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Escape Velocity

Club Catharsis: An Interview With Marie Davidson
Harry Murdoch , March 23rd, 2017 10:09

Catching some downtime amidst a US tour, Marie Davidson tells us about her early love of jazz and hip hop, and her relationship with club culture

"I was and am still a big Tupac fan," Marie Davidson tells me. This isn't particularly where I had been expecting our conversation to go, but makes for a pleasing tangent nonetheless. There are a few pleasing tangents peppered across our chat as we connect over Skype, such as the dive into Ancient Greece to explain the the etymology of catharsis. It felt similar to when I was researching this interview, finding all sorts of older or ongoing side projects that Marie has been involved in.

If your first proper encounter with the Montreal-based artist was with 2016’s Adieux Au Dancefloor, as mine was, there are many albums worth of material to discover under her own name, as well as DKMD, Les Momies de Palerme and the Essaie Pas project she is part of with her husband Pierre Guerineau. Exploring these releases reveals an artist with a highly idiosyncratic sound. Marie draws on many genres, and makes music that falls into many genres, but her music is undeniably Marie Davidson.

I caught up with with Marie in the middle of a short US tour, following a much longer string of European dates, while she was at home in Montreal, a couple of days before a show in New York alongside Cititrax label boss Veronica Vasicka. Over the course of our conversation, we cover subjects such as the strain of touring, her shift to the dancefloor on her most recent album, and, well, Greek tragedy.

You’ve mentioned elsewhere that one of the reasons for making a more upbeat record was because of how audiences were responding to more danceable music. How have US crowds been responding with regards to that during your recent shows?

Marie Davidson: It’s been great. They dance and they scream, so I guess that’s a very good thing.

Have you been able to feed off that energy? Put it back into the show?

MD: Exactly yeah, because touring is really hard and to be honest I’m a little bit sick of it. The whole schedule game; airport, soundcheck, hotel, airport, soundcheck, hotel, home. It’s hard but I do get a lot back from people's energy and positive feedback. Are you based in London?


MD: I like London. I really like playing there. All the shows that I’ve had there have been particularly good. I like the musical culture. You guys have a strong musical history, and I think music is important, so you feel that when you play people really appreciate it. That’s what I’ve had as an experience.

Are you quite influenced by UK music?

MD: Not specifically, but of course there’s so much music that comes from the UK so yeah, I like a lot of UK music as much as American music or German music or, I don’t know, Asian music.

You’ve had quite a few musical projects over the years, but they’ve all got this common thread going through them. They’re all synth-based, quite driving and dark with a post punk, EBM, Italo kind of sound. How did that come about? Did you listen to a lot of that music growing up?

MD: No, when I was a teenager I was listening to a lot of hip hop and jazz actually. My first love is jazz, which I was really into as an early teen. My favourite artist was Billie Holiday, and I practically listened to all of her recordings, and she has a lot. I was really into her. Through her I discovered a lot of jazz musicians. My dad was also a fan of Chet Baker, so I started listening to Lester Young, Count Basie, things like that. Then Miles Davis, and then also hip-hop. I listened to a lot of hip hop. I was and I still am a big Tupac fan.

Do you think these genres feed into your music now?

MD: I think not the jazz so much, but the hip hop for sure. It took me a long time to realise, until people started to tell me “your beats sound like hip hop”. I do a lot of fast melodic sequences and once a friend of mine said “man, I like your new hip hop track.” I was like “what are you talking about?” And then I listened back and I understood it. So, at the back of my head it’s still there for sure. Maybe with vocals too, the stuff I do is a little bit provocative. The next record has a lot of talking and it’s going to be a little bit more humorous. Maybe that’s the hip hop influence.

Definitely in my early adult life I discovered synth music. It started with classics like Kraftwerk, and then UK stuff like Chris & Cosey. I liked Throbbing Gristle but mostly the stuff Chris and Cosey did after Throbbing Gristle. They did a few records. Techno Primitive is maybe the most influential, but my favourite is Excotica. That stuff’s very important in the field of synth-pop and industrial, and I'm sure it’s a major influence for a lot of people. And then after that I found out about early Detroit techno, and that was it. When I first heard tracks from Cybotron and Underground Resistance and stuff like that, I just thought, 'this is what I want to do'. But I think I made my own versions of it, because at the same time I was listening to a lot of Italo disco, which you mentioned, so my influences are all over the place. I collect and listen to all kinds of music.

Adieux Au Dancefloor came out on Veronica Vasicka’s label, Cititrax. How did that come about? Do you know Veronica well?

MD: I don’t know her well, but I met her at a party that we were both playing at in Montreal in December 2015. We had a Q&A the night after that we were both part of. I gave her my previous record, Un Autre Voyage, and she had actually heard it because a mutual friend, Juan [Mendez, Silent Servant] had played it to her. So she already liked some of the tracks, and we had a good connection when we met. She wrote to me after a month or so and said she’d been enjoying the record a lot and asked if I’d be interested in putting out new material with her. So I did, and it was good motivation to make a record so I worked hard and sent it to her, and she put it out.

Adieux Aux Dancefloor is a strong statement regarding how exhausting and draining nightlife can be. You’ve said elsewhere that you’re drawn to club culture but find it disgusting at times. Could you tell us a bit about those feelings and why you were drawn to then make a more dance floor-focused record?

