5 minutes with... Award-winning electronic musician Olivia Louvel on headlining an all-female SPECTRUM special

13 Nov 2015

Within a few bars you know you are in the world of Olivia Louvel - unique, minimal, weird and wonderful electronica with a human breath. Ahead of a SPECTRUM special focusing on women in the electronic music scene, the award-winning artist reflects on what drew her to the genre and how she and other successful female artists are coming together to challenge its longstanding gender imbalance.

When did you first discover electronic music and what artists made you sit up and think ‘Wow, I want to make that’?

In my teens, I used to go to La 'discotheque' and borrow lots of cds and I was making my own compilation tapes, I was into contemporary vocal music, John Cage, Luciano Berio, Cathy Berberian and Meredith Monk…Then came Bjork, inevitably, the role model at the time, combining voice and music production. Bjork had a strong impact on me. I recall the day I saw a documentary about her in the studio on Arte. I was captivated. Aphex Twin' s Drukqs also blew my mind, with the contrast between the piano pieces and the electronic ones...

What artists are you listening to now?

I have to admit I don't listen to a lot of music. I wish I had more time to do so. My iPod is very minimal, you will find some John Adams, Chinese music, Debussy, Portishead, Laurie Anderson...

I also do quite a fair bit of research for my guest contribution on Curved Radio which keeps me in touch with what's going on out there and so I also have a cool playlist with the artists I played so far (includes AGF, Zavoloka, Electric Indigo, Heidi Mortenson and many more…) You can view the artists listing here.

Your creative vision certainly isn’t limited to just music – more often than not your releases are linked to differing artistic work (ie. Doll Divider following on from your Processed Dolls art work, Beauty Sleep was released in conjunction with a series of experimental films). How important to your music is accompanying multi-disciplinary aspect?

I think even though I wouldn't necessary define myself as a multi-disciplinary artist, I am !

Your latest album Beauty Sleep incorporates everything from a sonic translation of a Shakespeare sonnet to a re-working of Alan Wilder’s (Depeche Mode) 1988 track Stone. Where do you find inspiration for your work and who creatively inspires you?

You sit in front of your laptop, you begin with a sound, you search, you're stuck and then eventually something happens that takes you somewhere…

Having said that, there is a starting point which I can clearly identify for all the projects, it's more a narrative point. My albums arise not necessary from musical starting points, their source can be the life of Louise Brooks as in Lulu in Suspension, or the art itself, my Processed Dolls art, as in Doll Divider, or the poetry of Bashō, as in 'ō, music for haiku'...I'm currently developing a project which is inspired by the reign of Mary Queen of Scots / Elizabeth 1...

You’re headlining a SPECTRUM special focussed on women in the electronic music and you’re a regular guest contributor to Curved Radio where you introduce tracks by women producers working in the field of electronic and experimental music. With Dazed highlighting that DJ Mag’s 2014 list of Top 100 DJs featured just two female-identifying acts, what are your thoughts on gender in-equality within electronic / dance music?

With Curved Radio, I have the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue about the representation of women in electronic music and I enjoy very much the research process (so many female talents out there) although at first I was nervous with the idea of speaking live on the radio.

It's about getting the same opportunities and same access. Performing live for instance a big topic which has kept us passionate at female pressure, line-ups can be so unbalanced, it doesn't shock anyone for a festival to have 90 men playing and two women but it should be questioned and we are.

We have been collecting data over the last two years and the figures show a clear imbalance. You can see the survey here

Now of course when a festival or an event such as the forthcoming SPECTRUM is all female, we feel the need to mention it somehow, but if everything was alright, we would not have to mention it as when an event is all male, it is "normal", no one feels the need to specify that it is an all male line-up, it has become somehow the "norm", well we want to challenge that perception.

I think event programmers can no longer say 'it's because there aren't enough women in electronic music'

Do you see this imbalance changing any time soon? If not, why? If so, how?

I'm hoping it is progressing, more women are taking over with their machines to produce their visions, the laptop has been a total liberation for me in the sense that it allowed me in my bedroom to produce my ideas and make myself self-sufficient over the years, and many women are embracing it too, so inevitably it will get better…

What we need though is in the mainstream, much more role models, we have a lot of role models in pop as 'singers' and this is the problem, people in general would think that way: woman…must be the singer..and the guy must be the producer. That is a very limited vision.

So we need more successful women producer/composer/ dj. Visibility is the key. And talking of visibility, I'd like to direct you towards that excellent blog curated by AGF ( aka Antye Greie-Ripatti) It all started following Bjork's Pitchfork article back in January 2015 where she noted the lack of photographic documentation of women at work. So yes visibility is the answer, in festivals, talks, tech magazines…

What obstacles do you see for female artists starting out in the electronic music industry?

Getting the same credibility as a man would, dealing with gender-based undermining attitude at times which can be upsetting.

Are you familiar with the rest of the Spectrum line-up e.g. Bunty, Dog in the Snow, Lu’Ami and Blumenkind and if so can you comment on their work?

Not yet familiar with their work, looking forward to next week at SPECTRUM.

You appeared at Brighton Dome as part of earsthetic in 2013. Your live shows also blur the line behind audio and visual experiences - can you shed some light on the creative processes behind your live performance?

Earsthetic was a memorable evening, Laura had invited me to open for Planningtorock, which was really exciting.

She was struck with the image on the cover of the Doll Divider album. The artwork for the Doll Divider cover is one of the Processed Dolls (A4 paintings which were made using pages from fashion magazines and repainting on top of the photos of the models). At the time I had already produced a video for Army Of Dolls using the Processed Dolls art so the idea was to extend and develop it further to create some visuals specially for the earsthetic show using all my paintings. These doll images now form the visual backdrop for the live performances.

A quote from Electronic Sound website said that you craft ‘art inspired electronics. Or is it electronics inspired art?’ What’s your take on this?

Mat Smith has a wonderful way with words.

How does that sentiment translate to your live show - do you design the visuals in to accompany the music, or the music for the visuals?

I take full responsibility for the visual and sonic experience (!)

The live visuals are there to enhance the musical performance. Visuals do exist as objects in themselves.

Book now to see Olivia Louvel headline Brighton Dome's and Resident Music's SPECTRUM on Fri 20 Nov. 

SPECTRUM is supported by The Pebble Trust