Future Music

Bloody Mary

The Paris-born, Berlin-based producer talks acid, EBM and the joys of really getting to know your hardware synths


Having a ceaseless appetite for the acid rave scene she grew up in, French-born DJ/ producer Bloody Mary has blended past and future effortless­ly. She arrived in Berlin in 2004 for the opening of Berghain’s Panorama Bar, fell in love with the city and decided to stay put. Before long, the budding DJ had turned her hand to production and created the Dame-Music label.

Building her studio has been a painstakin­g process, not just in terms of acquiring gear but learning it to a level where she can be naturally expressive. As a result, Bloody Mary’s production­s have a timeless quality, epitomised by her latest EP Conformity Kills in collaborat­ion with techno producer Cardopushe­r. A punishing EBM throwback, both tracks demonstrat­e an almost telekineti­c sharing of ideals.

What attracted you to the dark side of electronic music?

“For me, the dark side of electronic music is the complete opposite of what I’ve been doing for the last few years. At the beginning when I was learning to make electronic music, I was attracted to that but found I was losing myself a little bit. After a few years of building my studio and buying all the gear, I think my sound has become funkier. I started to make a lot more acid music and jam in the studio, which is more fun for me. I’m really an artistic person and think you can feel that in the way I DJ and make music, because I like movement in my tracks and having that dynamic in the mix.”

I read your mother was quite influentia­l when she worked at a national radio station back in the ’80s…

“My mum was working on national radio when I was a kid. She loved music, and so did my grandmothe­r, but that didn’t have any effect on me being a DJ. My mum was more into pop – she introduced me to INXS actually. But I still love INXS and rock and pop music. I’m really versatile and think it’s important to get different influences from many styles of music.”

You started the Dame-Music label quite early in your career. Have you found yourself having to adapt to generic trends and social media?

“I had the idea to start the label in 2009 and the first record appeared the year after, but it was the worst time to start a record label because digital was getting much bigger and nobody wanted to buy records. It was the same in the DJ world with all the new technologi­es, like Traktor. I have to admit that the first few years were difficult, but I went with my heart and now it’s a pleasure to see everybody coming back to vinyl. Social media has taken such importance on how we work day to day and things are changing so quickly at the moment, but I still have the same passion and vision for Dame-Music.”

Is the return of vinyl genuine?

“To be honest, I’m selling a good number of records but not pressing thousands of copies. I have no idea if that’s just because it’s in fashion or a revival. If it’s the latter I would take the risk to press more records, but I’m happy to sell digital and that’s still number one. Some labels are even making promos on cassette, but who has a cassette recorder? A few months ago I got a promo sent to me on cassette for my label, which I thought was lovely but maybe it’s a bit too much. These days you can find turntables anywhere, but to find a cassette player like we had when we were listening to the radio is more difficult. I wish we could, because tape is a beautiful thing to listen to music through.”

You moved to Berlin from Marseille in 2005. What pre-empted that change of scenery?

“I came to Berlin with a friend for the first time in 2004 for the opening of Panorama Bar and Berghain. I was already resident at a big club in France and knew a lot of people, which is why I came to this opening. At that time there was snow everywhere and Berlin was quiet with all these big streets. The architectu­re was so different and it was cloudy and grey, which is the complete opposite of where I’m from in the South of France. I fell in love with the city, which did not have the hype back then that it does now. A few months later I decided to stay for one year, go to school, learn German and make music. I believe a lot in destiny and time has changed so fast since I arrived in Berlin. I think I was at the right place at the right time.”

As mentioned, you were already a DJ, but what made you think about moving into production?

“First, I’ve always loved all types of music – I even get inspiratio­n from classical music, it just depends on the mood. When I moved to Berlin and started playing I was surrounded by a lot of producers, which was not something that happened in Marseille. Everybody was making music here and I thought that was super cool, but I didn’t have any money. I was living in a one-room apartment and I spent, and still spend, all of my money on records. I think I’m a vinyl addict [laughs]. If I pass by a shop, I have to go in and always end up coming out with some records. Anyway, the producers told me that if I want to take the next step and play across every continent, it’s the music that speaks and I need to produce. I was influenced by that and went slowly into production.”

Acid basslines are quite prevalent on your remixes for C’hantal and Phuture, and your recent track Acetic. You’re obviously a fan of the Roland synths…

“The one I’m using the most in the studio is the Xoxbox. I have all the Roland machines except for the TB-303. I have the TB-03 instead, but I prefer to use that when playing live. I really like the Xoxbox.

Every machine is different and has its own unique sound, but I think I got lucky with my one because it’s crazy how it sounds so much like the real 303.”

Did the acid sound appeal to you right from the start of your production journey?

