Electro-pop artist Strip Down has been performing their heady, synth-driven tracks on the Berlin queer club scene circuit since 2013. But when they started their transition 3 years ago, they knew they had to prioritise that journey over all other things. Truth be told, they weren’t even sure if they would be able to sing their own tracks. Lucky for us, they re-established a connection and faith in their vocal which has led to the creation of their debut album ‘Remakings’ (out Dec 2nd 2018) – an intricately produced collection of tracks that reflect their journey of evolution both musically and personally. We sat down to talk about their experience of combining their former and present voice, and drawing on past experiences for this pumping new track ‘Waiting To Dance’. Catch Strip Down live next Thursday 1st November at DICE Conference + Festival – a three-day event including workshops, panels, lectures and live performances featuring female, trans, and non-binary artists and speakers.
KALTBLUT: So you’ve been working on this project Strip Down for many years now. Can you tell us why you feel now that the album is finally ready to be released?
Strip Down: So my debut album is mostly songs I’ve been working on for years that never got properly finished or produced, mostly because I was having issues with gender dysphoria and I left the Strip Down project hanging with all of these unreleased and incomplete tracks. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to sing and I had to prioritize my transition over everything else, but once I started transitioning I realised that I had a new understanding of myself as an artist and a new faith in my voice so started singing again. Truth be told I didn’t have any idea what my range would be or if I would even be able to sing my old songs, but I came to a point where my voice had settled down and I started singing again and doing some live shows. I decided that the songs deserved to be completed, and I had the unique opportunity to be able to take old recordings and combine them with new recordings to create a duet of what sounds like two people – but I’m actually singing with my former self.
KALTBLUT: How did it feel when you started to explore that new territory as you were working through the early stages of your transition. Did it change your connection to the project?
Strip Down: I would say particularly through live shows. For my production work my transition hasn’t affected that at all, but for the live shows, I would say my gender expression was very different at the beginning of Strip Down. I was very much acting. It was like playing a character who was a woman, although I’ve never been a woman. Now I feel so much more connected to my voice and my body. I feel that now when I get on stage, I’m actually performing as myself.
KALTBLUT: So this new track “Waiting to Dance” is very personal to you, and you actually draw a lot from your personal experiences in your music. Was finishing this album a cathartic experience for you?
Strip Down: A lot of the songs and the lyrics are very emotional, but I actually feel as though they’re not relevant to me anymore. I feel like putting them out there is like tying a knot, finishing up and putting in a box a previous era of my life – which I perhaps didn’t find easy at the time. However, it was still a very important part of my life. So for me, it’s interesting because it’s a comparison for me to sing these songs and also through the production process and having to listen to the lyrics a lot, I can distance myself quite a lot from my past and begin to move on from it.
KALTBLUT: Can you tell us more about the lyrics and inspiration behind the track?
Strip Down: These are actually quite recently written lyrics and they’re referencing the loneliness that childhood can be for many queer people. For me (and I think for a lot of queer people my age) before we had all of these apps and opportunities to meet each other online your first night in the queer club, or in a gay club, a lesbian club was where you’d first be exposed to lots of other queer people, and it’s an unforgettable experience. So I suppose I was reminiscing this time for me. I was only 16 and I wish that I could have sung a song to myself (before that) to say that there is this enormous community and so many people who were like me, who are going to like me and who are going to accept me. Although I’ve moved in quite academic circles musically, the queer club scene (lots of different queer club scenes) has always been a really important part of my life, and a huge motivation for doing Strip Down was to be an active part of the queer club scene.
KALTBLUT: It’s kind of ironic that the song is called “Waiting to Dance” but when you listen to it, you literally can’t wait to dance! Is that something that you thought about or is it just a coincidence?
Strip Down: That is exactly how the Strip Down project started actually. I have a background in classical and contemporary music, and I studied a bachelors degree in composition. The type of music that is expected within institutions I’d never really produced. Although I was producing lots of electronic music it was or nothing that anyone could ever dance or sing along to. And I really struggled making danceable music after my bachelor and begun the Strip Down project with the intention of stripping down my resources, everything that I’d learned to become comfortable with, to get rid of it, to have a fresh start, to be able to intuitively make something that would be suitable for a club environment.
KALTBLUT: Okay. So that in a way like I’ve seen is where the name strip down comes from?
Strip Down: Yeah. I was never planning on taking my clothes off [laughs]
KALTBLUT: Schade! [laughs] So you’re going to be performing at Dice Festival next Thursday. What can we expect from the live show and will we get to hear some of the music from the new album?
