INTERVIEW: Gazelle Twin

“It’s been a normal morning in my house, which is noisy and chaotic,” laughs Elizabeth Bernholz aka Gazelle Twin when I ask how her day is going. “This room is my sanctuary. My husband’s just put our one year old down to sleep, so if you hear any crying, that’s who it is.” She’s speaking to me via Zoom from her home studio. Beneath the chaotic costumes and characters she’s created under her elusive moniker, Bernholz is simply immersed in the comforting chaos of everyday family life too.

Not usually an artist who reflects intensely on her previous works, it feels extra special to be talking to her about the 10th anniversary re-release of her debut album, The Entire City. Named after a painting by German surrealist artist Max Ernst, Bernholz independently recorded, produced and released the record back in 2011, her ambiguous lyrics and altruistic sounds inviting listeners into a world that offers both shimmering intrigue and heavy shadow in equal measure. The re-release is due at the end of April, alongside a mini album of accompanying material called The Wastelands. But before we dive into this, I take the opportunity to ask Bernholz what her earliest memories of music are.

“Music was just kind of there from the word go, really,” she explains. “It was always part of my family’s day-to-day life. My parents played a lot of records and cassettes, mostly classical music, but a lot of jazz as well. I had an incredibly privileged childhood where I just had access to music all the time. It became part of my language and communication. Then at school, I used to sing and I learned the recorder and the flute, so it all just came quite naturally.

I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by – I don’t remember exactly what piece of music it was – but probably ‘Swan Lake’ by Tchaikovsky. I remember feeling really physically charged by hearing that music and compelled to dance to it. I think that feeling becomes addictive. I still feel that now when I hear it. I watch my kids’ reactions to music now, my five year old especially responds to classical music. You can see that he’s overwhelmed and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. I think I probably had a similar reaction to my five year old where I was quite overwhelmed emotionally too.

When I was able to create music, it was like this incredible sense of control and release being able to fulfill that cycle of receiving amazing music, and then being able to put my own out and express myself through music as well. I don’t really remember a clear starting point. I just had it there.”

This instinctive reaction will be unsurprising to fans of Gazelle Twin, who will know from experience that listening to Bernholz’s music provokes a strong physiological response. Whether this is a racing heartbeat whilst traversing the landscapes of The Entire City, peaks in adrenaline and anxiety whilst listening to the nerve-shredding Unflesh, or shuddering at the satirical and sublime nature of Pastoral and Deep England – with all of her obscure creations, what Gazelle Twin excels at creating a “mood” or a “feeling” within her work.

Now that her first creation has reached a milestone anniversary, I ask how she’s feeling and what her expectations for The Entire City re-release are.

“I’m quite nervous about it, actually,” she laughs. “It was the first thing that I produced and I hadn’t released anything properly before that. I was nearly 30 at the time, so I’d had quite a long period of making music in my life, but then suddenly within a few months I recorded and produced this thing that just sort of gushed out of me. I did the best that I could at the time, with the skills that I had built up over a number of years. It’s not perfect at all.

I don’t usually listen back to albums very often, I move on quickly. I tire of hearing myself too much. Or, like some people, I go back to old artworks and recordings sometimes and I cringe, because you change so much over time and you’re always striving to better yourself or do something different. I moved on from the vibe of The Entire City fairly quickly and deliberately. But I think going back to it now, I can still get that sense of achievement and pride from releasing it. It’s very different to the music I’m currently making, it’s definitely the prettier end of what I do, which I’ve abandoned for now.”

As someone who encountered Bernholz’s second album Unflesh first, I agree that The Entire City sounds like a fairy-tale in comparison. It’s this contrast in sound that makes her work so fascinating. I ask if this is something she consciously considers when creating music, or if it occurs naturally.

“I think as someone who enjoys listening to music, I like to hear a lot of variety and contrast. Not necessarily in one artist, but just across music. I get quite bored, I’m a bit ADHD – well, I have ADHD – so I get bored really quickly of doing the same thing over and over again. I get why people do that and why other people enjoy that. When you hit on something that’s original and unique and it has a strong identity, you want to keep exploring that and people want to keep hearing that – I get that completely. But with Gazelle Twin, I always thought from the very beginning, it would never be the same thing. I would never mix up all of my songs and I would only tour the record I’d made until I was done with it, then I’d move on. It just keeps the future a lot more exciting to me, and it gives me scope to do anything.

I’m more interested in using music as a way to – this is kind of cliché – to get through life. My life isn’t always the same. There’s massive changes in it and there are still things that I want to explore that I haven’t explored yet through music. I will always have that approach to it. That’s kind of how I do things really.”

Something she has allowed herself to revisit are the recordings that make up The Entire City’s accompanying mini album, The Wastelands. Bernholz explains that these recordings are “an extension of that landscape.” The opportunity to explore these new atmospheres was too tempting to refuse…

“I recorded the songs that make up The Wastelands roughly between The Entire City and Unflesh,” she continues. “I didn’t really want to release anything like The Wastelands at the time, but I had the opportunity to release the songs through a commercial in-house music library, so the music would go out to be used on TV shows and adverts and stuff. That was what ended up happening with those tracks, but after re-visiting them, it felt like it would be nice to include them as a separate piece, instead of adding the tracks onto the reissue, just to make it a bit more special.”

I ask if there is a particular track on either album that she favours.

“On The Entire City, there’s a couple that I still listen to that I’m fond of. ‘Changelings’ was the first single, and it was very Enya. It was very gentle and pretty, but with a bit of a sting in its tail. I think with that single I managed to get a good introduction to what I was going to do later, so that has a special place in my heart. It’s also one that I know all of my family like unanimously.

