Two Berlin-based electronic musicians collaborate on a conceptual, paranormal mix inspired by a dusty desert road trip
Faminine Mystique is a collaborative album between oOoOO, the project of US-born, Berlin-based musician Chris Dexter Greenspan, and Islamiq Grrrls, a German-born artist with Muslim-Bosnian roots. Though the album takes its title from Betty Friedan’s second-wave feminist book Feminine Mystique, its actual pronunciation is ‘Famine in Mystique’. The name alludes to its creators’ belief in a loss of experimentation and exploration in contemporary music culture, where despite unprecedented access to music, the forces of platform capitalism encourage artists to create, and users to consume, a digestible form of easy listening – muzak, as one writer has put it. The album chews through once-popular sounds that have now been lost, forgotten, or written out of the critical canon, from ‘80s hair metal solos to the drum breaks that once peppered Milli Vanilli records. This uneasy blend of sounds all pass through the hyper-compressed production style of modern Top 40 radio, and the result is a form of queasy, late night pop that sounds far greater than the sum of its parts.
oOoOO’s hazy, emotional tracks started to appear on music blogs and in mixes at the tail-end of the 2000s alongside artists like SALEM, and were often associated with the ‘witch house’ scene. The microgenre was often derided at the time, but listening back today, it was clearly an inventive, loosely connected DIY community that had a much bigger impact on the sound of popular music than many people give it credit for. oOoOO’s debut album, Without Your Love, came out in 2013 and showed an artist with musical ideas far bigger than the scene he was often uncomfortably associated with, but rather than being the start of a new chapter in oOoOO’s career, it seemed to be the end of an existing one – besides the odd live show here and there, he receded from music altogether.
Though she hasn’t been releasing music for as long as oOoOO, Islamiq Grrrls nevertheless shares a similar sensibility to the artist. She initially reached out to him to get feedback on her solo tracks, to which he subsequently asked for feedback on his. As it turned out, oOoOO was disillusioned with the music industry and had hit a creative block, as he puts it today, but he clearly found a kindred collaborator in Islamiq Grrrls. Their feedback trading turned into more direct collaborations, to the point where they realised they were both basically working on the same project.
Following the release of Faminine Mystique, oOoOO and Islamiq Grrrls put together our latest Dazed Mix, which takes the form of a phantom radio broadcast partially inspired by the late paranormal radio presenter and cult icon Art Bell.
Tell us about this mix.
Islamiq Grrrls: oOoOO and I went for a road trip to California a few years ago. We went from LA to Las Vegas by car. One night, we were driving through the San Bernadino mountains and our radio lost reception, so we switched it to AM. Art Bell came on with his Coast to Coast show, (which) consists of this guy talking about faith, giving you life lessons and enlightenments, and taking calls from people who want to talk about life or supernatural experiences. We were driving from the dusty desert at night through the mountains – I couldn’t see anything but darkness for miles – and the radio was buzzing rusty phone conversations about aliens at us. Sometimes an advertisement for another station would crack in and out of it. That’s what this mix is about to me.
oOoOO: It’s full of music we were loving while making the record. It’s designed like a late night radio show, it even has some old commercials in it. Radio was the most creative thing my dreary hometown had to offer. I grew up 15 minutes outside of Manhattan in the days when New York City radio was still something worth listening to. I remember being 12 or 13 years old, getting in bed, turning on the clock radio, and tuning in to NYU’s station or Old School Hot 97 to hear whatever the newest Kool DJ Red Alert Show was playing. It was an important, invisible lifeline connecting me to the city. It let me know that there were weird, intense, far out people living just on the other side of the river – and someday, I’d be able to join them and leave behind the world of church, football, and changing car oil, or whatever people liked to do in my hometown.
“I grew up 15 minutes outside of Manhattan in the days when New York City radio was still something worth listening to... It was an important, invisible lifeline connecting me to the city” – oOoOO
What does Berlin offer creatively compared to your hometowns?
