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Escape Velocity

Encoding The Ineffable: The Ephemeron Loop Interviewed
Mariam Rezaei , May 16th, 2022 09:18

Vymethoxy Redspiders, aka Urocerus Gigas of Guttersnipe, has recorded what will probably become the year's most striking album, Psychonautic Escapism. Mariam Rezaei talks to her about a "synaesthetic acid bath" of grind, trance, hyperpop, shoegaze and breakcore

The Ephemeron Loop is the latest project born from the mesmeric inner-world of Vymethoxy Redspiders, better known as Urocerus Gigas from Leeds-based xenofeminist rock duo, Guttersnipe. Born in Bangor, North Wales, Redspiders has been based in Leeds since 2013, where she has established herself as an underground powerhouse. Debut release Psychonautic Escapism is a "synaesthetic acid bath that cracks open the doors of perception", tracing Redspiders’ break through her pre-transition life of black metal into a new life of shoegaze music, psychedelic drugs and raves in the Leeds queer underground scene.

Redspiders’ realities of autism, ADHD and trans identity shape-shift through languid flashes of dream pop ambience, doom and hardgrind. Guitars, drums and vocals interlace, darting between hyper-speed death metal, psychedelic dub and breakcore in this stunning solo release.

Psychonautic Escapism, an album full of continual sonic and poetic transformation, took 14 years to make. Redspiders describes The Ephemeron Loop as coming into existence at a crucial juncture in the formation of her identity, including "my becoming as a trans woman, my understanding of neurodivergence, and my experimentation with mind-altering substances".

She adds: "I began playing music on a Yamaha keyboard when I was about seven or eight and then I was in grindcore, thrash and black metal bands, between the ages of 11 and 15. I was mostly on vocals but also played bass or drums. That was mostly very silly stuff but one group I was in got as far as playing a couple of shows and almost recorded a demo tape! I had a black metal band with my best friend from Wales which then turned into something more experimental and ethereal between the ages of 15 and 17. Our friendship sadly came to an end, which was pretty much immediately followed by the beginning of The Ephemeron Loop.

"In Autumn 2008, I was mid-way through a Music Production BTEC at Leeds College of Music and I got the idea that I could do all the things I was imagining musically with a computer, without the need for extra humans! Oh, how wrong I was! But the computer element seemed crucial. We were being taught synthesis and composition on Reason, so for the first time I was able to make drumbeats and sequenced elements and make sound design. 2008 – 2009 was a really wild, metamorphic time for me; I had come to the firm conclusion that I was most definitely a woman and was generally undergoing a lot of psychic shifts. Before coming out as trans, I had been an extremely troubled kid whose primary interest was deeply misanthropic music – depressive black metal and doom, noise, dark ambient – the more outrightly it embraced misery and suffering, the more I identified with it. It was a rough time for sure.

"In 2006, I started a relationship with a badass hardcore-trad goth lady, Tanith Griffiths, from the incredible band Nyogtha. She fixed me up in a multitude of ways, got me into gothic music and helped me become a woman (more specifically a witch dyke), and introduced me to queer people in general. Around that time, I was getting into weed, ecstasy and psychedelics, and with this unfurling of my inner self came my discovery of shoegaze-dream pop via certain depressive metal bands. Then in late 2008, I met a group of magical trans women at the hard techno party Riff Raff, at the West Indian Centre in Leeds. They took me under their wings and supplied me with all kinds of alchemical substances – from Estrogen to 2C-E – and took me partying with them as often as possible. This severe clash of polarities is the crucible in which The Ephemeron Loop was formed; the tortured, gloomy, negative foundations of my past trying to get to grips with the radiant, newly liberated, queer womanhood I experienced through the hyper-positive rainbow dance party world I was now a part of, with all the agony and ecstasy of emotions that resulted from that." 

With so much happening around you at this time, how did you know you needed to make music?

Vymethoxy Redspiders: I always hear music in my head. Constantly. It soundtracks my thoughts and emotions, making me feel like I'm in a film about my own life. Sometimes, I feel certain emotions that are so overwhelmingly intense and psychedelic, that music is the only way I can articulate them. I remember reading a scientific article that talked about "autistic emotions" in relation to music. The author was also autistic, and described this experience of having ineffable, profound, synaesthetic emotions that either combine contradictory categories of affect, or simply go completely outside of what we have words for. This has been my reality for as long as I can remember, but was accelerated and amplified from 2007 to such a magnitude, that there was no turning back.

