Clapham-based DJ, Poet and Music Producer Etta (aka Charlie Fenemer) takes us on a journey through her creative process: from some of her earliest projects through to her most recent track X Left To Say, she sheds light on her experience as a female creative navigating her way into the music industry.
Etta! Could you start by telling us about the kind of music you make?
I’m not entirely sure that the music I make really fits into typical genres, I just like to make music that makes me feel something. I find sounds I like and then mess around with them, distort them, put them together, take them apart, try and create melodies, and then put it all to a beat and see how it fits together and if it’s happening. I feel like genres are really just morphing more and more into each other, and those in-between boundaries are where much of new and exciting music is coming from today.
Couldn't agree more. So, what about your life outside of music?
My day job is running a vegan sushi delivery company - Veganushi! Hackney vegans check it out…
It’s super fulfilling, I love making people happy, whether that be through music or something as niche as vegan sushi - haha! Working for myself allows me some free time to dedicate to production and mixing, whilst also maintaining my values and core principles in working within a company that cares about the planet, living things, wellbeing and happiness - not just profit. I see my life’s purpose, not as a singular fated mission, but more as a personal choice, in which I find personal contentment in bringing joy to other people.
How did you first get into music?
Maybe it’s cliché, but I’ve been musical for as long as I can remember. Since being tiny I always played instruments, sang, danced and performed for whoever would listen; I guess music has just always made me happy. As long as there’s good music playing - I’m content.
Who were some of your biggest inspirations growing up, then?
I’m lucky that my parents love music as much as I do and immersed me in so many different types of incredible music from a super young age. Music was constantly playing; it didn’t matter whether it was soul, funk, house, hip hop or rock – music was the only constant in an ever-changing life. I grew up on the likes of Stevie Wonder, Annie Lennox, Alannis Morisette, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Paul Kalkbrenner, Kate Bush, Billie Holiday and The Cranberries. The broadness of my musical upbringing definitely inspired the eclecticism of my taste now, and the way I produce adjacent to genres rather than within them or confined by them.
Amazing, I think you can really hear those influences in your sound. My next question is: how would you describe the music you typically make?
I feel like making music is an instinctual thing, one which you don’t always seem to have full control over as an artist; you set out to go in one direction and then one singular sound could take in a whole other way. I take inspiration from the crucial elements of my favourite genres: I find comfort and nostalgia in hip hop beats with a certain grit and attitude that I love to bring to my tracks. I normally go for an electro growling bassline - reminiscent of teenage nights shrouded by techno and drum and bass - softened by light and airy experimental pop-synth melodies and chords, and ethereal almost translucent vocals. I love the contrast of hard and soft, high and low, and I feel as though I often operate in those extremes. I’m a very impulsive person: sensual, emotional, thrill-seeking - so it comes naturally for me to try and encompass all of these sounds, feelings and extremes within my songs.
Your relationship with music sounds really experiential. How would you describe the ways in which you encounter music?
I love music that grips you, you know. Whether that's being gripped by a hard bassline in a club, or feeling like crying at the sound of a soft sultry vocal, or whether a bouncy-ass beat just makes you wanna groove. I never wanna put out music that’s bland or boring, I just wanna make you feel something.
What challenges do you feel you have faced as a woman in a very male-dominated industry?
I think being a woman has a lot of challenges, as well as advantages, especially so for a white middle-class woman; I understand I have immense privilege, and so try to be grateful and conscious of the privilege I have. Growing up, my mum always told me to never let my gender inhibit me in any way; she always insisted I could do anything I wanted, as long as I believed I was capable of doing so. That being said, of course there are difficulties for women in an industry dominated by white middle-class men, but she instilled into me that our belief can determine how far we go and how well we succeed: we have full agency over our own lives.
That being said, what advice do you have for other female creatives navigating their way into the industry?
I think as women we are so often afraid to take up space, and we shouldn’t be. Confidence, self-belief, and courage are vital to success within creative industries, as is recognising that the monotonous voice in your head feeding you all of your worst fears IS NOT YOU, and should not be taken at face value or as a linear truth. Feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, imposterism are always gonna be there in creative industries; they can’t be avoided. However, the way in which you respond to these feelings is in your control, and that is the real determiner of grit, integrity, and talent. Rise above all the bullshit, don’t judge yourself before you try, and create for yourself above all else.
So, how might you define your audience?
I feel like I kinda put blinders on that side of things and just fully immerse myself in creating, and then if I like it at the end of production, I’ll start to imagine other people listening to it; my friends, other producers I know, and then I’ll make subtle changes based on that premise. But for me producing is a kind of isolating solo process, one that I cherish, and so sharing my music at the end of that for an audience is amazing but definitely secondary.
Could you share some insight into the journey through some of your earliest projects like Meraki, through to X Left To Say?
