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CMN Exclusive Interview: softcoresoft

CMN gets on the same “ravelength” with the DJ, producer and radio host.

Softcoresoft is a Montreal-based DJ, music producer, radio host and cultural organizer. Both her DJ sets and her productions fuse acid, hypnotic techno, hardcore rave anthems and broken beats to create a powerful blend of surging techno that sounds straight out of the wee hours of a dark and sweaty rave.

She has no plans to slow down, even though 2019 was a busy year. She took part in the RBMA Bass Camp in Calgary back in March, and debuted on Boiler Room in Toronto in June. July saw the launch of Humidex, a new Canadian techno label that softcoresoft co-runs with artists Absurde and S. Chioini.

College Media Network CMN Exclusive Interview: softcoresoft

I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with the witty and humorous softcoresoft for an exclusive interview for CMN about her newest release, which came out on October 18th on the seminal record label Lobster Theremin’s techno-focused imprint, Lobster Black. The EP, Otherworlds, is comprised of five tracks that range from dark, brooding techno to hard-stepping rhythms, chugging acid belters — and a whole lot of heavy crunchiness to sink your teeth into.

Come along as we get onto softcoresoft’s “ravelength.”

CMN: Otherworlds is your first release with Lobster Theremin, that must be exciting! How did that unfold? 

softcoresoft: The process of coming up with these tracks came out of my live set for MUTEK Montréal 2018 [a Montréal-based festival that now hosts similar festivals around the world]. I tend to approach making tracks first with the energy and process of a live set, not only because I want to be able to recall and perform them at some point, but also because it’s a more exciting way to do things for me. Using the sequencers inside each machine, throwing elements together and seeing what sticks, then refining and adding elements on top. After that MUTEK live set, I went into the studio and I recorded everything in multitrack, then mixed it down with Danji Buck Moore, who helped with the engineering on the record.

CMN: What is your gear set up like? Do you use hardware [such as drum machines and synthesizers] or do you prefer a DAW [which stands for ‘Digital audio workstation,’ referring to programs popular with producers such as Ableton and FL Studio]?

softcoresoft: I work with all hardware gear, so I come up with tracks by trying elements out together, letting my sequences play and loop, muting and unmuting to try out arrangements, messing around with patterns, sequences and parameters until something hits my ears (and dare I say my soul) the right way. I perform tracks out like a live set in my studio as I am composing. At the moment my setup consists of an Elektron Analog Rytm MK I (from which the tempo clock comes out), a Korg Minilogue, a x0xb0x (the 303 clone), a Korg Electribe EMX-1, an RNC compressor and effects pedals for reverb, delay, phaser, and overdrive. It all goes into a Soundcraft Signature 12 mixer. I was given a Moog Mother 32 and DFAM, which I’m excited to dig into!

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I started out making music in Ableton, but the point and click approach of a DAW didn’t inspire me as much for the creative process. There were too many options, an endless amount of directions. I enjoy limitations to work within. I really picked each piece of gear for its sequencer or specific workflow, its patch recall capabilities and other design and sound features. I get a lot from working within that and make it all fit together through the magic of MIDI sync.

For the mixing and refining phase when each instrument is recorded, then I turn to Ableton, usually with another pair of ears, as I really enjoy that process of getting feedback on what I “performed” or played out during the multitrack recording session, before finally digging into the mixing. 

CMN: What was the inspiration of this EP? 

softcoresoft: This EP was meant to showcase the range of genres and styles I’m obsessed with: acid techno, trance, electro and breaks. As I was making it, I wanted some variety in genre, but also a consistency in sound. Conceptually, it’s about psychedelia and mental voyage, which musically are important qualities I seek out. When it came to naming the tracks (which happened after, the working titles will never be revealed as they tend to be quite random and funny!), I wanted each track to convey a little universe, based on the sonic palette of each one, as well as an evocative idea or mental picture. 

The track Meteor Shower takes me into outer space, while Mycophilia is about my fascination for mycelium and a love for the underground—quite literally. Overstatement (Space Edit) is a more refined, studio version of the same track I made a while back,  Overstatement (Rave Edit). At the time I started reading Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair by Sarah Schulman, and the track drew inspiration from that book. I still have to finish that book, though, so don’t tell anyone.

