"It's really inspiring to me when I see women that are so attracted to the heaviest sounds."
Photo by Cait Oppermann
There is an unmistakable sense of space in Umfang's production. On her debut album OK for 1080p last year, the Discwoman co-founder (whose real name is Emma Olson) displayed a fondness for minimal percussion, and a disregard for techno's more four-to-the-floor conventions.
While her upcoming follow-up EP for the Vancouver label is very much a step forward, the producer's proclivity for beatlessness and experimental textures remains. On Riffs, Olson demonstrates an intuitiveness in how she plays with dynamics and provokes anticipation, with the five tracks rising from thundering highs and falling to restrained lows. Unlike the more DJ-friendly material of OK, the majority of these songs are not what you'd hear in a club, which might come as a surprise to anyone who's caught one of her all-vinyl techno sets.
"Force"—which we're premiering on THUMP today—is a particularly strong example of her fearlessness in subverting genre conventions, its main riffs growing louder and softer for what feels like an eternity, before a drum beat finally kicks in. This willingness to not give in to what listeners expect is admirable, and it results in a piece of music that's equally playful and tripped out.
We recently spoke to the New York producer and Technofeminism founder over Skype about her production and the ways in which they tie in with her dancefloor politics.
THUMP: You've released music on a number of diverse labels including video game music, Allergy Season, 1080p, and others. Do you adapt your music according to their sound/ethos or do they approach you at this point?
Umfang: I think it's a combination of both. With Riffs, I kind of felt like I had already done more of a crowd-pleasing album [OK] that was kind of silly, and now I can do more what I wanted because that went well. I feel like I have both a stronger voice as Umfang and it's exciting to see how I can fit different parts of what I want to do into different places.
I do make some silly vocal tracks sometimes and that's more appropriate for someone like Allergy Season. But then I make really dark ambient tracks and I need those really experimental labels to take that stuff. I also make stuff that's just "me" and is my interpretation of what techno means, and I want a place for that too.
Traditionally in our heteronormative society, there's a stereotype that softer, gentler music is associated with the feminine, and harder, more aggressive music is associated with the masculine. I don't think it's a coincidence that some of the most well-known female DJs and producers in underground electronic scenes tend to play a lot harder than people expect. How much of this desire to subvert expectations influences your DJ sets?
I think it's just my preferences. I was excited by harder music and that's just what I connected with. I definitely remember noticing that a lot of women would play what I thought was softer music. For me, it made me feel powerful to explore those sounds and be able to play them out. It kind of took awhile for me to see other women doing that as well, but it's really inspiring to me when I see women that are so attracted to the heaviest sounds.
I think it's also a fear of expressing yourself fully [in everyday situations]. You're just going for it [in the DJ booth] and it's very raw. It's like you're almost making yourself vulnerable by being so aggressive and that seems to be culturally against what a lot of women are taught to be like. It kind of is a power move in a way. If I'm the one DJing really hard techno, no one's going to be like, "Hey can you be a little softer?" I found a job where I am allowed to be as aggressive as I want to be in this way. I think people are often searching for something to connect with, people just want some kind of intense, spiritual experience, and there are different ways of getting there. For me, hard techno and fast techno gets me there really fast.
Do you ever book male artists for Technofeminism parties?
I do almost every time because I think Technofeminism is about integration. The last one we had, my friend who goes by Brandi played, and he's a queer man and his friends call him Brandi. I'm sure there are people who saw the flier and thought "oh it's a woman!" but his name is Brandon. I don't want that to be something that gets criticized. I had two queer men and then me and another woman, I think that should be explored as a feminist booking as well.
Also with Technofeminism, basically I'm like this is a space for female DJs, and if you're gonna play and you're male, you need to be really respectful of them and be comfortable identifying with feminism. Almost everyone that's played is 100% behind that idea, and if they weren't, I'd be like, "Fuck off you don't belong here." This is a space for women.
I'm playing this Boiler Room tonight and I'm the only woman on the lineup. I'm proud to be the one. I still get a sense of "oh I've been accepted into the boys' club." As much as that's dark, I'm still happy to see what would have probably been an all boys' space has let me be a part of it.
Riffs is out Aug. 22 on vinyl and digitally via 1080p, pre-order here.
Cindy Li is on Twitter.