Focus on the weird: GRRL's myriad inspirations inform their world-building club sound
Becky Buckle speaks to the elusive US DJ and producer about shattering chandeliers, the blank canvas of Tumblr and inspiration from the ordinary
Sharing is caring when it comes to GRRL. When they’re not curating up-to-the-minute club mixes, they are on social media spreading the good word on the releases that you need to know about. But it's a two-way street, on their admission, the internet has been a source of constant support. Nowadays, they mostly concentrate on Tumblr and Twitter to mood board elements of inspiration not only with their fans but also to develop a vision for their music. Using this crowd-sourcing of ideas, GRRL developed their particular brand of atmospheric techno seen in albums in 2020, ‘Odyssey’ and ‘Marathon’.
GRRL has been showcasing their mixes since 2016 via a monthly slot on NTS that sees them craft a blend of thundering techno, vivid percussion alongside synthesized sounds. While a hit with listeners, GRRL uses their shows as a vehicle to tell the story of their musical journey, viewing the back catalogue of mixes as an archive of their personal taste.
Boasting a talent for the rework, GRRL has previously given the remix treatment to artists such as Henrik the Artist, ABSRDST, Distal and more. Most notably, their 2021 remix of the ‘Gold Leaf’ by PC Music artist, A. G. Cook sat comfortably on Cook’s remix album alongside other contributions from Charli XCX, Caroline Polachek, Baauer to name a few. Proving themselves an ever-growing entity of electronic endowment — GRRL also provided the soundtrack for gamed NYC fashion designer Alexander Wang's Sister project in Summer 2021.
As an internet savvy with an insane amount of knowledge on not only music but also fashion, games and general pop culture, GRRL is the perfect example of a truly modern artist.
Check out their club-centric Impact mix and Q&A below.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got your name? and what's the story behind the GRRL logo?
The name was inspired by the song 'Rebel Girl' by Bikini Kill. It’s such an immediate, killer track. It’s perfect. They’re one of my all-time favourite bands. Also, the brand Girl Skateboards. I really love that skate brand ethos of having a recognizable name or visual identity that gets tweaked, remixed, and iterated over and over again. When I started this project, I was trying to come up with a name and GRRL just stuck. And it’s way catchier than James Mapley-Brittle which is awkward and has too many syllables. It’s just a nice four-letter word.
The logo was designed by an artist and friend of mine, who goes by the name ‘hazelboy’ and did the artwork for my EP ‘High Fantasy’ in 2017. I said: “Do something deep sea-inspired to match the vibe of the new album,” and he immediately figured out what I was going for and found the logo from a defunct SeaWorld ride called Mission: Bermuda Triangle. It fit the vibe perfectly, so I ended up using an altered version of it on all the branding for those releases and my set for Secret Sky. Massive shoutout to Cory Schmitz who did the artwork for 'Marathon' and 'Odyssey'.
You seem to be a bit of an elusive character, is this true or have I just made this up?
In real life, I’m just not a person that takes many photos of myself. I feel like over the last two years because of COVID restrictions and online shows have increased it would be weird if I was doing that as a streaming show without a camera. I don't like to avoid being in photos or whatever. I'm just bad at taking them.
How long have you been in the music industry?
I guess it all started in 2013-2014. I would say that I was pretty bad until like 2016. You learn things as this was the first music project I’d ever done; I’d never taken lessons or anything I’d just listened to music forever.
You released two albums in 2020: ‘Odyssesy’ and ‘Marathon’. How did you manage to create over 50 tracks?
It’s basically what I spend all my free time doing. I'm not the most balanced person, I definitely spend too much time working on music. I like to make as much stuff as possible, and then try to pick the best things for [records]. So sometimes it's a short thing and other times its 50 tracks long and split between two albums. There's a lot of stuff that doesn't go. 2020 was all ‘Marathon’ and ‘Odyssey’ stuff and then 2021 I was working on the next one that is maybe coming out at some point this year.
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How do you continue getting inspiration to make more music?
Kind of everything, which sounds like a cliché answer but there is lots of stuff I share on Twitter: video games, fashion, shoes — which I try to cultivate into a complete idea.
You've mentioned your love for fashion; how does this incorporate itself into your music?
I think it’s about a complete idea and how different parts can contribute to the whole and reinforce those core ideas. Like fashion collections with concepts, and references, and a palette that work together as well as all the individual pieces contributing like the shoes, pants, jackets, etc.
How did you start working with NTS?
It’s crazy. It started off in 2016 when I played the JACK party in New York. After that party, JACK NYC in 2016, Simon Whybray - who ran the JACK/NON STOP POP parties and had an NTS show of the same name, passed along my set from the show to Femi Adeyemi - who founded NTS. Femi emailed me and said he listened and really enjoyed the set and asked if I would be interested in doing a monthly, hour-long slot on the station. At the time I told him: “it was definitely something I was interested in but didn’t have the time to focus on properly,” because of school - but afterwards immediately replied back to him and was like: “OMG what am I saying! If the offer still stands I’d love to do it.” I’ve been doing the show since then, which is wild to think about! It’s really nice having an archive of mixes that goes that many years back. I like having this archive to look back on to see what I was listening to at what period of time because it’s been a long time. I can go back and find what I was listening to in July 2017.
You play on NTS every month – how do you keep this up with fresh mixes?
I normally look through all the music stores every week and bookmark the stuff that I think would be interesting. Then when it's time to make a mix, I go through the bookmarks to see what would work and then put it in a mix.
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Who are you currently listening to?
