Papaphilia is the solo project of Melbourne extraordinaire, Fjorn Butler. Happy Endin’ released her sold out tape A Letat Brut in August 2017. Due to popular demand Happy Endin’ have released a second pressing. We suggest purchasing a copy from bandcamp, as this limited edition pressing of 40 tapes will sell out quickly.
2018 looks to be another busy year for Papaphilia. She is supporting the incredible Moor Mother and Rasheedah Phillips on 25 January 2018. Then she will be joining Glovv at their single launch on the 9 February 2017. The lineup also includes the very talented Embedded Figures and Ela Stiles! We are very excited about this show!
We were lucky enough to interview Fjorn and her interview responses will not disappoint:
How did this project form? Tell us about your musical background?
Papaphilia is fairly new in the scheme of me making music. I decided to start anew after mostly making free form noise based in cassette loops processed to hell through effects. At the time I was also playing in the improvised electronics trio Gurner with Sharryn Koppens and Emma Albury.
Playing and experimenting with repetition and rhythmic patterns through sampling and collaging of sound has pretty much been the main focus of my music making since the beginning. However before I started Papaphilia I’d just rip through jams and work with what I had and release it. I never bothered to compose songs or try and create from an idea, because I just didn’t imagine myself as capable of doing that. A few years back this started to change, I wanted to see what could happen if I dwelled on the process of composition while also maintaining experimentation as part of the practice.
This project is also a reflection of shifts in my world – I started taking what I was doing more seriously when Gurner formed – working with two other women whose taste in music and brains made sense to me, made me realise I didn’t have to justify my style or lack of technical knowledge. And it was an emotionally and spiritually supportive relationship, we both enjoyed each other’s company as well as what we were making. Around this time I was moving away from music spaces dominated by cis het men and I started to notice that playing with the juicy shit I love like RnB, dance music, etc; music that is deprioritised culturally or made out to be less intellectual and to have no place in experimentation besides a piss-take, was actually what I wanted to be working with. And because I have very little care for reproducing style or genre, or playing in to the academic sound dynamics of pastiche – I kinda just went – ok what happens when Memphis hi-hats are set to a Drum and Bass rhythm and synced with deep cheesy electronic drone and an SWV vocal sample set in reverse?
Congratulations on your sold out tape , A L’etat Brut which was recently released by Happy Endin’. Tell us about the song writing and recording process.
Thank you!!!!! Means a lot! The music on that tape is about two years old and was written simultaneously with the previous release 4 Animals Dream of a Shadow. At that time I was getting my head around Reaper, a new sampler, and dealing with some hectic grief after my uncle passed away unexpectedly. I was just pushing buttons and crying, recording it all and then just sitting with it, crying. I had no plan for what was about to come out, but over that year I slowly edited it into what it is. At the same time I started the descent into the field of research I am in now – characterising settler colonial sovereign power in the contemporary context, and how its world of meaning is produced and maintained as the foundational logic of social institutions. The research and composing the music started to become unified in my head – there was something about everything that I was going through that reflected my inability to think clearly, but also my desire to be at sea – and I suppose that music is a reflection of that place. A L’etat Brut means ‘state of rawness’, to me it refers to my disposition at the time. In the context, I drew it from – the work of Achille Mbembe, it also has this broader meaning of the violence that stems from trying to maintain order at any cost. Whereas 4 Animals Dream of a Shadow was me thinking about the knowledge that comes from being lost in the dank of grief. Specifically, I was thinking about how bringing form in to the world could be more than the two animals of thought that Cornelius Castoriadis specifies are integral to critique – the eagle and the snake – being above and within the problem. I was thinking that the chameleon-like and deep sea dwelling qualities of the cephalopod, and the weird boundary between the domesticity and ferocity of the feline are figures that embody being lost, and how resisting being fixed by a space or place is an important element of working through conflict, and so those two things are the crux of those albums and that process.
