The forest remains the only dwelling where I feel fully at home. My grandma, who was raised in the Siberian wilderness, just let me run there freely from dawn till dusk, rarely worrying about me, as she knew I wasn’t a fool.
(image credit: Kaleidoscope Dreams 2013)
This month we interview one of the more intriguing artists in Holland, Elektra. To cut a long story short, a post-gig conversation turned, after a few emails were sent back and forth, into a long, involved and often inspired read so (in the manner of an old time announcer at the music hall, "Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, let me introduce you..."
IN: One of the most immediately noticeable things when I see you live is that you like to work with a variety of media; can you tell us why the marriage of sound and image is so important to you?
ED: In my mind they are inseparable. Whenever I write a song, it always comes to me as a finished music video. A sort of mini film if you like. Therefore all of my songs are characters, and my albums a story. I simply become the role I see, I translate it into the physical world through the means of sound and vision, in the hope of it touching the audience. At times those characters possess me so greatly, that I also become them in my daily life as well, albeit for a set period of time, as nowadays I learnt to snap out of it quicker, then snap in back again whenever there’s a need for it. It’s exhausting, but fun! But it can be a problem when the roles involve an assassin, or a supernatural being. I’ve been through so much rationally unexplainable, freaky stuff, nothing suprises me on these matters anymore.
IN: And they're all about the natural world, lots of lakes, landscapes, animals. Again, what's the driving force behind these images?
ED: Dead animals. A dead swan, to be more precise. Those twenty minutes of footage cost me a day’s hike and a climb through thorns that left me badly scratched all over. Blood, sweat and blisters, yet no tears! Not this time, at least.
But nature... Nature is cheap. It doesn’t require any studio rent fees and is unpredictable too. I like that.
Nature also forms a great contrast with electronic music, especially if it’s pretty intense. Their forms are a total opposite, and opposites attract, as the saying goes. And yet, they complement each other! I'd bet electronic music is the molecular structure of all living things. Its DNA, if you will.
Of course, growing up running around in the vast forests of Estland did influence my choice as well. Those woods are still savage! Although nowadays Estonian government continues to deny illegal logging and there’s a big problem of locals dumping their garbage right in the midst of all that savage beauty, while it only costs them a tiny fraction of yearly income to have that garbage van come over weekly to pick up their dismissed disposals. The mentality still remains a Soviet one. People still expect their governments to think for them, to solve their problems.
Last summer I shot a documentary there, as I plan on showing all of that to all who care. I had trouble holding the camera, as tears were choking me.Next year I am planning on hiring a truck and cleaning all of that human shit with my own hands. It’s just too big to carry back and forth on your own, and I only had one week of holiday on my hands.
Even now, a bear might be lurking in the bushes next to you, or a wolf licking its paws. People used to get killed all the time. Now the animals have gone deeper into the woods, taking the very essence of those woods along with them.
But even as a child I always feared unbalanced and selfish human behavior more than I feared nature. I could get lost in a city, but never in a forest. The forest remains the only dwelling where I feel fully at home. My grandma, who was raised in the Siberian wilderness, just let me run there freely from dawn till dusk, rarely worrying about me, as she knew I wasn’t a fool.
In Holland nature is so cultivated! If a wolf passes the border of Germany, the Dutch are losing sleep and organizing protests, albeit online ones... I miss the untamed Caucasian mountains. They started my love of mountain climbing. A gigantic influence in my life. I also lived there with my other grandma (and her mother) near the border of Georgia, in the first years of my life. Have you ever seen those mountains? They look like a black impenetrable wall! Locals fear them. Many parts of them still remain unexplored, and I hope that will stay this way. Wherever humans come, destruction of natural beauty occurs. Untamed wildness... Man! This kind of stuff makes me intensely happy. Where life and death are equally respected, human happiness and evolution have a fair chance. One day I want to return to the mountains and its forests, and live there permanently. In silence and solitude. And create even more unapologetically because of it! Write.
IN: Your music is expansive, theatrical, brass necked; almost too theatrical for sleepy Holland! What do you want to put across?
ED: Intensity. Which to me always goes hand in hand with authenticity. Both have never been perceived as comfortable, especially by those refusing to step out of their judgemental comfort zones. But hey, who am to judge, right? I haven’t constructed the universe nor created its inhabitans. So it’s not up to me.
Holland might be sleepy indeed, but I prefer to call it “The Swamp.” Once you get sucked in, it’s hard to get out. I never felt at home here, I wish it was otherwise. The Dutch and I seem to be from different planets, we do not understand each other, at all. What I perceive as funny, they don’t laugh at; what they find classy, I consider vulgar. To them I am too dramatic, while in my places of origin I am considered alarmingly calm. Is it a culture conflict? Is it truly important? Not to me. I am perfectly fine with others being different from me. It can inspire. So why is it such a problem in this country with me and my art simply being what they are? Good question. I wish I knew the answer to it.
IN: I'm interested in your take as to how female artists are treated or perceived in Holland. I think you'll have an interesting take on that. I mean we are now in a so-called golden age of solo women artists making fabulous and independent music.And whilst there's definitely a lot of that about (and many do make some fucking awe inspiring things) I wonder how it equates to your experiences in Holland.
ED: Holland has, alas, proved not to have the right soil for innovation. If something appears to be original, it will have a hard time anywhere today, but Holland seems especially good at applauding clones and praising them into heaven.
As on being a female artist here, in Les Pays-Bas, things do seem to be less unequal compared to (for example) the United States. You are being less pimped, so to speak. Women are being treated badly in the entertainment business all over the world, and not just by men, mind you. Being a powerful talented outspoken and also feminine woman is still somehow being considered a big threat to society. Humanity continues to deny this simple fact that women have so many gifts to offer, that they are capable of contributing to permanent and positive change on a global scale.
A woman in her power gets labelled a feminist pretty quickly, even when she’s never been a part of that movement in the first place and continues to offer plenty of constructive criticism to its "set beliefs" and outraged followers, while still fully understanding where their rage is coming from and not forgetting to be grateful for all the positive changes the original intent of that movement was able to achieve, manifest into reality.
All powerful women get loads of bad press, there are no exceptions. When they haven’t devoted enough time to acquire a solid following to back them up, they literally stand unprotected.
Hungry for money and power, men especially have taken the entertainment realm hostage, naturally at the expense of their female artists, who are being told that ‘sex sells’, while reality is: sex never sells, gender does.
And since women never chose for solidarity amongst their own species, probably purely out of a programmed fear of getting the cold shoulder from the complementary gender, one spends a lot of valuable time getting those types, m/f, off one’s already overloaded back, especially if you publically object to and refuse to conform to all that attempts a devaluation of your equality as a human being.
Few months ago I started Female Artists United: a platform for female creatives all over the world, to give opportunities, patronage, guidance, support and chances. Just as with my other project, Femininity Redefined, I have a hard time getting the support needed from those I am trying to change things for, perhaps also because I haven’t devoted much time, nor found a way to make myself more visible, to get a bigger following. Promotion takes a lot of time, and I always despised it, perhaps also because I suck at it. It’s still a miracle people have found me at all, waking up with hundreds of new followers on your artist page still feels surreal.
I've also witnessed musicians (of both gender) failing to support each other, to stand united. But I also found out that those who did claim to have 'solidarity', did not have any solidarity at all when it concerned those who, in their eyes, had more talent and potential than they saw within their own selves. Whom they considered threatening to their position of leadership.
It didn't matter if it involved artists from the murky underground or the established ones who found a way to get themselves to the surface of the earth and bask in a good dose of vitamine D. They all seemed equally petrified of losing their footing, their piece of pie, convinced there’s not plenty to go round.
This mentality simply has to change. Continuum concept is a valuable aspect of human existence, but it’s vital to understand that things do have to move forward, to evolve, in order to simply stay alive. Stagnant water starts to smell badly pretty fast. It needs to flow, to sparkle, to play, to experience genuine pleasure, to regenerate itself in that process, to share this joy.
Since female nature is best described as being like water, women play a very important role in all processes, espectially those of creation. Denying them their birthright is like pretending life itself never existed.
IN: What drove you to recording in Holland, then? It seems incongruous that you should pick here to unleash your tales of sturm und drang!
ED: It’s my revenge probably? Haha! Hmm, I never thought of this in such a way. Interesting perception.
Clearly I care so much for this tiny overpopulated country, that I devote my time and energy at trying to shake things up? But then again I never pretended to be a hero either.
But seriously now. I record in Holland because my stuff is in Holland. That’s the only reason, so it’s purely a practical one. The moment I know what my next destination is (and I already moved 36 times in my life, being stuck in one place too long has the capacity of driving me nuts!)
To take your question quite literally: I was driven to Holland, where on 1st of January I stained its ground with my footprints, after passing through a terrible, life endangering storm on the Afsluitdijk! HA! Destiny, dah’ling. No one escapes it, I am no exception. Perhaps destiny itself chose me to come here?
But yeah, high emotional content and revolt against society.. You know, it’s fun, as long as it doesn’t become an addiction. I am a Plutonian woman. My instincts are still intact. You will never find me crying in a corner and be a victim. I rather claw myself forward, fight, urged by all that simply feels right, rejecting all that does not, fully aware of what it costs me, while still managing not to sell out, “misinterpret to your liking” banner in neon letter glued upon my forehead. I love a nice confrontation, a lovely provocation, saying it in your face and pretending not to have any regrets afterwards. “Take it or leave it! Live and let live! This is me! And I’m unashamed.” That kind of human delusion.
IN: And yet.. you're quite poppy too... a sort of Gothicke pop, fair comment?
ED: No idea how I landed in that genre. First I was called singer-songwriter. But since I am not a girl with a guitar, or a girl with the piano, I was stripped of that tag at a pretty early stage.
Then I suddenly got labeled avant-garde. But my ego proved not to be big enough for such an enterprise.
'Electro', or 'electronic' passed the venue as well.
And then pop popped out, simply because my songs get stuck in people’s heads, and are supposedly catchy.
Gothic is a label I am hearing more often lately. Ah well... why not. Sing something that gets interpreted as dark, et voila, you’re screwed. Nailed to that proverbial cross. Scream something furious and political, wear black, submerge your eyelids in shadow, and suddenly you’re punk. Music genres seem to be more of a fashion statement lately, (lately? - Editor) than descriptions of a particular music style. I take it all with a grain of salt. I despise any attempts of putting me into any kind of box, no matter how golden the lid. Artistic freedom (and freedom is general) is essential to me. Even if something proves to be a success, I never stick to it if my soul happens to be past that stage. I just don’t take it (nor me) too seriously, I guess. Blowpipe Records learnt to live with it. They know resistance is futile.. and that my voice carries.
By the way, I released classical music as well. Soundtracks are my next challenge. I might self-destruct in that upcoming attempt of stretching and challenging my limits yet again. But hey! At least there’s never a dull moment.
IN: What sort of music do you listen to? I'm intrigued as I can't imagine it's the sort of music you make... Or am I guessing wrongly?
ED: Mainly classical music. J.S. Bach being my number one choice. I’m the proud owner of his complete works. Used to play his polyphonic pieces on the piano in the past, while being trained to become a classical pianist starting at the age of six, against my will, under the strict Soviet system of developing talent, mainly after destroying its owner first. Seven hours a day of piano practice and music theory were the deal of the day. At ten I was already enrolled in international competitions, which I tried to avoid by spending time in hospitals. My head spins when I remember my repertoire of those times, and mind you, we all played by heart, too. However, back then Bartok was my number one love, Shostakovich being a good second and Tchaikovsky dangled at number three.
What I also love is intense electronic music. The stuff that makes your neighbours howl and your ears bleed. As long as it’s intelligent and not the dumb-dumb-dumb version.
Screeching guitars also occupy a soft spot in my being. There’s a rock chick inside me that’s screaming to come out, 'negative attention seeking' and all.
I also love 'world music', reggae and dub, sixties garage punk, and noise. The latter I find very relaxing, as there’s no set structure to it. It makes me spiral out of control, right into the wild wide universe!
My most favorite music, however, remains silence. There’s so much noise in silence, it hurts your auditory nerves! It recharges like no other. I can not live without it. It is food for my soul.
IN: Never thought of getting a band together? I could imagine you as the leader in a band! (Or do you see your art as essentially a solo undertaking?
ED: Sure, plenty of times. I’ve fantasized about it for many years and continue to seek for ways to make it into reality.
You see, when on stage, I’m a performer. I get to be a musician while in the studio. At a particularly good performance I can even have out of body experiences, and luckily this particular something that takes over seems to know my lyrics better than I do.
There are plenty of professional musicians out there, who are exactly what I am looking for, but they require impressive salaries, and rightfully so. But since I work with a sub-zero budget, as I call it, I simply can not afford them, otherwise I’d be already going on tour, taking that risk.
In the past I tried compiling a band consisting of semi-professionals. But unfortunately those people had their own bands and music as a priority.
Up to this day I am being told: “You need a band!” Surely, I know that. But what to do? One’s got to row with the oars one’s got at one’s disposal. If I would’ve ever believed every bit of advice without questioning it, and actually committed the biggest possible mistake of doing as others tell you (in order to get their approval) I would’ve gotten nowhere. There are as many opinions as there are people, and while others talked that talk, I simply walked the walk, against all odds and with barely any support at all. Recorded, produced, arranged records; and shot and edited music videos, where I also did most of my own camera work. I just did it. I took the risk. Whatever. In the end I am the one to blame anyway, whether it’s fair or not. I proved to myself I could do all I was terrified of, that’s enough for me.
