following) electronic music workshops for women.
“People have had really weird reactions, like they’re feeling threatened. Getting more women into music isn’t about a takeover, it’s about changing that sort of idea –– that’s why altering that cover image was so important. It took me ages to call myself a feminist, because I hadn’t faced those huge problems with sexism myself. But we need to get other women to have the confidence to make music.”
Maya Payne has had a slightly different past year to most Canterbury teens. In May this year, she opened for Charli XCX. Her track If Only has been featured on Spotify and UK electronic music site UKF. And she’s 18, NZ’s talented teen sector really is booming these days. And despite collaboration on her tracks, according to a stuff.co.nz interview, she still drives the songs. In producing Fragile with US engineer and producer Dru Castro, ‘she [had] the final say on everything from key, to chord changes and the final mix.’
Her first EP is yet to be released, but expectations are high. Check out If Only – either the original or one of the various remixes –– and get hype.
Described by NME – yes, that NME – as ‘New Zealand’s answer to FKA Twigs’, Imugi are a pair of Aucklanders making some of the catchiest darned sounds around.
Dizzy is an appropriately dizzying and joyful synth-y tune with female vocals that has been making some disproportionately big waves. Consider this. It’s the only track that the duo have released so far, and it has featured on NME, on Radio NZ and any number of local and international blogs.
One blog sums up our feelings on the matter: ‘These guys are brand new, and we can’t wait to see what they do next’. And how.
‘A musician with a vocal attitude that rivals Kate Bush and Zola Jesus’, says UTR. Wine writer and sound artist Jo Burzynska matched Misfit Mod with a ‘soft and silky’ pinot noir. Sarah Ann Kelleher, the Misfit Mod herself, describes her genre as ‘minimal, electronic, dream pop’.
With a full LP under her belt (2013’s ‘Islands & Islands’) and experience with taking Electronic Music Practise for Women workshops, there are all sorts of auditory treats to be experienced – and possibly tricks and skills to be passed on if you’re lucky enough to be at one of her classes.
Flo Wilson‘s website describes her as ‘a composer, performer and vocal artist’. Under both her own name and her previous alias ‘Foxtrot’, she has amassed quite the portfolio. She has toured here and in Australia, played Chronophonium and CALH, performed and written for the NZ School of Dance and exhibited at all manner of galleries.
The music she produces (and performs and mixes and masters –– she is a woman of formidable talent) is ambient and exquisite, while still maintaining an experimental edge that keeps things fresh and interesting. All her tracks carry a careful weight about them, whether they are standalone compositions or pieces designed as a foundation for other performances. Whatever you’re listening to from Flo, it’s going to be gorgeous.
‘Etheral dream haunted pop,’ claims Lttle Phnx’s Facebook. Listening to the ‘Pyrexia’ EP, you begin to see exactly what Lttle Phnx, the performing name of Wellingtonian Lucy Beeler, means. The eponymous opening track sets the scene, offering the same sort of sparkly synth-steeped sounds as her 2013 release ‘Luvrs D’Esprit’.
Lucy is another artist of many media – combining her music with a degree in dance and work in visual effects. Music has long been a part of her life, and now her music is a part of other people’s creations, with her Soundcloud featuring all sorts of remixes and samplings. There’s always something beautiful about that on-going circle – like the phoenix itself rising from the ashes.