From The Wastelands, I think ‘Hole In My Heart’. I enjoyed recording that one, that was a really quick, breezy one to make. I’d say that’s a perfect bridge between The Entire City and Unflesh, just in terms of its darkness and the way that I’m singing and we recorded myself on that.”

As she mentioned it briefly, I ask Bernholz how her family reacts to her characters and works as Gazelle Twin. Both her image and her sound are striking, even polarizing in terms of who will be captivated and who will be terrified by her characters. Is there a particular remark that sticks with her, or something she read online that surprised her about her work, whether from family or strangers?

“Nobody in my family or my partner’s family are really into the sorts of things that I’m into or that my partner’s into,” she laughs. “But they are always supportive and they recognise the more tangible outcomes like reviews in newspapers or plays on the radio. I can’t remember anything specific, but I’ve had a lot of people write messages or comments on stuff over the years that’s been…entertaining.

I think I’ve been quite lucky. I’ve definitely had a few reviews in the early days that really stung me. When I released The Entire City, I had really positive reviews in the big papers like The Guardian, and then I had a couple of more local ones that were unashamedly mean and directed to me on Twitter. I remember at the time just thinking, “God Almighty, this is really hard to take.” I retaliated, which you should never do, really, but they did actually apologise. I think since then, I just try to focus on positive support.

Like anyone though, I am a moth to a flame – intrigued by the negative feedback. I think it’s important to be able to take a little dose of that from time to time. I think if I showed my face and I was getting attacked about that as well, that would be mortifying, I would hate that. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so lucky I wear crazy costumes, because I just bypass that whole side of things completely. But nevertheless, when someone attacks your artistry, or your ideas, it’s kind of bizarre. I haven’t been too tortured by it. Over the years, you definitely build up a bit of a harder skin. I mean, I’m 40 now. I’m a little bit more like “yeah, whatever. Fuck you.”

Bernholz laughs at her last sentence, proving her resilient outlook is one that means she can continue to create her altruistic sounds without the weight of others words on her shoulders. Someone who has rightfully sung her praises however, is Sian O’Gorman. The director of NYX Drone Choir, O’Gorman collaborated with Bernholz on the sublime project Deep England, she was overwhelmed by how “technically insane” Bernholz’s voice was and spoke highly of their time spent together with the choir.

“It’s nice to hear that about Sian,” she smiles. “I bat it all back to her, because she really is an amazing person as well. Her ideas and her commitment to what she does with establishing NYX with Philippa, Fiona and Josh – they’re just a beautiful, lovely group of friends who are so united in their vision.

They got in touch back in 2018 asking if I wanted to collaborate with them. I’d always wanted to do something with a choir, so it was a dream come true to be asked. They didn’t really have anything in mind, it was a very open invitation to create something new with them, or work on existing material. I was about to release Pastoral, and knew I wouldn’t be able to really write anything else for a while, so I said this could be fun to work with and they were just really, really up for it. Sian took the demos that we discussed working on and rearranged them with her own production rearrangement and they were amazing. It was really kind of head spinning at the time.

We had our first show together in November at Oval Space of the same year. I assumed it would be a one off and that would be it, because it was really special. The choir have their own way of building themselves up to do a show and it’s very ritualistic and I got so sucked into that, I loved it so much. I spend so much time on my own making music and performing with just one other person – which I love – but when you meet the right group of people, you feel really at home and at ease. With the music that I’d made on Pastoral, it spoke to them and that’s kind of the power of music really – which is another cliché. But when you can unite in a mood and emotion that you think initially is very personal, then it becomes something collective; the power of that together was pretty hard to walk away from.

NYX reached out and got us another opportunity to perform together on a bigger scale in 2019. We performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the London Jazz Festival of all places, with a really brilliant promoter and producer Rob Farhat, who was just with it from the beginning. It’s one of the biggest productions that I’ve been involved with. I’ve never had a budget to produce a big stage show, I’ve always had to keep it really lo-fi and simple on stage, so it was just a dream. Then we had some budget to record the performance and release it as Deep England.”

As someone who was lucky enough to witness both Deep England performances, these gigs are still some of the most powerful, memorable live shows I’ve had the privilege of attending. When I tell Bernholz about the “goose-bump inducing” nature of the Deep England live experience, she is grateful to hear such “amazing feedback.”

“I think it’s an exchange. I think [as an artist] you’re doing something right when you can provoke a reaction like that, especially when you know that feeling has gone into that performance as well. It’s really rewarding to know that’s how it comes across. I know a few people walked out of our Jazz Festival performance though. I remember reading a review that said some people had fingers in their ears. To be fair, maybe those people just had tinnitus? Or maybe they hate recorders and had a traumatic experience learning a recorder as a child?”

I laugh at the idea of a recorder being so offensive, but I guess many will associate the instrument with tedious school music lessons. With her work on Pastoral and Deep England, I tell Bernholz that she’s given the recorder a bit of a “comeback,” to which she laughs. “I’ve always adored recorders. I mean, there’s obviously a difference between the school class playing ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ and recorders in Baroque music. But I already knew I wanted to take something on stage that was different, I didn’t want it to just be my voice all the time, and that was it.”

It’s not just the NYX choir who have recognised the power of a collaboration with Gazelle Twin. Back in 2021, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross reached out to Bernholz and asked her to remix a Halsey track for them. The Nine Inch Nails duo produced the American songwriter’s latest album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, and they wanted Bernholz to remix the album’s single ‘I Am Not A Woman I’m a God’. As someone who enjoys being able to get out of their own musical headspace, Bernholz jumped at the opportunity.

