Sound artist and music producer Object Blue in conversation with producer Anjali Prashar-Savoie
Object Blue is an experimental sound artist and music producer. Her recently released first EP Do You Plan To End A Siege? opens with a reference to Joan of Arc, and is a collection of elaborately layered samples of women Kung Fu fighting and Cardi B, experimental club rhythms and rich, otherworldly soundscapes. Catching the attention of FACT, Dazed 100, SIREN and many others for her off-kilter beats and enthralling live sets around London, Object Blue has been calling out gendered assumptions and misogyny in experimental music and sound art, by using her online presence to keep the club music scene in check.
In this interview, producer Anjali Prashar-Savoie currently working with Lizzie Masterton on Sonic Gaze, talks to Object Blue about making her own space in experimental sound, online identity politics and being a ‘technofeminist’.
Anjali: Your music crosses sound art with experimental club music. How did you initially get involved in sound?
Object Blue: I have always been obsessed with sound. I started out playing the piano but it wasn’t really my thing. I am not an instrumentalist, I always preferred to improvise. It was only a matter of time before I went into experimental sound and music. At first, I felt so intimidated by electronic music because it just seemed like a boys’ club. It’s a really pedantic scene, people who are into it know every single label, know every single release, know every single mix and edited versions of each track. I thought I could never be legit in that world. There are many underhanded and problematic assumptions about women not knowing what they’re doing when they work with sound and technology.
During my first degree in English Literature I was part of the Feminist Society, which really cemented me as a person and made me who I am today. I later applied to Guildhall School for Electronic Music because that was one of the only places where you didn’t have to have ABRSM Grade 10 piano. At the time I thought I wouldn’t be able to get into making music because I didn’t have the qualifications. You don’t have to study to make work with sound, but I just felt I had nothing to stand on without a degree compared to all these people who grew up in record shops and went to gigs. I didn’t get that – I grew up in suburban Beijing. I felt like university was the only way to go at the time but now I feel that it is NOT the only path.
When I started my course, I also started clubbing every week for around a year. That’s when I started seriously working with sounds and experimenting with music.
Anjali: You lovingly dedicated your first EP Do you plan to end a siege? to ‘all the women on the dancefloor’. You have previously collaborated with SIREN, a platform for those underrepresented in music, who throw parties to promote queer, women and non-binary artists and DJs. Alongside regularly bringing visibility to misogynistic and exclusionary tendencies in electronic music, you also created a poem on Twitter in response to sexist comments about Machine Woman, an established producer. Can you tell us a bit about your album and what being a ‘technofeminist’ means to you?
Object Blue: Making the EP happened quickly. It was a short, intense project and I ended up with an experimental album that combines and incorporates a range of sounds and samples. People often ask why I sampled Cardi B – and my answer is always ‘why not?!’. When you work in the realm of electronic music and sampling, the world is yours to sample. I love her voice and I love Cardi as a person. Her rapping complimented the beat like a call to arms. I also sampled the sounds of women Kung Fu fighting that contributed to the overall atmosphere of the album; its women-led, upfront and in-your-face. A lot of the sounds I took are from the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. As women we are often marginalized in club spaces and sound art. The scene is oversaturated with men, and experienced women producers are criticized far more than their male peers. This creates a hostile environment; I’m not surprised that people have described the Siege EP a battle-cry against that hostility.
Technology is often considered a man’s domain and used as a tool of oppression – which it is in many ways. For example, Facebook began as a way to rate women, and current censorship policies surrounding images of women’s bodies online are sexist. I come from a country where state censorship is ubiquitous. I believe the term ‘technofeminist’ originated with Discwoman. To put it simply: I love techno and I love feminism. To go even further, the term also encompasses a vision of the world in which technology is a tool for our liberation.
I worked very hard to make the music I have made. However, I feel that I am in the position I am now because I have a network of women that support me. Machine Woman was so kind to me from the beginning. I also went to all of SIREN’s early parties. My first ever gig was for a SIREN night, when I warmed up for Wilted Woman. SIREN is doing great work to promote women in sound and create safe spaces to experience art and music in clubs. The fact that we have to think about safety and harassment when we go out to experience music makes me really angry. There have been so many nights when I wish I could have returned home only talking about how great the music was but there is always a story about harassment or sexism that comes with it. I have heard people make assumptions that women just aren’t into experimental sound or that women find it boring… which is ridiculous. And the ‘poem’ I put on Twitter is not a poem! The ‘poem’ label was ironic – I am not that bad a writer! It was a comment on sexism, but done in a sarcastic, goofy way – which is often my MO online.
Anjali: Techno and experimental music scenes give the impression that they steer clear from overtly political discussions. For this reason, I was really taken by your active voice in the scene. What are your thoughts on the perceived separation between politics, identity and techno? Do you feel that these kinds of power dynamics are present within the work that you make?