At the time I was also introduced to Gqom, Kwaito, Kuduro and was listening to Arthur Verocai and Selda Bağcan on repeat, but had also become suuuuper re-obsessed with Mario’s Let Me Love You – I’m not sure if any of that is audible in those albums but they are in there in my opinion.
What inspired you to start making music?
Apart from learning acoustic guitar when I was a teenage – mostly learning jazz and flamenco finger picking styles, the skill has since passed me by, I don’t have any sort of technical background in music playing or composition. Nor do I have a strong musical geneaology – the only person in my family to play an instrument was my Grandfather who played the Banjolele in a Singhalese Dean Martin cover band.
I have just always been a lover of all sorts of music forever, especially sounds and styles that are beyond my creative capacity and imagination. So initially I became obsessed with making stuff that, to me, sounded melted and textural. I began playing around with making music when I moved to Adelaide ten years ago and ran an artspace in the city called Chunder Mountain. I was listening to a lot of free form experimental music, psyched out folk and rock like Les Rallizes Denudes and Jacks, a looooot of free jazz like Albert Ayler, Sonny and Linda Sharrock, and especially Arthur Doyle, as well as improvised and experimental compositions from Iannis Xenakis and Robert Ashley- so I wanted the artspace to be a place where people would come and just do wild shit and try out something new. Every time we had a show I’d do the place up like a mini installation: cover the floor in rags drenched in concrete and hand figs from the ceiling – whatever I was playing with at the time, and then my partner at the time and I would just do stupid shit on a bunch of objects. I had no knowhow for recording and using any gear – I just kept mucking around with ideas and trying to find ways to make do with a few dictaphones, a loop pedal and some effects – annnnnything that I could easily program without having to read a bloody manual because just looking at one would make me cry. I do remember though that the first time I heard Ghédalia Tazartès’ Diasporas album, I was not only blown away at how amazing it was, but how simple it was – just loops of samples and his beautiful voice over the top. That made me realise that even though I had no idea what I was doing, I knew whatever I did I could keep it simple and work it out. I just wanted to make a feeling…. Sounds weird but that’s been and continues to be how I think about making music.
Favourite things about playing music?
That moment when you find a blend between two elements – when there’s a magic confluence between sounds, and you feel it in your gut and your heart. That feeling is essentially what Gurner is allllllll about – just blending and blending till you find that excellent juicy spot between sounds that is just absolute harmony. That’s what I look for. Aaaaaand of course creating rhythmic challenges for myself because I love to try to find new ways to dance to complicated tempos and patterns.
Most memorable show?
Shows that I have seen – Gah there’s been so many and in so many varied styles that it’s so hard to even pick between them – I mostly hate stadium shows and that sort of stuff but seeing Jlin and RP Boo last year was like going to dance church… it was stunning to be drenched in their amazing work.
Shows that I have played? I’ve played two shows where people have cut loose and done a little boogie to my set – I know it’s hard to do cos I chop and change shit constantly – but both shows have been in Adelaide, the first time at Tectonics where a few of the babes from Splinter Orchestra got up and started bopping around like amoebas floating in the sea. The second time at Bungsound – which was an excellent mini fest put on by Nicole and Celeste, super important folk doing such hard work in Adelaide. It was an event where everyone realised that if you give the person playing your attention and your energy, they’ll feel excited and go hard for it. I danced my ass off!
Do you have any advice for people who are interested in playing music, especially electronic music?
As someone with no particular musical or technical insight I implore people to just try shit out, don’t concern yourself with replicating style and genre, be playful and just take your time, record what you do, listen back, but most importantly just fuck around. But also share what you make with others – you can make stuff just for you and that is fine. But, there’s so much you can learn from exposing yourself via your creative practice. It’s terrifying but humbling to open yourself up to critique. For me it’s the fastest way I learn about my own intentions and how they translate interpersonally.
