VOLTAGE Podcast 09 - Emily Jeanne
We leave our single digit editions with a really special guest, Emily Jeanne. Her debut 8 track album on Semantica speaks volumes, preceding even the release of an EP. This is accompanied by a few compilation contributions, including Arcing Seas alongside the likes of Answer Code Request and Blazej Malinowski, ANGLS where she can be found before tracks by Surgeon and Planetary Assault Systems, and even on our very own VOLTAGE Transistor compilation.
Born and raised in Ghent in Belgium and having moved to Paris, Berlin, and now settled in Antwerp, Jeanne has come back to Belgium with her modular system to add to her discography and play our clubs. Growing up with an interest in music of all genres and backgrounds, Jeanne has had a long and meandering musical journey, the results of which are a fascination for sound exploration that characterize her hypnotic, almost meditative sound.
You’ve really been making a name for yourself in the international techno scene with your hypnotic productions and sets that hint at a musical interest spread over many genres and styles. What did you grow up listening to and what are you playing now?
It’s quite wide. I’ve listened to everything really. I had phases growing up, never really been attached to one genre. Obviously pop music, mostly 80’s and 90’s pop when I was a kid. [laughs] I had a punk phase, a hip hop phase… and then I kind of settled into indie, ambient & electronic music. Actually, I had a lot of stuff on Warp Records and The Knife & Burial on repeat. Lots of classical music as well, actually. I had this box with loads of classical, like fifty CDs, and I would listen to it while reading or studying. I still listen to it, for example Philip Glass, and this led to other ambient music like Basinski. It takes your attention and doesn’t in a way, which I really like.
I’m also influenced by more… I don’t want to say tribal… but maybe that really is the best word in this case. I am half Vietnamese and my mom would come back from visiting Vietnam with CD’s of traditional music we would listen to in the car. I think these strange scales, percussion and vocals managed to burrow their way into my brain somehow. My older brother has also helped spark my interest in music and nightlife. He’s also a DJ - Thang - and he plays different styles of music (mostly house, 80’s, disco, techno) and I think that has certainly helped shape my wide taste. As a little kid, I would sneak into his room and listen to Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Soulwax, Nine Inch Nails… that kind of started everything for me, my exploration of music and sound, and from that I found my way into my own tastes.
It took some time to develop. I’ve never been a social animal, so I was never big on music sharing with my mates. It’s very male-dominated and I have the feeling, especially when I was young, that it was difficult to connect with other girls who were passionate about music. That’s changed for me now - I really only connect with people who are into music, so it’s the complete opposite.
It’s really important for me both as a DJ and a musician to keep searching for stuff beyond my comfort zone. It gives me way more inspiration than this... techno-only mindset that I just don’t understand. You need to draw your inspiration from something, you can’t make interesting music if you’re just copying the same generic stuff.
You’re fresh on the scene and started releasing records not too long ago having put out tracks for the stacked Arcing Seas V/A, ANGLS, and your first album on Svreca’s respected Semantica Records. How did you get started on producing? What sparked your interest and where do you see yourself now in all of it?
It was so nerve racking, I always wanted to create and always dreamt of making music but I had such low self-esteem... there was this mental barrier that I would put in front of myself that I couldn’t take down, telling myself ‘Wait no, you can’t make music, you have no musical training..’ and that was so stuck in my head. Then I was together with Guy (Shifted) and I have this friend who also makes music called Uchi and they both told me to do it - just throw myself in and do it. I needed so much pushing… I wanted to, but there was something stopping me, which was really frustrating. It cost me sweat and tears - especially tears.
Uchi had a Moog Mother 32 that I’d messed around with a bit and so me and Guy were in a New York music store and I just bought one - to see how it goes. Then I got a Digitakt. I still really didn’t know anything about making music at this point. I was just messing about trying to find my feet with it. Of course, when you’re already DJing and involved in the scene, people are like ‘Oh, you should also make music’ and I was thinking, that’s easy for you to say, you have the experience already. Sometimes I wished I was a guy hanging out with my mates learning and jamming together. I felt like I really missed that, which was frustrating. All of my friends who were into music seemed so much more developed than me. I just sat in the apartment in Berlin, just trying to make some tunes I was pleased with.
