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Escape Velocity

Staying Untuned: Zamilska Interviewed
Luke Turner , January 23rd, 2015 13:01

Her debut album of hard-edged, techno-shaded rattlers was one of our favourites of last year. Before she heads to CTM, Natalia Zamilska talks to Luke Turner about meshing together African music and Emily Brontë, the political aspects of her work and seeking diversity in Poland's music scene

Photograph courtesy of Ola Bydlowska & Piotr Matejkowski

Polish artist Zamilska's appearance at CTM this weekend appears, it seems, to be a happy consequence of words on the pages of our digital websheet. She'll be appearing on the opening club night courtesy of OAKE, who enthuse on their Facebook thus: "We heard her album Untune for the first time after reading through the Quietus' list of the best 2014 albums and were instantly in love with it. Apparently, after getting in touch, we discovered that the love for our music was a mutual one. Which is also why we are very happy to share the stage with her this coming weekend."

The Quietus first encountered Natalia Zamilska while trawling through the many excellent Polish artists who were due to play last year's Unsound festival in Kraków. As regular readers will no doubt be aware, we're more than excited by much of the music that's currently coming out of Poland, but Zamilska stood out - not necessarily by virtue of quality, but style. Many of our favourite groups from that fair land play beautiful and awkward weldings of psychedelic and far-out sounds, Zamilka's debut album Untune was sturdy, steely, noisy, pensive, propulsive. Though in our interview she'll deny what she makes is techno, it exists here as a backbone, though you can, I think, really hear that it's not music made by a trainspotter of the form. Tracks like 'Army' are monolithic and dense, 'Revival' sees hollowed-out chants muddling with exploded eardrum drones and a rough, twiggy hi-hat rattle. The whole record comes as a cordite-soot contrast with 'Quarrel's opening extract from Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, read in a plummy English accent: "... listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

At Unsound, Zamilska played alongside Perc, Rrose and Carter Tutti Void: "It's my perfect line-up. They're all labelled techno but use a lot of other noises." While she was the only Polish artist on the bill, she is pleased that her vocal-free music means she has a cross-cultural reach. In an interview shortly before that set she mostly spoke through a translator, breaking into English when she's particularly enthused about something, e.g. "I love Laurel Halo".

After releasing a single in January 2014 not really expecting anything much to happen, the feedback was so positive she had to come up with a finished album as soon as possible. Untune came together during early live shows, and she sees the audience members as her collaborators thanks to their reaction to the various sonic experiments she conducted on them. That October night in the brutalist concrete basement of Kraków's Hotel Forum, Zamilska plays in front of gigantic illuminated letters spelling her name. She's on very late, and most of the English contingent have drunk themselves back across the Vistula to bed, leaving a crowd of young (perhaps the youngest of the whole of Unsound) Polish people to disport themselves wildly about the place. What was so satisfying about Zamilska's set was how unforced it felt, how unwilling it was to bend itself to the rigours and expectations of what a 4 am techno set should be. It was brutal in points, immense fun and came across as being performed by someone who was more in tune with songs and performance than linear progression.

So, where did all this begin?

Natalia Zamilska: I started with heavy metal and rock, groups like Behemoth and Gorgoroth, System Of A Down. Then I moved to hip-hop and rap and started skateboarding - my dream was to be Tony Hawk. That was when I learned how to use the equipment to make electronic music. Björk was the first artist that completely immersed me when I first heard 'Hunter', though my favourite album at the moment is Volta. It's changed, I now like her when she's more electronic, more beats, more techno. It didn't have anything to do with her being a female artist, but every time she creates something it's her own, she doesn't really follow trends. She's quite a personality.

Did you make music when you were into heavier stuff?

NZ: I was a drummer when I was 12. I played drums, mainly rock and punk stuff, until I went to university, where I played a lot of drum & bass. It was really hardcore. Recently I have come back to bass. I have a plan to play bass on my next album.

When did you start recording the music that became Untune?

NZ: I started to think about this in December last year, but I prolonged the time until I wanted to release the album because I didn't feel ready technically. I wanted to find my own sound, and wanted to release something that would be really me, not just a technical combination of electronic sounds.

What was inspiring that music? Did Björk lead you into techno?

NZ: Yes and no. When I started listening to Björk the music that I was making was quite trip hop, chillout. Then drum & bass, so I see everything in music. I've tried everything, but I couldn't find something from my heart in those. But I don't call my music techno, for me it's not techno. Recently everything in Poland that's electronic music has been called techno, when it's not.

How would you describe it?

NZ: Something hard and dark. Raw noise. Techno is how the beat sounds, it's the baseline for what I do. But the rest of it is the incorporation of all the sounds that I've gathered over the years, including African and Indian sounds and chants. I think techno is voodoo music, it is ritual.

When did you start getting interested in African music?

NZ: I've always been interested in indigenous music, I started getting into it through Dead Can Dance when I was 14.

Where did you find the sounds?

NZ: They're field recordings from the internet. I don't use mastered files, just field recordings that are given away for free.

Was that always something you wanted to have involved in the record?

NZ: In all my previous works I'd always use music from African music. I have a black heart.

I wanted to ask about the Polish context. For you to be using African, Indian and Muslim sounds in your music here, where society isn't very diverse, would some Polish people find that difficult?

NZ: Yes, we have an issue with intolerance in this country. Combining all those sounds from different places has a different dimension here. For me it's about a fascination with those cultures, and trying to break stereotypes and prejudice here in Poland.

Does that make your music political?

NZ: Yes the album is political. I had to think about this, because political is a heavy-duty word, but this record does have that in it.

Will this continue in your work?

NZ: I am very rebellious, and I'm going to continue with that for the next record, it's in my head.

How does Poland treat you as a female artist?

NZ: It was difficult at first, nobody would take me seriously and nobody expected me to know anything about equipment, where the cable goes. People here treat a woman who can use electronic music equipment with a mixture of fascination and disbelief.

Why did you choose the Emily Brontë quote at the beginning?

NZ: It was a good intro that promised something nice, but then you meet the army and are facing the loaded weapons. The world is not the best place, which is why there are many references to war in the sound and the song titles.

How does literature influence what you do?

NZ: [It doesn't] necessarily, I feel like I am processing the entire world. Which is difficult, because an album only lasts for 45 minutes. It's also a very private record for me, which was reflecting certain things in my life, though I wasn't trying to depress anybody. The album turned out to be quite dramatic, but it seems to be making people dance, and making them happy, which is the most important thing.

Why Untune? Where does that come from?

NZ: It's being naughty. The album is untuned, it's how I was feeling when I was making it. Why stay tuned if you can stay untuned? My dream of combining different worlds has come true.

Untune is out now - get hold of it on Bandcamp. Zamilska plays CTM in Berlin this Saturday, January 24; for full details and tickets, head to the festival's website