From Disco to Sardines! An interview with Ana Matronic
Style Out Loud took place just last month in Lisbon, Portugal. For this event, fashion designers Valentim Quaresma, LUIS CARVALHO, Patrick de Pádua and Carla Campos worked with live performers which included Ana Matronic, Kiddy Smile, and D’alva. Ana Matronic had plans to perform her brand new single “Alchemy” for the first time, which made it the perfect chance for KALTBLUT to have a chat with the revolutionary. Meeting Ana was such a thrill: she is full of energy, funny as hell, incredibly cultured and super sweet. We talked about robots’, Women’s day, music and a memorable story involving sardines in San Francisco! Watch the full performance below:
KALTBLUT: First thing I have to say, I was doing my research for this interview and, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed: your curriculum is so impressive.
AnaMatronic: oh thank you!
KALTBLUT: No seriously, you wrote this book about robots, you’re a regular speaker on TED events, you’re also so politically engaged, you have this radio show on the BBC… Where does this multidisciplinary approach come from? Have you always been…
Ana Matronic: Have I always had multiple personality disorder?
AnaMatronic: I’ve always been interested in a lot of different things. I’ve always been very curious and there was a part of me growing up that thought I was going to be an academic, but then I don’t like anything that’s too rigid and it’s why the music industry sucks, that’s why anything that is corporate is garbage to me and I’m not really interested in any sort of structure. I’m interested in fluidity. Singing and performing is great and I love it. And there’s also a part of me that is very, very seriously bookish and nerdy and it’s great. I get to do both.
KALTBLUT: You do a lot, it’s not just trying different things, it’s really pushing it, in every direction, like as far as you can, that’s really impressive.
AnaMatronic: Thank you, that’s very sweet. As far as the robot stuff goes, it’s just something I’ve always been interested in and there’s so much amazing stuff happening. I used to be really into science and now there’s the transhumanist movement and so many different facets to that. I just find it fascinating and I like to share all that stuff.
KALTBLUT: Important topic: today is international women’s day.
AnaMatronic: Yes, it is.
KALTBLUT: What’s your opinion on this? I mean, the question is, do you think it’s necessary to have such a day?
AnaMatronic: Well, there is an international men’s day too. Maybe it doesn’t get as much press as international women’s day… There is an international men’s day and I think it’s really important. I definitely am a feminist. There is so much inequality in this world, this is where we can look to other countries and see where women are really still fighting for basic rights and basic recognition,and hopefully learn about about all of that stuff because it’s very easy being a white American woman. In many respects I have privileges that so many people don’t have. It’s important to recognize that and call that out. I read a really interesting article today that said that even though the pay gap between women and men is less between white women and black women in America, it’s widening and that is really something to be concerned about. And that is something that when people become aware of that, they can take steps to change that. So something like International Women’s Day is a great way to get people to share all this information and all these ideas and hopefully affect some positive change
KALTBLUT: To bring an awareness…
AnaMatronic: When you talk about deities or saints, they’re not necessarily better than people they are just more aware and it’s that awareness that allows us to address the problems that need to be solved and that’s what I hope to do. To leave the world a better place.
KALTBLUT: Do you think that maybe having a positive discrimination would be a good thing to do? I don’t know if it’s a good example, but I remember in France, 10 years ago we had this thing in the music industry that not enough french songs were being played on the radio, so we had this rule that each radio station had to play a minimum of 50% of ..
AnaMatronic: It was, yeah, it’s like 40. They have to play like 40 or 60% French.
KALTBLUT: Exactly. And in the end, people become more aware of French talent and it helps a lot of new artists to come to light… Do you think this kind of thing could be applied for example if you have a big company, you have to have a minimum of 50 percent women and then you have to come up with rules supporting that.