But I also implore people to listen broadly and be thoughtful with their listening – don’t poo poo genres and styles because they seem daggy – that’s just your ignorance showing. From where I stand, music and form spring from people sharing sounds – it’s important to pay attention to all sorts of worlds of music making, it’s called cultural awareness, even if it’s the suburban dad version of boogie rock. In my time I’ve been surrounded by a lot of people who have dissed me for liking dance and experimental music, only for them to be now economically capitalising from that music because it has become cool ..meanwhile they don’t dance at these shows soooooooo wtf… Music isn’t something geniuses do… it’s something we should all be participating in in some way – sharing rhythm, timbre and tone – that’s all it is to me.
How can venues, bookers, artists and promoters make the music scene more inclusive?
Where do I even begin!!! The question of ‘why aim to make spaces more inclusive and by what means’ is an important one, but in public discourse it gets weighed down in the game of semantics, of egos, and it also gets derailed when you try to think about the political outside of its actual particular context. What I mean by this is – there seems to be a lot of push back from venues, promoters and people putting on events, and from people playing music to respond to their responsibility to look after the people they are making money off, because they just don’t seem to understand the point of accommodating anyone that has needs beyond the scope of their own experience and knowledge. It’s a really big problem as a lot of us know. It leads to misunderstandings and can ultimately lead to violence. I can’t think of one person I know that isn’t a cis het white dude that hasn’t experienced some terrible shit at a venue, in the street, and in their relationships with other people.
From my experience when you ask most people to think about the safety of folk with particular needs that may not be shared by a majority, and to then make sure those people are also properly represented/ given a place of autonomy in the community, they think about it in terms of a power struggle between two equal players with different agendas- a game of trying to usurp. There is a lot of ignorance about the hardship of others going on in this joint – a lot of it has to do with how supremacy is a structural cultural imaginary, and a lot of it has to do with the limited imagination of people – which is a result of the structural role of supremacy. A lot of folk organising and promoting music seem incapable of seeing someone else’s pain, the shit that they may be going through, what makes them uncomfortable, and what might frighten the shit out of them because they have gone through shit you couldn’t even imagine. We all gotta understand that some lives are more deeply intense than others. We all gotta get this in our heads and live by it.
The problem of domination in politics It is even more prevalent in the Australian settler context, because the entire social fabric of this colonial occupation – all social and cultural institutions and legal frameworks- are founded on the same premise – the supremacy of one group, the settler colonists. So, the default mode of a lot of people tends to be – look out for the sanctity of number one first and trust the logic of white institutions despite the effect it has had, and continues to have on anyone else. We try so hard in this occupation to limit our experience of hardship because, yeah… experiencing hardship SUCKS, but this can also mean that we end up having no fucking idea how hectic life can be for other people on the regs.
With this in mind – when I think about music spaces, I think of them as spaces of exchange beyond mere exchange of currency – these are places where you are not just playing music but you are sharing a lottttt, unspoken stuff too. So we talk about better representation of women, trans folk, people with different physical and mental abilities and capabilities, people of colour and most importantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, because they aren’t prioritised and the system is set up so that they cant be heard. For example -this is why it is important to recognise sovereignty when we are occupying a space we are privileged to dwell in and party in, because our migrant settler ancestors stole it, or inherited stolen property at the total expense of all First Nations folk.
Generally, I tend to try to stick to non-industry and non-institutional spaces because it is easier to try to create a safer dynamic from the get go without all the normative sticky aspects attaching themselves to your project or night, and cappo folk subverting the political agenda for its own particular representational desires. But regardless of the type of space or venue, I see the same bullshit being enacted at all levels of the music scene.
Some specific tips –Be patient with people – I don’t just be kind, I mean hold your tongue and question your limits when someone is asking something of you that doesn’t seem the norm – people come from all sorts of experiences and it can take a LOT for someone to be present, articulate, to trust others, to tell you they are upset or in danger. Try not to see instances of critical difference as conflicts that can only be resolved your way.