Liminal Spaces was the first EP I produced, completely inspired by the notion of liminality with it being a reoccurring theme throughout my life. I’m super fascinated by thresholds, cusps, boundaries, and the spaces between spaces. Especially the spaces between conversations where words fail and feelings take over. Transitions and transformations, that sort of thing. I undertook this project when I was 19, in an attempt to explore liminality in all its forms, the gaps between categories, the boundaries we set, or, more often than not, fail to set, in relationships, and the threshold of one idea into another; what or where is the point at which one thing becomes another thing?
My most recent EP Meraki is a total contrast to Liminal Spaces. It’s all about sounds and playfulness and youth. I wanted this project to try and encompass the eclecticism of my music taste and production style, Meraki being a Greek word meaning “Doing something with soul, creativity, or love - when you put "something of yourself" into what you're doing” and so I really wanted this project to be just that. It was a playful experience, one in which I decided not to be ruled by genres and to instead make music that made me feel good. Because at the end of the day - why do something that doesn’t bring you joy, you know?
X Left To Say is my first collaboration with Rich Fish. I produced the track during the first month of lockdown when things were tense, to say the very least, and so producing the track alone was a super cathartic experience. I think you can really hear in the track the intensity that was kicking around at that time, followed by the release that everybody was desperately craving back in the late Spring of 2020. The lyrics explore loneliness, isolation, the lack of stimulation we all felt over lockdown, running out of things to do and things to say. I think Rich Fish added a completely different vibe and really just took the track to another place.
Would you say, then, that you have evolved in tandem with your music?
The projects I’ve released up until this point definitely display a kind of evolution in my production style, techniques, and even the way I’ve evolved personally, from being musically introverted in my earlier tracks to being totally expressive and assertive in the songs I’m creating now. I feel uninhibited in my creative expression these days; the boundaries and blocks I explored through the Liminal Spaces EP have all but come down, or at least manifest themselves in totally different ways now. And as with all artists, the unreleased stuff you’re working on is always the most accurate reflection of your artistic self at that current moment in time. So, I look back at those projects as a sort of time capsule for how I was at those times in my life, and how I've since changed.
How would you describe your creative process?
I’m a fairly nomadic person, never really in one place for too long, so yeah, I can create from anywhere as long as I have my laptop; I couldn’t live without it. I’d love a big-ass fancy studio but to be honest, I’d really have no idea what to do with all those buttons, or with that much space! I get sucked into Ableton live or Logic Pro on my laptop and hours can go by without me even noticing.
As artists, I think we can all relate to that all-too-familiar feeling of creative block. What can you tell us about the ways in which you initiate your own process?
Depends on what I’m creating and for what purpose; if it's late at night I find myself focusing more on sounds and feelings; and then in the daytime, I try and define the type of thing I wanna create and set out a more ordered process with my creation. Sometimes I start with the track, the beat, the baseline, and other times I start with the lyrics and craft a track around a melody I’ve had going round my head for a while. Initiating creativity is natural for me. I don’t have to try to get into a creative state of mind, and like I said before, I create for myself, so it’s my method of escape when it all gets too much: a way for me to move to a place of calmness amidst the chaos of life. It’s definitely good to set deadlines when working with other people, because it can be very easy to slip out of the creative process when the other creator isn’t right in front of you.
That leads in perfectly to my next question: how has the pandemic affected your creative process?
I think I’ve just struggled to find inspiration during the pandemic. You know, the lack of social interaction, the lack of parties and freedom, the suppression and temperance of that party spirit that most people rely on to get through the week. But I think, in a lot of ways, the intensity of this past year, and the time I’ve been able to take for myself in order to create and reflect and really think about who I am and what I wanna create, has benefitted my creative process; I’m lucky that I have music as an outlet to express everything that I’m feeling, otherwise I know I would’ve lost my mind; and not in a cool, sexy way.
Could you give us any clues as to where your work is heading next?
I’m all about mixes at the moment; I just released an ambient remix of Real Love Song by Nothing But Thieves on my Soundcloud. And I'm working on a live mix for Mixcloud and LMX Radio in time for Feb 2021. I’m also working on my third EP! I’m just producing a bunch of tracks and seeing what comes out. I’m hoping to release it for Spring 2021. Rich Fish and I also have plans to do another couple of tracks together! And I’m working on finalising a few projects with some artists around Hackney Wick…watch this space!
And finally - if you had to pick – what is your top album of 2020?
Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God - Busta Rhymes. He gives it to us yet again, not only amazing tracks, but a heavy, intelligent, and contemplative narrative overtone, encapsulated in genius production, numerous iconic features, and samples people only wish they could get permission to use. You know an album is that good when you can listen on repeat and each and every time notice some small detail you’d missed the time before. A rich, detailed, impassioned project by none other than the Busta Rhymes.
Keep up with Etta's latest creations: