Harmonies of Identity: Unveiling akïi’s Sonic Odyssey and Ethereal Explorations
Meet akïi, the Berlin-based music artist who has just released her first EP “non siamo angeli abbiamo un corpo” (from Italian: “we are not angels we have a body”). The EP dismantles heteronormative power dynamics, challenging societal expectations and redefining the meaning of rituals and the sacred. akii explains how the EP serves as both accusation and empowerment, analysing the notion of perfection and ethereality. Delve into this interview where names become sounds, identities intertwine, and music emerges as a powerful conduit for self-exploration and expression.
Where does your artistic name come from? some artists prefer to differentiate themselves from their artistic persona. Do you also make this separation?
akïi: akii doesn’t actually mean anything, it’s just a sound! And it reflects in my artistic practice when I sample words and sounds together. Everything in my artistic world starts with a sound, and I thought akii belonged to me in some way. Afterwards, I found it meant ‘acute kidney infection’, and I thought that was quite funny. I guess it’s a reminder to not take myself too seriously.
I really don’t make the separation between myself and my artistic persona, I love it when people call me akii. At first, my name was aavaa. I loved the ethereal sound of it, but then it seemed too feminine, so I decided to stick with akïi, which is more androgynous. Now I actually have some friends here in Berlin that call me akii all the time, I think it’s cute, and it resonates with my personality.
I’m currently working on a new project where akïi is actually a character in the album – she’s this chaotic ethereal being, I like the idea of having a narration, and it might develop what akïi means to me and the world I’m trying to create.
How did the EP start? Was there a triggering moment for you that made you realise the whole concept?
akïi: The ep and the concept weirdly started separately. Often the concept for me is developed very much while making the music, and I like having the freedom of not knowing what I’m going to do until the last moment. I was living in Berlin as I am now, and I was just starting to really feel at home and comfortable. That’s when I started being able to produce constantly, explore and learn more techniques and step out of my boundaries.
When it comes to the concept, I was walking around Berlin and found the zine called ‘Santa Carne’ in a bookshop with a friend, and it sparked our attention right away. The pictures were beautiful, and they reminded me of home. Me and my friend split the zine, and I hung half of it in my bedroom. I kept looking at it whenever I produced, I loved the familiarity of home in my room in Berlin, and I loved that it talked about queerness, which is something I suffered from when I was back in Italy.
In fact, having left Italy when I was just 16 years old, I feel that I never had the opportunity to build queer relationships and find spaces in which I felt comfortable being myself in the way that Berlin allowed me to do. So by having the zine in my room, I feel like I was integrating a part of Italy that I missed. The zine reminded me of an ideal situation that I wanted to have in Italy: queerness and nature. The meaning of the zine for me is what I attached to it. I created this world around it.
When I went back to Italy, everything started coming together. All the issues and problems I had felt when I was younger were there again. I felt like I could be 16 again, but with a whole different perspective and feeling more confident thanks to the experiences I had lived. I also felt a very strong contrast with the utter beauty and culture that surrounds me whenever I go back home. But my own identity was split in two. All my friends and family at home are used to seeing me in a certain way and have particular expectations which I am not fulfilling anymore. On the other hand in my everyday life in Berlin, I am surrounded by people who are completely different and who share these experiences with me. They also have a completely different set of expectations.
All of these contrasts are what I ended up reflecting into my music. The difference in genres, speed, emotions, and this idea of getting pulled in different directions by different sides of me. Also, the difference in genre and style throughout the EP means a lot to me; they represent this interior chaos and lack of a stable identity both internally and artistically while also showing the journey I’m going through. I always try to not have a plan, and it shows that the whole process is very impulsive. I love this initial freedom of not having any idea at all and just going with it, experimenting, having fun and even making fun of yourself.