AnaMatronic: I think it really kind of depends on the country, on the company, on on all kinds of things. A big conversation in America right now is inclusion in Hollywood and they’re talking about inclusion riders that is if a high-profile actor signs onto a project, they say, I have to have a minimum of these many women on the crew, this many people of color, that sort of thing. And I think that is a really good thing. Ultimately we need to have more of a balance in companies, to have them look more like our societies. There’s going to be a lot of issues that robots and AI and technology bring up and we’re going to see inequalities between rich and poor and racial disparities and all those things be amplified if we don’t address them now. So yeah,I think depending on where it is that could be a good thing.
KALTBLUT: For this next question, I’d like to talk about a result of the automation due to robots and AI – the universal income or basic income. It’s basically saying that because the machine may take over some jobs, everybody should receive a certain amount of money.
AnaMatronic: Yeah, I mean there’s so many problems that are going to have to be addressed by this upcoming AI Revolution. And that’s going to be one of them. Income inequality is a huge question. If we automate an entire factory, and it’s nothing but robots, who then gets the profit that’s generated? Is it the people who made the robots and supplied the robots? Is it the company? And then what happens to all of the people who have been put out of work? So, yeah it’s very scary and it’s very destabilizing. But I think like the industrial revolution, it will really change things radically, but it will also allow for a higher quality of life. So, you know, people won’t have to have those jobs where they’re working all day and doing manual labor and they can be trained to work on the robots or use their minds in other ways. So that’s definitely something we have to address on every level and it starts with education. Everything is crazy. We have to teach our children how to be technologically savvy in a way that we aren’t and start kids coding in kindergarten. So it’ll probably come to that eventually, it’s pretty bonkers. It’s so cool. I have a 13 year-old Godson and he is just such a whiz and already feels really comfortable with code in a way that when I was in school I was part of the soet of first generation with a home computer. I was really comfortable with that in a way that my mother never was. So it’s only gonna get more and more intrinsic to our existence.
KALTBLUT: Every time there is such a big revolution, everybody is complaining. It’s human nature: ‘but they’re going to take our jobs’ and ‘it’s going to be like this and that’ but as you say, in the end everybody is gonna have a much better life.
AnaMatronic: Definitely. The same thing that they’re saying about robots could be applied to immigrants, and humans love to have that sort of doomsday scenario. You know, book of revelations – ‘AHHH, IT’S COMING’ – and we’re always kind of contemplating our demise and one of the first things people ask me when I talk about robots is ‘haven’t you seen the Terminator’? Which I have to tell them, ‘you know, it’s not a documentary, right’? Terminator is not a documentary. Yeah. 2001, let’s just not program our AI with the will to survive. That’s what the whole thing is about.
AnaMatronic: It is scary and at the same time I believe that if we don’t look at it as an adversarial relationship… in Japan for instance they have zero stories like The Terminator. There are no popular culture like robots as a race overthrowing humankind. They have nothing like that. And the original roboticists who made some of the first robots in the late ‘20s have a much more symbiotic relationship with their creations. They say ‘we are the children of nature’, which makes robots, the grandchildren of nature and it’s a much more sort of warm and fuzzy relationship and they don’t have these sort of doomsday scenarios. We should apply a little bit more of that feeling to robots and AI and see them as an augmentation and see them more as our children rather than our enemies. And then understand that we are totally in control and we have to make sure that it stays that way.
KALTBLUT: It’s just about changing the dynamic, the way of thinking.
AnaMatronic: And people have to be at the forefront of the ethical conversations as well. And they have to be preempting and in conversation with people who work in government, politicians, heads of state, all of that. And those people need to listen as well. And that can be really, really difficult.
KALTBLUT: That’s a tough area.
AnaMatronic: It is a tough area.
KALTBLUT: So, tonight on stage you’re going to wear these amazing pieces made by –
KALTBLUT: I remember seeing you on this tv show “Styled to Rock” when you were with Scissor Sisters. What is your relationship with fashion?
AnaMatronic: I love fashion and I love clothes and I love style and I have way too many clothes. I kind of have a love hate relationship with it. There are some days when I wake up and I just don’t feel like putting on a drag. But yeah I love it !