“I started going out in the mid-’90s during the rave period. That’s when I discovered techno music and it was a beautiful time when the club scene was a really versatile mix of everything from drum & bass, acid and trance to hard techno and gabba. I was really influenced by tracks from Woody McBride and Josh Wink, which were huge. That was my background, but when I started DJing in the early

’00s, the scene had moved towards electrocla­sh and, later, a more minimal sound. At that time, I was young and only played what was trendy, but through age and experience I grew more confident and felt I could make and release the music that I really wanted to through my label.”

And you started buying old-school gear to reach that objective?

“Yes, I started buying old equipment that had a similar sound to the records that influenced me in the ’90s. I really like the acid sound and started making that style of music from around 2012, but what’s important is that you get to know how to use your instrument­s. I spent so much time on those Roland machines and today I spend a lot of time using the Xoxbox. It’s quite an exercise to work with the gear without even using a sequencer. My friends thought I was crazy at the time, but now I can do anything I want with the gear because of the passion I had for using it.”

Your acid production­s are very nostalgic, even down to the whistle used on your remix of Phuture’s Acid Tracks? It reminded us of Stakker Humanoid.

“For that track, DJ Pierre asked a bunch of artists to remix Acid Tracks and the only stems we got were a WAV file with an acid bassline on it. I knew what sounds I wanted to use and I wanted a lot of energy, so I reproduced his bassline with the Xoxbox and the rest of the track came from me.”

The Xoxbox acid sound is heavily featured on your forthcomin­g EP Conformity Kills with Cardopushe­r. How did that collaborat­ion come together?

“I still love INXS. It’s important to get influences from many styles of music”

“I first played with Cardopushe­r at Shelter in Amsterdam. We both played a lot of each other’s music and were always supportive on social media, but when we played in Amsterdam we had a connection. He’s also crazy about acid, so we spent all our time at dinner talking about gear and how we produce music. Afterwards, we decided to collaborat­e, but as he lives in Barcelona we had to send files by email. I have to say, I haven’t done a lot of collaborat­ions but despite us not being able to talk to each other much during the process I still had the feeling we were together in the studio.”

How did you divide roles working on the track?

“We had trust in each other. At the beginning I asked him to decide on a kick sound he wanted to use and to send me two EBM/electro basslines. We both have a 707 so I worked on some acid basslines and added some noises/fx and arrangemen­t, he added vocals and together we did a bit of mixing. It was crazy because it was so easy and we both had the feeling that we’d made the tracks by ourselves.”

The EP has a second track, which is a variation of Conformity Kills…

“We still felt like the track was missing something. Even though it had some vocals, Luis had a friend who sang punk rock, so we gave that a try and out of that process we created the B track Out of Control. We also did an alternativ­e mix of Conformity Kills and because Sarin is one of the best EBM producers around at the moment we asked him to do a remix of Out of Control.”

You mentioned EBM earlier, which is a genre that was influenced by bands like Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb. Is the EP a nod to that era?

“Yeah, yeah, I remember these bands – Front 242 is from Belgium and EBM is like new beat, which is another genre I love. I’m really versatile, play a lot of EBM in my DJ sets and Cardopushe­r is really an EBM artist. For me, EBM is normally a little slower,

but the tracks we made are around 130bpm, which is quite fast for this genre. He brings the EBM vibe and the way I play and process the drums is a little faster and more aggressive.”

The vocals are very industrial-sounding, and this moody vocal style is quite prevalent in some of your other tracks.

“You’re probably talking about the remix I did for Tim Taylor & DJ Slip, Pleasure Unit, where I used the vocal as an instrument. The track was more techno so I made the vocal more repetitive, using pads. The voice can be used as an instrument by cutting it up and putting lots of effects on it.”

Your debut album Black Pearl was released a decade ago, but your releases seem more geared to EPs and singles these days?

“I also did an album in 2014 under the name The Jaydes. I was touring with Attan and playing live using vintage analogue gear, so we decided to make the music that way. The problem with making an album is that it takes a lot of time and when I start on something I like to finish it. For example, I’ll go to the studio, start jamming with all the gear to get a groove going and when I’ve got something I record it. From the moment I’m recording, there’s a click in my head and I have to arrange, process, mix and release the track. I don’t like to work with lots of loops in the computer or start a project I can’t finish.”

You won’t take a break from working on a track so you can return to it with fresh ears?

“From my perspectiv­e, when you’ve got the idea, you’ve got the idea. If I don’t get into a groove or feel my rhythm after jamming for an hour then that’s not good and I won’t record. Of course, at some point after I might use a VST to change the sound, but once I start jamming I usually already have an idea about how to arrange the track. I think it’s similar to how a DJ works in that you know in advance how you’re going to create a story. But it’s really important to take a break for the mixdown. That’s when I’ll start to listen back to what I did and try to perfect the arrangemen­t.”

As indicated, your production approach relies on you being very familiar with the gear you’re using…

“Yes, for example, if I’m using the Access Virus, I’ll go to the studio and work only using that. I’ll just play with the synth, jam and make crazy noises using the LFO and all the frequencie­s and try to get the best that I can from just one sound. I can only do that because I know the sound of my machines. If I’m just playing around with keys and have no bassline or drums then I feel lost, so I try to avoid doing that.”

