Inner werk: VONDA7 is using music to find her authentic self
VONDA7 delivers a mix and interview ahead of the release of her debut album 'Let Go'
Though she’s only been releasing for the past four years, VONDA7 was first entranced by electronic music at a small club in her Polish hometown nearly twenty years ago. Her musical tastes moved from the Spice Girls to hip hop before seeing a DJ mix vinyl for the first time. From then on, she was hooked. “I was mesmerised right away,” she remembers. “I was just standing next to him and asking questions – so annoying!”
Buying records and DJing was difficult back then in Poland. “We didn’t have any record shops, so I would get my aunt who lived in Hamburg involved. I would order records online, they would arrive at her place, and then she would come to Poland once every two or three months and bring them with her. Where there’s a will there’s a way!” She’s always had a wide-ranging musical taste and would struggle figuring out how to mix 160bpm records into 120bpm ones, attempting to jump from Mouse On Mars to Matthew Herbert’s various projects in the flick of a switch.
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That curiosity carried VONDA7 through a move to London and a career change to graphics and web design. Her horizons for production were originally limited by how difficult it was to procure gear in Poland, but when she first tried her hand at Ableton, she was set on her path. Her eagerness to get stuck in means that her own musical output is hugely diverse; she ranges from French-style disco to house to deep techno, often incorporating elements from each within a single track.
VONDA7 is currently gearing up to release her debut album ‘Let Go’, coming out soon via her own art | werk label. It’s significantly lighter than her previous EPs, moving towards an intelligent synthpop, house-influenced sound that incorporates her own voice a lot more. Though perhaps stylistically anomalous with her Berlin home and techno-heavy surroundings, ‘Let Go’ works through VONDA7’s own journey of self-discovery and signals her coming into her own as an artist. No longer interested in going along with the crowd, VONDA7 is ready to step into her own light.
Have a read through her interview with Mixmag and hit play on her Impact mix below.
You released loads of double singles when you first started out on lots of different labels. How did those come about?
When you’re young, you don’t really think about it so strategically. I was just happy to put my music out there. When there was someone who asked for music, I just sent it. I didn’t think in terms of direction or in a business mindset at all. I was just taking chances and being very juvenile about it. I didn’t plan what I was going to release and where. It was just, if the music fit and someone asked for it, it just happened. No strategy whatsoever! That’s why there are so many hits and misses at the beginning of my career, and maybe some decisions that I wouldn’t make today, but you’ve got to learn. You’re on your own path and that was mine. I didn’t have a mentor who could direct me through at the beginnings of my career in that way, so it was a bit of trial and error.
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How did you approach your productions then versus now?
While I was DJing I also had a live band with my brother. That was something I was actively engaged in, even more so than DJing at one point. Like I said, I took a step back and went back to doing the live shows with him. I think my production started at that time and that’s how I would approach it: going from live music rather than thinking as an electronic music producer. We would record a lot of stuff and then tweak it on the computer. I gradually started to learn the techniques from my other producer friends, like how they made their techno and house sounds. Live producing is a similar production method – these things always overlap – but it’s a little bit different. In techno, people rely a lot on sequences and machines and things happening automatically almost. It’s more controlled by a machine or an algorithm, whereas with live music you’re the machine, so you control a bit more as a human. My aim is to combine the two.
Are you still putting stuff out with your brother?
It’s a passion project! We obviously know each other very well, so it’s fun to work together. He lives in London so that’s a bit of a challenge right now because we can’t sit together. It’s hard to make music remotely, to be honest. The last track we did was in the first lockdown.
Do you write music frequently or is it more in bursts of inspiration?
I love making music. For me, it’s something that comes naturally. It’s for the good times and bad times; it’s the best outlet for me. I’m trying to have a bit more quality control these days and not everything that I make is put out! With putting out an album, it’s a framework that lets me reconsider things and make it into more of a body of work rather than trying everything out at once. That has made me a little bit more reflective of how I want my music to be received, and to keep it as one story rather than a lot of small stories. Now that I’m thinking like this, it’ll hopefully stay this way. I’m already working on what might make up the next album, so I’m trying to make tracks that will somehow go together a little bit more and be separate bodies of work. Working in this way, I have more consistency, so I work a bit longer on tracks these days. I go back to them and try to see how they go together with others that I make, which is cool!
Talk to me about the album ‘Let Go’. What’s the overarching story of it?
This one is more like a collection. I see it as a collage of my memories. I actually wanted it to be out in 2020 to end this era, this chapter for me. It just felt right, I just started putting these tracks together, and it’s very personal. It has this juvenile vibe to it still, but the sound is becoming more mature. The album is about me letting go of the perceptions that everyone has around me and also of external validation. It’s me searching for purpose: what you want to do as a human without thinking about what you’ve been conditioned to be and to think? It’s a letting go of what my parents told me, what I was told at school, and going back to my inner voice, my own authentic self without any conditioning. I don’t want to be seen as only this or that, there’s so much more to who I am as person. I’m just trying to let go of system conditioning. It’s me questioning a lot about the way I was brought up. It’s been quite a ride these last couple of years! I’ve been doing a lot of inner work and try to get to know myself and my own voice. I’ve seen my shadows and put my shadows to the light. I wanted to put it out in 2020 and close it off this year, but I had to let it go, as the album title says. The album isn’t released yet because we had so many delays with the pressing plant. I was like, you know what, there are just some things I can't control, and I have to be fine with it! It’s literally what that whole inner work was also about, that I have to just let things go and let some things just work out on their own. I don’t have control over everything and that’s also fine. The things that I can control, I can work on and change, but some things you just have to let go. I’m just waiting for the physical product to arrive, hopefully soon, and then it will come out when it comes out!
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The album feels like a much lighter and bubblier sound than releases you’re your 2019 EP ‘Werk It’. What inspired that sonic change?
I think it was always in me, because like I said I was doing the project with my brother before, and I’ve always had such a vast taste in music, so it’s always been there. But I think it was the time in my life. With the techno stuff, I was in a darker side of my personality. Maybe I was trying to fight for things; there were some things that I had to get over. Being a woman in the music industry at that time was not that easy, and you had to be a bit stronger, you had to put your foot down. That’s what I was learning at the time, to have my voice heard, and it felt like the music had to be a bit more powerful because of that. But that’s just one way to communicate, and then I realised that you can also have your voice heard if it’s soft. I can’t really explain it, it’s so hard because I make music on such an emotional level and I don’t think exactly why I’m doing it; it just comes out. Then when I’m reflecting on it, it makes more sense. It’s very reflective of who I was and how I was experiencing the world back then. Like I said, with the shadows being put into the light, I let go of a lot of stuff, let go of a lot of anger and frustration, and it’s a little lighter now.
On the album, you’ve made samples and structured it out of your own voice.
I just wanted to fully use my own voice, and this is me being literal. I wanted to have this confidence in my own voice, and I wanted to make it even more me, like literally me. I wanted to use my voice as an instrument, and it’s a lot of fun to see how many funny sounds you can make out of your own voice. You can pitch it, stretch it, use effects on it, and it takes on a life of its own. You don’t even recognise that it’s your own voice anymore. That’s the fun element of my work at the moment.
You grew up in Poland, lived briefly in London and have settled in Berlin now. What do you see as the main differences in the music scenes between the places that you’ve lived?
I miss London a lot! When we were allowed to, I would go at least three or four times a year because I still have friends and my brother there. The scene is more diverse than Berlin. Berlin has a great music scene, but I think it has certain genres that are more prominent than others: especially techno, especially now. Then I go to London and people are like, I make garage! I make hip hop! I make pop! I think it’s more diverse, but it’s also a bigger city and bigger scene, so it makes sense. But I’m very inspired by both London and Berlin, so I think my sound is a bit of a mixture. But these days, you listen to music on the internet and I don’t even want to put a geographical label on it because it’s so mixed. We all travel online, and we have so many friends from so many different countries that I don’t even know how to trace all these influences. It’s more universal. But my time in London was definitely formative for my music for sure. That’s where I discovered all these Caribbean styles of music and went to dancehall parties. We didn’t have that in Poland, it’s just not there; we didn’t have many Black communities. There were so many new rhythms and so many new inspirations.
