In Lack Thereof, Hated and Loathed
An Interview with Louisahhh
The first article of the year on Profet is an interview with American dance music producer Louisahhh, conducted by Profet´s Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström, surrounding subjects such as quality of life and ignorant Ibiza jocks.
Photo: Marilyn Clark
»If the whole DJ:ing thing didn’t work out, horse training would have been it.«
That’s what American producer and performer Louisahhh says about her Plan B, a short minute in to our conversation over the phone. We talk on the day before the release of her new EP »A Trap I’ve Built«, and I’m amazed to hear that she has had time to get up at five in the morning to go horse riding. For now, she hasn’t needed to use her Plan B since Plan A is working out in her favor, but she sees the point of having an interest separate from the music.
- I think it’s really important to have something besides work that you love, even if you really love your work. I love making music and I love DJ:ing but it has been really good, having something outside of that to care about so I can bring back stability and passion to the music. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to make work about work. Even if there’s not a lot of time, I try to make time for that to keep me sane.
Louisahhh’s thoughts strike a chord with me. Being the slightly obsessive person that I am, I can devote all hours of the day to one thing: working or in some way thinking about work. Finally, those thoughts get out of hand, sprint away to catch themselves and then to stab themselves in the back, because as Louisahhh says, it’s not necessarily a good thing to make work about work. Any thought needs to be aired, here meaning that it both needs to be heard and to be nurtured by not being overthought. All ideas, no matter how great, require the benefit of rest to live up to their full potential when revived. I feel like I need to find my personal equivalent of Louisahhh’s stress relief, to keep myself sane like she does. Maybe I should get a dog, or start doing macramé, or something in that general direction.
»I like a mosh pit more than I like an Ibiza sunset pool party«
For an artist who is hours away from releasing a body of work, Louisahhh sounds incredibly put together. That may very well come from letting the mind wander to other subjects than her music, letting go of a bit of stress on the back of a horse. She faces anticipation and pressure as something distant, something to be dealt with later or not at all.
- I have a hard time with expectations, or hope. These are feelings that are challenging for me to tolerate and I think challenging for a lot of people to tolerate. So, I’m trying to focus on just making good work, putting it into the world and not being too concerned about the results. Although, I’m hopeful and I am proud of this EP. I feel like it’s a bridge between my prior work and my new pop structured stuff, coming out on RAAR.
RAAR is the record label that Louisahhh started with Maelstrom with the intention of creating a »punk rock label for techno heads, or a techno label for punk rockers«. Her new »pop structured« music can still be listed as both genres, since it has that certain edge that they both share. Louisahhh puts down in words where »A Trap I’ve Built« stands in this musical transition.
- It’s less dance floor oriented, but the sounds themselves are a little bit more aggressive. It’s a weird animal, more accessible and more brutal than anything I’ve ever done.
- Would you say that the dance floor always has been your priority before?
- Yeah, I came into music as a career path, not in general, as a DJ, way before I was a producer or a songwriter. The dance floor has been the place where I’ve been able to exercise ideas, but now it feels like I’m being restored to my original musical interests which were rock bands like Garbage and Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins. That was what I was obsessed with as a pre-teen, from the time I was 11 years old. It feels like it’s somewhere in between underground techno and alternative pop from the 90’s. It’s hard to put a name on it because I feel like it occupies its own territory, it’s not part of anybody else’s club. That’s both exciting and kind of challenging.
Louisahhh looks like she could have been a Smashing Pumpkin or a Nine Inch Nail, with her tightly laced riot boots and her short trimmed Siouxsie Sioux-hairdo. In fact, Louisahhh might be the Siouxsie Sioux of the French underground techno scene, pulling it to a new dimension of structured brutality. Interestingly enough, Resident Advisor describes her colleague Maelstrom as being more structured than his moniker suggests, making him the Steven Severin to Louisahhh’s Siouxsie.