I always try to stay open to whatever anyone has to tell me, checking how much it resonates with what I find important, whether it’s an area I have neglected, an opportunity for growth or even a good dose of ugly impulsive criticism.
But talking about helping is one thing, yet truly helping is another. Some wanted to help, but sent a huge bill afterwards and even attempted to claim credits they never deserved. Life is unfair, I am fully aware of that. Still, nowadays I waste less time being polite to people acting ungracefully than in the past. Although it still remains a disappointment whenever it happens, I am human.
So I had to remake my performances into an art project, not to continue to depend on others throwing bones my way whenever they felt like it. An Elektra experience, as people refer to it. But it frustrates me... as I haven’t been able to go further performer-wise. Music that’s created live is such magic! And I am stuck to inflexible structure; if I miss a cue, I’m fucked. If I want to communicate with my audience - there isn’t space for it. If I want to improvise, which I love doing greatly, as it gives your musicality a kick, I can’t.
Continuing to trust that the jigsaw will finally fall into place, I can then spread my wings while on stage and skyrocket! Get a good team together! True experts who believe in me and are willing to share their knowledge to help me lift my vision onto a higher level, with money not being their number one drive. Simply because they themselves are at such a level that they know when this elevation happens, everyone wins in the end.
I’m an idealist. It’s my drive and downfall.
IN: What is your deepest, darkest musical wish?
ED: My soul’s drive has always been to attempt at becoming really good at all that I am doing. And since I am a perfectionist, I run a risk of either killing myself in the process, or getting shut down and not being able to even get close to the desired goal. We, after all, can’t get no... satisfaction.
But my deepest, darkest musical wish? Let me travel back for this one, as once again my childhood seems to carry all the essential clues.
When I was little and had to live in the city throughout the week during school season, I would run away to a deserted field in another neighborhood as often as chance presented itself. Used needles were scattered all over it, a deserted factory building was situated on it, desolation was in the air, I thrived.
No one dared to go there, because people considered it to be a dangerous and unclean. Well, I had my treasure there. A deserted swing! That solid made in Soviet Union construction. Junkies crawling around never bothered me much. That particular swing made me forget everything that was going on in my life. Being a dreamer, I lost myself in my daydreams, while trying to turn 360 degrees on that swing.
Somehow there was this one recurring daydream: seeing myself as this amazing young woman, standing on stage, facing a mass of people, performing! At that time I didn’t even know that those kind of settings, stadium performances, even existed. Although I was clearly very lonely in that vision, I did what I did because that was my purpose. It inspired others, made them forget everything and feel more alive and connected. The music I heard was amazing too. Soul stuff.
So perhaps this is my deepest, darkest musical wish? To achieve greatness within my very soul by becoming what I have so clearly envisioned since early childhood? And I am a coward, mind you. I am really terrified of it, of my greatness... The story of many on this planet? Sign of the times? I am not original in this regard. Just like many I trot at the foot of that magnificent mountain making all kinds of excuses not to start climbing towards the top!
Yet, at the same time, I am terrified of not fully going for it, let opportunities slip, and also of not being given fair chances to even try letting them slip.
I know my worth, I know what I am capable of, I am being realistic, too. It’s always been incredible hard work, and that hard work really never ends, every day you start wondering: “Have I still got it? Or has the genie left me?” I have no regrets of sacrificing my childhood, teenage years, well... an entire life to perfectioning many different types of skills of artistic expression. But at times one can’t help but wonder: was it wise to do so? Or was I deluding myself? Going after a dream that wasn’t mine for the taking?
But imagine! The sweetness of touring non-stop for at least a year and growing, growing, growing as an artist, especially through all that interaction with your audience! Oh, that would make this nomad so incredibly happy... I don’t care if it’s my deepest, darkest musical wish! Simply by imagining it being a possibility makes me glow with ecstasy. And well, the state of glowing in the dark is considered a highly radioactive one. So for once I’m in tune with my contemporaries.
(Elektra Dekker | Haarlem | 8 January 2014)
- FREQUENCY (upcoming 12”)
- STERNENHIMMEL (single/ 2013)
- SUICIDE SIREN (album 10” / 2013)
- CRAZY BABY ( 7” / 2013)
- MAKE-BELIEVE MAN (Xmas single / 2010)
- EUDEMONIA (single / 2010)
- EUDEMONIA (album / 2010)
- GOD, THANK YOU FOR LOVE (single / 2008)
- HELIOS SELENE (album / 2007)
- JUMP! (single / 2006)