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  • Underground Institute Festival: Zoe Mc Pherson on truly experimental techno


Underground Institute Festival: Zoe Mc Pherson on truly experimental techno

Ahead of Zoe McPherson's performance at the Underground Institute Festival, we spoke to the performer, who's behind the Berlin-based label SFX, about their ever-evolving sounds and the value of collaboration.

Photo: Kanaan Brothers

With custom-built instruments, unprecedented sounds and a smoking lineup, Underground Institute Festival is a platform of and for queer, femme-forward, experimental artists. Exberliner’s Damien Cummings spoke to multidisciplinary artist, performer and DJ Zoe Mc Pherson, who is taking part in the festival.

Your most recent release, Abyss Elixir, is an introspective EP, full of deep-rich sounds and meditative space. It is disorienting in the way that faster club-sounds can be, but from a different angle. Can you tell me about that contrast?

Yeah, there is definitely a more introspective sound to that record. It was healing. That’s why it’s called Elixir. The first track, which is much longer, was on repeat during the harder times over the last two years. I wasn’t able to make ambient music or club music, so I made dub because I love it! The vibrations make me feel good, that’s for sure.

I understand the inability to make club music, but why not ambient?

Honestly…I never felt the need to do it. What is ambient music anyway? Beat-less music? Sure, it’s possible to do, but I think there was enough of that music out there during lockdown already, and I need more shaking bass. Some people I know who make ambient music are extremely chill and I’m pretty hyper, so maybe it has something to do with that? Or not? I’m not here to place people in boxes.

A lot of your work has centred around collaboration with other artists. How does that experience differ from producing music alone?

I think that both are very needed. I recently had an amazing collaboration experience. I was in Uganda at the Nyege Nyege Festival in September. I stayed there for a month and worked with a Tanzanian musician called Jay Mitta and a musician from Mali called DJ Diaki. We didn’t speak a common language, one of them just speaks French, and the other only some English, but it worked out. We made 25 tracks. We’re also going to premiere a show at Berghain with DJ Diaki in February.

Honestly…I never felt the need to do it. What is ambient music anyway?

How could you make music together without speaking the same language?

It was a real experience. In the beginning I was worried because of the language barrier, but we just clicked. There was no need to speak; we just played and really went to the essence of music. We were literally just tapping on our computers, playing percussion together, because we’re all really into rhythm, and rhythm from three different styles, all of it extremely fast tempo too. We were just like… Wow. It was so nourishing to go back to a band kind of vibe even though we’re all producers.

You’re DJing at the Underground Institute Festival: a platform that is championing femme-forward, queer, non-binary, multidisciplinary artists among others. What’s ‘the underground’ for you?

I think that experimental electronic music is underground in fact. For sure, there’s a whole network of DJs that have a full schedule touring those places where people maybe don’t really go for the love of music. I find that in the underground, it’s more about the narrative and the musicality. You know who the people are; you know their music; you follow them; you appreciate it and you sustain it.

  • Zoe Mc Pherson is performing a DJ set at PANKE (Hof V, Gerichtstraße 23, Wedding) on 9.12 at 1:30am as part of Underground Institute Festival. View the full programme here.