Unless the gig is a fundraiser you better be paying your artists. If you can’t, tell them in advance there is no money so they can make a decision about their involvement. If you are booking a show and the line-up is looking like a pack of salada biscuits, maybe just don’t put the show on till you can make it better. Ask artists what they need tech wise before and during the show. Don’t do a shit job promoting a show, promote the heck out of it AND the people performing. If the venue has access issues, binary gendered toilets, if there will be excessive drinking and drug taking that could put people at risk, tell people. Just be up front about your limitations but also – work out how to fix them.
If you can’t handle this– just get outta the game and go do something else hey.
What makes you feel comfortable when playing shows?
I want a show to be like going to a gathering with your chosen family every time, so essentially what makes me comfortable is being treated like a friend and not an object, an identity or a worker, by the person putting the show on. And of course, just never patronise me or try and give me help unless I ask – I work my arse off and know what I’m doing and everything I do is intentional – no patronising bullshit cos I’ll launch straight into an analysis of your behaviour.
From those at the show – energy from the people there is essential – if you aren’t present with me, there with me, then why the hell are you there? I can’t be excited if people are just standing around scratching their heads, staring blankly. It has, and can be a real problem at shows in Australia – to me it just represents how disconnected everyone is emotionally from each other, how afraid of each other and how shit we all are at empathising aaaand letting go without the aid of substances. Care is a pretty difficult concept, especially when there’s always complicated social dynamics going on. But the world gets a little easier to deal with when you know people got your back and this extends to the solo live performance where you are exposed.
What types of novels do you enjoy reading?
I haven’t been able to read fiction in a loooong time because of school. It’s just been theory for the last 6 years besides the slice of time I got to read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart a few years back, which has this light sci-fi edge to it because it’s a narrative around the colonial invasion of Nigeria, but it’s also more than that of course. I’m big on dystopian scenarios in fiction, but maybe because I see it as a fairly accurate analogy for our time; a slow decline towards form extinction. I think this genre presents a way in to unpack the behaviours and relationships in contexts of social intensity, but in a more poetic manner – less demonstrative and more figurative and therefore malleable. This year I’m keen to crack into some Ursula de Guin and Octavia Butler asap, also some James Baldwin. Right now I’m reading Bruce Pascoe’s Convincing Ground which is essential reading, next on the list is Juliana Huxtable’s Mucus in My Peneal Gland, then Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil.
Favourite animal & why?
I’ve had dolphins associated with me somehow – I have no idea how it happened, especially because any proximity to deep-ocean gives me an instant existential crisis. I am a playful jerk though so maybe that’s why.
What is the best advice you have been given?
I know a lot of solid humans who are always kind enough to share their thoughts with me, and whom I glean advice from by just being in their presence. My friend Apples always reminds me to not ‘sew my lips to anyone’s arse’, I really love this and hold it as a very very important form of guidance politically.
If you were a plant, what type would you be? For example, Mai would be a Christmas tree.
This is a very important question and I’m not sure how I can pick just one. I have a bit of a soft spot for succulents and maybe they are something I affiliate with, they thrive on neglect lol, but also that represents a capacity to endure long states of not knowing when relief will come. Like a cactus I can also be pretty spikey at first but am a big old juicy soft on the inside haha. I think that is me but I couldn’t tell you exactly which variety – can I just be the entire Cactaceae family please?
What do you have planned for 2018?
I’m about to start the long descent into recording the work I have been making and playing live over the last two years. I have a few releases that I have promised to do with some labels, which is so exciting because I have struggled for so long to find anyone to put out my music and take me seriously outside of the wonderful Altered State’s tapes and Triste Tropiques; both Cooper Bowman and Jon Dale have always been supportive. I’ll be doing something for Dero Arcade, Nice Music, and some split cassettes with some people if they are still willing to do them with me. Mainly I’m looking forward to upping my BPMs… the aim is to get 220 up in there – that would be a dreeeeeam.