In a crowded techno field, few have risen above the rest like Rebekah. Over the past several years, the Birmingham-born artist has taken the world by storm. Her relentless sets have punished dance floors from the festival to the club and her productions on labels like MORD and Soma are some of the most memorable in recent years. After a busy summer, we sat down with the artist at the Michelberger Hotel in Berlin to discuss some highlights, production, women in music and what’s next. (see below).
The Brvtalist: I suppose summer is technically over even though it’s still extremely hot outside. I’m looking forward to the Fall myself but now that summer has passed, what were some highlights for you?
Rebekah: The music and fashion that we like is suited more for the Fall and Winter so I definitely get that. For me, one of the highlights was playing back to back with Paula (Temple), especially at Dour Festival. Awakenings was great, Rotterdam was great but Dour was just insane. I never played there before but Paula had and she said this is just how it is. People were climbing up the scaffolding, we were playing super hard and everyone was going crazy. I actually had food poisoning three days before and was still a little sick at the time. Paula went on and then I went on and it was just like a shock to the system. You kinda forget you’re sick once your’e up there playing.
TB: Before this summer had you guys played back to back before?
R: We did it once at Exit Festival, which was the first time and I think we both got something out of it. The way she mixes is different than the way I mix and I learned a little bit more about breakdowns and what works on a festival stage. I’ve been kinda shooting in the dark for the last three or four years as I never considered festivals my forte.
TB: I can see how the approach to festivals would be much different than a club setting. What do you think Paula got out of the sets? Did you rehearse a bit before playing?
R: Yeah, it’s absolutely different. I think what she got out of it was to loosen up a little bit and have fun and realize it’s ok to make mistakes. Paula is a bit of a perfectionist.
We definitely rehearsed. We did about six sessions. Originally I was going to be on the modular and the drum machine. It worked the first time we did it but it didn’t sound quite right this time around as we were a bit over each other’s tracks. After four or five sessions we decided why make it harder on ourselves? The modular might be a few more years down the road.
TB: I noticed you are always expanding your hardware and production equipment. Talk a little bit about how far you’ve come, what you’re using now and where do you want to see it go.
R: I’ve been using software for so many years and you get to a point as a producer where you’re always searching for more sounds and looking to expand. I think in the last year the music I was listening to, especially the experimental music, changed a bit and I realized I wanted more control over what I was doing. I became more interested in breaking down the sounds I wanted to hear and understanding how synthesis works. Last year I went back to London and took a sound design course. My teacher had a huge modular system and I started to play around with that. Now I’m building my own and it’s just amazing to see you can do with it.
TB: It’s a dangerous path to go down as you can expand infinitely.
R: For now I’ve stopped and I only want one more! (laughs)
TB: So one thing that’s always drawn me to your music is that there’s a darker side to it. Like you said, it’s a bit dirtier and I would even say evil at times. Where do you think this comes from? Was it what you were listening to before or something else?
R: Before techno I was into a lot of grungy stuff, bands like Nirvana, etc. so I suppose there is a sort of sadness in that. But with techno, my focal point is being at the Q Club and hearing DJs like Dave Clarke and Billy Nasty. Dave Clarke was always funky and party techno and Billy Nasty would be a bit darker and dirtier. But at some point during the night they would both get really hard and even abrasive and I have very vivid memories of being there at the time and I can always visualize it and take myself back there.
TB: With a such a heavy touring schedule, when do you find the time to make music? Do you do a lot on the road or back home in the studio?
R: This summer has been quite impossible with my schedule and I can’t say it’s been a creative one. On the road I do a lot of 2-3 minute sketches but then you’re not able to use the hardware. I think after October things will settle down a bit and I can spend more time in the studio. Also with the festivals, they’re so massive and the music is so big it’s hard to tell what you need to make. Something bigger? I think the rule is to make music in the winter when it’s all in the clubs and you can tap into a bit more creativity and more underground vibes.
TB: What is your musical focus right now?
R: Right now I’ve got 3 or 4 producers sending me music that are obscenely good and I don’t think I can never be as good as them. With that said, I think right now my main focus is working on a full length album again. That gives me a little bit more room to be creative and experiment with different sounds and influences.
TB: One thing I’ve noticed recently is DJs picking up the BPMs. A lot of the 90’s sound is coming back. Whether it be hardcore or you even see a lot of gabber sets popping up more now. Is that something you’ve noticed as well and what are your thoughts on that?
