Phil Collins is presenting solo exhibition my heart’s in my hand, and my hand is pierced, and my hand’s in the bag, and the bag is shut, and my heart is caught at Cleveland’s MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), opening October 7 and running to January 28.
Curated by Andria Hickey with A. Will Brown, Collins will present an “intimate collaborative installation” featuring six listening booths that will play original recordings of Collins’ music he made in collaboration with various artists, including Planningtorock, David Sylvian, Scritti Politti, Lætitia Sadier, Maria Minerva and Damon & Naomi, and others, as well as guests of a homeless shelter in Cologne.
Exploring “the universal transformative potential of music” as well as “the city’s deep struggle with poverty and the prevalence of homelessness,” the work will address important issues related to division and bridging gaps that are moving further apart.
In support of GEHO Uganda, Berlin’s SHIFT art space is holding a 13-hour event in support of the Gender Equality and Health Organization’s efforts to create safe houses for the country’s LGBTQI community on January 9.
“I think that was a lyrical attempt to ‘out’ Jam, basically,” says Planningtorock, once known as ‘Janine’ Rostron but on the verge of making her Jam moniker legal. After years of being referred to as such by friends, the Bolton-raised, Berlin-based producer is making it official via deed poll, thus bringing those things closest to her into the public sphere. That begins with the genderless nickname-cum-forename and ends with the personal-as-political agenda of her latest album, All Love’s Legal, out on her own Human Level label, on February 10 next year. That’s a record that features such unsubtle track titles like ‘Patriarchy Over & Out’ and ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’, the latter’s prancing, off-beat disco motion repeatedly disrupted by the laboured thud of hollow keys, while a nasal, androgynous voice stammers, ‘Jam’s the name, j-j-j-jam roll is my game!’
‘Human Drama’ is more explicit. Released as a single on December 9 with remixes by Perera Elsewhere and Paula Temple, that track features lyrical statements like, “gimme a human drama /and understand that gender’s just a game/ give me human drama /all sexuality is not the same”,through the capricious frolic of plucked orchestral strings and a crooked, synthesised organ line. But Rostron hasn’t always been so blunt. W, Planningtorock’s second release, out via DFA in 2011, was a weird and wonky dive into vocal manipulations and prosthetic face-masks where the cross-disciplinary artist –who also works with video –clearly messed with gender paradigms without ever expressly saying so. Instead, those ideas were left obscured and bleeding through the trumpeting march of ‘Doorway’, the rhythmic battering of ‘I Am Your Man’ coming the closest to candour, while the subtext of ‘Janine’ (“it’s such a joke, what he asked me to do” ), alongside ‘Jam’ (“Jammy’s a diva, he’s got funny tastes”) setting us up for what would become the central point of All Love’s Legal.
Then, it was “real’ confusing”. Now, it doesn’t have to be because the message is simple. Jam Rostron is an electronic producer that’s “maybe identified as a woman” and preoccupied with gender politics and “post-colonial, transnational feminism”. If her call to “degenderise all intellect” in ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’ doesn’t make it clear enough, then maybe the fact Rostron is legally changing her name to make up for the English language’s inconceivable lack of a gender-neutral singular pronoun to get her point across will: “It’s really easy. You just get a solicitor and sign a form and that’s it. But, yeah, it’s going to be in my passport.”
When we last spoke in 2011, you mentioned you wanted to avoid being patronising by getting too explicit, politically. What made you change tack?
Jam Rostron: Lots of things. I think the biggest was the fact that somehow what I was doing in my music wasn’t connecting to my real life; it do wasn’t doing what I hoped it would it do. That’s more on a lyrical, topical level. Also, just working out what it means to communicate ideas that are, maybe, unpopular in some circles and finding a way to do that, rather than being evasive, or if I want to be nicer to myself, poetic [laughs].
In reference to songs like ‘Beyond Binary Binds’, how hard is it to be able to express these ideas to a wider public who probably still think within these binaries?