MD: My critiques are not directed exactly towards the dance floor itself but the life habits that come with it, the club culture. The dance floor, I mean my kitchen can be a dance floor if I want it to be. I think that dancing is a very positive and smart thing to do. I think humankind always had something going around music. If you think about Ancient Greece, they would have these processions and theatrical festivities honouring the Bacchus (Dionysos) who is the god of wine and theatre. That’s where tragedy comes from. Tragedy is a form of catharsis. The Greeks invented tragedy and performing, and that’s where theatre comes from. It’s a way of performing a violent or tragic story in front of a large crowd, so that the crowd doesn’t have to live it in reality. That’s where the word catharsis comes from. So catharsis is, through something, like dancing or sacrificing an animal or through going to a place and watching a story about people killing each other, or sleeping with your mum and killing your dad as in Oedipus, experiencing something that you wouldn’t have to do in your own life. So this communal experience of living something together, it’s a form of catharsis, and then you go back to your personal life and you’ve kind of dealt with those inner impulses that are very negative.

That was a long explanation, but you can look up the etymology of catharsis and that’s basically it. After that there was church, and it’s kind of the same thing. You have a priest who is almost an actor. They’re a figure on stage telling you about hell and flames and miracles and evil forces that are going to tempt you and make you spend eternity in flames, and it’s kind of the same idea as people going to a place and they deal with heavy emotions and then they go back home and they deal with their normal life.

So what’s a club? It’s kind of the same thing. A DJ or a performer is like a priest, on the stage, higher than other people, and everyone is just going through the same thing. And it’s not always like that, there are a lot of different types of clubbing, but a lot of clubbing I experience, especially with techno, there’s one person taking the whole crowd, owning them with heavy music, which is beautiful. I find this very interesting. A lot of people go clubbing to deal with so many things. People go out and dance and do drugs to forget about their lives. It’s obvious, let’s be honest. I’m not against that at all, but my disgust about it came from the abuse of it, because I did it too much and I saw people doing it even more than me and I saw people destroying themselves. I saw people destroying themselves on my own music. It’s weird because I play shows and tour the world but sometimes you have very high or drunk people who come to talk to you when you’re packing up your gear and, [does impression], they’re so high and destroyed and it can be depressing.

Do you think gender intersects with those experiences?

MD: Yeah, well growing up in Montreal, and experiencing club culture for the first time in Montreal, I was very lucky. Montreal feels like a safe place for women to me. I can’t complain, but it’s true that even then as a woman, going out alone, I would still have to push dudes back multiple times. It’s a weird thing. Then when you go to other countries, or even other cities, some places just don’t feel so safe. I have a lot of strength, maybe because I come from a place where I’ve never had to worry, but it’s true that it is annoying.

Sometimes, on a lighter level, you go to a club and you pay to get in, and then you have this random person that has decided that he has to talk to you for some reason. And I have to say, 'look, I’m not working, I paid for this, I’m listening to some music, and because you think for some reason that you have to talk to me, I have to deal with that.'

The latest Essaie Pas record also felt more dance floor-focused to me than previous releases too. Was that born out of the same impulse as Adieux Au Dancefloor?

MD: I guess it’s basically from an interest. I like these sounds and I like working with these sounds. It was definitely more of an interest in the sound rather than the aesthetic or the lifestyle. I still really enjoy playing those tracks. My live set at the moment has even heavier tracks. I like these heavy sounds, for live performance especially. I’m not sure I’d do another dance floor album like that, to listen to at home, but to perform live it’s so much fun. It’s nice to play that to people because you see them react in different ways with more energy.

With Essaie Pas, Pierre and I were touring a lot together. We’ve been musical partners for even longer that we’ve been a couple, so we really have a tied musical evolution. So we both really like playing dance-y stuff live. It’s more fun for us and it seems more entertaining for the crowd. I think at the end of the day we feel more happy for playing shows like that. Then if there’s a lifestyle that comes with it, it’s kind of hard, but there’s always a way to find a balance. We’re also finishing a new EP right now, that is a little bit more techno.

Will you be continuing this dance floor trajectory with your solo work as well?

MD: Well my next album will be called Bullshit Threshold, so maybe that gives you an idea. It’s kind of a commentary on club culture, relationships, social media and everything really. It talks about inner crisis. It’s a very personal album, with a lot of humour. There’s going to be a lot of spoken word, even storytelling kind of stuff. It’s a conceptual album, I’m excited about it. It comes from a live show I’ve been doing a little bit with a live projection. I’m working with two other guys and they do projections with video and infrared cameras. It’s very interactive. What links the whole thing is that it’s one piece. There will be individual tracks, but it’s a story, there’s really a narrative through it. It’s the first time I’ve done that.

You’ve said before that your songs are based on true events. I’m wondering if there are any good stories behind any of the tracks on Adieux Au Dancefloor, or on the new record even?

MD: Well the new album is going to be full of stories for sure. There will be a lot of references to places and people. There’s this one track called 'Nightlife Drama' that is like a fake dialogue of all the shit people have told me. Everything that is said in that track is something that I’ve actually heard. It’s stuff people have said about me, told me to my face or said about other people. I made a compilation of all the funniest stuff I’ve heard, and that’s the track. It’s not mean, it’s just dark humour. People seem to find it funny.

Adieux Au Dancefloor is out now on Cititrax