R: I was just talking about this last night with a friend who came over and runs a label in Belgium. I’m playing most of my sets between 138 and 141 and the crowd seems to like it. I can only go by what they give me and no one seems to leave so I guess that’s always the best sign! I think it’s a yin and yang effect. We’ve had deep techno for so long at this point. It’s been on the big stages and we know it really works and it’s functional. At the same time, the younger generations have not heard hardcore techno or gabber before and it’s their time to be on the dance floor.
TB: I agree. For me I think the younger producers are really exciting because they’re bringing a fresh perspective to the music and fashion and it’s cool to see.
R: I think we often get caught up in what everyone is doing and what the purpose or message is but we forget that it is a party at the end of the day. I remember what the 90’s were like and just wanted to rave and jump around. Anyone who is complaining that 140 is too fast might just need to dance differently. Half time it or something! (laughs)
I think too that those records are a celebration of what was good about that time and what we all love about techno. I’ve downloaded so many records recently - I'm going through the back catalog of the Beatport techno releases. I started at 1989 and now I’m at 2005. I’ve listened to mostly everything to find some gems but the technology has come so far that a lot of the stuff today sounds a lot better than it did back then. I remember I had a ex-boyfriend when I was 18 and he has a huge desk with tons of equipment and all the tools but the music still sounded like shit!
TB: (laughs) Always. You could have everything under the sun but that doesn’t mean it’s going to sound good. Another area I wanted to talk to you about was fashion and style. I love the un-pretentiousness of techno and dance style. It’s about being free and comfortable and able to move around. How would you describe your style and what direction are you going in now?
R: I’ve been wearing black probably since 2004 or 2005. I had my leather jacket and I realized a lot of the techno DJs were wearing black. Also, black doesn’t show a lot of dirt. If your’e in Berghain for 26 hours, dirt is not going to show up on black! And also from a spiritual standpoint, white is used for mediation and often used to look inward. On the other hand, black is used to channel energy outward and to be more transparent so I really like this aspect as well. Ultimately it will be hard to shake the black t-shirts. It’s easy and you don’t have to think about it.
TB: I totally get that and I don’t know if I’ll ever stop wearing black tees. Anything new coming up for you on the fashion front?
R: It’s true but on the other hand, I’ve found myself switching things up and being a little anti. If you’re in Berlin and everyone is wearing black, then I can feel uncomfortable there too. I like to infuse color when I can and usually wear some bright colored trainers or one piece that has some color in it.
On the fashion front, I’m working with a brand called Hex and we’re developing an Elements vs. Hex line at the moment. I’m really excited about that. I think all this is a culture that goes beyond just music and it’s good to expand your creativity. Why should you just work with producers or DJs? It’s nice to work with visual artists, designers and more.
TB: Do you find that you take inspiration from other disciplines when making music? Whether it’s a book you’re reading or art exhibition you recently saw.
R: I was using a lot of memories. Sometimes I would look at photographs and imagine what that moment might sound like or the what some element in the photo might sound like. Some of my early works were like this. For example, I’ve always had this vivid memory walking back from school through a wooded area and there were always these blue bells. I thought about what those might sound like and for me they would be little tinkling hi hats and that would make it into the track.
A lot of times too I use my feelings, like on “Self Destruct”. This was one of my first tracks on CLR. I was just really angry here and the story goes that I booked a DJ and I was also working for the club and throwing the party. Thr promoter wound up cancelling but the agency already paid the flight and long story short everything fell in my lap and I was responsible for paying everything. I got really angry and took it out on a track in the studio. That was made in about three hours and it was a really cathartic experience.
TB: That’s something I’ve always loved about electronic music. Often times there’s no lyrics or explanation and you are forced to convey an image, moment or feeling just with layers of sound.
R: Isn’t it interesting that as a creative person, if you’re asking yourself “how?” instead of “I want”, you get two very different outcomes? These internal dialogues we have with ourselves is what drives the creativity.
TB: Do you still have time to go out and see something or just dance?
R: It’s definitely hard with my schedule and a lot of times I just really don’t have the energy. One of the few times I got to dance this year was to AnD after hours at Awakenings. That was amazing. I just love them and the stuff they play. It was like a school day for me. I was also able to catch some of Dasha Rush’s set before I went on. I loved that as well. It was really trippy but she was still playing fast. I thought it was great.
TB: So now that the festival season is over, do you think you will scale back for the Fall?
R: Not just yet. I’ll be gigging all the way through January 1st and then I’m taking 6 weeks off. It was supposed to be two months but I’ve got a sports injury and initially I thought I would need an operation but now the doctor’s think I can recover with physical therapy and other means so I don’t think the operation is necessary.