As much as this record is about my ethereal trans feminine experience it is also very much a neurodivergent work. The two are inextricable really, but what I mean to say by drawing emphasis to this point is that so many of the motivations and esoteric concepts that drove me to do this were rooted in an obsession with articulating the discretely personal, the absolutely authentic; whatever musical influences I had absorbed could only be expressed through the transmutative pathway of my own individual experience, otherwise it was just useless imitation and disrespectful to the music I was moved by.

It’s important to emphasise that while coming out as trans was a point of departure from a lot of darkness in some ways, it was also of course a doorway to a whole new dark experience of the world. It was a really tough time; it was scary to go outside. People had absolutely no idea about any of this stuff and were generally hostile towards it if they were. All of this fed into a worldview which made for a life of intense loneliness and alienation, an ocean of sadness with these little bright islands of ecstasy and revelation when I found connection with someone or something. The experiences that brought about the psychic phenomena that became the material of the music of The Ephemeron Loop were just as much sources of inspiration as they were great traumas to process or divine profundities to decode. When I started making Psychonautic Escapism in 2008, it was only ever really intended to be a demo, an attempt at rendering the new language of perceptual and emotional experience that was flooding through me in the wake of my transition and exposure to drugs and new music. I was incredibly quixotic about it, I wanted the music to sound as truly psychedelic as its origin cognates in my psyche. I wanted it to be an encoding of the most ineffable mental states that had shaped my being and arrived with me in my flights to and from unknown dimensions.

The multi-dimensional psycotropic experiences that filter through each track on Psychonautic Escapism are euphoric and ecstatic.

VR: Psychedelic drugs were really the primary force of change in how I perceived and understood everything around me – I do think that there wouldn’t be The Ephemeron Loop without LSD. Psychonautic Escapism is one of the earliest songs I had a name for, which of course refers to the endeavour of altering one’s mental state to leave this reality in search of new ones. The whole thing is supposed to have the flow of a psychedelic experience – the initial howling cacophony of guitar feedback both represents the annihilation of all that came before and an exit from a nightmare world. Then the following movements of the song are arranged, to resemble the wavelike ebb and flow of the hallucinogenic trip.

Psychedelic drugs played a significant part in the realisation of myself as a trans woman and totally rewired my perception of music. My third trip was the real breakthrough “rebirth” experience. My entire cognitive apparatus was dissolved into a single point of pure abstract, individuated observation, which was everywhere and nowhere outside of time, with all sensory perceptual information converging as this primordial totality; everything and nothing simultaneously. I remember the first time I experienced auditory perceptual changes, where my voice in my room sounded like it was wet with this violetescent, flanged reverberant delay. I was awoken to the awareness that everything in the universe is connected quite profoundly. This realisation was as important to me with regards to my identity as it was to do with how I understood music. It was the beginning of a process of relating to the world which was free from the restricting categorical logic of what a thing “is” or “can be”, yet by that same reasoning, allow for the concoction of entirely unarticulated novel categories guided by sensory, autistic logic.

I tried to capture my soul in this work, with all the psychophysical nuances of psychedelia and idiosyncratic perceptual experience intact, but it became too much. I would have to retreat from it for a while, which meant that life set me on a different path for a period of time. A few major tangents, like the formation of Guttersnipe in 2014 and my attempts to be a psychologist between 2013-2018, both prevented me from working on The Ephemeron Loop for large stretches and additionally provided what I now feel are fairly crucial skills and areas of knowledge contributing to the full realisation of Psychonautic Escapism.

You’ve mentioned visuals several times and the album artwork is very striking. Can you tell us more about the relationship between the visual art and the music?