“I have a few mutual connections to Trent and Atticus, but I never dreamed they would approach me, so it was quite a shock when it happened,” she admits. “I had an email from my manager saying that Trent Reznor would like to call me, but they didn’t say what about. I was on maternity leave at the time and it was during another lockdown, so I was still in a weird headspace of not having much sleep and looking after a seven month old during a pandemic – so I was a bit like “Oh my God, I don’t think I’m ready for this level of intensity right now.” But we arranged this phone call on my landline one evening, and I just sat here in my studio in my dressing gown waiting for the phone to ring.

I could barely hear Trent when he called because my fucking landline is so bad – it’s like a comedy crackle, like someone rustling a packet of crisps – but I could just make out his words “I don’t know how I didn’t know about you before,” and something complimentary about my music. Then he mentioned that he and Atticus had been making an album with Halsey. They asked if I’d be up for re-mixing one of her tracks and I was like… ‘if you’ve produced it, then fuck yeah, of course!’ I didn’t actually realise Atticus was on the line too. He was completely silent the whole time, then all of a sudden this really well-spoken English voice came out of nowhere, talking about stems and the practicalities of how they’d send the files to me. At the time in my head I was like, ‘has Trent just changed his accent? Is this what he does?’ I think I was just so off my head with the whole thing – sitting in my little house in the East Midlands, talking to Trent Reznor – it was just so weird. It was a really, really brilliant moment.

When they sent Halsey’s track through, I knew what I was going to do with it straight away. It was great to work with Halsey’s vocal and their production. I’m really proud of that remix. I think the title of the song is amazing and it has a brilliant message, coming from a mainstream pop artist especially. The other remixes that Trent & Atticus commissioned for some of Halsey’s other album tracks were all by men. I think it was really cool that they picked a woman to remix this track.”

Bernholz’s skills as a composer are in high demand too. She’s received worthy praise and acclaim for her work on the soundtracks for two horror films, Nocturne (2020) and The Power (2021) which she worked on with Max De Wardener.

“Right from the word go when I wanted to study music I wanted to become a composer and I wanted to do film composition as part of that,” she explains. “Now I’m able to shift my career a little bit into that world, which is currently a lot more stable than being an independent artist. With a growing family, I made a conscious effort to start shifting into soundtracks so that I can work from home. There’s definitely a practical element to it, but I’ve always been influenced and inspired by soundtracks for film, TV and video games. It comes out in what I do anyway, so it feels like a natural development for me.

At the moment, I’m working on my first TV series. It’s really, really intense, but so much fun. I can’t say too much, but the reason I was approached for it was because of the music I’ve made as an independent artist. I feel pretty privileged to be able to draw on the music I’ve made myself. Only a few people get to do this as a job full time, so I don’t ever take it for granted. I’m really lucky that I get to just sit here, wail into a microphone and play around with synths and stuff. It’s a dream really.”

It’s humbling to hear Bernholz refer to her operatic, multifaceted vocals as “wailing.”

Steeped in shadow and mystery, The Entire City is a fascinating introduction to a truly progressive artist who has evolved into a new species of performer since 2011. Whilst Bernholz’s sights remain fixed on Gazelle Twin’s future projects, her retrospective view of her debut album and journey into The Wastelands around it provide more insight into her dark and elusive world.

Pre-order the re-release of The Entire City The Wastelands here

Follow Gazelle Twin on bandcampSpotifyInstagramTwitter & Facebook

Photo Credit: Joe Tunmer

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

GIHE: Albums & EPs Of 2021

After sharing our Tracks of 2021 last week, the GIHE team want to shine a light on some of the brilliant Albums & EPs that have been released during the last 12 months. These records kept us dancing around our bedrooms/living rooms/home offices, miming underneath our face-masks and distracted us momentarily from the uncertain world we’re currently all living in.

So, in alphabetical order, here are our top Albums & EPs of 2021 (with some honorable mentions at the end…)

ALBUMS

Adult Mom – Driver
Consistently my most listened-to artist over the last couple of years, Adult Mom aka Stevie Knipe creates the most beautifully heartfelt music. Although I had thought it would be hard to follow the perfect relatable emotion of their debut Momentary Lapse Of Happily, and 2018’s Soft Spots, this year’s Driver does not disappoint. With the lilting musicality and raw emotive splendour of each track, the album has been in my ears on literally a daily basis since it came out in March; I have sought comfort in the luscious depth of Knipe’s vocals and found myself fully immersed in the album’s twinkling grace. I’m sending extra love to Stevie at the moment, as they were diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and are currently having to undergo treatment. I can’t wait to hear more gorgeous music from them when they’re ready. (Mari Lane – Co-Founder)

Blonde Maze – Something Familiar
I’m honestly not sure how I would have got through the last two years without the sound of Blonde Maze in my ears daily. Even before her debut album Something Familiar came out in Autumn, I had been completely addicted to her utterly dreamy creations – ever since she’d been a guest on our radio show about five years ago. To have a full LP filled with her exquisite soundscapes has been just what I’ve needed recently. Bathing the ears in shimmering ripples of dreamy reflection, each luscious track is a perfect cathartic tonic. My album of the year – it’s been the beautifully calming and delicately uplifting soundtrack I’ve so needed. (ML)

Divide & Dissolve – Gas Lit
Released via Invada Records in January, instrumental activists Divide and Dissolve’s second album Gas Lit continues their sonic mission to erode the foundations of colonialism and white supremacy. Produced by Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the record is an aural purging of injustice, fuelled by the diversity of Takiaya Reed’s doom-ridden saxophone sounds and Sylvie Nehill’s phenomenal percussion. It flows with a unique gargantuan grace that unsettles and soothes my cells every time I hear it. I had the pleasure of interviewing Takiaya about the album earlier this year too, which you can read here.
(Kate Crudgington – Co-Founder)