JR: To be honest, I made this record for myself and my friends. I can’t imagine what it must be like to make music for people I don’t know and these are issues that are really a big part of my life. Thinking about other people, or the public, that’s in a way something that I just let happen and I don’t contemplate that much. When I do think about it, I just hope that some sharing, exchange and possibly interesting feedback can come out of it. Especially when you start to tour, or you start to play these songs live, these things can happen. But in relation to the press, for example, that’s something I do think about because a lot of music journalists are not necessarily thinking about this at all, these sorts of issues and, with the politics of how the press is, I’m wanting to maybe talk to journalists who maybe have a vested interest in these topics.
Do you ever think about preaching to the converted? Like, how can you effect change by only sharing these ideas with people who are having the same experience?
JR: I find it interesting that, when I’m in Berlin and I’m with my friends, I’m in this bubble of support and I start to think everywhere’s like this [laughs].Then I start travelling and it’s one shock after the other. I’ve been DJ-ing quite a bit and you get into certain parties, you experience sexual politics right there and it’s disturbing, it freaks you out.
Deciding not to go through certain filters, that in a way kind of sabotage you, I think it’s very important. I don’t think I’m only performing or playing to people that ‘get it’ because there are a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily get it immediately, that maybe don’t know.
As you say, there are people who don’t get it. That’s especially when the media tends to be dominated by a specific demographic that has no idea.
JR: No idea and no interest. Because if you’re a straight white dude you have the whole male entitlement scenario or privilege where it’s just like, ‘well, it’s nothing to do with my life, so why engage with it?’ Not to say all people are like that but you would and do get that in music journalism.
It even happens on an ‘underground’ level, record labels not even realising how biased their rosters are.
JR: I know. It’s astounding! Human Level is defined as a label that’s interested in supporting and releasing queer producers, or people that identify themselves as women, and somebody said to me, ‘why are you only making a women-only label?’ Nobody makes a fuss that there are so many male-only labels and they say, ‘well, that’s not deliberate’, and I’m like, ‘hell it is!’ It’s totally deliberate. So you’re saying that these people are not making decisions? They’re making decisions. They’re deciding not to look and listen to these other producers.
I suppose when there are so few avenues for certain ‘types’ of people who don’t have the same opportunities as others, you have a responsibility to make those opportunities more available to them when you can.
JR: I want to work with transnational feminists. I want to work with transnational feminist musicians on stage with me because I want everything that I do to inform me, to help me and to evolve this language around these issues that affect my life so much. Someone said to me, ‘you can’t. You cant work with just feminists,’ and I thought, ‘well, why not?’ [laughs] This idea that it’s completely not cool, it’s not done. That was a friend and they were like, ‘yeah, I don’t know why not. I don’t know why I said that’. [laughs]
Have you been using ‘Jam’ for some time already?
JR: Yeah I have. In fact, apart from the idea of just wanting a name that wasn’t gender-defined, it would really alienate me when people would call me ‘Janine’ because no-one calls me Janine, no one really ever has. It was a bit weird after a time so, yeah, it’s good to clarify that.
Did your family call you Jam?
JR: Actually my family have other names for me. Not offensive ones. Not like ‘cunt’ or anything [laughs].
In the lyrics of ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’, when you mention ‘jam roll’ as your ‘game’: how is jam roll the game? It makes me think about the ‘jelly roll’ motif in blues music, which has some highly masculine, sexualised connotations.
JR: Right, that’s interesting. I suppose it’s, in a way, a very territorial term and saying that we’re operating within a game and whose game and what game. The end bit of that track, that feeling the voice gives at the time is quite, not menacing but I know what you mean, it can be, it’s quite dominant and I really like that feeling [laughs].Dominating a game, basically. Oh god.
Says the one who’s anti-hierarchy.
JR: Yeah I’m not anti-hierarchical as long as I’m in charge of all the games [laughs]. No, I really like this idea of talking about hierarchy. I have this idea of operating more horizontally. At the moment I’m working on preparations for another video shoot on ‘Human Drama’. I’m working with a few people, Imogen [Heath] is the director of photography, Alexa [Vachon] and a few other friends, and we have so much fun and the reason we have so much fun is, first of all, because they’re amazing at what they do, very talented, and the second is they don’t need hierarchies to work hard. We all work together and, it’s clear that I’m the director of the video and stuff but I don’t have to be an arsehole or anything. We’re all in the same boat and we get a lot done. It’s just that feeling of completely getting away from any form of hierarchy.
