Verity Susman

The Argus: Verity Susman, photo by Sarah Bastin Verity Susman, photo by Sarah Bastin

Mainstream media found Electrelane a difficult proposition. As did most of the general public.

But the four-piece formed by Verity Susman and Emma Gaze in Brighton in 1998 built a loyal following across the world with sharp ideas executed with mathematical precision.

Many in their hometown, too, would call them the best band to emerge from its scene in the past 15 years.

In a decade, the group made four albums, including an instrumental debut and two produced by Steve Albini.

On 2004’s The Power Out, Susman sang in French, Spanish and German and unleashed her swirling voice over experiments in Krautrock, post-rock and electronics, before the group decided to take a break in 2007.

A few sporadic dates in the last couple of years pacified eager fans but those hoping for more soon might be disappointed by Susman’s prognosis.

“Although we want to do stuff, logistically it is difficult,” she says, speaking from London where she now lives.

“We are going to start writing, sending stuff between us. I don’t know if or when we’ll get something out, or even play a show, but we all want to.

Brighton-born guitarist Mia Clarke works for Time Out in Chicago. Drummer Emma Gaze is in LA writing music for films. Bass player Ros Murray is an academic in Manchester. Susman’s been pulling late nights with her head hidden in books, too.

She is studying studio composition at Goldsmiths after another post- graduate adventure at London’s SOAS to study international politics didn’t lead anywhere.

“I did it after the band stopped. I thought I needed a serious job. I went to study politics thinking it might lead me into something interesting and more stable. But I really missed the music.”

The good news for fans is, even with her studies at Goldsmiths, she’s found time to record some new solo material.

Ideas taken from the course have made their way into new tracks. But the first thing to be published at veritysusman.tumblr.com is a more straightforward electro-dance crossover. To Make You Afraid is upbeat and infectious and has a big stinking bassline and beat that sound more Simian Mobile Disco than Electrelane.

The track was written by Susman in October and mixed by the Frenchman Nico Marcel, who cut his teeth living in Brighton through the 2000s.

“It’s more like Electrelane than the other stuff,” Susman says.

“I don’t have a drummer but I like dancy music and I want there to be a beat.”

When she applied to Goldsmiths the tutor had not heard of Electrelane. Susman played him the music and he called it mainstream pop.

New challenge

The course, on the other hand, is avant-garde, which suits Susman. She has a degree in philosophy from Cambridge, sprinkled Electrelane with words by great thinkers such as Nietzche and Radclyffe Hall, and has now decided she wants to be challenged to think about working in a different way.

“It’s opened my ears, pushed me to expand what I know and what I do, to think about it differently and to start being creative again.”

Another homemade track available online is The Philip Glass Ceiling.

Narrating noodling psychedelic organs is an extract from a slash fiction story by Tenderware called Sustenance.

Susman says it is a bizarre and hilarious story about Star Trek characters Captain Janeway and Seven Of Nine, an assimilated Borg-human, crash landing onto a distant planet.

If you laugh on your first listen, as I did, don’t worry, you are not corrupt.

“I want people to be unsure if they should laugh or not. When I play gigs I think I’m doing things which are funny but sometimes I’ve had the reaction of ‘I thought it was funny but I didn’t know if I should laugh.’ “This might be intensified because I am deadpan and serious-looking on stage but that awkwardness between not knowing the right thing to do or what is OK – I like exploring that.”

A new hero she discovered thanks to her studies is Henri Chopin. The Frenchman was a sound poetry pioneer and Susman is now exploring the spoken word as much as visuals.

“I’ve been getting into cutting-up the texts of fan fiction and crappy pulp romance novels – I’m currently using a rearranged section from The Passionate Rebel by Helen Lehr – and using Siri-style voices to read these decontextualised sentences within the music.

“I’m interested in new meanings that can arise and the awkwardness, humour and emotion that can be created.”

So she’s been cross-dressing at performances, wearing a moustache and men’s clothes. Her saxophone has become an organ of musical and gender performance – which is as serious as silly.

A friend put some visuals together, too, to make the shows more of a multimedia disciplinary experience. Think Laurie Anderson, she says.

She gave Jack Filipino (singer from Halo Halo and a graphic designer) Sustenance to read and a brief to make some visuals based on the story. He’s turned Susman in to musical cyborg.

“It fits with the rough collage nature of music that I do live.”

She has plans for an album, which will probably come after her studies finish in September, and aims to try her hand at composing for films.

One day there might even be a sci-fi musical film about a future world where people have been fused with instruments that define their identity.

Before then she’ll be at Green Door Store. Expect art’s outer boundaries and no Electrelane.

“I would never play Electrelane without the other girls. It would be wrong, and impossible.”

  • Green Door Store, Trafalgar Arches, Brighton, Friday, January 25. Doors 7.30pm, free entry

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