Object Blue: Experimental sounds in clubs are way more political than other club tunes. Feminist theorist and sound artist Pauline Oliveros is a huge inspiration to me. She was always very political as an out lesbian in the homophobic climate of the sixties. I also got into sound art through Holly Herndon who is vocal about futurism, technology and politics.
Experimental sound gave me the opportunity to make my own space, be a bedroom producer and weird out everyone who dislikes my art. That way, I didn’t have to cater to a certain audience in real-time. If you play straight up club music, there are always going to be ten guys at the front who are telling you to play harder. I play to live crowds now and I absolutely love it, but having that solitude of making beats in my bedroom for a couple years really informed my current attitude.
More and more women, LGTBQ+ and people of colour are gaining recognition, which I am thrilled about. I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, this also means I am jammed into this online political discourse that I don’t always like being part of. I see a lot of reductive and simplistic views on power dynamics with regards to gender and race. I find that a big focus of call-out culture is somebody screaming really loudly: ‘Oh this is what an oppressor looks like’ and then everyone has to rally behind the one screaming otherwise they are called sympathizers. Then the discourse changes and suddenly the people who were right are now baddies! We seem to be thinking less, and just following smoke signs. I find that disappointing about social media sometimes. We really have to use technology better than that. We have to go beyond listing our privileges in our Twitter bio. We have to go beyond stacking identity markers against each other. I’m always being put into these identity boxes because of the way I look, sound and the place I live, which is wrong: for example, I’ve been referred to as a diasporic artist. I am not a diasporic artist! I did not grow up in the West; I do not have a Western passport. I grew up as an indigenous person. Visibility is not the be-all and end-all for our experiences as women and LGBTQ+. I think our current focus on visibility is due to our hyper-visualized, mass media consumer culture where we need to look and be a certain way to align with certain politics.
We need to be careful to not kid ourselves into thinking we are political radicals just because we are artists. I am wary of being considered an online activist. I don’t think I am yet: I simply have my politics and I can’t keep my mouth shut. I show solidarity to women in electronic music, I show solidarity to lesbians, I show solidarity to people of colour in that we experience the same systematic injustice. However, I won’t pretend my music is a political weapon. I believe in taking grassroots action. As artists with a platform for which we are being praised, we get pulled into this weird self-absorbed world where we are counting our Twitter followers or the number of album buyers, so then people think if I tweet something with #woke that my work is done. I think we all have a lot of work to do to be decent people offline, which is fundamental to having good politics. There is something about our demographic – being young artists, ravers of colour and LGBTQ+ that can lead to thinking a simple hashtag is enough. Perhaps because we have been oppressed for so long, we have now found a way to quickly grasp power online through the jargon of social justice. As artists, our sense of self begins to blur with this public persona we have online.
I believe in art being political; I believe everything is political. We only have the illusion of being divorced from politics but we are not actually separated from it, especially as queer people of colour in a hetero-patriarchal environment. But that in itself doesn’t make a piece of art politically effective. I always think back to Gran Fury’s art campaign during the AIDS crisis. They had a poster that read ‘With 40,000 dead, art is not enough’, encouraging people to take to the streets.
I am really glad that some people have found my words about gender and sexuality online inspiring. I just posted a story today about my experience with a ‘woke’ but sexist poet, and three women already have messaged me saying they had similar experiences with him. We have to do this to look out for each other. I am glad I can use my online platform for this, but it doesn’t mean I am a political artist. If one day I get to Gran Fury’s level somehow, I would be happy to carry that title.
Anjali: Can you offer any tips or advice to new producers or sound artists who might be put off by the lack of representation and visibility of women and queer people in these environments?
Object Blue: Our gender, race and sexuality are always going to be thrown back at us. When I started taking part in the music scene, I was aware that no one expected shit from me. So many assumptions are made about your skills when you are a woman working with sound, no matter how great you are – so just do you! Have a nihilistic attitude towards people’s approval and surround yourself with people who believe in you.
As women in experimental sound and dance music it is not our work to change people’s perceptions of us. Our work lies in trying to carve out a space for ourselves and to maintain it, which goes back to what I was saying about how experimental sound can allow us to make our own space. Collectivising and supporting one another can eventually change the scene for the better.
Anjali: What’s next for Object Blue? Do you have anything big coming up you want to tell us about?
Object Blue: I have my second EP REX, coming out on Let’s Go Swimming, early July. I wrote about it on my tinyletter, which you can read here.
Object Blue’s second EP REX will be released in early July.
Preview REX on Soundcloud
Pre-order REX on Let’s Go Swimming
Sonic Gaze is a project exploring sound and power dynamics by Lizzie Masterton and Anjali Prashar-Savoie.
Images 1+2 © Karolina Bajda