I was sitting in the studio with Guy and he was explaining how synthesis worked with his modular system. For me, strangely, the way modular works made more sense. I don’t like menu diving and I don’t like presets. [...] The Moog is a semi-modular, so I bought a eurorack case and started adding modules. It just clicks for me, this way of making music - you start from scratch and you make the connections yourself. Even though it’s really fiddly and it does what it wants to in a way, you’re still more in control than with most stand-alone synthesizers. Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way, but for me it made so much more sense to make the patches myself. Can I compare it to a ready-made meal? Is a synth for me a ready-made meal that I just pick what I like from it? Or do I want to cook a fresh meal with my own ingredients?
That brings us pretty naturally to my next question about your modular system - which you use in your tracks to create interesting soundscapes and textures. Can you give us the name of a favorite module and how you would use it in a track?
I was thinking about that... That’s kind of the thing with a whole modular system, you don’t really have one favorite module. I mean, I’m sure when you’ve got a huge system you can have favorites, but my system is sort of small so I basically need everything. I do really like my Cloud Terrarium E352 from Synthesis Technology - which is a VCO. I get lots of drones, interesting bass sounds, and sick sounds out of it. It’s been a while since I’ve bought something new, and usually when you buy something new it becomes your main focus. The last thing I got was Pamela’s Workout, which is more of a function tool for modulation, envelopes, clocking… anything. I really love my USTA sequencer and fairly recently I got a sick distortion module by Erica Synths and Gamechanger Audio.
Unfortunately, I got rid of the Moog. I liked it, but it was quite big for my small case and so I sold it to fund the DPO, which was my main oscillator for a long time and I still use a lot… but now of course I have the E352 and that’s become my favorite oscillator [laughs]... until I get the next one, I guess. And then, of course I go to Guy’s studio when we’re working on music together and he uses something, I’ll think ‘oh, that’s really sick...’
Do you guys ever steal each other’s gear?
Yeah, we do swap modules. Sometimes, when I’m not using a certain module for a while, I’ll say 'You take it for a bit'. He’s got quite a big system so sometimes he’ll come down to my studio and say ‘Why don’t you use this’. Obviously, I’m not using the gear he uses every day, I’ll just go downstairs and go into his studio. It’s quite annoying to screw them in and out all the time, so I’ll just go downstairs and we’ll work on something together.
Speaking of working with Shifted - François X has just released the first Various Artists compilation of his brand new record label XXLab, and your first released collaboration with Shifted under the new name unit::overlay starts it off with a massive, dark ambient track.
How did this record come about and what was it like working together? Can we expect some more of this material to come out?
Actually, we made it and sent it three years ago. François e-mailed Guy a few months ago, saying he was going to put it out on a VA and asking us to find a name. I couldn’t even remember what it sounded like, that’s how long ago it was. We were just making some ambient music and I was using a Korg Minilogue that Guy was given for mixing a record for a friend. But yeah, it’s quite far in my memory because it was such a long time ago and we never really thought about releasing it. We just sent it to François for a Dement3d compilation he was working on at the time and then, all of a sudden three years later, he came back to us saying ‘Here's the master!’
I was so new to making music that for me it was quite a lot. I was mostly learning from making that track.
We’re definitely going to make more stuff together, we just finished a music project for a friend who’s doing a light installation in Antwerp, so we made a 30 minute drone/ambient piece for it.
Now that we’ve done that together, I’m working on music by myself. I’ve just sent out a 7 track demo. Guy just put out an album and is thinking about what’s coming next. I think eventually when we finish our own stuff, we’ll get back together to make some more music… because it was really fun and relaxing to work together.
You’ve played many Belgian clubs and are quite familiar with what’s going on within our borders whether we’re speaking of artists, collectives, events, or labels. Once the lockdown is over, how do you see yourself involving yourself in the local scene? Do you have a favorite club you’re looking forward to play at?
The nice thing about getting to know collectives: it’s spontaneous. You shouldn’t be chasing it or wanting to be a part of something - it should be natural. You should go out, get to know people. The fact that you’re going to the same places already creates a bond. So yeah, I’m gonna let it come to me and, of course, I’ll make efforts to go out more, actively be in places and see how it develops… [sighs] I’m just thinking of how much I miss it.
I’ve played Ampere a couple of times and I really like that club. I still really need to discover Brussels. I did the C12 stream and I really enjoyed seeing the posters “Laisse les Filles Tranquilles”. I said I wasn’t going to actively look for collectives, but I do want to look for more females in the scene, because I think Belgium can still do a lot better with that.