Social Compost is a concept that the feminist academic Tara Rodgers (who wrote the seminal book Pink Noises) discussed in a talk at MUTEK about gender in electronic music. Rodgers articulated that gender diversity is the figurative rich soil and environment that we need as a basis from which to build diversity in sound. Healthy ecosystems are always reliant on diversity and interdependence, and I really liked the metaphor for our social milieu in dance music. Thalassa is the spirit of the sea in Greek mythology—that track is reminiscent of an aquatic vibe that I’m quite obsessed with. I think I’m always longing for the sea in some way— and seeing as I was born by the Mediterranean, there’s a visceral bond there.

Sentiment Analysis is a concept from data science and tech. I remember running my twitter feed into a sentiment analysis AI algorithm, and it spit out a personality description based on that. It was very accurate. It was like astrology, but based on how you present yourself on social media. I was fascinated and a little scared!

College Media Network CMN Exclusive Interview: softcoresoft

CMN: Who are some of your biggest influences? What are you listening to at the moment?

softcoresoft: Musically I’m very inspired by 90s acid techno/electro and trance, as well as hardcore and rave sounds. I’m also really indebted to industrial music, from new wave to EBM and techno. Some artists that come to mind: the Source Experience, Paula Temple, Thomas P. Heckmann/Drax, the Pump Panel, Donato Dozzy, Milton Bradley. 

At the moment I’m hugely inspired by the Copenhagen trance revival, with people like Mama Snake, Courtesy and the artists on her label Kulør. I’m also really stoked on what’s going on in France with labels like Maison Close, Molekül, The Techno’s Children and others, these folks are making the hardest, biggest, funnest rave-y acid techno jams. ARTS recording from Germany is also a big one for me. I’m also really into hard electro, Radioactive Man, Helena Hauff, Privacy, Stingray and others. Buttechno is an artist I really look up to for his aquatic-sounding music, and a truly unique sonic identity. 

At the moment I’m also excited by what’s going on in Canada techno-wise, with artists like Overland, Priori, AADJA, Absurde and S. Chioini (who I run the label Humidex with). If I’m at home and cooking food, I’ll listen to Basic Channel, Helado Negro, Juana Molina, Jenny Hval or Vivaldi.

CMN: I love that each track on Otherworlds seems to have this ebb and flow, this constant dynamic movement within the track itself. Whether its a crescendo or modulation, there is always some sort of moving, actively changing element at any given point. Do you approach your productions with this dynamism in mind initially, or does it come later, or is it just happening naturally without you thinking about it?

softcoresoft: That’s spot on. I definitely really appreciate and seek movement in a track: circularity, soaring, filters open and closing, delay. There’s not that many elements or instruments in my tracks (although they are not minimal either), and quite a bit of repetition. I tend to try and find synth patterns and melodies that I could listen to forever—once I do, I try to make them interesting and more alive with modulation. Wait, am I just technosplaining?

CMN: Not only do you produce, and have been for quite a long time, but you also DJ as well. Which came first? Do you find any styles of how you produce influence how you DJ? 

softcoresoft: I actually think a lot of people know me first as a DJ, but I’ve been noodling around in Ableton since 2012/2013. However, the DJing took precedence because I got really into it and started playing a weekly night at a bar in Montreal, and I found DJing really fun and rewarding. I really enjoy interfacing with an audience and that’s easier to do as a DJ. Even for production, I get far more done when I know I have a live set that I need to prepare for. I look forward to making tracks for that audience, and excited to share that music with them, and then return to the studio and lay the tracks down once I “tested” them with a crowd. 

After DJing more intensively for a couple of years—and also finding inspiration and support in the community aspect of it—I then came back to production and slowly acquired the gear that I wanted and that felt like my sound. That process was also fueled by the realization that I really enjoy hardware more than sitting at a computer to make music. I think the experience as a DJ was really valuable: listening and playing so much music taught me a lot about what I like, don’t like and where and how the kind of music I like fits in.

CMN: Going deep into your Soundcloud, I noticed that a) you’ve been producing for a while! and b) your style varies across the spectrum of electronic music. Do you have a genre you tend to gravitate towards when you’re just messing around without the intent of recording a track? Do you think you will release something outside of the techno realm in the future?

softcoresoft: I do have a lot of fun programming drums and I tend to gravitate towards big dance floor acid bangers, because I seek those out myself. I also find myself interested in synth excursions and early electronic music (Laurie Spiegel, Suzanne Ciani, Pauline Anna Strom, etc), as well as electroacoustic, ambient and leftfield electronic music. I’m interested in exploring all those via production at some point, and I hope to other avenues in future releases as well 🙂

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