KALTBLUT: Are you more looking for pieces to make you feel something or is it more something like the way it will change the way you look?
AnaMatronic: It definitely has to be flattering. I have to be comfortable in it, particularly if I’m performing on stage. I have to be able to move my arms fully. I’m going to have full range of motion. I have to be able to walk in the shoes and things like that. Being able to feel comfortable is for a performer a number one priority because then you can kind of lose yourself in the performance and you’re not worried about like losing a shoe or your buttons bursting open or something, you know. No wardrobe malfunctions. I’ve had that.
AnaMatronic: Oh yeah. We were at a festival in Amsterdam. This was the first tour, I think. It was really early on and I was wearing a bustier and one of my breasts came up to say hello. And I was like, OK, fuck !
KALTBLUT: Middle of performance?
AnaMatronic: Middle of performance, jumping up and down, or it might’ve been the last song, like “Filthy Gorgeous”, which is slightly appropriate. So yeah, jumping up and down and look down and OK, there it goes. I promptly got rid of that bustier. I never wore it again. I still have it though.
KALTBLUT: So let’s talk on your show on the BBC, called “Disco Devotion” – amazing.
AnaMatronic: Thank you. Yeah, I spent a lot of time doing research. It is one of my favorite things to do. There’s nothing I like more than just sitting down for eight hours and getting a headache from listening to music and searching. I was really into disco in high school. Then ten years ago I read a book called “Love Saves the Day”, which is all about disco in New York from 1970 to 1979 and that really introduced me to disco, especially rare groove, that is not as well known. And from there I just started going and then when I got the show I took it as an excuse and basically took two months, just solid researching and it’s been great. I learn about new stuff every day, and disco was such a global phenomenon, there’s so much amazing disco from Germany and France and all over the place. I mean, Nigerian disco is brilliant. You can scratch the surface and you just have a whole deep well of stuff. So yeah, I’ll spend a day looking at one label and go through every single one of their releases to find stuff.
KALTBLUT: I also think disco music has so much more soul and love in it than electronic music nowadays.
AnaMatronic: We talk about it a lot more when we talk about music, which is really important. The thing that’s really exciting about 70’s disco and funk is that even if it has synthesizers and stuff, it’s still made with human musicians playing and there’s that sort of an unmistakable warmth that you get from human musicians. And everything is mathematically perfect. And the recordings are so uber clean. There’s one song in particular that I’ve queued a little bit and turned up the mids just ever so slightly so I could hear someone yelling.
AnaMatronic: You don’t really, you don’t get those little ghosts in the recordings today so much. It’s very, very clean and almost clinical isn’t it?
KALTBLUT: I remember when Studio 54 came out in the nineties. They did a lot of disco parties. So for me, I was a teenager, that was my introduction to disco. The energy of the 70’s was so amazing !
AnaMatronic: So fun. I am a resident at a party in New York called “Wet Noise” and it’s so much fun in this small basement space and it’s all funk and it’s like the dirtier, deeper and chunkier the funk, the better. It’s so much fun there, there will always be a moment when I look around and I’m just like, here’s all these 20 something, 30 something kids coming to dance to music that is almost 50 years old, but it still has this hold and this power and it’s because of the soul and because of that musicianship. And it’s still around. I mean “I Feel Love” will always sound like it’s 15 years in the future. 1977, you know.
KALTBLUT: I’m reading the biography of Grace Jones at the moment
AnaMatronic: I need to read that. Love her so much.
KALTBLUT: There are so many small anecdotes about disco in her book. Like how the 12” really happened: people were enjoying more the part where it wasn’t the vocals. And this is so crazy because she has all of these little anecdotes about the disco period. She also explained how the song “Le freak” from Chic was supposed to be called FUCK OFF , because they couldn’t make it to studio 54 and ended up waiting for hours before going back to their hotel.
AnaMatronic: There’s actually a really amazing interview with Nile Rogers. Ray talks about that and then someone’s sampled that and put it in a track that is like a more housey version of “Good times”. It’s hilarious. It’s brilliant.