Would that be your advice to budding producers – to squeeze the maximum out of the gear you have?

“If I had advice for anyone that just started producing, I’d say it’s better to know exactly what you can get from the gear you’re working with. It’s not a competitio­n and I would love to have more gear in my studio, obviously, but if you really work with one piece of gear you’ll be surprised what you can take from it. From working with one piece of hardware or a VST you can go so far. By playing with the frequencie­s and EQ you can completely change any individual sound, so I think it’s more about the creativity inside your head. You can have all the gear, but no idea.”

How do you feel your DJ career is evolving? Do you see your role as an educator?

“It’s really important to show your versatilit­y and taste, but I don’t think it’s good to be extreme at anything. When I first started to DJ I was the same age as the people going to the club, so it’s important to remember what it was like when you were young. Like a parent, you shouldn’t be too strict. You want to educate but also please the audience and it’s about how you present yourself. Whether I’m playing at a festival or a small club, I like to give the sensation that I’m taking the people with me on a trip.”

You’re using the Akai APC40 live controller?

“I just bought it because I only started my solo live act a few months ago. When I was playing live as

The Jaydes we had a lot of fun playing live at Fabric, Tresor and festivals like Piknic Electronik. It was a lot of work because the show was hardware-only, but it was possible because we had four hands between us. If I’m playing in a club, I like energy – I like to play a lot with the crossfader so I can play very fast, but when you’re just one person performing live it’s difficult to turn the knob of the 303 and change the pattern on the 707 or 909 at the same time without losing that energy.”

So the Akai was the solution?

“The Akai was the solution because it’s so easy to use. You have all the pads assigned to different clips in Ableton Live and knobs for effects and you can play very fast when using it with Ableton. The process is similar to how you arrange a track. You have your kick and your drums and if you want to use some hardware gear you can prepare some channels and switch over at the press of a button. I have small hands, but the pads are large enough and the knobs are really big, so even if you have big hands you won’t move one by accident. You can also change the colours, so the visibility is great, especially in a dark club. You can decide to have your claps in red and your hi-hats in blue and you’ll quickly remember that, so I recommend it for people who want to play live.”

Will you dramatical­ly change your set depending on the time of day you play?

“During the daytime the mood is different, the sun is shining and people have their sunglasses on so you don’t have the same aggression that you would have playing in a basement at night. The style of music doesn’t change, but the bpm and the mood is going to change. When I play at a festival during the daytime, I might play broken beat or acid house but I’m not going to play some acid techno. But I love playing indoor and outdoor; to compare them is like asking if you prefer producing or being a DJ.”

I read you say that it took years to have the studio of your dreams. Have you completed that project or is it always an evolution?

“I wish I had more money and time, but I’m quite

happy with what I have at the moment. The Akai APC40 was the last thing I bought for playing live, but I don’t know if people are producing with it. Back in the day, I used to use the Akai MPC1000.”

You also have the Yamaha CS1x – a very ’80s sounding synth, even though it was made in the mid-’90s…

“I don’t use the Yamaha for basslines, but it has a lot of good pads that remind me of the rave era. I’ve used it on many tracks because it has some fun drum kits and it’s great for ravey sounds. I actually used it for the whistle that you mentioned on my remix of Acid Tracks.”

On the effects side, you have some pedals and effect units. What’s running through those?

“For chorus and reverb I use the Roland DEP-5, which is really good. For distortion, I use the Elektron Analog Drive and I also use a MIDAS Venice U24 mixer. When I start mixing, I like to EQ and play with effects but I won’t push the effects to the maximum. For example, if I make an acid bassline I’ll record it with all the effects that I want and then again with the same effects pushed down to a minimum because if you add too many effects before recording it’s more difficult to process the track. I really like the raw sound, so prefer to add EQ and put effects and compressio­n on in the computer after.”

And Ableton Live is your DAW?

“Ableton was the first thing I bought when I arrived in Berlin, and it was quite expensive back then to be honest. I know a bit of Logic and some of my friends tell me I should move to using that because it sounds better, but I don’t know if I agree. It depends how you work and I work with hardware and not digital files. I do think it would be great to have a tape recorder because I would love to hear how my hardware sounds going directly through tape. I’ve never tried it, so maybe that’s the next thing I’ll buy for the studio. I get bored with the computer because I’m not much of a software girl. I love hardware and the feeling you get when you touch it, but I do think the Soundtoys software is amazing for effects.”

You’re quite wary of technology in terms of the role of artificial intelligen­ce in music…?

“You’re talking to someone who has an old-school mentality. I like vintage things in general and I’m not really into new technology. I still have an old iPhone. For me, a phone is a phone and if I want to take a nice photo I’ll use a Canon camera.”

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