Du Blonde – Homecoming
With Homecoming, Du Blonde gave us the DIY stadium rock record we didn’t know we needed. After becoming disillusioned with the music industry, they wrote, recorded and produced this album of swaggering, empowering anthems for outcasts. A bag of contradictions, it’s both silly and serious, wonderfully weird yet radio friendly. A powerful record, I love the way Homecoming embraces self-destruction and self-love. It has a proper punk energy and inspires you to get shit done on your own terms – after you’ve had a dance, of course.
(Victoria Conway – Contributor)

Fears – Oíche
An intuitive artist who has transformed her darkest moments into graceful electronic soundscapes, Fears aka Constance Keane shared her poignant debut album Oíche (meaning “night” in Irish) in May. Released via her own label TULLE, the Irish-born, London-based musician balances her intense ruminations on trauma alongside delicate synth loops and tentative beats to shine a light on a personal metamorphosis. Much like the coarse fabric she used to create her altruistic dress on the album’s artwork, Fears allows her lived experiences to take up space and permeate this record, which swells with unflinching honesty and elegance. Oíche is a collection of shadowy lullabies that span five years of emotional territory, and the result is a truly immersive and enlightening body of work. (KC)

Fightmilk – Contender
Following 2018’s Not With That Attitude, this year total faves Fightmilk released their second album Contender via Reckless Yes, and it was everything I could have hoped for. With new bassist Healey and a perhaps more ambitious musicality than previous releases, this year’s album marks a maturing in sound for the band, whilst maintaining their trademark anthemic power-pop energy. Filled with the perfect balance of jangling melodies, an endearing, refreshingly honest lyricism and shades of a raw tongue-in-cheek wit, the album covers themes from space travel and capitalism, to love, heartbreak and self-loathing, all the while oozing a raw emotion and the band’s distinctive, quirky charisma. With all the scuzzy musicality and shimmering energy we’ve come to know and love, Contender showcases a band that are continuously refining their sound and, in the process, consistently continuing to win my heart.
(ML)

Gazelle Twin & NYX – Deep England
Inspired by the tracks that formed Gazelle Twin aka Elizabeth Bernholz’s 2018 album Pastoral, Deep England is a dark fable that serves as a warning to listeners not to get swept up in national apathy. Whilst Bernholz’s unique vision of Britain’s past was brought vividly to life on her original record, with the support of the NYX drone choir her vitriol is able to take its fullest, most nerve-shredding form. Together, they present their altruistic vision of Britain in its “post-truth” sphere, embroidering a new tapestry of sound for these jarring and uncertain times. Deep England is a phenomenal artistic accomplishment; a shadowy, graceful collection of sounds that radiate with unease – truly unlike anything you’ve heard before. (KC)

LINGUA IGNOTA – SINNER GET READY
“And all that I’ve learned / is everything burns” laments Lingua Ignota aka Kristin Hayter on ‘Pennsylvania Furnace’, the fourth track on SINNER GET READY – an apt sentiment for a record that blazes with a unique orchestral agony. Released via Sargent House, Hayter’s fourth full length offering is an emotional exorcism inspired by the severe brand of Christianity in rural Pennsylvania where she currently lives. Its strictness permeates her vision to the core, with her sensational vocals remaining the lifeblood of SINNER GET READY. She uses her voice to devastating effect, harrowing up the soul with her effortless ability to switch from a soft, divine cry to a cord-ripping, desperate plea. A stunning record that I’ve returned to many times this year. (KC)

Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an outstanding album, ambitious and sprawling while maintaining the punchy immediacy of expression synonymous with Little Simz’ earlier work. She confidently glides between styles, from epic Scott Walker-style arrangements to afrobeat grooves, which form mere backdrops to the artist’s lyrical acrobatics. Simz enumerates the anxieties, troubles and triumphs of her life and career throughout the album’s 19 tracks – this album already has an undeniably classic quality. It is a singular expansion of the possibilities of hip-hop, of pop music more generally, and an unrepentantly fantastic album of Baroque ambition and fabulous execution. (Lloyd Bolton – Contributor)

Lunar Vacation – Inside Every Fig Is A Dead Wasp
The latest album from Atlanta-based Lunar Vacation, Inside Every Fig Is A Dead Wasp oozes a shimmering allure throughout. As each track treats the ears to whirring hooks and a sparkling musicality, I just fall more in love with Grace Repasky’s honey-sweet crystalline vocals on each listen. Floating seamlessly with an ethereal splendour, a stirring melancholy ripples on a seemingly serene surface, creating a perfectly dreamy collection. With shades of Alvvays or Best Coast, Lunar Vacation have fast become one of my most favourite bands of 2021. (ML)

New Pagans – The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All
An intuitive rumination on the personal and the political, New Pagans’ debut album The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All is a gritty, deeply poetic consideration of inequality and social injustice. Released via Big Scary Monsters, the Belfast band’s first full length record dives into the paraphernalia surrounding religion, romance and women’s pain, and resurfaces having transformed these tired archetypes into aural talismans of strength and defiance. I’m such a big fan of everything they’ve released so far and I’m hoping to hear these songs live at some point in 2022. (KC)