Strip Down: Yeah I’m super excited about that. The live show will be a combination of the tracks. I’m singing and affecting my voice live, looping and sampling my voice as well as my old vocal samples. I will also have live visuals and for me, the visuals are really relevant. I will have a T-Shirt on that will say something, and in the visuals, I’ll have the same T-Shirt on that says something else. And that is “me” and “&you”. I wanted to play with the idea of projecting. In my experience of being trans or gender non-conforming or androgynous and not easily definable by cis-normative society as male or female, what I often experience is that people project their own understanding of gender onto me. So there’s been days in my life where I’ve been perceived as a straight woman, a queer woman, a queer man and a straight man within 24 hours and I’m also regularly called by three different pronouns in one day. So I wanted to explore this idea of projecting images of people and in this case, myself and that perception that you’d have of me is distorted by your own experience of gender and society.
KALTBLUT: How much of your time spent working on music videos and how do you choose who to team up with when you’re creating a video for a track?
Strip Down: I love music videos and I love making music videos. I would say that all of my music videos have been made between me and a group of people smaller than I can count on one hand. This is the third music video I’ve collaborated with Patrick Lo – a great friend of mine and I love collaborating with him, he’s a great video maker. And I’ve collaborated with Daniel Stetich, Hannah Robinson and Andrew Bateman on other videos of mine. Often they’re completely self-directed and people will help produce, however, Patrick is somebody I’m very happy to hand everything over to although the original concept of the dancing was mine. We actually worked long distance so the production happened across three different countries. The child actor was based in the UK, Patrick is based in Canada and I shot my part with the ballet dancer Aurelie Richards here in Berlin.
KALTBLUT: How does your experience of being a young queer person in Brighton compare to your experience of being a young queer person in Berlin?
Strip Down: Well I don’t feel that young anymore [laughs] but yeah, it was very different. Although I feel as though we’re not really comparing places now I suppose we’re comparing times. It’s kind of more of a generational comparison. Brighton in 2001 or 2002 compared to Berlin in 2010 were very different places. Brighton at the time when I was a teenager was very (what I call) homonormative, so the understanding of gay and lesbian was quite limited and had a lot to do with (what I would now describe as) gender expression. So because of my gender identity (which I had not yet fully understood), I was considered very lesbian and was very much accepted and liked based on my gender expression being actually very masculine. I have to add that I feel as though femme-phobia and the exclusion of queer people who do not look “queer enough” or resemble people’s ideas of what some people think a queer people should look like, I think that’s still a problem in Berlin. However, I definitely see more diversity in sexuality and gender expression in Berlin than I’ve seen anywhere else.
KALTBLUT: Do you feel like living in Berlin has enhanced your work? Do you feel like you would have made this album in the same way if you lived back in the U.K.?
Strip Down: I think that Berlin has given me the time to be able to make the music that I really want to make in an unrushed manner without financial pressure directly on my music. If I had been in a faster-paced city like London or Paris and been trying to survive from my music, the music I’d be making now would be very different, and probably not as authentic.
KALTBLUT: So tell us a bit more about the album. Anything that you want to share about it? When can we expect to hear it? Very excited.
Strip Down: Yeah! So the 2nd December is the official release date. It’s going to be digital online release but I’m really, really excited to say that I will also have a vinyl coming out. I’d like to say a big thank you to Musicboard-Berlin as I’m on their scholarship program and they’ve funded the production costs of this album. I’m also really excited to say there have been a few photos. Great photos. That have come out recently, and a massive thank you to Maria Louceiro who has been doing my photography and I’m super excited to say she designed the cover of my album. I should also add that I have another show the week afterwards at Heroines of Sound on the 10th November which is to celebrate 20 years of female:pressure at Ausland which is also super exciting and an important event that I’m really proud to be part of. I will soon have a profile on the website called “Sirens on Stage”, which is a feminist website of electronic press kits for both well known and emerging artists. So check out their website, you’ll find some great artists on there, my profile will be coming soon!
Stream/download ‘Waiting To Dance’ here
01.11.18 – DICE Conference + Festival – arkaoda, BerlinDICE kicks off with a line-up packed with creative energy at arkaoda Berlin, the sister club of Istanbul’s legendary nightspot, with performances by Born In Flamez, Ah Mer Ah Su, R.A.N, Strip Down, and PLANNINGTOROCK. In this former bowling alley in Neukölln, we will host some of the most innovative female, trans, and non-binary artists; bridging the gap between local and international communities that push the boundaries of artistic, socio-political, and personal expression.
DICE opening night is free entrance and everyone is welcome. Due to limited space, we ask you to RSVP at the link below: universe.com/dicebln
10.11.18 –Heroines Editions #5 – Ausland, BerlinHeroines of Sound celebrate 20 Years of female:pressure at Ausland, Berlin. The event kicks off at 4pm with workshops and a panel talk about intersectional feminism followed by a full music program, live acts and DJsfrom 8pm. The line up includes DJ Acid Maria, Donna Maya, Strip Down and is presented by Mo Loschelder, #BettinaWackernagel and #BiancaLudewig / Meetup Berlin. female:pressure FACTS 2017 presented by #TanjaEhmann panel guests: DJ Acid Maria, Donna Maya, moderator: Aiko “Mo” Okamoto
Photography by Maria Louceiro