Louisahhh. Photo: Marilyn Clark
As Louisahhh mentions, being a DJ can involve having a space to experiment with ideas. The time spent in a musical laboratory with dancing guinea pigs can further the creation of original pieces, a source of inspiration with counter pieces in most other creative creeds. As a writer, I can find an equal practice in trying a new angle and seeing the possible reaction to it. Just like Louisahhh, I can choose to be more or less structured, and more or less brutal in my writing, and just like a dance floor DJ, I can mix my words together the way I like it and wait to see if the crowd is dancing or standing still. I can choose to be egocentric in my articles (writing about my own writing and my subconscious need to do macramé), and see if the readers are still at all interested, or I can simply turn the focus back on the subject of the interview:
To Louisahhh, the transition from being a DJ to also producing and writing her own material has been a process that is still going on.
- It took a while, and I finally feel like I’m finding my groove in terms of feeling confident in what I’m writing and feeling like my sound has evolved into a place that’s able to express where I want to be instead of lacking the skill set to articulate the ideas. Before, I would have the ideas but I kind of didn’t have the competence to really put the energy there. I felt like it would be too much; too unpopular, too weird, too aggressive. Now I feel like – especially since starting RAAR which has created a space for that otherness in dance music, at least for me – that I have the confidence and the skill set to articulate to the full extent where I want to be, instead of trying to hold it back to make other people comfortable.
On the journey to this seemingly safe space, where her sound is as concrete as her self-confidence, Louisahhh must have had plenty of time to dissect dance music and find what elements and feelings she wants to use. With that in mind, I want to know what her idea of the perfect dance track might be.
- Recently, I’ve noticed that the things that are going over the best, both in my own discography and what I’m attracted to in what other people are making, is tracks that have a really solid groove. You are helpless against moving your body to them. This is dance music, right, but this combined with very aggressive sounds. I feel like producers like Paula Temple, Perc and Manni Dee are all people who somehow manage to make really good, solid techno tracks, but instead of your standard sound set that you can hear in any club, they push it to a place that is a little bit uncomfortable. That violence, or that level of energy in the music, really makes people go crazy. I’ve been taking notes about that, trying to make dance tracks that feel good in your body but are a little bit upsetting.
- I see what you mean, the contradiction of something festive and something unsettling, I say, imagining the meeting of the two.
Lousiahhh mentions Skrillex as an artist whose early work was aggressive but still attractive to the masses. She traces his appeal to what people find, and enjoy, when they go out to listen to such music. What she points out in Skrillex’s music can, interestingly enough, also be found in her own before mentioned taste.
- They don’t go to clubs to be comfortable, they go to clubs to be shaken up. It’s like when people go to Metal shows, and I like that energy better than I like bopping around, kind of fist bumping tech house. I like a mosh pit more than I like an Ibiza sunset pool party.
The Cover of »A Trap I've Built«
Would you ever imagine a single fist being bumped at a Louisahhh show? No, I thought so. Louisahhh’s grinding, yet danceable, techno should be banned from Margarita showered pool side festivities thrown on tropical islands, because not a single person on the guest list would understand her value. Picture a muscled up, not-a-care-in-the-world kind of tourist jock trying to even slightly wrap his mind around a track like »Hey Trouble«. I think he would have trouble breathing, perhaps falling head first into the pool in his attempt to spontaneously bump his five clenched fingers in the air. To avoid testosterone tourists being drowned in tropical pools due to their own misunderstanding of music, maybe we should keep Louisahhh’s tunes in dark clubs located in Mid-European cities.
So why did Louisahhh, born and raised in the United States, decide to move to France? When living in Los Angeles, she worked with a French management that gave her an offer of a full in house set up. Louisahhh understood that it would be impossible for her to be a part of that, with the time difference in mind.
- The thing that pushed me over the edge and made me leave my relatively happy, comfortable life in Los Angeles to go to France where I didn’t speak French or know anybody, was the fact that twenty days before this offer came, which was New Year’s Eve 2012 to 2013, I played a party in Miami and I was kicked off for not playing commercially enough. That was the sign that there’s nothing for me creatively in the United States. I can’t make a living doing the kind of music I want to do, or I have to compromise and make more commercial stuff and I wasn’t willing.