Noga Erez – KIDS
The GIHE team collectively adore Tel-Aviv producer & pop renegade Noga Erez’s second album, KIDS. It’s a stylish, swaggering collection of songs that explore personal growth, morality and what it means to disconnect and reconnect with the world around you. Erez has worked closely alongside her collaborative & life partner Ori Rousso to create a razor sharp, intensely catchy record that proves she’s got the musical mileage she sings of. Through her witty lyrics, slick production and commanding beats, she blazes a unique musical trail that pulses with authentic energy, spotlighting her talent as a producer, vocalist, MC and performer. What a star. (KC)

Nova Twins Presents: Voices For The Unheard
Driven by their desire to spotlight the work of underrepresented artists of colour in the heavy music scene, Nova Twins aka Amy Love and Georgia South put together this blistering collection of alternative anthems with the help of Dr Martens to showcase this eclectic range of talent. Featuring tracks by Big Joanie, Khx05, Loathe, Oxymorrons & LutSickPuppy, the record is a fun, furious blur of noise from a group of artists who have been galvanized by their individual experiences of discrimination, but who are now united in their attempts to create the music they wish they had heard growing up. A proper gem of a record that’s introduced me to some brilliant artists this year. (KC)

pink suits – political child
Having completely blown us away with their riotous, seething energy at our first gig at The Shacklewell Arms earlier this month, queer Margate duo pink suits released their debut album political child, in the Spring. With just drums, a guitar and the riotous force of their voices, Lennie and Ray offer an inclusive feminist rebellion to bring about radical change – with each powerful track on the collection, they deliver a seething, all-too-poignant social commentary on the increasingly terrifying state of the UK right now. Throughout political child, pink suits offer a perfect riotous catharsis; an immense formidable force, coated in a rousing cacophony. The duo have provided an utterly necessary soundtrack for these times; a rallying cry to make our voices heard and fight for an upheaval of a neoliberal society. (ML)

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
Each time I’ve tried to write about Wolf Alice’s third album, Blue Weekend, I’ve fallen short of the words to describe how profoundly comforting I find it. Emotional, but with a few grunge ragers thrown in there too – plus a lyric that everyone should adopt as a mantra “I am what I am and I’m good at it / and you don’t like me? Well that isn’t fucking relevant” – Ellie Rowsell’s magnificent, elastic vocals and poignant lyrics effortlessly stretch across the record. I listened to Blue Weekend twice a day for over a month, discovering something new every time I let its cinematic sounds wash over me. Pure musical escapism that’s rooted in real fucking feelings. Properly sublime stuff. (KC)

EPs

Ailsa Tully – Holy Isle
Long term favourite of GIHE, Welsh artist Ailsa Tully released her EP in Autumn this year. Offering four exquisite slices of stirring folk-strewn indie, Holy Isle showcases Tully’s ability to reflect on feelings of vulnerability and loss with a gently uplifting, sparkling grace. As the collection flows with a shimmering, stripped-back musicality, the juxtaposition of Tully’s crystalline, honey-sweet vocals and the gentle lilting melodies creates a delicate, captivating majesty. As the beautifully rippling instrumentation glistens with a heartfelt splendour, I can’t help but become utterly immersed in the raw emotion and poignant, resplendent charm of Holy Isle in its entirety. (ML)

Aisha Badru – The Way Back Home
Having previously charmed our ears with the soothing sounds of last year’s ‘Soil’s Daughter’ and 2018’s poignant debut album Pendulum, singer-songwriter Aisha Badru released her EP The Way Back Home earlier this month. Flowing with twinkling, folk-inspired hooks alongside Badru’s rich, soulful vocals, each track oozes an immersive, heartfelt emotion. With a gentle, lilting energy and shimmering grace, a sweeping majestic splendour soars throughout this beautifully stirring collection as it soothes the mind with its gently uplifting allure. (ML)

Bitch Hunt – Shapeshifter
Having formed at First Timers Fest in 2017, London based non-binary band Bitch Hunt have since played live for us and been lovely guests on our show on Soho Radio. This year they released their debut EP Shapeshifter, via Reckless Yes. A shimmering collection of five lo-fi, yet heartfelt, offerings, it reflects on themes ranging from nostalgia and relationships, to gender and identity, delivered with a wonderfully scuzzy musicality and twinkling energy. Treating us to their effervescent, stirring brand of unique punk-pop, Bitch Hunt have crafted a collection that is beautifully poignant, whilst offering a welcome glimmer of optimism and solidarity. (ML)

BLAB – Word of Mouth
Formed of three previously released singles and a brand new track, Southend-based BLAB‘s debut EP is the sound of a songwriter fully embracing their own choices and leaning into the raw power of each moment. Released via Cool Thing Records, BLAB aka Frances Murray combines direct lyrics with infectious guitar riffs to push past personal and political frustrations, providing her listeners with sharply observed judgements on both. (KC)

Deep Tan – Creeping Speedwells
With acclaim from the likes of NME, So Young and BBC 6Music, Hackney-based trio deep tan have been favourites here at GIHE for some time now, and we’ve been very much enjoying their debut EP Creeping Speedwells, which was released this summer. Propelled by glitchy beats and whirring, twinkling hooks, each track captivates the ears with the trio’s compelling seductive allure. Flowing with fuzzed-out shades of ’90s trip-hop, whilst maintaining a unique sparkling edge and gently haunting majesty, the whole collection offers a spellbinding, rousing splendour that’ll immerse you in its dark, psychedelic haze. (ML)

Hilary Woods – Feral Hymns
I saw the title of this EP, listened to 30 seconds of it and downloaded it IMMEDIATELY. Released via Sacred Bones, Feral Hymns by Irish multi-instrumentalist Hilary Woods captures a relatable sense of gloom across five instrumentals that she worked on with collaborator Lasse Marhaug. Woods describes her ambiguous sounds as “A collection of hymns set at dusk…Unspoken bonds, primal pain, cyclical patterns, unsent love letters.” I find her melancholy, fleshy sounds intensely moving and I can’t wait to hear the new full length record she’s currently working on. (KC)

Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business – He Earns Enough
Featuring members of Trash Kit, F*Choir and Bamboo, Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business are a six-piece choral punk ensemble who released their debut EP in October. A poignant collection covering themes such as the struggles of living in a patriarchal, capitalist society and the fears women and gender minority people face when walking home alone, He Earns Enough showcases the soaring, harmonious power of voices coming together in unity. With each track propelled by an anthemic, mystical energy, the collection offers a simple, yet stirring, message, oozing a sweeping, celestial splendour that’ll bewitch the listener instantly with its eerily enchanting allure. (ML)

M(h)aol – Gender Studies
I was blown away by the power of Irish post punks M(h)aol when I saw them perform their debut EP live at The Shacklewell Arms in November. The brooding, shadowy sounds on Gender Studies vehemently reject outdated attitudes and social constraints concerning gender, identity and equality. It’s a vital, much needed antidote to toxic patriarchal standards, providing listeners with a cathartic exhale of fury and freedom. (KC)

TOKKY HORROR – I Found The Answers And Now I Want More
GIHE writer Jay Mitra penned a great review of dance-punk trio TOKKY HORROR’s debut EP earlier this year, branding it “a cyber goth masterpiece that hits you as hard as MDMA” – and they’re not wrong. Packed full of manic electronics and pounding beats, I Found The Answers And Now I Want More is a whirlwind of EDM energy that’s impossible to sit still to. (KC)

Honourable Mentions

Alex Loveless – Phone Keys & Wallet (EP)
Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams
BISHI –Let My Country Awake
CHERYM – Hey Tori (EP)
Elodie Gervaise – Syzergy (EP)
Elsa Hewitt – LUPA
Grace Petrie – Connectivity
Halsey –If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Maria Uzor – Innocence and Worldliness (EP)
Me Rex – Megabear
Naoko Sakata – Dancing Spirits
Nun Habit – Hedge Fun (EP)
Okay Kaya – The Incompatible
Penelope Trappes – Penelope Three
SPELLLING – The Turning Wheel
Tirzah – Colourgrade
YAY MARIA – OYEZ
WILLOW – Lately I Feel Everything

INTERVIEW: Sian O’Gorman (NYX Drone Choir)

We first discovered the altruistic sounds of the NYX Drone Choir in 2018, when they performed a live collaboration with Gazelle Twin at London’s Oval Space. Harnessing the collective power of the female voice and distorting it with the use of electronics, mics and software, the choir – who are musically directed by New Zealand-born Sian O’Gorman – create captivating soundscapes that enrapture the senses and push the boundaries of what a conventional choral performance can be.

Their latest project is a Remix EP of their own track ‘Mutualism‘ featuring MA.MOYO, released via their own label NYX Collective. The EP features contributions from Anna Wall, Deena Abdelwahed, LCY and Sian, with each re-working attributed to one of the four natural elements. The single and EP aim to “look at our relationship with nature, symbiosis transformation and collective consciousness.”

We caught up with Sian to talk about the Mutualism project, her route to becoming the choir’s director, the immense power and opportunity that collaboration has brought into her life, and creating & performing Deep England alongside Gazelle Twin…

 

Hello Sian! Can you remember who or what first inspired you to start singing and creating music?

This is embarrassing, but I was definitely one of those children who was always like “I’m going to do a show, everybody gather round!” I was always very into singing and performing, that was always a big love of mine. I grew up singing in opera choruses when I was a little girl and then started singing in a couple of national choirs in New Zealand. I then studied classical singing at university and I completely screwed it up a bit, to be honest. It made me realise I didn’t want to become a classical singer. I wasn’t really connecting with the music or the people. I really enjoyed the technical side of it, but I really struggled because it just wasn’t my kind of music. I was more into alternative or contemporary classical. I also loved singers like Bjork, PJ Harvey and slightly more left-field stuff when I was younger, so that definitely drew me in to starting to create music that was a little bit different.

I don’t think you “screwed up” at university. You didn’t follow a “traditional” route perhaps, but look where that’s lead you – you now direct the NYX drone choir! Tell me how you first came to meet the women that you formed it with…

I’ve always loved harmonising. Even as a little kid, I remember singing along to the radio and I loved singing with other people. I think through the classical route, apart from the choirs that I sang in which were always really inspirational, the solo singing at university became a lot more intellectual and it got very competitive and egotistical, so I just broke away from that. I started to get a lot more into yoga and meditation, plant medicines, retreats and things, and I really started really expanding my mind out. Through that, I realised the reason why I loved singing so much was because of the celebratory aspect of it, being with other human beings and using your voices together. The power that all these individual could voices feed in and create this amazing synergetic explosion of sound that was so much more than the sum of their individual parts.

Before I started up NYX, I was getting really heavily into more ambient music, using my voice and layering it on top of itself, and I thought to myself “wouldn’t it be amazing to have a group of women, all standing in a circle, creating a sound bath, using the power electronics to assist and maintain that kind of drone sound?” That was the initial idea. So NYX started out as me just jamming with a couple of friends. Then I talked to my friend Phillipa about it, who is an amazing creative producer and fundraiser. She just makes things happen. She was working on Convergence Festival with Josh at the time, and they said they wanted to do another project together, and he was really interested in the idea as well. So the three of us started producing and bringing everyone else together.

