Hermione Frank isn’t prone to nostalgia. Last month, the French-born artist, known as rRoxymore, culled over 1000 records from her collection. Was it an emotional process? “It’s good to get rid of things,” she says with a matter-of-fact candour.
When we speak, she’s in the process of permanently relocating from Berlin to Mexico City, her adopted home for the winter in recent years. Sitting in the kitchen of a friend’s Neukölln flat, dressed in an emerald green jumper with a striped tabby cat crawling on her lap and another bouncing between the dining table and the windowsill, she reflects on her last days in the city, treating herself to a lemon tart at the pâtisserie around the corner, seeing friends for walks along the canal, and at Berghain, for her final gig in town for the year. Keen to distance herself from the weight out of the moment, she insists it isn't a proper send-off. “A discrete farewell, perhaps,” she concedes, “but I’m not good at saying goodbyes.”
This reluctance towards sentimentality feels quintessentially rRoxymore: it’s a driving force behind her singular productions, weaving together elements of house, dub, UK bass, breaks, hypnotic leftfield techno and jazz, to create a sound pattern entirely of her own. Crystalline synths and inimitable percussive slabs, drawn from a custom soundbank assembled over the years, formed the framework of her breakout ‘Thoughts of an Introvert’ EP series and subsequent debut album ‘Face to Phase’, released on Bristol label Don’t Be Afraid; in more recent cuts like ‘I Wanted More’, a moody EP released with AUS Music, the melodies oscillate between playful dub and sensual deep house.
“I'm very fond of dance music from the UK, no matter what year or which generation, there’s always a reference,” she acknowledges. “But I refuse to be boxed in, or at least, I try to push the sides of that box as far as possible.” Her latest album ‘Perpetual Now’, released this month on the Norwegian experimental label Smalltown Supersound, is a continuation of these themes, taking them into new, unexpected territory. Her most stripped back work to date, it’s a series of four shapeshifting soundscapes, unveiling a rich and multidimensional sonic tapestry.
Floating synths drift atop her percussions on lead single ‘Fragmented Dreams’ before deep percussive stabs, synthetic horns and whistles unleash a clarion call for movement. The track was commissioned for a contemporary dance performance last year at the Riksteatern in Lund, Sweden. “I wasn’t able to attend due to lockdown restrictions, but I thought the music should live on in some form,” rRoxymore says. “It’s a reflection of where we we’ve been over the past three years.” According to a recent study on the effects of the pandemic, a condition known as “temporal disintegration”, where people felt their perception of time change, was particularly pervasive during the first six months of the pandemic. This prompted some to explore alternative ways to ground themselves in the present. “I didn't have a spiritual element in mind when I conceived of this project, but I do think music is a vessel for you to connect with yourself and your surroundings.”
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‘Sun in C’, with its deep low-end frequencies and saxophone sounds that twist and contort like interlocking branches rustling in a canopy, is based on another score she created for ‘Points of Departure’, a performance in collaboration with dancer and choreographer Ian Kaler, which premiered in Vienna last summer. “I always liked the idea of stretching the limits of a dance track — I mean, I'm not Villalobos —and it's not a reference, but I like to be able to push beyond [a club track].”
Like the dancers reaching up towards the sky to her interlocking beats, rRoxymore has a fascination with stretching sounds into unexplored terrain. “It’s a way to bring the listeners in a different direction,” she explains of her process of taking loops from organic sounding elements and expanding them until they take on entirely new forms.
It’s a technique she learned while studying acousmatic music and the pioneers of musique concrète in Paris, but her fascination with the avant-garde dates as far back as her childhood spent in Montpellier, in the south of France. Growing up, her father, a devoted jazz fan, developed a weekly ritual of recording radio programmes for her on tapes, which she kept into adulthood. Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and the pioneering sounds of Afrofuturist Sun Ra, who her father befriended, left a lasting impression. “I had a phase where I was listening a lot of spiritual jazz, and these records will always stay in my collection.”
She began DJing in the mid-90s, blending trip hop, funk, disco and jazz at underground parties in the Parisian underground scene. A hip hop producer friend introduced her to production, and she toured in a band for a while before settling in Berlin just over 10 years ago. The electronic music scene in the city proved fertile ground for rRoxymore. “I think a lot of people have this relationship with Berlin where they go to find themselves,” she reflects with a smile. She had been in touch with Jam Roston, also known as Planningtorock, online, and when she arrived in town, they quickly became close friends and collaborators. Roston released ‘Wheel Of Fortune’, rRoxymore’s first track under this moniker shortly after, in 2012, and her debut EP ‘Precarious/Precious’ on their Human Level imprint the following year. From there on out, things started to fall into place. “The city gave me a lot of things: great friends; amazing, human experiences; and I don't know if I would have found this somewhere else.”
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In 2014, she joined Room 4 Resistance, the intersectional queer party collective co-founded by Luz, with resident DJs Doc Sleep, Nazira, Deena Abdelwahed, DJ Male Tears, Gigsta and LMGM. “Being based in Berlin gave us the opportunity to build on a deep history of nightlife and club culture that inspired us,” Luz recalls. “We had – and still have – the privilege of being part of an incredible community of wholesome people who come to our events, bring them to life and make the parties what they are. With Room 4 Resistance we could support a new wave of uprising artists, plus local and international artists that were too often left out of the conversation or overlooked by booking them to play our parties, and also influence some of the groups and collectives that now form an ever-growing and transforming scene in the city.”
Sharing a studio with Roston, Paula Temple, and The Knife’s Olof Dreijer AKA Oni Ayhun, and being surrounded by a supportive community of kindred spirits, rRoxymore participated in the boundary-pushing ‘Decon/Recon’ (short for ‘Deconstructed/Reconstructed’) collaboration on Paula Temple’s Noise Manifesto label. Without being aware of it at the time, the series of four playful and airy club tracks, assembled with elements submitted by each of the four artists, experimented with alternative models of music authorship long before the emergence of Web3 and the decentralised web.
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Over the years, rRoxymore’s disdain for the backward-glancing nature of the contemporary electronic music scene has been quoted extensively. Right now, she doesn’t feel quite as pessimistic, although she doesn’t shy away from taking shots at the pressures she faces in the industry (she won’t be joining TikTok anytime soon) and she still believes there’s a monolith of “very conservative genres,” that prevail in the scene. “That’s also where there's a lot of money involved. But there are also more people who are creating new sounds, mixing different styles of electronic music in within certain dancefloors, and who are willing to take risks.”
Being on the international touring circuit for the better half of a decade, rRoxymore’s crowds have grown, but her uncompromising, explorative nature remains. “No matter what I do, I like to be challenged, and I like to be able to communicate my vision, no matter the situation. That’s the most important thing, to be able to share your vision no matter who you’re talking to, whether it’s a stage in front of 10,000 people, or 500, or 200.”
Last year, she hosted a DJ workshop with Refuge Worldwide, a production masterclass with Black Artist Database, and she curated a club event in Berlin for emerging DJs. Is this her way of giving back to the city? “I do think it’s important when you reach a point in your career to empower other new artists, it’s how you nurture the scene.” In her private life, rRoxymore describes herself as more of a homebody, but even if she doesn’t go out as much as she used to, she’s confident that the scene in is in good hands. Seeing the rise of smaller, community-oriented parties like SWAK, co-founded by Cape Town-based DJ and producer Aryu Jassika, and Einhundert, run by Oroko Radio co-founder Nico Adomako, felt “different, refreshing.”
She’s holding on to her studio in Berlin, but the friends she’s shared the space with have gone. “This transient state is something that’s very attached to the identity of the city,” she observes. Later, when I ask how she feels about her decision to move on, she pauses, before addressing the city in the second person, like an old friend. “I had a great time, and I'm very happy to have had this together.”
Now in her forties, she’s excited to settle into her new chapter in Mexico City: “It's nice to be outside of Europe for a bit, to gain some perspective outside the Eurocentric life we have.” Over the winter, she hints at working on new music and a concept for an audio-visual live show with ‘Perpetual Now’. At the album’s conclusion, on the 15-minute long ‘Water Stains’, a voice appears amidst bubbling synths, like an alien communication into other dimensions. The rhythm’s quickening pace hints at a gradual epiphany of freedom, a release towards the outer edges of a brave new frontier. No matter where in the world, it’s clear rRoxymore has found a home.
‘Perpetual Now’ is out now via Smalltown Supersound, get it here
Caroline Whiteley is a freelance journalist, follow her on Instagram