VR: The compositional arrangements for ‘Acetoxyhexorchid I (Cluster Phase)’ and ‘Acetoxyhexorchid II (Dispersed Phase)’ are comparable to some of my favourite films by Stan Brakhage. The hand-painted visual effects and forms of these films are similar to some of my most memorable psychedelic experiences, and visions I experience when I fall in love. I was trying to create a kaleidoscopic, holographic fragment-maelstrom; a projection through different layers of reality wherein a consistent selfhood (chords), modulate through swirling permutations of itself (musical textures and chord extensions) and move through zones of concentration and diffusion. The song title ‘Lattice Dysmorphism Of Lysothymic Oneiroid’ is an attempt to describe some of the synaesthetic geometries of emotion-colour-form which I experience under the influence of MDMA. “Lysothymic” is a novel compound word of my own construction, meaning a mental state of dissolve, of loosening, of becoming free, which indicates the most overt and somewhat cheeky musical acknowledgement of rave music! 

You’ve described a whole world of musical influences and bands you’ve been in. Every time I see you play live, I run over and geek out over your gear! Can you tell us more about the music set up with The Ephemeron Loop?

VR: Arglwydd mawr, where to start?! At its core, The Ephemeron Loop is an ethereal darkwave band using the classic instrumentation of electronic rhythms, synthesis, guitar and voice, in the tradition of groups like Lycia and Clan of Xymox. I think I used every single piece of sound making equipment I have ever owned in Psychonautic Escapism. A big transitional point was when I got an Akai MPC1000, but that was nearly ten years into the process! I have a lot of pedals and FX units used by some of my musical idols like Slowdive and Lovesliescrushing, like the Boss PS-2 Pitchshifter and the Alesis Midiverb II. I used Reason and Logic for rhythms, composition and synthesis, with guitar, bass and vocals as the main sonic palette.

Along the way I folded in a few hardware synths like the Roland SP-404SX, quirky sound design programs like Cecilia 5 and MetaSynth plus a little bit of Ableton towards the end. But the main instrument in The Ephemeron Loop is the guitar. There actually isn't very much ‘pure synthesis’ going on. More often than not, the tonal sounds are guitar sounds that have been heavily treated. I'm a staunch defender of the guitar – I'm not really an electronic musician, as much as I try to do it! In some ways I feel like the technical complexity of this project is the result of me not really being very good at using computers. Some of the really involved studio processes I used create the sounds I was hearing in my mind could probably be made more easily with Max MSP or Supercollider. I would listen to insane computer music – electroacoustic stuff like Barry Truax and the far end of glitch/breakcore like Xanopticon and Venetian Snares – and just try to imagine how the hell they made those sounds because I definitely heard things like that in my head, but I don't know if I'll ever really "get" how to do it.

This is wild stuff! I wasn’t expecting you to cite Barry Truax – you have to send him the album! Did any of the eight tracks in Psychonautic Escapism prove especially challenging to realise?

VR: The two ‘Acetoxyhexorchid’ pieces took a ludicrous amount of time and work to make because I had this really specific vision of these tapestries of flickering momentary realities phasing in and out of parallelism and permutation. It meant having to construct various multi-layered pieces, then run them stemmed out through a mixer into more effects, record then bounce that, put it on the MPC and chop it, add more layers then put it back into Reason. Then I had to slice it and collage together tiny pieces of audio in Logic, run it through studio outboard and repeat the whole process! There was so much to keep track of, it was truly labyrinthine. With all the rest of the tunes on the record I had much more of an intuition for the compositional grammar, but with those two, I just had all these lysergic vortexes of synaesthetic dream shimmer in my head and was tearing my hair out like ‘fuck, is it even possible to actually make this sound?’ It took about two years of putting everything I had learned since 2008 to the test; going into Ross Halden’s studio in Bradford and recording parts then taking them home, manipulating them, going back to the studio, until Ross didn't even recognise which pieces we were working on anymore!

Your music moves through and juxtaposes multiple genres, and your musical influences are hugely varied. Is ‘multi-genre’ a ‘genre’ you can identify with? Are there other ‘multi-genre’ artists you identify with or have been inspired by?

VR: I spent a lot of time in my early days trying to figure out what to call my music, in the classic autist category classifier style, which was once solely the domain of metalheads but is now almost passé in the wake of the extensive promulgation of micro genres in the last decade. I’ve now come around to a classification which reflects the nature of my work in a more prosaic way, as well as being a response to something like “Ethereal Lysergic Trans Woman Music”.