Connected to what you were saying about the universality of the internet, and given that we haven’t been able to travel so much for a while now, has lockdown given you a new perspective on music in that way?
Yeah. I sometimes feel like I don’t want to be seen as an “artist from Berlin”, because I don’t want people to expect a certain sound from me that’s prominent in the city right now, because for me, I travel online all the time via music. I don’t want to be set in one place and make only a certain sound. If you go on any social media right now, streams are everywhere, so you can pick things up in a few clicks. You can hear so many artists from so many different places. Everyone is just a few clicks away. It feels like we’re living in this global village online right now. It has its advantages; you can discover all these sounds which maybe you couldn’t now that we can’t travel physically. But in terms of inspiration, there has to be some respect for your source. I’m not saying that you should take music from another culture, take the beats and put your own name on it. I always think about it, when I use another influence, just so I don’t appropriate it. I’m trying to stay away from using other vocals – maybe that’s why I’m using my own vocals more. I don’t want to appropriate anymore. I’ve done acapellas before where I’ll just take bits here and there, but now I’m more conscious about it. I would love to work with other vocalists, but fully credit them. It’s similar to the rhythms. If I see or hear something from a reggae song, how can I use it and get inspired by it but not appropriate it? That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot now that we have all this access to so much music – how to do it in a conscious respectful way. Those are the discussions I’ve been having with other friends and myself because of this easy online access to such a range of music.
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Tell me about your label art | werk, what are your ambitions for it?
I didn’t have any proper strategy in mind when I started, it was an emotional impulse. I felt for a long time that my music was quite versatile, and I would be sending out demos and getting feedback to change all these elements. I was like ok, I’m tired of searching for labels that will accommodate my sound. I wanted to curate my own sound. Also, my grandma passed away the year that I started it, and she was an important figure in my life, so it motivated me to start something new. Something finished, so something new has to start. The first track on the first EP I released on art | werk, ‘Pure Intentions’, was called ‘Babcia’, which means ‘grandma’, so it was dedicated to her. It’s just such a beautiful experience, to be able to create something on your own terms. That was the idea behind it: I just wanted to have an outlet that would feel fully authentic. It’s the most fulfilling experience making music when it feels good to you. Whether it’s financially viable or not is not even that important because the feeling that you get putting out the music that you love, there’s nothing that compares to it. So that was the idea, and now it’s growing a little bit into a home for a couple of other artists, including the project with my brother. There are a couple more that I will release when the times get better because it’s more danceable music. But it’s a process. I’m not trying to rush anything here; like with the album, it will come out when it will come out. We’ll see where it goes.
How did you go about putting your Impact mix together?
The word ‘impact’ was intimidating, like I need to make an impact! No pressure! I made eight or nine versions of it, so clearly not putting any pressure on myself! I had a few ideas. At first, I wanted it to be more like a podcast embracing what’s happened in the last year – the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I included a lot of artists and messages that talked about it. Then I was like, ok but it’s still my mix, so I guess it should be a little bit danceable and I guess I should probably put a couple of my tracks in there. I tried to find a balance between the two. It’s me, but it also talks about what happened, and it’s a little bit of external events influencing the mix and internal ones. It’s definitely, especially towards the end, listening rather than dancing. But you can judge for yourself, maybe you can do both!
Is there anything else coming up that you want to shout out?
There will also be remixes to the album coming out, which I’m super excited about because it’s a lot of artists that I really respect and love their work. But otherwise, I prefer to talk about things when they’re very close to releasing, especially these days with all the delays. So let’s keep a bit of mystery here!
Jemima Skala is Mixmag's Weekend Editor. Follow her on Twitter here