How did your background in sound art influence your EP?
akïi: I think the EP is actually a very direct effect of my research and exploration of sound design and sound art. I think there is a development, a journey, within it that shows this ongoing research. And of course, things I was a part of while making the EP have had an impact. For example, I was part of a collective at the time that was based on hyper-pop music. This was very different from my original style, but I definitely ended up taking some sounds and concepts as inspiration.
The same goes for the project I worked on with my friend Marianna, the concept was in some way similar, exploring the dualities of identity. As she tried on different masks during her performance, I “tried on different genres of music”. Working with someone you feel close to can really help with letting go of so many judgments towards your own self. It’s so important to be able to have fun and enjoy mistakes.
The title of the EP is “Non siamo angeli abbiamo un corpo”. Since the starting point, you are dismantling heteronormative power dynamics. Carnality is no longer linked to men’s sexual desires that fetishise women into ethereal objects. Instead, through your music, you bring the audience into a space of grotesque bodies that don’t feel scared of showing folds of the self. They are not rigid and fixed but fluid and free. How did you decide to go for this title specifically and why?
akïi: First of all, I actually love the way the title sounds. It can be seen in two ways: on one hand it implies an accusation of our bodies being the blame for our “sins”. This works when thinking of queerness from a religious/conservative point of view. But when empowered and flipped, it dismantles the power dynamics and deconstructs the hierarchies of how language works.
Who actually wants to be an angel? It sets completely unrealistic and inhuman expectations. To be perfect and feminine, it’s an assumption that I wanted to get rid of. Especially when seen as the link to the idea of “men’s sexual desires that fetishise women into ethereal objects”, the image of the graceful little angels sounds even less appealing.
The title also made me think of dancing a lot, as it could easily be applied to that too, with the clubbing culture in Berlin. I love thinking of the clubbing culture as an ethereal, fantastical world we take part of. And this title reflects it. This is also why the track ‘abbiamo un corpo’ (we have a body) is one of the most club-friendly tracks.
So in conclusion this statement somehow actually made me feel freer: we’re not angels, and we don’t want to be, we need to empower the connection we have with our body and its desires. No one actually wants to be an angel. No one is an angel, and it’s not what we’re going for at all. This idea of perfect femininity is out of date.
Is there a specific reason why the titles of the tracks are in Italian?
akïi: I think this EP has been for me a re-appropriation of my Italian identity that I thought I had lost with time. It’s quite a personal reason in the end. I believe studying music and taking this leap is what gave me the confidence to look back at my connection with Italy and my family. And it’s this contrast of what both cities represent. So for example, the Italian voice and the titles clash and re-connect with the Berlin-imprinted experimental music.
Though Italian, you are currently a Berlin-based artist. Berlin is often accounted as the city where electronic music flourishes and explores its diversity; it makes up spaces for emerging talents like you. How do you think Berlin has influenced you and your music?
akïi: We are bombarded with constant beautiful music and art. It’s so inspiring, and I must admit sometimes overwhelming. You go to events like CTM or even simple club nights, and you constantly meet people with exciting ideas, concepts and ways of being. I think it’s been a massive influence on me. Not just the music but even the approach to it, the process, which I believe is super important. There are loads of small communities of people who help each other out, connected through the same passion. Once you’re part of something like this, it’s easier to experiment, you get a bigger exchange of ideas and thoughts, and somehow you also take things less seriously and realise the importance of human connection.
What are some of the inspirations for this EP?
akïi: I think seeing the fluctuations in time and how they affect culture. The difference in productivity and efficiency between the two countries leads to both positive and negative outcomes. There is just a different pace to things. Italy is beautiful for its slow pace, you get to walk around and internalise the aesthetic side of it and the richness of its culture. Berlin is fast; loads of constant inputs and stimuli are constantly challenged.
When it comes to the more musical side, my idea of music got rechallenged. Coming from a background in UK bass music, I got introduced to hyper pop and deconstructed club. I was thrown into this big salad of exhibitions, club nights and performances which were all inspiring in their own way. For example, the first track is very ambient and dreamy. And then the second one is noise-based. At the same time, this duality really grounds me. Music for me is a way of processing things. I could sit down for eight hours on my laptop and just focus on my music and my emotions.
