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object blue
object bluePhotography Natalia Podgorska

object blue is the electronic musician finding ecstasy in sound

We meet the London-based producer and DJ ahead of her performance at Simple Things festival in Bristol

The Tokyo-born, Beijing-raised, London-based producer and DJ object blue has had a busy couple of years. She’s toured Asia, remixed Yaeji, played at festivals including Dimensions and Dekmantel, and most recently composed and performed the soundtrack for Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood’s SS20 show. Something else pretty major also happened to object blue in that time: in 2017, she met artist Natalia Podgorska. The two fell swiftly in love, a whirlwind that ran parallel to her rising career.

In late 2019, Blue and Podgorska got married, and the day after the wedding the musician released FIGURE BESIDE ME, a two-track testament to their love. Opening with a dark soundscape punctuated with electronic sighs (“ECSTASY OF ST TERESA”, in tribute to the saint famously depicted in Bernini’s statue) before emerging into the light of “FUCK THE STATIS”, the record began to take shape immediately after their romance began. “After I met Natalia, the first minute of ECSTASY’ just fell onto my Ableton set,” Blue explains. “I wrote it in one breath, and then I was like: ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever made’. I guess that’s not a coincidence.”

For the release, Podgorska, who was born in Poland and works primarily as a photographer, created a series of visuals featuring sculptures she constructed that blend the natural (like colourful orchids) with the machine (deconstructed hard drives and mobile phones), creating hybrid forms. The resulting project saw Blue perform a set in her wedding dress, designed by Dazed-featured name Di Petsa, at Red Bull Music Festival London. Ahead of a special FIGURE BESIDE ME performance, presented with Red Bull at Simple Things 360° in Bristol this weekend, we caught up with Blue to talk about the EP, her career so far, and the realities of life as a woman in a field dominated by dudes.

How has your life changed over the last couple of years? 

object blue: I really didn’t expect to ever become this busy or this publicly active, but at the same time I felt prepared for it. Music’s been my life and my soul and I always repressed it, so it’s kind of like coming out. When you’re in the closet and you’re not confronting your own sexuality, it feels like it’s never possible for you to fall in love or find like a partner. Then when you do, people are like, ‘Isn’t it overwhelming?’ and you’re like, ‘Actually, I’ve wanted this my whole life.’

So was the idea of being successful hard to imagine? 

object blue: I just never thought I could make music as good as I wanted it to be. I downloaded Logic Pro when I was in high school and I couldn’t figure it out. I was like, ‘Obviously I can’t do this!’ But when I downloaded Ableton, which is so different, I got it instantly. This was back in 2015 – I started putting out my music on SoundCloud and people started messaging me – a good dozen of the people I work with now are from when I was like a SoundCloud user with, like, 60 followers.

So in a lot of ways it’s still a close community.

object blue: Definitely. I know that China is trendy and women are trendy and I don’t give a shit when people write hateful things about me on the internet, but the thing they always get wrong is that they’re like, ‘Oh everyone’s just picking her up because she’s a woman and she’s hype and she fits the trendy social justice agenda’. I’m like, ‘No man! We’ve been SoundCloud friends for like five years!’

Why do you think sexism is so especially rife in electronic music?

object blue: It’s because we live in a misogynistic world. I really don’t believe there’s any facet of the world that escapes misogyny, it doesn’t matter if you’re an accountant or a DJ. I think with electronic music, it’s because it’s all about gear and machinery and technology – and women don’t understand that, haven’t you heard? It’s like the worst of two worlds: the male artist ego, and men being good at machines.

Have you come up against this stuff more as your profile has risen?

object blue: Absolutely. When I first started my SoundCloud, I was like, I’m going to be a completely sexless, raceless mysterious creature – that’s partly why I chose the name ‘object blue’. I was really afraid of being seen as this accessible girl next door. It was only when I started getting booked that I was like, well if people come to my gigs they’re going to know I’m a woman and they’re going to know I’m a racial minority, so what’s the point of pretending I could hide? I love hyper feminine clothes. I love wearing ball gowns to DJ and I’ve had some backlash because of that but I don’t care.

