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Escape Velocity

Thunderstorms Need Balance: Ziúr Interviewed
Ollie Zhang , September 13th, 2017 12:29

Ahead of her debut full length release on Planet Mu and Objects Ltd and appearance at the Unconscious Archives festival, Ziúr chats to Mollie Zhang about connecting with people through music and refusing to play it safe

Photos by Marc Krause

"I want people to send me drama," - it’s a fitting statement for an artist whose first LP is chock-full of it. U Feel Anything? is exciting. It sees Ziúr balancing lighter, delicately assembled tracks with formidable, hard-hitting ones that are akin to the weightier material on Deeform. It feels cohesive and considered - remarkably so for a debut album.

Ziúr’s first EP Taiga came out just over a year ago on Infinite Machine, followed swiftly by a second on Objects Ltd. Next month, her debut full length album arrives via Planet Mu & Objects Ltd. The past month alone has seen her join Discwoman's roster, and DJ anywhere from Technofeminism in NYC to Fuchsbau Festival in Germany. She says she tries to work "fairly quickly," but judging by her trajectory in the past year, this seems like a bit of an understatement.

She tells me she’s been bored recently; she’s tired of people playing it safe. For someone who’s looking to "destroy your part[ies]", this probably isn’t surprising. Her set at Wild Combination’s first birthday this past March marks one of the most memorable sets I’ve heard all year. Following a percussion-heavy set from Superficie, Ziúr unapologetically slowed things down with a eerie, semi-narcotic No Doubt a capella, before following it up with a fitting hour of high drama.

Ahead of the release of U Feel Anything?, I catch up with Ziúr to talk about boredom, community and the importance of mixing things up.

Congratulations on finishing your first album - what was the process of making it like?

Ziúr: It all just came to me, really - I never force myself to do anything. Sometimes of course certain tracks are harder, but those didn’t make it onto the album in the end. Whatever happens easily and organically is what I’m after. I wrote ‘Fractals’ in eight hours, for example, it just kind of came out. Within two hours I had the beginning, and for a moment it felt like I couldn’t possibly make it into something longer than two minutes, and couldn’t make it into a ‘full’ track. But even so, I had a lot of ideas, which is why it has two parts. Part of me felt like I couldn’t keep up the pace for three minutes, so I came up with another section which helped me finish the track quite quickly. I can’t always do ‘thunderstorm’; it needs a bit of balance.

How do you feel like being in Berlin has influenced your writing process?

Z: I basically just started this project in Berlin. I’ve been here for quite some time.

Are you German?

Z: I don’t want to talk about nationality, because I don’t believe in it.

So how long have you been here?

Z: 11 years.

And how much do you feel like you’ve been influenced by Berlin?

Z: It’s hard to tell. I see living in Berlin as some sort of default for me, I guess because I feel at home here. I know it really well, and I have my own bubbles and 'safe spaces' - which is a tough word to use, but these bubbles do make me feel safer.

Berlin comes with a lot of freedom. I guess in that sense I do think it has an impact on the album writing process. People are more laid-back here, and don’t have the pressure that comes with living somewhere like New York or London. It’s not as hard to make a living. Either you can make shitty art to survive, or you can make good art and have the time to do it. I do still move fairly quickly, though, and do try to stay productive.

What about musically? Say, in terms of exposure to Janus, PAN, CTM and all else that’s going on here?

Z: Of course I move in those circles, but I’m also obviously influenced by a lot of different things. I think what’s beautiful about the music that I make is that it means I can be understood by people through something that isn’t necessarily local - like the Internet. I’ve connected with so many people from all over the world through music and online. I think that’s way more inspiring than just running after a Janus party. I love these parties and they’re probably an inspiration somehow, but I try to mix it up. Influence doesn’t come just from one place - I’m similarly influenced by Nina Simone, and I’m always trying to mix these disparate things together. I’m also influenced by my own history that isn’t club-related.

You have a punk background, right?

Z: Yeah, I think so - I guess that’s what I was referring to.

With the recent Soundcloud drama, how do you think that their closure would have impacted the way you make music or the way you connect with people?

Z: Soundcloud turned shit before all this happened anyway. I don’t know why I pay for a pro account and still have to listen to commercials - I tweeted them about this but didn’t get a response. I’m just kind of annoyed by what Soundcloud turned into, in a way. Maybe it would have been amazing to have that purge moment, and lose Soundcloud, and have people lose their thousands of followers. I have the feeling that it would have been interesting to see that happen, though I guess at the end of the day it’s still my favourite music sharing platform.

I read somewhere that you said when you mix, you try to cram as much as possible into it. Is that similar to how you produce and write? In U Feel Anything? I hear anything from pop to punk, and even computer music influences.

Z: I think my approach is to always try to see the full picture and then work inwards from that. I think a lot of people will start at a point and work a bit more linear way, which I suppose I also do, but I always try to see it in context. That might be why it sometimes gets so hard for me to make decisions. I always want to see what’s out there first and then reel it back in. That’s how I try to keep it open. I don’t want to shut down, I want to stay curious.