I feel the theme of the sacred is deeply relevant to both the music itself and the concept behind the EP. When I listened to “Non siamo angeli abbiamo un corpo” (we are not angels we have a body) I felt an emotional, intimate dimension, but, at the same time, that religiosity is challenged by its complete destruction, the carnal, the profane, the commonplace. What’s the role of the ‘sacred’ in your EP?
akïi: I see it as a sort of opening to an abstract world: when it comes to religion, sacred places are often seen as a connection to an entity situated in an “abstract” world. The idea that humans for centuries have had this need to look up to something together is so inspiring. Obviously, religion has its issues. But the idea of something sacred I think is beautiful – something unreachable and untouchable and possibly not true but that you believe in because you want to make life more purposeful and to connect with other people and have a common belief. On the other hand, some aspects of religion tend to have that side of judgement towards carnal pleasure, which gives the word sacred different connotations. The same way one has interior judgment. This contrast is expressed in the music. The noise and aggressive glitch sounds and intensity of it are all an expression of this duality: the two sides of sacred, the beauty and ugliness of it.
This connects to the music as I do try to get to an introspective view, so in its own way, I would like it to be a gate to the listener’s interior world as well, in the same way as a prayer or meditation, the sacred space of your self. Religion is ritual. I guess I mean religion in a spiritual sense. However religion can be an escape as well as music, but for me, music embodies a grounding meaning.
Can you explain your relationship with 76666? How did you start this collaboration?
akïi: My friend Alice907 introduced me to their work. I had just finished the EP and was looking at labels to send it to. I was going through an intense time; there were a lot of changes going on in life at the time, and I started to listen to various artists from labels like Guenter Raler and TCV. I loved both of them; they were a perfect match for the time I was going through, and I listened to some of their tracks repeatedly for days. So when I sent the EP and 76666 was happy to release it, I felt ecstatic.
Tell me about the combination of genres you are embracing in the tracks: ambient, bass, hyper, and glitch. Championing the fluidity of the sounds could be interpreted as a way of accepting discrepancies. What’s your creative process behind the fusion of the genres?
akïi: I’m glad you think it can be interpreted like that. I think that’s really what it is for me: as this is one of my first major projects, I was so scared of having to choose one specific genre or sound and mould my music into something more coherent or “tidy”. In the end, by choosing to just select these songs, which represented more of a journey for me than anything else, I decided to accept that my artistic identity is quite chaotic. It’s constantly evolving and changing, and that’s my power. I have to say it actually gave me a lot of strength to be able to take this risk and release the EP as it is. I think it really has every side of me. The first song is ambient, the second is bass, the third is deconstructed, fourth drum and bass? I don’t even know, and then it was lovely to be able to collaborate with my friend Alberto Boni who did something even different, more on the waves of punk.
In the tracks, there is a distant voice, whispering from afar but directed to everyone’s deep, individual, and sacred spaces. Who is the voice? What’s their story?
akïi: I think everyone can make of it what they want. I like to think of music as someone who keeps you company. That’s also sometimes the purpose of voice in my tracks. To feel accompanied by some ethereal angel (in this case my friend Marianna who quite fits the part). I really like my music being listened to in moments of introspection, I like to believe that the voice can be a guide to the places where you’re scared to go on your own. Music has always been something that made me feel a little bit less alone, especially when I listen to it on my own. I feel the voice is grounding in comparison to the destructiveness of the sound. I am currently exploring this concept in my next project.
Tell me more about it
akïi: I’m gonna explore the relationship between human post-human through the use of voice and where we draw the boundary between sound and voice. The album is a narration and the connection of humans with voice. I will be using my half-singing voice and then gradually distort it so that becomes less defined. How much my voice is my voice. It’s slowly going to become an instrument and a post-human tool.