“For me, sound is a very physical, sensory experience, like eating or having sex. When I listen to these tracks they’re so personal it’s almost a bit too intense” – object blue

Do you find that being a woman and being an Asian woman more specifically people in the club think you’re just there to accommodate them?

object blue: Yeah, absolutely. Every female DJ knows what I’m talking about when I say there’s a guy that’s hanging around right in front of my face on the other side of the booth waiting to talk to me or kiss my hand or blow kisses – that’s a uniquely female experience. Male DJs get bothered for requests and track IDs and trying to get selfies but women get everything on top of that. I had a guy chase me around a club because he wanted a hug. I get people who are like, ‘You’re from Japan? I love Ryuichi Sakamoto!’ And I’m like: ‘Great! I fucking hate his music!’

You’re being approached to do stuff with brands or DJ at events – that’s not something that you ever really anticipated, so how do you navigate that?

object blue: Obviously I wish we all lived in a utopia where money didn’t exist and we just made art because we wanted to, but I have bills to pay. I do really try to stick to brands or companies that I like. I just soundtracked the Vivienne Westwood show, and because it’s a big brand I’m sure people are going to be like, ‘Oh she’s selling out’ or whatever – but I’ve always really liked it. I did play a fashion week party for a brand I didn’t care for and it was the most disrespectful experience I’ve ever had in the industry, but it was mutual; I didn’t respect them as a brand, they didn’t respect me as a musician, they just needed somebody to play at their party. They kicked me off the decks an hour early so I spent £500 on room service.

Your latest release is about your romantic life: why did you want to translate that feeling into the music, to make it personal?

object blue: This record is the most undiluted, direct expression of my current life. I never thought I would express my emotions through music because for me music was always a standalone medium rather than a vehicle for language-based ideas. For me, sound is a very physical, sensory experience, like eating or having sex. When I listen to these tracks they’re so personal it’s almost a bit too intense, like if you go into like a 3D theatre as opposed to a 2D theatre. I’m not wired to write about my life so finishing these tracks was really hard; I’m really glad I did it but I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. I’m gonna go back to writing dance floor music. 

The visuals are collaborative, what was that process like? 

object blue: It’s the first time I’ve made music about somebody else and that person has her own medium so I thought that it would be such a missed opportunity to have her not do the visuals. She sometimes makes visuals for me that I have projected behind me when I play and she always says I’m so vague, I’m just like do whatever you want! She said this was easier to work on because it’s about our relationship. She has her own ideas and feelings and experiences which she drew on. She was just like, ‘Yeah it’s an adventure kit for a place of love and ecstasy, it’s a map, it’s a device, it’s the provisions that you feed on during the journey, it’s the view when you get to the destination.’ 

You have synaesthesia – what role does that play in the music writing process?

object blue: I don’t really think about my synesthesia when I write my music because its just so normal to me – I try not to lean on it because then I become the same as the guy who thinks he’s cool for liking Ryuichi Sakamoto, like he’s different, you know? 

So when you listen to these tracks what do they look like?

object blue: ‘ECSTASY OF ST TERESA’ is about winter 2017 when I met Natalia and it’s a journey piece – you listen to it and you don’t know where you’re going, you’re just going deeper and darker into this cave. It’s full of like dark purple, kind of like dirty ink water after you’ve painted it with a lot of red and blue and black, except there’s this little fluttery melody that comes in around the three minute mark, when these pink and green little dots start floating around. When the harsh bass keeps cutting up the track it’s like metallic grey thorns with glowing white edges just kind of like cutting through the middle. It’s a very violent looking track, and I think the process of falling in love is very violent. The second track has a lot more pink, more green, a lot more bright blue, a lot of moments of white and because it’s this really energetic happy track to me. It’s very much a diary of how I feel every day now – it’s steady but really euphoric and joyous, because I guess being married to the love of your life feels like that.

object blue will be performing Red Bull Present: FIGURE BESIDE ME: object blue (Live)” at The Planetarium in Bristol as part of Simple Things on Saturday October 19