The God Squad: How The Blessed Madonna made 'Serotonin Moonbeams' - Tech - Mixmag

The God Squad: How The Blessed Madonna made 'Serotonin Moonbeams'

From cuddle puddles to whistling synths, The Blessed Madonna tells us the story behind this love letter to '90s raves

  • Interview: Becky Buckle | Lead photo: Eva Pentel
  • 2 December 2022

Can you tell me the backstory behind the making of ‘Serotonin Moonbeams’?

The day that it was written was a super happy day. I think the session might have been on a Friday, and the day before myself and my husband went to go have American Thanksgiving with [some friends including] Hen from Joy Anonymous, and Pat Alvarez, who I run a studio with now — not in support of colonialism, but in support of turkey, in support of food. We were just talking about everything. We were somehow on the topic of old skool '90s raves, which is like way before the era of all these people who are in their twenties, and we were talking about how in the there was this whole culture - and you still see it with kandi ravers now - of this the kind of ecstasy technology. It was thinking about how people used to have the gas masks with vapor rub on the inside and Vix inhalers, and there were cuddle puddles, people giving each other hand massages that felt really good if you were in a certain state. There was all this stuff which people knew would make someone feel even better in front of a speaker when you were already having an ecstatic experience. It had really stuck in my head as they thought it was hysterical, the idea of these massive cuddle puddles of girls giving each other back rubs and stuff. It just seemed really funny to everyone else ,but I mean, this was serious business in the '90s. That kind of ritualised ecstasy taking and how it could be really genuinely romantic. People really fell in love in those places.

Later on, it might have been the next day or the next week, we had a session with Hen and Pat and then also Jin Jin and Uffie to do some writing and that conversation came up. I was just saying that, "We should write a song about falling in love in a rave." I mean I fell in love with my husband in a rave, we had our first kiss in front of a speaker. We are together all these years later. We also had Karma Kid at that session and he was off in the corner playing bass, and so I started sitting at the console. He had an idea of some chords that he brought in and I really loved them and I had just discovered how to make a whistle on this synthesiser.

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I only started writing lyrics in the last couple of years and now I'm doing it for other people which has been really thrilling. I've got a whole different world opened up to me as a result of that. I absolutely love it. I've been writing toplines, not just for myself but by myself with other people and for other people. So there was a moment when I flipped around this tiny little studio and Jin Jin and Uffie were sitting behind me on this tiny little couch, and they had come up with the first two lines: "You've had one too many coffees and your slippers were Versace and my daydreams..." I flipped around and started writing with them and we got into the meat of the verses. It was just one of those days when things really, really clicked. Karma Kid started laying down bass and the girls and I are really in the lyric zone. And you always know it's good when you feel a little uncomfortable saying something. We were getting into the "hit you with that bad bitch" part and I was like, "don't laugh at me, this is probably stupid". I was like: "hit you with that bad bitch, thunder lighting, super frightening, yeah", and they were like "whatttt" and started screaming.

It was just one of those days that for me is so great, when you feel pulled in a hundred different directions in a good way. That kind of chaos is always a good sign, because producing when you are completely alone is a totally different thing. It's a very lonely affair in a lot of ways. When you're working in a group you have to become the circus master, because at the end of the day, I'm a control freak and it's my record. You have to kind of gather these seeds of ideas and know what to move on from, hear someone make a mistake and recognise it as a good mistake. It's like twirling plates. When it's your best, all of the plates are spinning in a way that feels good. You still feel like one could drop at any second, but it feels good and exciting and that was one of those days.

Uffie is so amazing, she came in in one of those big amazing fur coats, and she had a ball gown in her bag and she pulled it out and put it on. She's just incredible. At the party that we threw, Uffie covered herself in vaseline and glitter, so if you hugged Uffie or someone that you hugged had hugged Uffie, you had her glitter. I literally still have her glitter on me and it's been a week. I have showered every day and sat in the tub and soaked everyday, but I will have Uffie’s glitter in my hair until the day I die. She just brings such beautiful energy in general and she’s so playful.

That was the day that everything really congealed into this single unit. Like we all work on each other's music, I've sat in with Hen on Joy Anonymous album sessions. Sometimes I do what they call 'refereeing', where I go and sit in on someone's project and edit in real time. I have this concept that I call 'The Rules' which are that there are structural rules within dance music. You can deviate with them but they all have purpose. Everything should sound intentional and nothing should sound accidental. There are structural things that [are there] because dance music is almost always playing when you are in a club you don't know the name of the record. There are internal cues inside dance records that tell people when to get excited, when to listen, when a drop is coming. It’s in there all the way from Paul Johnson to Hessle Audio. There's this internal maths that happens, so a lot of what we do in these sessions is grab all the pieces and watch the architecture of things. One ear is always on the architecture while it's unfolding.

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So this little group of us didn't even have to talk, but that was the first day that really started to happen. There is just something incredibly special that happens when all of us work together on each other's things. That was the first day it really clicked, and the song was writing itself. That little group has colloquially been named 'The God Squad'. I think if we spend the rest of our lives working together, then I can die and go to heaven. That's the dream. It's just been so beautiful to have this record, that is so filled with love and friendship and trust and hope, be the opening statement. Also, a record that is so about being in love with dance music.