Islamiq Grrrls: Before, I was around handymen pushing weird businesses with merchandise that “fell off the truck”. My godfather offered us a (real) casino slot machine when I was, like, eight years old. You get the picture. The other day I was sitting at a restaurant with oOoOO and we were complaining about something that was irritating us sonically (in our music) – I thought how lucky I actually was, because I live in a beautiful flat, work very little, and have enough money to eat. I’m sure couldn’t live that way if I wanted designer clothes or to own the latest phone, but I traded that for freedom. A lot of people in Berlin are like me – they don’t own a phone, a TV, or have a driver’s license, which is very different from where I come from. The downside is I’m surrounded by artists who grew up petting horses. They think I curse too much and don’t smile enough. They (straight men) also can’t deal with the fact I have a lot to say and that I like to throw in my two bits. I’ve been told many times I was “scary”. But that’s how people talk when they didn’t grow up petting horses!
oOoOO: We hear there’s an excellent music, clubbing, and art scene here, but we don’t really go out. I’d say the most important thing this city offers for creativity is the prospect of a large, relatively inexpensive flat, and a way out of what used to be called “the rat race”, which seems to pretty much have overtaken every other major western city. I once read the Talking Heads all had a huge loft apartment in SoHo in NYC where they lived and practiced music and only had to work part-time jobs at a movie theatre to get by. That was in the ’70s. That kind of freedom is still possible here. Freedom is the most important prerequisite for my mental health, and having reasonable mental health allows me the motivation to work on music. I couldn’t do what I do in New York or London, having to live in a closet with a tiny window in a flat with four other people, working 40+ hours at a job that, at best, I would find tolerable.
How did your collaboration begin?
Islamiq Grrrls: I met oOoOO at a deep low point in my life, in the black hole of the internet. He was that spiritual appearance to me that turned everything over. It’s not so much each other’s music but our perceptions of life that matched. We grew up in very similar circumstances and pulled ourselves out of it by our own strength. I have been obsessed with music my whole life, but actually considering to even try to play an instrument was absolutely out of my reality. When I was younger, I thought being a musician was something like the exclusive VIP area at the back of the club – it’s reserved for those other people. Where I come from nobody knows anybody who even thinks about art, let alone doing that for a living. When I told people at my high school I wanted to move to Paris after graduation they laughed at me. I only started looking into music production when I realised one could do it with nothing but a program.
“Sometimes saying things out loud makes them more real and kills the idea of it” – Islamiq Grrrls
Was there an early genesis or catalyst for Faminine Mystique?
Islamiq Grrrls: We never spoke to each other saying what we want or what it should sound like – we just know. Sometimes saying things out loud makes them more real and kills the idea of it. Once an idea becomes reality, it loses its magic. We never said what, how, or why, we just silently nodded at each other when the job was done.
oOoOO: The only feeling I care about communicating is the feeling that music saved the musician’s life – that music is a passion that rules over the heart, not an exercise in self-branding, or a means to achieving popularity. If you take this approach, even if you're technically a terrible musician, something of this passion and intensity gets communicated and you make something beautiful.
We’ve both been listening to (KISS guitarist and founder) Paul Stanley’s book Face the Music. It’s really moving to hear someone talk about music as this special force that saved them from what would have otherwise been a dead-end existence. This man attached such an importance to rock’n’roll when he was a kid, that he basically set up his life so that if he failed to become a professional musician, he would pretty much have had to become a janitor or something. He had nothing – no support from a loving middle class family with money, no education, nothing – other than music. There’s a live KISS record where Paul Stanley is hyping up the crowd during a drum solo, yelling things to the audience like “Do you all like to get high? Do you like like to party?" and all this corny kind of stuff. But then when he’s got the crowd hyped up, he shouts “I wanna know… do you believe in… rock’n’roll!" And the whole crowd just loses it screaming. It makes me sad to see how music, more and more, is treated as audio wallpaper or mood music relegated to the background of life. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don’t think as many people are staking their lives on music today. Music’s become a lot more like graphic design, a pleasantly dull and unobtrusive minor distraction.
01. Islamiq Grrrls & oOoOO introduction
02. Station ID
03. oOoOO & Islamiq Grrrls – “Ordinary Words”
04. Request Line
05. Fat Boys – “Stick ‘Em”
06. The Congos – “Congoman”
07. D.R.I. – “War Crimes”
08. oOoOO & Islamiq Grrrls – “I Want To Be Alone”
09. Spooky Li – “Cornerstore”
10. EYEDRESS - “LIESTEARUSAPARTWHENTHEPLANETSALIGN”
12. Little Sister – “Somebody's Watching You”
13. An Luu – “Pourquoi Tu Me Fous Plus Des Coups”
14. Station ID
15. The Savages – “Quiet Town”
16. oOoOO & Islamiq Grrrls – “The Stranger”