It sounds like the perfect meeting of minds. You’ve achieved so much together since then, including releasing this Mutualism remix EP through your own label, NYX Collective. Talk me through the idea behind original track, the inspiration for the EP and how it all came together…

The concept for ‘Mutualism’ was kind of just a seed of an idea a few years ago, and now it’s grown into a tree, and the branches of that tree are reaching out everywhere. It started taking shape around the first lockdown – because that’s how we describe the timings of things now. I wanted to create a project that involved all of the members of NYX, but it was also kind of technical experiment that we could all do remotely. I wanted to get everybody really good at recording at home, experimenting at home, and passing things on to each other.

At the same time, I was also really starting to get massively blown away by the division and the way people were communicating with each other in lockdown, especially the way we were seeing the world, our friends and our communities play out, which seemed to be on social media a lot of the time. I was overwhelmed with this narrative of fear that was dividing people, so I really wanted to create a piece that questioned how we could repair this relationship with ourselves and with each other, which to me, is also the relationship that we all have towards the planet. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but I really do see the connection when people disconnect with the earth, they also disconnect with others and then with themselves.

So, I introduced these concepts to Belinda Zhawi, who’s artist name is MA.MOYO. She actually opened for us at Oval Space back in 2018. I’d always wanted to create a piece with her because I was so moved by her spoken word. Every time I’d seen her, my whole heart would just explode with the magnificence of the way that she crafts words. I then spoke to our core team, which includes visual artist Nick Cobby, our movement director Imogen and our sound associate Peter Rice. Together, we came up with this concept of “mutualism” which I interpret as mutual dependence on one another. It’s not a desperate type of dependence, it’s a real true trusting connection between people, between animals, between creatures, between plants. It’s a true supporting of one another and a finding of the middle ground.

We brainstormed a few things and we came up with some images, videos and text that connected with these idea. We had the image of Marina Abramović for her Rest Energy piece, where she’s holding a bow and arrow with her partner Ulay, and we had some amazing videos of nature as well. I then made a heartbeat-type of noise that I sent to Belinda to get a tempo from her. Then she laid down this poem in response to those images and sounds, which I passed on to all of the NYX singers. They each went away for a couple of weeks and just responded to that poetry and those images. One of the girls went into a bunker in the middle of Devon and recorded this amazing stuff with crystal glasses, singing into the earth and a cave. One of the girls sat with an organ and a clarinet, and other people involved were gathering field recordings from all over. So, I took all of the recordings that everybody had made, which as you can imagine, was hours and hours and hours of stuff. I sifted through it all and I picked out pieces from a number of different contributors, and I began to piece the music together with the poetry, and then I got my friend Dave who is an amazing saxophone player to feed in some more sex layers towards the end.

So once the initial track ‘Mutualism’ was completed, we exclusively launched it along with the interactive 360° video that Nick shot at Rewire Festival in April. With this particular track though, we knew from the beginning that we really wanted to remix it. That also really fitted into this idea of wanting to keep passing things on and re-evolving. We managed to secure funding from PRS for their Women Make Music fund. With that, we basically pitched that we wanted to create an EP of remixes from female and non-binary identifying people, and create an evolution of this piece. We have a massive list of people who we already love working with, so we passed it out to people who we thought would like to get involved. Working with LCY was such a joyous experience. They responded so well, so did the amazing Deena Abdelwahed, and our beautiful friend Anna Wall, who also opened for us at the Oval Space performance in 2018.

We didn’t really define what we wanted from them, we were just like “we know that you know yourselves, we really want you to go crazy with how you interpret this.” I also wanted to do a remix because I’d been working on these stems so much, I really wanted to play around with the choral stuff at the end. So we all created these pieces and when everybody started sending them back, I heard them, and I was like, “wow, these seem to personify all of the natural elements Belinda is talking about in the piece.” Re-mixing the tracks to represent a certain element wasn’t in the original commission. It wasn’t even an idea until I heard all the pieces together, so we ended up naming them after the four elements after that.

I think that’s such a wonderful achievement, to let everyone bring their own ideas to the piece, then simultaneously find a theme that unifies each of the different works. Surely that’s the perfect type of collaboration?

What do you personally think makes for a collaboration as strong as this? Do you think it’s just like-minded people working together, or do you think there’s something else in it as well?

That’s such a good question. I often just sit and ponder this. I don’t know what it is, but every single person we work with, is just fucking awesome. We work with such a diverse range of people from all different worlds – I mean, even our lawyer is such a good dude and our accountants are lovely people! That’s a pretty collaborative process too.

I think for me, collaboration is listening. It’s listening to each other, hearing what you can offer, hearing what others can offer and meeting in the middle. It really is like the lyrics to ‘Mutualism’ – “meet me in the middle”. I mean, it’s the nature of a choir to be very collaborative anyway, but the way in which we run NYX projects is very open. It just really feels like everyone that we collaborate with instantly feels like they’re a part of the family and part of something. So I guess collaborating is about recognising and celebrating people’s differences, celebrating the uniqueness of everyone.

That’s a really lovely way of describing it. I remember reading something that Gazelle Twin (Elizabeth Bernholz) said after she worked with NYX on your collaborative album, Deep England. I’m paraphrasing here, but she mentioned that she usually prefers to work solo and shies away from collaboration, but working with NYX was beautiful because you all shared and enhanced the same vision.

As a huge fan of the work you all did on Deep England – I was blown away by your live performance at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2019 – can you talk me through some of the highlights of working on this project with Elizabeth?

Of course, thank you so much for your support! When we first started NYX, we already knew we really wanted to collaborate with female and non-binary electronic musicians. Particularly because we had friends in that world and they often talked about how lonely it was, and how isolating it can be. I had loved Gazelle Twin for years, and years, and years. She was absolutely at the top of my list for collaborating. We sent a pitch out to her and straight away, she said yes. We’d never even met her, but as soon as we had this talk with her on the phone with her and her manager Steve, we instantly had this great connection.

