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Marina-Herlop-at_Rewire © Juri-Hiensch
Photography Juri Hiensch

Marina Herlop, the Catalan musician imagining a world without humans

The Barcelona-based artist’s third album on PAN combines call-and-response melodies with primitive-sounding electronics

Marina Herlop’s latest album takes its name from the Ukrainian city of Pripyat. Abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, the city remains perfectly intact, bar the vegetation that grows from the cracks in the concrete and the packs of wild dogs that roam its streets. It’s an eerie window into a forgotten past – and a reminder of what the world would look like if humans no longer inhabited it. “It’s magical that it’s been empty and now vegetation is emerging,” she explains. “But it was a total coincidence that it has a Ukrainian city name. I usually choose words based on how they sound – and I think the sonority of this word is very beautiful.”

Pripyat is the Catalan artist’s third album, and her first released on label PAN. Combining ancient traditions with apocalyptic projections of a post-human future, the seven-track record – which represents her first attempts at composing music on the computer – blends Herlop’s unusual vocal style, influenced by southern Indian Carnatic music, with knotty compositional arrangements and ancient-sounding electronics. There’s a primitive longing in Herlop’s call-and-response melodies, which recall forgotten traditions of singing around a fire while crashing drum patterns and microtonal sparks conjure images of nature in revolt.

“We’re like that scene in A Clockwork Orange where Malcolm McDowell’s character is being force-fed all these images. I don’t know to what extent they mean anything to us anymore,” Herlop says. In contrast, sound – when stripped of lyrics or narratives – predates humanity, and therefore exists independently from the constant barrage of adverts, TV shows, and social media alerts that define modern living. “I feel like there’s something bigger than us,” she agrees. “Humans interpret sounds, but music itself is self-sufficient.” 

For Herlop, making the record was like an ego death. She is hesitant to call herself an artist and sees herself as more of a conduit to a higher power. “Making music makes you realise how insignificant we are in terms of the bigger picture,” she explains. “But then, you put your name on something, an album, and suddenly people see you as an artist, even if, deep down, you feel like an imposter.”

The album doesn’t mention the Anthropocene explicitly – Herlop almost abandons lyrics altogether, preferring to use percussive vocal cut-ups. But there’s something about the sonics, the mix of layered choral elements and kinetic production, that feels both pre- and post-human. “Even though I’m not talking about climate change in a very literal or specific way, there has to be something in the sonority that relates to the present moment if you want it to last in the future,” she explains. Drawing on the sounds of early civilisations, Herlop is imagining a world that, like Pripyat, has been taken over by nature.

Pripyat is out now, Marina Herlop is playing at Barcelona’s Primavera festival