TB: I noticed you’re a fan of cross fit.
R: Yes, I got really into it before the injury. I really like the challenge and the fact that every day was something new and I could throw myself into it. I like when I was doing it I wasn’t thinking about music or my position in all of this and all of the stupid things we torture ourselves with. It really helped me handle myself better. Also it was really good for strength. I found that I would be coming back home on Sunday after playing two gigs and at times I couldn’t even lift my bag to put it in the overhead on the plane. I thought this was a joke and it’s one of the things that made me want to get stronger. At the end of the day when I was doing cross fit it helped me give less of a fuck about things.
TB: Another issue I wanted to ask you about was women in the industry. I think we’ve seen an increase in recent years of female collectives, parties and groups. You’ve been doing this a fair amount of time now, do you notice any difference in how you or other women are treated? Do you think these collectives have had a positive impact?
R: I think the agenda that many women and feminists have set for the scene has definitely worked, especially in terms of wanting more visibility. I understand it more now too because in the beginning I was looking more for 50/50 lineups on festivals or on labels - but as you go deeper you realize that this can’t be the case if there’s not enough women who other women aspire to be like. As a side note - I went back to my university recently in Birmingham and was talking to my old professor and I asked if there were more women doing production and the answer was there’s not. So I understand more clearly now that women are pushing for more visibility and hopefully that will inspire more people to go study and learn music. Ultimately though, I think it’s been great and opening more doors.
TB: Have you seen any negative reactions to this as well?
R: Yes, and on the flip side, I think the reaction to female artists is still the same and there’s still a lot of shitty abuse you take and there’s still a lot of jealousy and this old school thinking going around. Even in 2010, I still heard from people I was working with that I had to prove myself even more because the best female artists were only as good as the average male artists. Sexism has been going on since I started out. When I was 17, I went into a well known record store in the UK and asked for a job. They told me I could give them a blow job but there was no way I was working there. While this sort of blatant sexism may have changed I do think it’s got more engrained and become more insidious. It’s stupid because at the end of the day, we do the same job and gender should have nothing to do with it. At the end of the day, what’s happening is positive and I think there is more exposure for women now and it’s a great time for women to come through. My only hope is that they become inspired enough to go in the studio and make their own music or their own art because that’s true empowerment - the idea that you don’t have to rely on a man or anyone else and you are self sufficient. That’s been my goal from about 2008 so it’s been about 10 years now and I’m always striving for that.
TB: While we could talk for the rest of the day about the horrors and negatives about social media, I think you treat yours the right way. It can be a really powerful tool for connecting with fans and colleagues and if done right, you can spread your message and the message of others too. Do you enjoy this aspect about it?
R: At the moment I think Instagram is nice because you can only write so much. No one is going to read a long essay and it’s obviously more of a visual tool. When it comes down to it, I’m still a fan and there’s still artists who blow my mind. I’m a DJ and a dancer too and I see everyone who is into this as being the same and social media is a good way to convey that and connect with others. Sure you can get some weirdo/stalkers as well but also on the road you usually have some time to do it and I try to reply to as many people as I can.
TB: I also like that you’re quite candid and you’re not afraid to admit that you made a mistake or maybe something went wrong during a show.
R: Everybody messes up and maybe I shouldn’t go online and talk about it but I would rather just put it out there than have it rolling around in my head. Also, people like the mistakes too. It shows that it’s still a live show and you’re working through it and these things happen. Also, when I first started out on social media in about 2012, I made a conscious decision not to use too many photos of myself, whether it was because of my past or also just wanting to put the music at the forefront. We’ve all seen a lot of girls who do the opposite and their careers take off but I wanted to have a bit more substance and make it about my art. Hopefully my music is what draws people in and then they get to know me.
TB: So final question - tell us what’s coming up next!
R: With the label now I’ve got some help on the management side and I would like to do more parties. The parties are really the focal point for me as we work with visual artists and we like to make it a total experience. I also plan to expand the roster a bit so I’m not always outsourcing the events to other DJs but we would have our own roster. There’s a few releases planned for the coming months including Joe Farr and the noneoftheabove just came out as well. I’ve also got some new artists I’m really excited about a split EP for me as well. Gig wise, I’ve got a couple more “all night long” sessions coming up which I really like to do. I enjoy the preparation and spreading out the sounds for the whole night.
Thank you to Rebekah for taking the time to speak with us. For upcoming events visit here.