In terms of seeing the whole picture and working inwards, is that how you approach DJing too? How much do you prepare your sets?

Z: I prepare playlists, and as they become more familiar, I start to get a feel for what works together and what doesn’t. I have some tracks that I know fit together, and when I play different cities, I can get away with playing similar things. Of course, it’s never going to be the same set, and the playlist constantly changes too.

I’ll try certain things, and so some tracks will stay in the playlist and some won’t. Recently, it’s been hard for tracks to make it into the playlist. I guess that’s just kind of an up-and-down thing in general - whether I’m inspired by music or not. Right now, I’m not feeling so inspired. But I’m also kind of bored with the playlist being stagnant. I don’t know if I should say that - but recently, when people send me music, a lot of it is basically the same track. People follow the same formula and it’s so boring. I want people to send me drama. Your music can be anything, yet I end up being sent the same thing from people who are all from all over the world - they’ve found what’s ‘hip’ right now. And so much of it just won’t make it into a mix or set. It feels like a lot of people are following the same recipe, and I’m so bored of it.

I do think it’s amazing that this scene is evolving into something where anything goes. I mentioned Nina Simone before - in my most recent five to ten sets, I’ve played a full Nina Simone track after a metal edit, and it works. It’s beautiful that people are responsive to that. I can play the hardest track I have followed by something this soft, and it’s really amazing that people will be on the dance floor for the whole track and appreciate it.

What are the last couple of tracks that you’ve found exciting?

Z: I’ll maybe find three tracks a month for the playlist. I love that House of Kenzo EP that came out on Halcyon Veil - Bonfires Of Urbanity. That was probably one of the most exciting things I’d heard for a while, Ledef’s ‘Hangar Queen’ with Kelly Mizrahi was like my number one track.

How was being in the states recently and joining the Discwoman family?

Z: That definitely spoiled me. Now I’m back and it’s like, “What am I doing here?” It was really beautiful.

I was only in the States because Juliana Huxtable went out of her way to get me there. It was really last minute - I booked my flight on Monday, left on Thursday and played on Friday. I was really close to canceling, but Juliana insisted that I come, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

To talk about bubbles again, hers works so incredibly well. I saw people support one another and have one another’s backs like I’ve never seen before. Maybe you need that more if you’re living in New York, versus if you’re living here in Berlin, but it was really amazing to see. What I experienced in Juliana’s bubble or Discwoman’s bubble made me feel insanely comfortable.

In this world I often feel very misunderstood, and being there really gave me so much comfort. I basically didn’t talk to a white-cis-guy in 11 days. It was really amazing. Now being here is a little less exciting, but I’ll go to Austria in a few days and once I come back, I’ll love Berlin again.

From what I’ve seen, you’ve been playing nights recently with a really wide range of music - say, you on a lineup as someone like Jayda G. How do you feel about playing nights that seem like they’re being programmed from a place of community, rather than music? Which I don’t mean as a criticism at all!

Z: I think it’s beautiful. It’s amazing to mix it up. We do this party here - BOOHOO - it’s somewhat sporadic right now, but the last time we did it, my friend played a gospel set. I think it’s beautiful to mix certain things up and give people a more eclectic lineup. I just want to be around people that I love, or people that are understanding of each other, and I think community is great for that. There doesn’t always need to be a lineup that musically makes total sense.

And that being said I don’t really see myself fitting into one genre or scene, but I could be everywhere.

What do you see for the future of BOOHOO?

Z: The next one will be December.

In terms of music that’s coming out, or changes to how people are consuming it, is there anything you’re excited about, or hoping for?

Z: I always have low expectations. I’m not so excited about anything. But that’s a stupid answer.

I mean, there must be so much amazing music coming out every day, but it can be so hard to find sometimes. It’s beautiful if you find something new and all of a sudden discover a bunch of music. And it will happen again - I’m just kind of in a stupid mood now where I feel like everything sucks. But of course, it’ll go away, just as life is in general is always up and down.

I’m not excited about any one thing in particular, but I’m just waiting for that one album to drop. I’m sure it will happen again. People need to surprise one another more - people hardly challenge each other. I guess that’s a criticism towards life and music. It’s like when everyone sends me the same track, and everyone’s trying to play it safe, like you just need to fulfill some certain criteria; if you want to get into Berghain, you wear a black T-shirt. It’s like scenes have codes that mean you belong, but it doesn’t challenge you as a human being or individual. I wish people would be more challenging with whatever they do. That’s what I’m looking for and it’s sometimes hard to find.

Maybe when the good thing finally comes along, it will feel that much better?

Z: For sure. If you only have one level of something, then there’s no excitement. You always need a counterpart to compare things to; if everything’s great, then nothing is. Sometimes you need to feel shit, and then you have a great day and then you’ll know it and appreciate it more.

U Feel Anything? is out October 4 on Planet Mu and Objects Ltd. Ziúr plays live at Corsica on September 28 as part of the Unconscious Archives festival. For information and tickets on the UA events please visit their website