Outside the sonic comfort zone: Abyss X on the launch of not-for-profit label SHXME + seeking the unpredictable

, 23 August 2017

“There’s no shame in allowing space for mistakes and for taking risks, sonically or aesthetically, or riding against the hype-wave. That’s what SHXME is about,” says Crete-born multi-disciplinary artist Abyss X over an email chat about her recently launched not-for-profit label SHXME. With a strong focus on creating unpredictable sound, represented artists are encouraged to take risks and move outside of their sonic comfort zones.

SHXME (2017) album artwork by Collin Fletcher. Courtesy Abyss X + Support.FM

Each release will partner with a different organization and the proceeds go to a respective cause, with the first initiative working with Support.fm who aid “trans and gender nonconforming people in jail, prison, and detention.” The compilation, available on Bandcamp and mastered by Swan Meat, features producers Rui HoOrgan TapesRabitAriel ZetinaTRNSGNDR VHSNAR, HOK, GRAŃ, Dis FigMalibu,  and Abyss X. 

Known for a “defiantly hyper-modern, searingly raw approach to electronics” that brings together performance art, dance, theatre and vocals, the New York/Berlin-based producer will soon perform the ‘Opaque Poetics’ event at Cambridge’s Wysing Annual Music Festival on September 2. The eighth edition will be curated by artist, DJ and producer Nkisi (Melika Ngombe Kolongo), moving through genres including “ambient, techno, industrial and soul” and featuring Angel-Ho, Lolina (Inga Copeland), Klein and Patten, among others.

Devoted to risk, vulnerability and “riding against the hype wave,” Abyss X talks to AQNB about seeking the unpredictable and approaching new sonic dimensions through a deep sensitivity for “contrast, contradiction, surprise, diversity, inclusivity.”

** What made you want to start this project?

Abyss X: To me, it didn’t make sense to create yet another label with the sole purpose of releasing music by people that I admire, there had to be a reason for its existence, specifically some initiative of social nature.
The idea of SHXME as a label started last year in spring. I was researching campaigns for women’s rights as I wanted to put together a compilation to support their cause. A month later my friends in LA introduced me to the platform they were building (support.fm) and that’s when I suggested curating a compilation that would help their fundraiser. 

Abyss X (2017) Promo image. Courtesy the artist + Christopher Sonny Martinez

The compilation was released while I was on tour in June this year as a first introduction to the platform. I chose not to focus on any promotion via music media outlets. I chose to let it circulate through word-of-mouth and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people that bought it and contributed to the cause. I am grateful to all the artists that took risks sound-wise and donated their beautiful tracks to the compilation. They made it so special and inclusive.
** How do you decide which organization you want to work with? 

AX: I cannot say for sure who SHXME will partner with next, I’m giving this first release space to breathe and settle within the community. Smaller projects made by friends, projects that I know people put a lot of time, effort and passion into are my priority for the next releases. Of course, the main focus of all causes supported by SHXME are the marginalized groups of our society and the groups of people that are in need of global support.

** Can you talk about your choice/attraction to the word ‘Shame’ ?

AX: Shame started as a late night FM radio show I hosted on KPFK (1-3AM) in LA and has since become a wider umbrella for also club and performance happenings. The name manifested itself as an ‘anti’ branding medium. As a radio show, the format was very low-key and against the perfect pre-recorded mix format imposed by so many online radio stations. It featured live interviews, many guests — sometimes three people playing B2B — and a hotline that enabled on-air late night chats with our late night listeners. There’s no shame in allowing space for mistakes and for taking risks, sonically or aesthetically, or riding against the hype-wave. That’s what SHAME is about. In these times of shameless and bland online self-promotion, it’s reassuring to know you do things for your own reasons in your own way.
** You are encouraging artists to “design their track outside their usual sound comfort zone,” and to work across a wide spectrum of genres and aesthetics. Are you trying to explore a ‘label-less’ label, creating something more unpredictable?
AX: I don’t see SHXME as a label per se. The sound curation for this compilation as with future releases focuses on the nature and elements of contrast, contradiction, surprise, diversity, inclusivity. I feel that many producers find themselves stuck in a specific sound or image, sometimes more because of the pressure to maintain their ‘success,’ they are afraid they might ‘let down’ their followers. The whole motto behind SHXME and my own work is precisely to seek and offer the unpredictable. When I reached out to the specific producers, I knew they were ‘ready’ to take risks, which they did effortlessly and the outcome demonstrated a deep sensitivity within their own vulnerability.

** Are there any common threads/themes running through the varied producers’ works that you notice?

AX: Some artists who previously engaged with a harder/ clubbier sound went for a much more deconstructed/ ambient approach, and their creations were much longer than their former releases. Also, the use of natural or traditional sounds/ instruments is very present throughout the whole compilation.
** What’s inspiring you most at the minute within your own producing?

AX: I’ve now completed a body of work, which could potentially be my debut LP. The sound is very different to everything I have released so far and will hopefully shed light to the ‘other side’ of Abyss X’s sound. This past month, I’ve mainly focused on the premiere of the dance/ music piece ‘Mouthed,’ which I directed and choreographed and mainly features my Halcyon Veil release on sound. I am presenting this piece in my homeland of Crete in late August as part of the city’s main festival, and I am joined by an all-femme crew, including two more dancers/ performers and a live Cretan player.**

Abyss X is performinf ‘Opaque Poetics’ at Cambridge’s Wysing Annual Music Festival on September 2, 2017.