The reason that I ask so specifically about Louisahhh’s move to France, out of all places, is that most people with the same taste in music and the same desire to make that music more often go to Berlin, not Paris. Berlin is glorified as Europe’s club capital, while Paris is seen as Europe´s Compton, a place for straight up hip hop rather than dance music. RAAR’s combo of techno and punk rock wasn’t really available in France, and the long tradition of dance music in Berlin can make it a bit difficile de participer, if you’re not already in the inner circle. Louisahhh knows how to handle that issue.
- If you can’t join them, beat them!
- Would you say that the dance music scene is very conventional and sticks to traditions?
- That’s interesting, you should talk to Maelstrom about it, he’s doing a Sociology Masters specializing in this. There’s a lot of talk about what legitimizes something within a subculture and how one gets successful without being called a sell-out. How does one get »taken seriously« by their peers? What makes something acceptable to the analog snobs or the Resident Advisor chin scratchers? Who says what´s okay? At this point I’m exhausted and powerless over what anybody thinks of me. Especially after turning 30, you’d better do what you want. Life is short, why am I waiting around for other people´s approval?
Of course, I can’t help to let my before mentioned self-obsessed side take over for a minute when Louisahhh is talking about not making yourself wait for things you really want. I’m not 30 yet, but at the age of 23 I already (perhaps a bit pre-maturely) feel like my life is slipping out of my hands. If I don’t take action right now, and prioritize only what’s of utter importance to me, I’ll find myself old and unhappy before I know it. That’s enough about me for this segment, let’s get back to Louisahhh again.
- To go back to your question (»Would you say that the dance music scene is very conventional and sticks to traditions?«) I think it’s difficult to strategize and play your cards right to make one legitimized or successful based on the terms of subcultures. I guess the solution would be to put in the work and make the art that you believe in, and then stay out of the result.
- Was that very important to you before, what other people thought of you?
- Yes, especially as an American. It has been an interesting mirror in moving to France. You don’t know what your nationality means until you’re taken out of your nation. One of the traits of Americans I’ve noticed is that we really like to be liked. I was confronted with my desire to be liked and desire to control what other people thought of me and to manipulate that. I found that it was sort of soul crushing.
Louisahhh had to make creative decisions that went against being liked when she moved to France, because sometimes integrity must come first in artistry. I remember a quote from Swedish author Hjalmar Söderberg’s master piece »Doktor Glas«, recently cited by my favorite pop journalist Andres Lokko in Svenska Dagbladet. I read a terrible translation of the quote to Louisahhh, since I find it applicable to her situation:
- »You want to be loved, in lack thereof admired, in lack thereof feared, and in lack thereof hated and loathed.«
- Yeah, Louisahhh says. It’s all kind of bullshit, right? It’s none of my business what other people think of me. The question is now, especially creatively: Am I aligning with my values and supporting and creating work that I believe in as opposed to pandering to whoever is cool right now. That goes back to your original question, (»Was that very important to you before, what other people thought of you?«) of course I hope it works out. Of course, I hope that people will adore this EP, that it sells really well and gets me lots of gigs. Reality is, I don’t fucking know and I can’t control it, so I’d better have a good life no matter what.
Louisahhh’s thoughts of quality of life, regardless to success or fortune, takes me back to the beginning of the interview and how the introduction is actually somewhat linked to »A Trap I’ve Built« (bear with me here, I’m going to explain this incoherency). Here’s the thing with Louisahhh, from what I learned during our brief conversation: There are two sides to her. First of all, there’s the upsetter Louisahhh, the punk rock techno head, the Siouxsie Sioux of Paris who doesn’t care about the opinions of the world. Second of all, there is the horse riding Louisa Pillot balancing life as a performer with life as a human being, wanting to be liked but still not. On the cover of »A Trap I’ve Built«, you can see both sides. Perhaps one is trapped by the other, perhaps it’s the other way around.3 January 2018