Do you ever think about how these boundaries that you’re pushing against will always be there and they will always be restrictive?
JR: Rather than trying to compete or operate within this structure that’s there, I’m actually looking in a very different direction. I want to create something else, with other people that are thinking a different way. That’s another thing that I learnt from touring and the last record. It’s like banging your head against a wall. That’s one reason I decided to release this record completely independently on Human Level, to have that clarity and not to have to go through any of these compromising filters that just confuse and dilute what you’re trying to do. **
London’s fifth Independent Label Market will be running in the city’s East at Old Spitalfields Market this Saturday, July 13. Featuring over 50 UK labels the event continues to support independent enterprise by providing a space to sell new releases and exclusive records direct to the public.
As physical product, in the functional sense, disappears there’s no stopping object fetish and, behold, a forum to indulge in it. Among the wares of the labels will be limited releases from Berlin-based Planningtorock, a British-Ethiopian exchange project by Fresh Touch and rare and exclusive remixes from the likes of Liquid Liquid, Four Tet and Factory Floor.
Adding to the reminder of the wonders of the Great IRL will be East End Live Festival to follow, with bands playing across the area, including a headliner from post-punk icons Pere Ubu, just to remind us of the era where it all began. See the ILM website for more details, including a list of labels taking part. **
With a planned release of her latest single ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’, out on her own Human Level Recordings on International Women’s Day Friday, March 8, it’s looking like Berlin’s Planningtorock is going to be making as big an impact as her Swedish electronic counterparts The Knife. The two acts not only have a shared creative relationship -recording 2010 Darwinian opera Tomorrow, In a Year, along with Mt Sims -but they also nurture a similar attitude with regards to sexual equality. Far from shying away from a feminist agenda, Rostron has been making it abundantly clear where her sentiments lie, ever since releasing last year’s ‘Patriarchy Over & Out’.
In an interview with aqnb in 2011, around the release of her brilliantly wonky debut W, Rostron anticipated a universal desire for new voices in art and music: “I’m just fucking bored. Really, I’m so over that. I really want something else.” With ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’, it’s sounding like that ‘something else’ has arrived.**
Janine Rostron (aka planningtorock) is somewhat of an anomaly. Originally from the small town of Bolton, Manchester, she bypassed the obvious choice of carving out a career in London, and headed to the creative freedom and relative obscurity of life in Berlin. She’s come out a decade later, with her label Rostron Records, two albums and a profile-boosting collaboration with The Knife and Mt Sims last year. Now, sitting at a bench in London’s east, she’s back in her homeland to promote the follow-up to her 2006 album ‘Have It All’, enigmatically titled ‘W’. Here, she moves on from exploring the life of an expat in songs like ‘Local Foreigner’ and ‘Bolton Wanderer’ in her debut, to investigating sexuality and gender in this day and age.
aqnb: You’ve mentioned before how freeing it can be to be living as a foreigner in another country. When you first left England was that what you were searching for?
JR: No, it wasn’t clear. I think sometimes in your life there are things that make you move around, you find yourself in a place and then you’re like, ‘alright, okay’ and that’s what happened with Berlin. I had no intention of leaving England. It didn’t even occur to me. In Berlin, I just got this distance from everything else and was able to have the space to delve into what I was interested in.
aqnb: I automatically assumed that you were German because of the way you make music, especially considering their history with electronica. Is that what drew you there in the first place?
JR: Again, no [laughs]. Nothing has ever drawn me musically because I’ve never really been a part of a scene, a musical scene. To be honest, my liking of music has been pretty independent and a little bit out of sync with whatever else I’ve felt is happening. But one thing I would say is that I like how music happens in Berlin. It works on it’s own terms and, even though certain scenes have happened, it feels very independent of everything else. It has it’s own time frame. There are people I know that have lived in Berlin for a long time and have been making music for long time and it comes up and it comes down. It’s very unique.
aqnb: You can see any band you want in the world there. You don’t have to worry that it’s going to sell out and you don’t have to worry that you’re going to be waiting in line…
JR: It’s true. There are so many factors about Berlin. People do go out an awful lot and follow music quite hardcore. At the moment, there are some interesting noise scenes happening but they just bubble away and there’s no hype about it. There are just people doing their thing with quite a fanatical audience and it’s just really creative. It’s a very creative city.
aqnb: I can see how you could be drawn there. It’s got this very communal attitude. I haven’t really seen much of the rest of Germany but it seems quite autonomous. You can’t buy Coca Cola in every single store.
JR: Yeah, it’s weirdly backwards in a lot of ways. It was a really anti-American culture for a long time. I have a lot of German friends who say they grew up without TV and they were very careful about what permeated their culture in a way. That’s another thing I like about Berlin as well, it isn’t that consumerist at all. It’s not just that people don’t have money, it’s almost like they’re not as materialistic somehow. People just don’t care so much.
aqnb: Do you think that as a visual artist, as well as a musician, that your own sacrifices and aversion to ‘having things’ can be typical to an artist?
JR:Music is a virtual medium and that’s the amazing thing about it. It isn’t a thing you have to carry around with you and I really like that about it. I’m very much an ideas person and a lot of it is in my head, my brain and my thoughts, while putting that in the music and spending time with the music. I go through periods of working with a lot of gear and other times I’m not. I can make music any way I want, that’s the beautiful thing about it. Also, with video especially, it’s a digital medium, so the material aspect of it, the object, is quite pared down and that suits me too.
aqnb: Your multimedia approach to your work, it looks like you’ve been doing it for as long as you’ve had a career, or a practice. Nowadays, it’s almost the status quo of younger musicians. They do their own music videos on iMovie, catering to a format of 700 pixels for YouTube, and they don’t even think about things like television.
JR: The thing is, when I first started doing it, everybody had a hard time accepting it. They’d ask, ‘are you a musician or are you an artist? We’re unhappy to accept that you could do both.’ So it was a fight for a long time. Also, it was making a live performance that was attempting to create this third language. I love when performance, visual and music come together. These days it’s fantastic. I love the speediness of being able to be really spontaneous. To make something and put it out there independently. It’s also great for your creative language, that speed.
aqnb: Like the face putty thing.
JR: It’s funny. I didn’t want to wear helmets anymore like I did for the first album, which was also what performing was for me. Wearing helmets was not a hiding but an expansion, an adding on. I had this idea of adding on or extending to my features. So, I literally just bought this face putty and put it on. I discovered that when certain features are added or removed, things happen.
aqnb: This machismo, or gender-bending thing you’re exploring –when you discovered that the way you transformed your face made you look more masculine or feminine –how does that fit into your overall concept?
JR: The putty thing was trying to make visual what I’d created in the music, how I feel sexually or with gender. I’m always interested in expanding, not only on what we’ve got, but exploring what else there is. Trying to represent details and discovering there’s more to it, while also being really playful with it.
To be honest, I’m really interested in female sexuality. That’s for myself and how I feel and I put that out in my creativity. The most important and amazing thing for me, why I make music, is basically because I learn a lot from it. It’s how I get to understand shit [laughs]. I can work a lot of stuff out and make a lot of discoveries.
I also feel like male sexuality, both straight and gay, has been really fully explored and I’m really curious about female sexuality; beyond ‘butch’, or not butch or whatever. I’m not dissing that, it’s brilliant, but what else is there? There’s definitely more. I feel there’s more.
aqnb: With this generation, you realise that it’s not just about the male/female dichotomy anymore. Today, you’ll read someone like Germaine Greer and realise that she’s already a bit dated. She makes a very strong distinction between the two genders and it’s not that straight forward.
JR: No, and that’s a fantastic thing to discover. You realise that and then you find a way that you can represent that and use that creatively. That’s really fun. Then people all of a sudden really relate to it and I’ve been amazed by the reaction I’ve got, especially from women.
aqnb: You say you use your music to explore ideas. Do you think it’s not so much a statement but a process?
JR: Discoveries always have certain points where something comes together and maybe there’s some sort of statement out of that but it’s an ongoing process for me. It’s like an eternal experiment.
aqnb: You say you’ll write and record the music but then the performance will give the work a new level of meaning. When I read that, I thought of surreal automatism. Where you’ll write something down unconsciously but it develops it’s own symbolism after the fact.
JR: If you write lyrics and then you attach a human to it, it has a very different meaning then. I mean, you can hear it but then when that person is expressing that lyric, something else happens. I love that part. It’s almost like the words suddenly achieve their full meaning. It’s as if the lyrics are ahead of me, I catch them up with performance and other things happen.
aqnb: So something like pitching down your vocals: ‘what would I be as a man’?
JR: Pitching down for me isn’t, ‘what would I be like as a man’, it’s just pure sonics. I don’t genderise the vocal at all. For me, it’s an instrument and that sound communicates a particular emotion that fitted songs like ‘Doorway’ and ‘The One’. It isn’t about male or female, it’s more about an emotion being expressed through that instrument being the voice.
aqnb: “Exploring your own sexuality is something important to you”. Do you feel like that’s something you’ve been working towards in your career?
JR: I think it just has come out through a very genuine personal interest. I’m a woman living around and I’m interested in how I interact and how people react to me in different cultures, with different ideas of what femininity is and all the rest. It’s about how I deal with that on a personal level and it comes out in my work. On the other hand the music is very much apart from all those topics. I’m mad about certain instruments and sounds, certain arrangements and things that I’m just exploring on a musical level.
aqnb: People seem surprised that you should say there’s a strong sense of humour in these heavy beats etcetera. I feel like the best art is always subversive and it always has a sense of humour, no matter how morose it may seem.
JR: The reactions to some of the songs being dark really surprised me. I make a differentiation between heavy and dark. ‘Heavy’ means it’s loaded with something and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dark matter. It’s actually just got a lot of content. I think that’s more what I would say and it’s saying quite a lot on all these different levels.
I‘m dead serious about what I’m doing, dead serious, but I never take myself too seriously because it’s just music [laughs]. I find it really funny and it’s a fantastic vehicle for humour. Even when I’m performing, some of things I do, there is bloody humour in it.
aqnb: If you took something too seriously then you’d be earnest and that’s not necessarily a good thing either.
JR: No, it’s also patronising. I really admire PJ Harvey’s new record for example. She’s trying to make a record about such a fucking difficult subject and not be patronising, or worthy, or righteous. It’s very hard to do. It’s the same about sexuality, or gender, or music in general. That’s the great thing about music though, without the lyrics it’s just a fantastic language that can say a lot without anybody knowing immediately what you’re saying.
aqnb: I really like ‘I Am Your Man’, it makes me think about how you mentioned that male sexuality and gay male sexuality has been explored so deeply. I feel the same about writing. All the iconic writers now are Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer. I don’t really care what these guys have to say any more. I’ve been listening for thousands of years. It’s those marginal voices that are far more interesting.
JR: Totally. I think it’s a really exciting time. I have to say I’m overwhelmed by the reaction to the record. I love it and it’s my thing but I had no idea of the reaction it would get and it seems to me like people right now are really hungry for details, for something else. It’s something that’s got a lot of content and they’re not put off by it. I find that really exciting.
I also know exactly what you mean. That point when you get to some writers or even some musicians and you’re just like, ‘I’m just fucking bored. Really, I’m so over that. I really want something else’. I think it’s at that point, when you’re like, ‘I want something else and what is that?’ I was at that point with my music, my performance and with who I am. I want something else.
aqnb: So What Women Want? Is that the ‘W’ of the album?
JR: It’s whatever you want it to be. It was really hard to think of something and I was always saying too much or too little. But I’ve always liked ‘w’, it’s like, ‘double you’. I like symmetry and doppelgangers and all that. I thought it was hilarious that everybody just thought that I was saying ‘woman’, or ‘war’ of ‘why’; all the cheesy things. That’s when I thought, ‘well, go for the cheese and go for this fantastic letter that can be interpreted in so many ways’.
I just love the freedom of it. I think as a record, now that I’ve had a bit of distance, it’s like this thing that you can see it’s created together but it’s quite a mixture of stuff. So that should then mean that people choose, ‘what’ it means to them.