When I initially approached her, I’d already had ideas about her existing work and how I could interpret it. I’d gone through her old album Unflesh and chosen pieces that I thought could work, but she said she was about to release a new album called Pastoral. She mentioned that it was based on British paganism and folklore with some existing choral elements, so she sent it to me and I immediately thought “this is going to be great.” This is already a piece of genius in itself, and I can see how NYX can expand this out.

Elizabeth is a master of disguise through creating these characters on each of her albums, so I had no idea how technically insane her voice was when it came to singing. When she first came into the room with us, we all did an acoustic vocal warm-up together, and I think a lot of us were just like – “wow” – she’s phenomenal. She’s a joy to work with, because there’s just such a lack of egotism. Along with her manager Steve, they both supported our idea to release the Deep England album on NYX’s own label. They were great at mentoring us through that.

Elizabeth just has this really fantastic kind of emotional strength, but also this kind of beautiful giggly side to her as well. I think we all just enjoyed working together so much that after the Oval Space show in 2018, we realised we wanted to perform together again so we took it to Southbank Centre, and then we found some funding so we could record an album. We recorded Deep England in a day and a half actually. We co-produced it with Marta Salogni, who’s the most amazing engineer. It just felt like the most magical team of people working together, which just gives evidence to the fact that you can really create something magical when you pass it over to the collective and look beyond yourself. It’s really special and I’m so happy with how many people have heard that album, and how many people really, really enjoy it.

Huge thanks to Sian for answering our questions!

Listen to NYX’s remix EP for Mutualism on bandcamp below or on Spotify

 

Follow NYX Drone Choir on InstagramTwitter & Facebook

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

STILL SPINNING: Gazelle Twin – ‘The Entire City’

Our Still Spinning feature focuses on records that we consider to be iconic – whether that’s for popular, or personal reasons – and celebrates our enduring love for them. Get In Her Ears Co-Founder & Features Editor Kate Crudgington talks us through why electronic artist Gazelle Twin’s debut album, The Entire City, released in July 2011, is still one of her most influential listens to date.

Named after a painting by German surrealist artist Max Ernst, Gazelle Twin’s debut album The Entire City was released via her own imprint Anti-Ghost Moon Ray on 11th July 2011. Independently composed, recorded and produced, her ambiguous lyrics and altruistic sounds invited her listeners into a world that offered both shimmering intrigue and heavy shadow in equal measure.

It was my older brother Joe who originally introduced me to Gazelle Twin aka Elizabeth Bernholz in 2014, citing her second album Unflesh as one of the best things he’d ever heard. I used to lay in the dark, headphones on, listening to it and feeling an odd sense of calm, as waves of nervous energy rippled through me. That record changed my idea of what electronic music could sound like and I was captivated by the persona printed on the album’s cover. Blue hoodie, long brown hair, a partially covered face and an open mouth revealing a snarling pair of teeth. Menacing yet enticing, terrifying yet familiar. Gazelle Twin was an enigma – communicating with listeners through harrowing imagery and nerve-shredding synths.

Back then, I had no idea she had released her debut album three years earlier, or that it would sound so different. Having encountered Unflesh first, listening to The Entire City felt like an ambient fairy-tale in comparison. But, as with all of her obscure creations, what Gazelle Twin excels at is contrasting the darkness with the light, so even if that darkness sometimes feels all consuming – like it often does on Unflesh and on her stunning third record Pastoral – the sublime still manages to shine through too. The Entire City is a sonic landscape littered with dense concrete, intimidating obelisks and unknown relics, but it’s also teeming with life.

Filled with twitchy drum samples, cinematic synths and her uniquely operatic vocals, The Entire City received flattering comparisons to Fever Ray when it was originally released, but I think Bernholz’s sound is often grittier and more detached. There’s an underlying feeling of voyeurism as you wander through her musical landscapes, something I feel she captures perfectly on the eponymous opening track, with her extended high pitch vocals guiding the way, like a thrilling race through deserted streets. It bleeds into the breathy stillness of ‘Concrete Mother’ and the hypnotic ‘Men Like Gods’, two of my favourite tracks on the record.

It feels odd to pick apart and review The Entire City on a track-by-track basis, because it has such a cohesive sound. Each time I listen I feel like I’m being shrouded in Bernholz’s graceful, unsettling sonic paraphernalia; her cryptic lyrics and eerie electronics lulling me into a false sense of security. The subtle power of her voice on ‘I Am Shell I Am Bone’ and ‘Changelings’ is intoxicating, whilst on ‘Obelisk’ – another favourite of mine – her blend of dense beats and crystalline synths evolves into an exquisite electronic hymn. Punctuated by briefer tracks like ‘Far From Home’, ‘Bell Tower’ and ‘Fight-or-Flight’ – on which she flexes her operatic voice sensationally – she ensnares the senses and gently pushes listeners into unchartered territories across the album. In retrospect, ‘View Of A Mountain’ feels like a hint at what was to come, it’s the kind of instrumental that would sit comfortably on Unflesh.

Steeped in shadow and mystery, The Entire City is a fascinating introduction to a truly progressive artist who has evolved into a new species of performer since 2011. Not known for revisiting her previous albums or personas, Gazelle Twin’s sights remain fixed on her future projects and I can’t wait to immerse myself in more of her visceral sounds.

 

Follow Gazelle Twin on bandcampSpotifyInstagramTwitter & Facebook

Album Artwork: Suzanne Moxhay

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut