The majority of electronic music is created by a single program these days. Anything can be done at the touch of a button, any sound can be churned out at will. As the line between human and machine gets more clouded, creativity can take a hit, leaving us with something that sounds how it was created: clean and automated. Ptwiggs is an artist from Sydney, Australia who makes music of the world via the internet and such mechanisms. Inflected by gabber, hardcore and industrial sounds, her music is an immediate, wakening experience and, although produced by a single program, every sound is curated as such that the finished product is gut-wrenchingly human; a viscera-piercing gash from a glorious mechanical arm.
We talked over the phone a few days before her appearance at Adelaide’s Unsound Festival.
David Sullivan: How does your music go down when you play live?
Ptwiggs: It goes down pretty well, I feel like most people in Sydney know what I play now, so if they come to a show they generally like my music. But it’s definitely not for everyone, I get specific gigs for what I make.
David Sullivan: How do you feel about your city at the moment?
Ptwiggs: Well I was feeling pretty good in terms of the experimental music lately, because I feel like people are catching on to, and expanding their minds to more experimental music. Techno and house have been the go-to for the last five years, and also disco, there’s an experimental movement happening at the moment where if you make weird music you’re able to book gigs. And not based on gender. There was a fair few years where I would only get booked for gigs based on being a female artist, and that was kind of weird. Sydney has definitely changed in the last two years though.
The only thing that’s upsetting is that because of the lockout laws people are having warehouse parties, so that’s where the underground club music is thriving, but they’ve been shut down recently as well, which is really sad. The last party I played, Obsidian, got shut down by the police. There was an international act, Beau Wanzer, and he couldn’t perform. That’s one thing I’m jaded about now because I wonder what the future of the underground music scene is in Sydney.
David Sullivan: Did you go to Russia recently, or not so recently?
Ptwiggs: It was a few years ago. I played in a festival called Angelwave, I just stayed in Moscow. The kids of Moscow are really cool and they have a really cool DIY, experimental, industrial music scene there.
David Sullivan: Do you think you’re inspired by European music?
Ptwiggs: Definitely. I grew up listening to trance as a kid. So that high energy trance, European sound has definitely taken weight in the stuff that I make. I’ll be releasing a new EP in January, it’s a bit different to the other stuff I’ve been making.
I really took on making club music as a challenge for myself originally. I feel like rhythm is not a natural thing for me. When I make music I work more with landscapes, creating a feeling and a texture and a tone. But rhythm and structural drums was a real challenge, so that was something exciting to do. With this next EP it’s more like an homage to post-punk and stuff that I’ve really grown up listening to as a teenager.
David Sullivan: What kind of post-punk stuff?
Ptwiggs: Well I listen to the Cocteau Twins so much, I have listened to them all my life. I’ve never stopped. Literally my favourite album is an album they did with Harold Budd – The Moon and the Melodies – for the last fifteen years of my life, I love it, I still love it, everyone should listen to it. So the Cocteau Twins have majorly influenced me, but also shoegaze artists like Slowdive, or punkier stuff like Slint. Just bands, I grew up listening to bands.
David Sullivan: I heard there are going to be vocals on your new EP?
Ptwiggs: There are three tracks on it with singing. It’s exciting. When I first started making music I would always use my vocals, I never saw myself as a singer but it was something that I wanted to do and then as I started creating more of a feeling for myself and gaining technical abilities to make music I started making ambient stuff, doing textural stuff, and from there I did drums. So this is just another progression, bringing the vocals back which were kind of the first element which made me want to start making music, it’s quite interesting.
David Sullivan: Do you think about EPs compared to full length releases or is that kind of a washed out concept?
Ptwiggs: I usually just throw tracks up (online), with the Soundcloud culture especially, you’ll just put a track up as soon as you make it. I have been known to make a track within two days and throw it up on Soundcloud straightaway. But sometimes I do sit on things. With RIP I’ve been sitting on that stuff for maybe eight months, I thought if I don’t put this up now I never will, I’ll put it up and everyone can have it for free.
With (her music label) Eternal, the idea behind that is that I just wanted everything to be free on it. As a broke musician I really appreciate when people give free downloads, the majority of people who are going to listen to that are broke, struggling musicians so for me it’s a way to support the culture and the experimental music scene. Especially in Australia, I have a lot of Australian artists who are going to be releasing on it. So just creating a space for them to do weird stuff and have people appreciate it freely.
David Sullivan: Do you think releasing things for free delegitimises the product? Do people consume it a bit less seriously if they get it for free rather than if they’ve gone out of their way to buy it?
Ptwiggs: I don’t think so. If you’ve heard of Casual Gabberz, they’re a French label, it’s specifically gabber music and they’ve been dropping free released for the past three years. I feel like it’s a saviour. We come from a download culture where people are just going to pirate things anyway, so if you can give it to them for free, and especially if they’re coming from a point of experimental music or they identify with that sound I don’t think it would delegitimise it. I think with this kind of left of centre music they would appreciate it. And I put it on Bandcamp – pay what you want – and a lot of people just donate because they actually believe that it’s a great thing and they want to pay for it. It creates a community.
David Sullivan: The last track on RIP, ‘Psychosis’, there’s a sample of a phone ringing, and strange vocals… I’ve written down “technological hellscape”, is that something you were going for with that track?
Ptwiggs: It was kind of based on the simulation hypothesis, so the theory that we’re in a simulated universe and nothing is real. During that time I was going through a weird thing where I just felt kind of isolated from what was real and what wasn’t, I found it really hard to enjoy life because I felt like it wasn’t real. But then I got to a point where i thought life is only the experience that you make it and I started to step out of that frame of mind, but yeah I used to get really weirded out thinking that we were in a simulated universe and it just leaked in and became that song. It was definitely paranoid thoughts of feeling disconnected from reality.
David Sullivan: That EP is quite brutal, do you feel like it comes from a place of hopelessness or pain?
Ptwiggs: Well I actually made most of those songs on a plane, so maybe I had jet lag. I do make music from a personal emotional place, emotions inspire me to create and the way I feel in my environment and the way I’m feeling mentally has got a big factor in the music I make. It’s definitely emotionally based content.
David Sullivan: What’s the emotion you feel for the EP you’re about to put out?
Ptwiggs: I think it’s hopeful but there’s also a lot of pain behind it.
David Sullivan: Sounds like life.
Ptwiggs: Yeah exactly, it’s just life.
Ptwiggs is performing at Adelaide Unsound 14-16 Dec 2018. You can find out more here.