All these years later, we're all different ages but that love, that thread, is consistent across our experiences. I'm just so grateful to have been in a position to work with them and learn from them. Writing with people is so intermediate; there is no friendship that you have that even gets close to what it's like when you write with people, when you talk about your feelings and experiences. I have such a profound respect for everybody that has been involved so far, and I just hope we get to make a million more records. I talk to them every single day. I texted Hen at 2:30AM the other night about a record that we wrote with Eliza Rose, as I had a breakthrough in the middle of the night in my mind. And then the next day we were back in, we wrote a whole new section of it.

It feels like everyone in the room, in this 'The God Squad', feels the same sort of love that would be on the dancefloor in the '90s, but instead in the studio.

We all say I love you like everyday.

Did they work a lot with you on the rest of the album?

Yeah, everybody is working on each other's stuff. It's been great. I can’t imagine making an album and not getting an opinion from Jin, Hen and Pat in particular. Uffie is in America so I don't get to see her as much. But being able to get their opinions on stuff is huge.

Why did you lead with this song as your first release as part of the upcoming album?

One of the great things about DJing is that you can test things out and see what people connect with and workshop a record. If there's a point where the energy drops you can see it. If you are playing a massive rave and the moment you think everyone's going to go "ahh", if they don't do it, if you run the flag up the pole and nobody salutes it, then... [laughs] There's moments like that, but the very first time I played it in Brazil in front of 15,000 people, it was completely ape shit. Like immediately. Then I got hundreds of messages asking what it was. So I started rolling it out over the last seven to eight months, and every time I would play it, like at Coachella, Honey [Dijon] was like, "Bitch, what was that?" I was like "that's my new record", she's like "I got to have that". It felt there was a sense of urgency around it.

I've never been in a position to road test something on that scale before so there is a lot of learning, the same way you feel when you have a record that you love and can't wait to play in a set by someone else. You know that record will click. It's almost like a panic to get to it. The same thing is true of songs that you are working on for an album. If I don't have that panic for other people to listen to it, it needs to go back to the workshop.

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Comparing it to the rest of the album, it sounds like it's going to continue being very energetic - am I right in saying this?

There are definitely points where it slows down a little bit. But it's not an ambient record. I love that music but I think there is a story to be told in dance music. You can only ever tell your own story, and as producers, as DJs, as listeners and dancers, the stories are ours. All of those songs teach us who we are and form our point of view of ourselves. You can only tell your story, you are the only one that can do it, if you do not sing your song then no one else can sing it. My life has played out in the theatre of dance music: in its traditions, culture, this is where I have lived and I have fallen in love; here I have worked through death and hope and despair; and I have lost family and I have made new family; and I have been through a break up, I have become wife; all of those things have played out since I was 14, 31 years ago. I think that at least the first chapter of my story is to say that these moments are silly, but they are also deeply important and people's real lives happen here. It is worthy and not disposable; even songs about falling in love in front of a speaker can matter. As much as I hate to hear the sound of my own voice, being a part of - I will never say the name of it because it feels funny to say your own name - but the Fred [again..] record, the one — I always just call it the Fred record. As if he only made one. Being a part of the Fred record really brought that into resolution for me how important dance music really is for people. That for me really is the story of this song and it will be the story of this album, but at the same time it has to work. You have to be able to play it on the radio and close Panorama Bar with it.

Reflecting back on the subject of falling in love, as that is the motif of the record, do you have any key memories from '90s raves of love?

There's a few couples that I knew in the '90s who were just beautiful rave couples that now have kids and sometimes even grandkids. How amazing is that? There were people who met their partners there and stayed there. There's one couple in particular that I think of that just has such a beautiful family and they are so loving and I'm so proud of them. Like the guy I used to throw parties and sell mixtapes with, he was the officiant at my wedding and we were together in Detroit this year for Movement Festival. I think especially if you are from America, where the Midwest rave scene is quite small, there's a lot of beautiful love that has hung in there. I can remember my dad being - as probably any reasonable dad would've been - very opposed to his child driving all over the United States going to raves at the age of 16. He did not love that for me. But for better or worse, I was right. Those relationships did matter and they didn't just matter temporarily, I've still got most of the people that I was close to very much in my life. I don't want to romanticise it as there was also a lot of danger, there was a lot of death, there was a lot of really reckless drug use, there was a lot of crime. I certainly had my share of that stuff. I loved that period of my life for the experiences, but it was fraught with danger and violence. I did not have a normal 16-year-old life. But, on the other hand, the good parts of it have persisted and I have absolutely clear feelings of what that meant at the time and what it means now.

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Can you tell me about the reaction to 'Serotonin Moonbeams' now that it's officially out?

It's been crazy to see it do as well as it's done already, to have people really react to it. I just got a thing saying that it is in the Top 20 Shazam songs which is crazy — over really big records which makes me feel good. Not that you want to live or die by any metric like that because that's an excellent way to completely give away your self esteem to the algorithm. I am ignorant regarding the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in techno.

In general, the reaction has been crazy, it's been nuts, and it kind of feels surreal to see this thing that's been in my little secret garden be put out into the world. I was so afraid because the internet is very bad and grim. I have learned to brace myself when something I'm proud of becomes a public thing. But bring it on! The reaction even from arms-crossed techno people that I would have thought would hate it, has been really good.

'Serotonin Moonbeams' is out now, listen below

Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Video and Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter

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