KALTBLUT: If we continue with music, your last album out was with Scissor Sisters in 2012 MagicHours. But now you are doing a break from the band and you’re going to release your own music.
AnaMatronic: Yeah. It’s so exciting.
KALTBLUT: What can you tell us?
AnaMatronic: It’s really fun. It has been mostly me and my husband Seth making it, which has been really great. And we really love working together. So we work on the music, we make the visuals together. When we do promo shots, I do the makeup and hair, he takes the picture. So it’s really intimate. My logo was designed by one of my best friends I write with Bridget, who was one of the backup singers for Scissors. Our very good friend Jeff Cook is the recording engineer and producer and he comes on the road with us so that it really is this close knit family affair. It feels really good to have that. Scissor Sisters was Jake’s band and everything was really in service to his ideas and how he wanted to present it. So it’s nice to have this now be just about what I want. There’s a lot of freedom and a lot of responsibility and a lot of, you know, certain nail biting, ‘Oh, I hope this works’. It’s really exciting and it’s also exciting not to be on a major label and be like, ‘you have to get this out now! And then we tour! And then we do this!’. And then this was like, oh, that’s a lot. That’s a crazy life. So it’s nice to be able to have a little bit more breathing room and be able to do all the other things that I like to do. The radio show and robot talks.
KALTBLUT: So basically, tonight’s going to be the first night you’re gonna perform your new song?
AnaMatronic: Alchemy, which you heard. And then just doing that one and then DJ. We’re working on the release date for Alchemy, I think right before the summer.
KALTBLUT: Wooo! That’s exciting!
AnaMatronic: I’m very excited.
KALTBLUT: Um, someone told me I should ask you about a story to tell which includes sardines and tranny towers?
AnaMatronic: OK, OK, I’ll tell you the story. So I used to live in a building in San Francisco, in the Tenderloin, on Geary street, in between Polk and Larkin. We were walking to a friend’s party. It was a big group of us. Oh, I should say in my apartment building, we used to call it “Tranny towers” because there was a drag queen on every floor and on my floor there were four, five at one time. Anyway, we were all walking to a party at a friend of ours’ house and in the Tenderloin there’s prostitutes and homeless people and drug addicts and any number of colorful characters around. It’s never a dull moment. We were walking down the street, it was a group of maybe six of us. I was the only woman, go figure, and everybody else was a gay man, go figure. And we were passing by this lady who had like lace leggings on and this was a time when leggings had not come back into fashion that way. And they were almost the same color as her skin. So it almost looked like it was a rash or a skin condition of some kind. And then a rugby shirt, which was really incongruent and her wig was on crooked and she was walking down the street, kind of smacking her mouth and she kind of like woke up as we were passing her and she looked at all these beautiful 20-something men. And she says, Well I got sardines in my pussy. I’m Janet Jackson.’
AnaMatronic: We all stopped and looked around and then she said, “Who wants to eat my pussy? My pussy smells like fish.” And we were just like, we didn’t know what to do. We just laughed and kept walking. Those are the kinds of things that you hear in the Tenderloin. I hope you still hear them today. I hope wherever she is, I hope she’s doing all right. She wasn’t Janet Jackson. Definitely not. Definitely not Janet. So I once told that story onstage and somebody said that I called Janet Jackson “Sardine pussy”. And I made our PR person get in touch with them and print a retraction because I fucking love Janet Jackson. I would never say a word about her negatively. Never.
KALTBLUT: Do you have any future plans to come to Berlin?
AnaMatronic: oh my God, yes. That’s one of the things that I really want to do is go to other cities and do a Berlin addition. There’s no better place in the world for dance music than Berlin. I fucking love it so much. We’d love to play. They’re going to do next Style Out Loud in Berlin, so we’re going to see what we’re up to in September, so hopefully yeah.
KALTBLUT: thanks you so much for your time and hopefully see you soon in Berlin!