When I started trying to make this music, I didn’t know of any trans musicians other than Dana International and Jayne Country, both of whom I respect but can’t exactly say I take influence from. It’s a big part of why I didn’t feel I could let anything I did with this project go free into the world. It just didn’t seem like it would be anything than an invitation for transphobic abuse. Now, there are actually a lot of trans musicians out there (many of whom I suspect – or know! – are also on the autistic spectrum), like the sadly departed SOPHIE and others like Helena Celle, Sunik Kim, Sewerslvt, Aya, Angel Ho, Victory Over the Sun, Fire Toolz and Zhea Erose. They make this kind of hyper futuristic music with extreme contrasts of style and otherworldly qualities. It all makes a lot of sense to me and is sometimes quite uncanny to listen to!

I think there is something particular to the trans experience which endows one with this kind of perspective and aesthetic sensibility. A kind of profundity that comes out of a union or confrontation of supposed opposites. An experience of socialisation which more than likely contains some pretty radical shifts. These shifts leave a complex picture of contradictions brought into a synthesis of something entirely unarticulated. But this observation has only really crystallised for me in the last couple of years, by which point the music for The Ephemeron Loop record was already written. For a long time, I was trying to just do my own trans feminine version of things I listened to obsessively in my formative years, bands like A.R. Kane, early Velvet Acid Christ, Lovesliescrushing, Dead Can Dance, The Angelic Process, Xasthur, Lurker of Chalice, Trance to the Sun, Björk, the first Hooverphonic album A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular and so on.

I think the voice is the most intimate and personal musical instrument. Can you tell us about your approach and development of vocals on the album?

VR: I am very proud to say that all the vocals on the record are by me and with only a very small amount of pitch correction for where I couldn't quite always stay in tune! Singing in tune with the correct timbre is very difficult, especially because of my challenges having vocal cords that have been damaged by developmental testosterone and then an ongoing GERD-type complication. For a long time, I didn't really know if it was possible to be a trans woman and sing with an ethereal, high femme voice. Thanks to the teachings of Zhea Erose from TransVoice and the Dusty Nebula system at Fluid Voice Studio, I figured out how to do it. I also used the The Zen Of Screaming warm up by Melissa Cross, which I had already used for Guttersnipe purposes. It was very labour intensive. I did nothing but singing practice for nearly three weeks before recording the vocals on the album and I had to really keep my physical state in check. I worked hard to sustain my preferred vocal resonance, control my vocal dynamics and stay in tune.

For some tracks, I recorded two hours of vocals, overdubbing the same little pieces, and then doubling or tripling up on them. It's frustrating to know that the voice that feels like ‘your voice’ when singing, the voice you hear in your head, is in there somewhere, but if you have too much fun then you can't access it. Dysphoria about my voice is still the thing I struggle with the most regarding my intimate experience of being trans, so it was pretty emotional. But I'm really happy with the vocals and I feel like the whole process helped me get a better grasp on everyday control of my voice. I really did not want to rely on pitch correction or pitch shifting – I absolutely despise Auto-Tune!

You have alluded to sounds, voices and lyrics as indecipherable or explicit at times – it feels like a veil being pulled on and off at times. Is this intentional?

VR: This record is by far the most vulnerable thing I have ever released into the world and with that very act of revealing comes a lifting of the veil. I think certain inherent qualities of the music – the density and heavy use of psychoacoustic effects – create a swirling maelstrom that is almost too much to take in. It’s a bit like the “cosmo-drama” concept of Sun Ra’s music and so, yes, there is a conscious attempt to make something which induces psychedelia. A vastness and complexity which is too much for the mind to take in and so the limits of perception have to be expanded. Certain doors must be open, in order to really hear what is going on in a multi-dimensional experience. However, I do also want the lyrics to be totally unobscured. There’s a lyrics sheet with the record and digital download, something I am always very serious about! Lyrics are an important dimension of the music that can exist perhaps in a space all of their own, but one that is yet another layer of the microcosm.

Psychonautic Escapism by The Ephemeron Loop is released by Heatcrimes on Friday