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Karen Gwyer - Needs Continuum
No Pain In Pop
Karen Gwyer – a US-born Londoner – makes slow-burning and sexy “bath house”.
Needs Continuum – her debut album, following a 2012 EP on fellow No Pain In Pop artist patten’s own Kaleidoscope label – is a thrillingly unique and intuitive experience. Composed and recorded in the months before the birth of her first child, the record is both a product and champion of immutable, organic cyclical rhythms and disorientating psycho-physical disequilibria.
Amongst idiosyncratic, treacle-thick reinterpretations of classic house and digital-psychedelia there are elements of Fuck Buttons or Cabaret Voltaire, fellow Ann Arborite Laurel Halo’s deconstructed-Detroit King Felix project, and Arthur Russell’s emotionally excavating avant-disco.
Reference points are dropped throughout, yet it’s simultaneously clear the singular influence on the record is Gwyer herself. As per the title’s neat phrasing, the record is a bridge between memory, experience and a lifetime-wide progression; a defining record of a period rendered in sublime and original musical form. So who better to explain than Gwyer herself..? :
Me: My childhood was spent first in Iowa, then Ann Arbor, Michigan. Both my parents were cellists, and I spent many hours as a kid sat in empty concert halls during their rehearsals, which I loved. I plugged away at the cello, violin, then the viola for years, but it was all a bit half-hearted, as I was busy barking up other trees.
Amidst all the Brahms, Chopin and Shostakovich at home, I think I horrified my folks when I started watching The New Dance Show, a low-budget house music dance program on Detroit TV. It was the late 80s and early 90s, and the show featured local dancers busting some serious moves to heavy house and techno classics (now). You couldn't see or hear anything like that on MTV, which back then was still all music all the time, and it was the start of a huge love of techno and dance music.
The seeds of the Midwest noise scene were beginning to sprout when I was in high school, and that was all very wild and heady. But I was desperate to get out of Ann Arbor, and I moved to New York at 17 to find the last vestiges of that era of house culture being buffed away, to be replaced by years of tepid guitar-themed tedium.
Eventually winding up in London, I finally came back around to making music. Fast-forward a few years, and I was operating under the looming deadline of childbirth during the making of this album. The months just before having my little boy were so loaded with anticipation, nerves and thrill. I went into overdrive recording, just trying to make something that measured up to the significance of the start of a new life. Or lives, actually.
Big influences: Nico / Ethiopian Amhara wedding songs / The Somali band Dur-Dur / Early 80s Malian groove / Suicide / Thomas Leer / Matthew Young / Arthur Russell / Tuxedomoon / UR. Shake Shakir / The Belleville Three / Dennis Brown / The Twinkle Brothers / Barrington Levy / Fattis Burrell
Description of my music: Labyrinthine plasmic pulsations