Austra is the soundtrack to your political awakening

In conversation with synthpop royalty.

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We’ve only just approached spring, but it’s safe to say Future Politics is a highlight of 2017. Rarely has a contemporary music artist been able to meticulously produce synthpop that is equally thought provoking and infectious. Meet Katie Stelmanis: Austra’s enchanting lead singer.

In light of today’s current political situation, the title of your latest album, Future Politics, proves to be laden with meaning. How did the idea behind the record come about?

I started putting ideas for this record together long before Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right nationalists all over Europe. It began because I was feeling hopeless in the face of environmental destruction and political apathy, and from there I got really into reading about economics and neo-liberalism, and finally was able to find optimism through reading about post-capitalism and the future.I found anything ranging from academic texts about future predictions to just straight-up fictional sci-fi to be equally enlightening.

What does Future Politics stand for?

For me it’s not about governments or elections, but about personal politics and influencing the way people think. I was to get over this concept of individualism, I want people to challenge the barriers around them and realize that even our most precious rituals are unnecessary and fabricated.

How old were you when you started developing a deeper political awareness?

It’s hard to say; my mom was an adamant feminist when I was a kid so I’ve always been around people with left-leaning political views. I suppose my ideas have gotten more radical as I’ve gotten older because, like many of my generation, I’ve realized that we have been participating in an oppressive system that favours the western world and white people. That system must be changed.

Previously the term feminism seems to have been overtly misused. Do you think it is still possible to identify as a feminist and would you consider yourself one?

I absolutely consider myself a feminist, I think people need to keep re-defining the word over and over again as we become more and more aware of what types of feminism will be the most effective for the most people. It’s maybe been misused, but the conversations are always happening and for that I am grateful.

As a female artist, is it difficult to stand out in an electronic music landscape saturated by male artists?

I think it’s very difficult for a woman to receive technical and professional cred in this industry compared to her male counterparts. I often hear the word “genius” being used to describe male artists and producers but I very rarely hear it used for women, and it usually only happens to apply to women people also identify as an auteur.

Could you let us in on the motivation behind the visuals and the artwork for this album?

I wanted the artwork to feel like science fiction: real yet imaginary at the same time—depressing yet optimistic.

Which feelings do you aim to evoke in people when they listen to your album for the first time?

I think any sort of emotional reaction is good for me. If I’m able to incite some sort of feeling of belonging through listening to my music then I am happy.

Your concerts are always a sight for sore eyes (and ears). How did you approach the live performance for your new tracks?

We have a new set that we’ve been using on tour that has worked really well. Because a lot of the new songs are more introspective we’ve got a nice balance between a more intimate moments backed by colour blocks and then some serious rave moments backed by strobes.

Is dance music, according to you, a good way to escape and take our minds of the current political turmoil? Do you use music as a form of escape?

Any kind of art is always a good outlet. I think now more than ever (in our recent history) people are looking for somewhere they can belong, they feel like people share similar ideas and opinions and somewhere that has a subversive energy against right wing extremism. I’ve hence seen club culture in recent months become more about love and acceptance than it has been in the past, and for me that is incredibly important and rewarding to experience and be a part of.

How do you imagine the future of Austra?

My future and Austra’s are a complete mystery at this time. I have no idea what kind of music I want to make next, I’ve jostled between wanted to do an instrumental techno record and a solo acoustic piano record, maybe I will meet somewhere in the middle.

www.austramusic.com

 

Words by Jean-François Adjabahoué

Photography: Renata Raksha