So much good music has come out this year! I’ve been listening to Yeule’s new LP ‘Glitch Princess’ a lot lately, Caroline Polachek’s amazing recent single ‘Billions’, as well as the excellent new records from Black Country, Utada Hikaru, Vegyn, and Shinichi Atobe. There’s also a lot of older stuff I’ve been listening to from people like Radiohead. I cannot wait to hear more from The Smile project, all of the new material they’ve been sharing sounds incredible! Also, Autechre, Gerald Donald, specifically the project ‘Black Replica’, which I had somehow never heard of until recently and it’s absolutely blown my mind. Nine Inch Nails, Björk, Haruomi Hosono, Pan Sonic, and The Human League. It’s all stuff that I find myself returning to over and over again. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it.
Do you believe you have a broad music taste?
I mean, I think there are two ways you could go about it - either you think everything is kind of shit, or you think there's like good stuff everywhere and you are going to have to work a little bit harder to find it. There is just so much music you can find that sounds exactly like what you want to hear and aligns directly with your own tastes.
Can you tell me how and why you use Tumblr as part of your albums?
I use Tumblr because it's nothing like Instagram. It feels like everybody's advertising themselves, Twitter is kind of similar but a little bit more open. But Tumblr just feels like a blank space. I like the mood board thing with all the projects that I'm working on. Helps me figure stuff out. There's lots of like sci-fi stuff and old covers which influenced the artwork because it looks like old VHS. It has embossing and also for the ‘Odyssey’ designer Corey Schmitz used like an old American Science magazine to make the orange cover as he scanned it and based it off that.
How does gaming influence your music? is it the characters, sounds or stories?
I think mostly it’s the world-building. In the best cases, you can see it, interact with it, hear it and it is just like an entire experience. I just like the world-building and the entire 360 vision.
What games have you found most inspirational?
My favourite generation of games was around the Dreamcast era because it was before graphics were super realistic, so they had to rely on the art style and art direction, and music. Ape Escape, and Wipeout are my biggest inspirations because the music, art and style of the time intersected with contemporary things like dance music and hip hop. I always find that really inspiring.
How did it feel to work with Alexander Wang?
That was really fun. I was obviously a big fan of the director [of the Sister project], Pavel Brenner. He’s done some amazing music videos for people like Lorn, Brodinski, and Yumi Zouma. He’s someone I’ve been a fan of for a long time, and I’m really happy we got to work together. It took an entire month of all-nighters trying to make all the music because not everything that I made was in there. But I wanted to make a bunch of stuff and see what works and pick the best stuff. I think the final product turned out great.
You are known for once being very active on SoundCloud – can you talk to me about your SoundCloud days?
I know a lot of people because of SoundCloud. Like many of my real-life friends. I don't use it as often now but there's so much good stuff on there. SoundCloud feels like a middle ground where it's full of ideas and random pieces that people want to upload, but not commit to fully uploading to Spotify and stuff. Which makes it kind of interesting now. There's not really anything else like SoundCloud. There's not a viable alternative. It was just an easy way when you're beginning to upload things and find things without having to go through distribution or labels.
What tech are you using to make your music?
I just use my Mac. I only got speakers like last year as my friend gave them to me. So, it's not a very high-tech operation. All of my music stuff is basically in the box. I use Ableton Live as my DAW and a bunch of plugins. I use all the Native Instruments, Soundtoys, and Arturia plugins, like, religiously.
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What is your relationship like with the internet?
I think the internet is very helpful in mostly finding things. You can access so many different periods of time, in a way that would not have maybe been possible unless you were really digging. Maybe in the 90s you wouldn't have heard something from 20 years before if the record store didn't have it or if you didn't have access to it, but you can listen to so much music from every period of time. So obviously, you're going to pick up different things, and it's going to stick with you.
What is your latest shoe purchase?
The Acronym x Nike Blazer Lows were my latest purchase. I’m a massive fan of all the Acronym stuff even though I don't really own any because they are expensive, but these crazy bright orange sneakers weren't actually that much money. I wouldn't say I'm a sneakerhead, I feel like I don't own enough Air Jordans to call myself a one. I like the weird stuff a lot more. I'm not afraid to wear anything. What's the point of owning them if I don't wear them? It's kind of a waste of money.
What is your least favourite genre of music?
Electro swing. It's literally terrible. It's just like my favourite joke answer because imagine if music from like the 20s or whatever was made with like dubstep — it's the worst combination.
What is your favourite live performance?
Maybe from JACK LA in 2016. I still have the shirt, beanie, poster, and an unopened pack of JACK stickers in my room - as well as a bit of the venue’s chandelier that fell off during my set and hit someone on the head. It’s such a nice memory. The party itself was incredible too. A loud, packed room filled with fog, bright colourful lights, and great music. That’s the absolute essence of a great show.
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Who would be your dream artist to work with?
It's a hard one. I feel like anybody that I'm a big enough fan of, I'd be too scared to work with in case I messed up the track. I think I would have to say Blawan because he’s consistently excellent and one of the most genuinely original, innovative, and exciting producers working today and I want to know how he makes his kick drums. They’re incredible. He's like one of my favourite people, like every new thing he does surprises me in the best way
What’s next for you?
Yeah, there's a lot of stuff coming out. There's an EP coming out this summer called ‘Operator’ and then hopefully in the fall, there's going to be an album called ‘Bubble Acid’ that I've been working on for a while. I can’t share too many details just yet, but I’ve been working on them for a while now and I’m really excited about both projects. There might be a few remixes and collaborative projects on the way as well.
Can you tell us a bit more about this particular mix?
I wanted to focus on weird, functional, but kind of fun, percussive stuff that I would be playing in a set right now. Lots of techno and electro. I like focusing on the strange and less of the aggressive stuff.
Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter
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