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Get to know Vaal, purveyor of brooding, menacing breaks-infused techno

The 28-year-old London producer and Tale Of Us affiliate just released her debut album

  • Words: Marcus Barnes | Photos: Pierre Ange
  • 12 March 2019

After keeping her identity under wraps since first releasing music in 2012, Eliot Sumner (aka Vaal, fka Coco) has finally decided to unmask herself. “I was quite paranoid about people finding out because the whole point of this project was to be anonymous,” the 28-year-old tells Mixmag. Growing up with celebrity parents (her father is Gordon Sumner aka Sting, and her mother the actress and producer Trudie Styler) Eliot was immersed in the worlds of music and film.

Her early dalliances in the arts started around the age of 14, when she first began to write her own songs blending a range of styles from punk and ska, to electronica, which led to the band project I Blame Coco. Since then she’s released a catalogue of music under her real name, creating the Vaal alias in 2012 so she could experiment away from the public gaze. Finding a home in the underground she flourished, dropping tunes via her own label Baastard and later connecting with Tale Of Us. When the Italian duo left Life And Death to set up Afterlife she joined them, releasing the timeless ‘Wander To Hell’ in 2016.

“I wasn’t much of a club person when I started making this music,” she admits. “Luca C from Hot Natured was in I Blame Coco and connected me with Matteo from Tale Of Us. He liked what I was doing and invited me to play for them at Sónar in 2013. It was terrifying, as I didn’t really know how to DJ!” After spending two solid months teaching herself, the Sónar gig didn’t go so badly after all and led to her touring consistently for several years. But she found that having very little of her own music to play or promote left her feeling empty. So in 2018, with a ton of material sitting on her hard drive, she got to work on an album. It was a pivotal year as, parallel to the album, she decided to take herself to a therapist. “I’ve broken down so many emotional and psychological barriers in my head. It’s been really beneficial to the creative process,” she says.

The album was released on her new label Pale Blue Dot, and took the ‘Techno Album Of The Month’ award in Mixmag’s February issue. It’s a cohesive body of work, featuring hints of UK rave and huge swathes of emotive electronica, demonstrating a maturity and sense of adventure. And it’s a milestone in Eliot’s career that has allowed her to lift her veil and embrace Vaal. “I’ve grown in confidence rapidly in the last six months,” she tells us. “All that separation stuff was fear-based. Starting out making music quite young and having everything accessible to me meant I put a lot out there, and I used to get quite embarrassed at past projects. But now I’m taking ownership of everything… even the bad stuff!”

‘Nosferatu’ by VAAL is out now on Pale Blue Dot

Marcus Barnes is Mixmag's techno editor, follow him on Twitter

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