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Photography Igor Pjorrt

French artist Malibu’s ethereal music explores the cycles of grief

The producer delves into her mysterious aliases, the inspiration behind her sophomore album Palaces of Pity, and touring with Juliana Barwick

For those across certain dedicated internet circles, the name Malibu will conjure images of unbearably beautiful compositions that drift in and out of any fixed notion of form and structure. Like memories pulled to the surface only to fade out of recognition, the elusive producer, real name Barbara Braccini, makes atmospheric, often wordless music that elicits a strong emotional response in the listener, with lush strings and endless reverb that suggest a vastness that can’t ever be reached. Or, as she puts it, “a ship faithfully trailing toward somewhere silent and loud all at once”.

Speaking from her apartment in Stockholm, the French producer is a mysterious online presence, recognised for her angelic vocal manipulations that have seen her land features on tracks with Oliver Coates, Dark0, and Placid Angels, while her popular monthly NTS show immerses listeners in a sea of synthetic strings and choirs. “I never think I want to make this sort of music, I’m trying to do the opposite,” she tells me over Zoom. “I try to really block out everything so that what I make is as authentic as it can be.” She scatters traces of herself across the internet under various musical aliases, from “world emo boss” DJ Lostboi, which loops and stretches smash hits from Lil Uzi Vert, Charli XCX and Nelly Furtado, to belmont girl, a more euphoric, more heavenly production. “I had the Malibu SoundCloud and I don't know why but I just started feeling some sort of pressure from it. I just felt that what I should put out on Malibu should be serious and 100 per cent me.”

Braccini has recently completed a tour with ambient composer Julianna Barwick, who discovered Braccini’s music in the background of an Instagram video. “I let the video cycle seemingly endlessly as I thought, this is maybe the most beautiful music I have ever heard,” Barwick previously wrote. “Once I found out who the maker was I scoured the internet for whatever I could get my hands on. It ended up being a treasure hunt – finding bits of her voice and textures hidden in mixes, compilations, and radio shows.” This discovery would lead Barwick to commission Malibu to record an EP, her 2019 debut One Life.

“One day I was on a plane and just before we took off I received this email from [Barwick] saying that she had been commissioned by this record label to curate one record, and that she could pick anyone, so she picked me,” Braccini explains. “I was really thrilled because at that time I didn’t really know what the fuck I was doing with music. I had been through a lot of personal stuff so it was nice to have one nice thing coming my way without me asking for anything.” The album was met with critical acclaim, receiving official remixes from the likes of Evian Christ, Julianna Barwick, Kelly Moran and John Beltran. “I still felt a bit like an imposter because I didn’t really have music out apart from mixes and remixes. It was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone but I did it, so it was nice.”

“Sometimes I just don‘t want to work on it because it’s too hard, I cannot be bothered to feel. I don’t want to feel anything for the next 12 hours” – Malibu

Named after Daniel Schmidt and Gabriel Abrantes’s 2011 film Palaces of Pity, Braccini’s sophomore album features five ethereal tracks that ebb and flow with quiet intensity. “I always thought the phrase was really beautiful and literally pathetic in every sense of the word, it’s so dramatic,” she explains. The EP explores the loss of a friendship years after its dissolution, with sounds of rolling tides (perhaps a nod to Braccini’s oceanographer father) suggesting a distance between the memories and its subject. 

“It is a sequel to the first EP, One Life, which was written for someone, for a former best friend. It was in reaction to me not being friends with her anymore. I was still in the early stages, just being angry or more upset about all these things.” She elaborates, “I then started working on this one and because time passed I’ve seen the person again so it’s just different sorts of feelings. It’s almost boring now because it's been a while. It’s almost like you're on a really empty beach and the waves are crashing in the distance, there’s no sound, it's very silent. All the sound is very loud, but very far away.”

For Braccini, the process of writing as Malibu is deeply emotional. “I find it really hard to make music since I treat this one project, Malibu, as a journal,” she says. “Sometimes I just don‘t want to work on it because it’s too hard, I cannot be bothered to feel. I don’t want to feel anything for the next 12 hours.” Similarly, listening to Palaces of Pity feels like passing through various cycles of grief (“I think everyone can relate to this sort of similar feeling”). It moves formlessly yet with purpose, gently guiding the listener through its magnitude of emotions with pulsing soundscapes, towards the nine-minute closer (aptly named after the ancient Greek epic poem “Iliad”), before eventually fading into nothingness.

Palaces of Pity is out now