Interview: BEA1991

An introduction to Amsterdam’s most promising young star.

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There’s not a single major music platform that hasn’t endorsed her, yet her enigmatic credibility is only growing stronger. We’re talking about BEA1991, of course, “creator”—her term—of distant pop that nonetheless goes straight to the human heart. Glamcult met Amsterdam’s most promising young (cover) star to talk sea creatures, ’90s memories and the demands of making music. “If I had to represent anything, it would be the everyday human.”

She peers at us from behind a pair of yellow sunglasses, which throw synthetic streaks of sunlight across her beautiful face. “I got them at a thrift store in New York, but they don’t block out sunlight at all,” BEA1991 laughs. “They just give me a different colour to see everything with. I really like yellow, I think it’s a really nice colour. Isn’t it weird that when you’re wearing sunglasses, it adds something to how people look at you, and how they interact with you? And so it changes something about how you interact with those people as well. It becomes a weird dynamic. I don’t want it to be a barrier, like a lens or a camera. It’s just a silly piece of fashion…”

It would be very easy to describe Bea as a poster child for all things now. Much like her moniker, her contemporary aesthetics—both audible and visual—are those of an odd, detached, melancholic modern world. They’re overly polished by new technology, yet always straightforward, intimate and raw. When Bea sings and speaks, however, the Dutch artist lets her words flow thoughtfully, creating patterns that lift everyday simplicity to more abstract heights, her accent revealing her British background. “In the world around me I mostly see a lot of people: eating, talking on the phone, travelling from A to B. I try to enjoy it and I try to have moments by myself within that mass of humans.” She pauses. “It can be suffocating at times. Seeing the world on a bigger scale, I think I just want to meet a lot of new people. I was very focused on certain people around me before, but now I feel like meeting new people and seeing what’s going on.”

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Having released two critically acclaimed EPs in the past year, and with new material coming out this autumn, a lot has been said and written. “BEA1991 Makes Awkward Cool” a quick google search reveals in big, bold letters. “Yeah, I think that was The FADER,” she confirms with a large smile. “Or perhaps Dazed. Or was it Noisey? Ha-ha, I really don’t know!” Behind all the current media attention, however, is a long and passionate process of writing and recording, for which the singer faithfully collaborated with producer Benny Sings. For the 23-year-old artist, that process came (and still comes) with frequent challenges. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I don’t want the fact that I’m basically poor to influence the music or the way I’m working. And it hasn’t so far. To be honest, I’ve been broke for the last two years.” Thankfully, that struggle hasn’t moved Bea to become or do anything that is unlike her self. “No, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think I would ever be seduced by some commercial corporation and sell my image to them.”

Coming back to the offbeat element that runs through everything she produces, Bea comments: “Maybe I’m not trying to make awkward cool, but I am trying to make it more prominent. So I’m happy that people see it that way. They’re not describing my work as anything else but using the word ‘awkward’, seeing it transition into something else. I like that, it’s a positive way of seeing things. I think awkwardness is a different way of talking about uncertainty, slowness or imperfection. Those are things that interest me greatly. I’m always trying to look for that essence. It also makes you have more humour. I want people to laugh at me—not because they think I’m stupid, but because they feel relief. The stakes aren’t that high; being human and making mistakes is just as important as making lovely, beautiful things.” With Bea’s latest video showing her wrapped in spotless white sauna towels, weirdly but wonderfully wiggling her big toe, the message certainly comes across. “In that video I’m definitely trying to be awkward about the fact that I’m lip-syncing,” she laughs. “That’s something I hate doing. The idea was to simply lie down and lip-fucking-sync! I reckoned it might as well just be about that…”

At all times (obviously) influenced by the ’90s, Bea names The Cranberries, William Orbit and DJ Spoko as musical influences. “My taste is… all over the place? I’ve always been envious of people who know everything about music, because I don’t. I reckon that as a person, I really get drawn to objects and sounds separately. I don’t want to go into -isms; it’s more of an instantaneous thing. I’ll hear a sound that I like and listen to it over and over again. It confuses me, but it also makes me happy that I know what I like, though from the get-go I often don’t. I was trying to explain this to myself the other day, trying to figure out what it is. There is a general thing about ’90s music that I really like. I enjoy the sound of enthusiasm in early electronic music. And the almost pretentious laidbackness of the trip-hop I listen to. ‘I’m cool, it’s cool, we’re all cool’—that white-people-with-dreadlocks type of thing. What that sort of music represents is the kind of lonely, hermit composer who’s been trying to make it work, you know? With The Cranberries for example, so much of their music is actually really shit. But then there are a few songs that are so good melody-wise. Their music contains a lot of intention and optimism. It doesn’t try to intimidate you like much electronic music nowadays.” Don’t let there be any misconceptions, however. When Glamcult inquires who influences the performer vocally, the answer is much shorter: “No one.”

Reminiscing about the ’90s, the era in which her mum “would put on the Deep Forest album and start cleaning on a Sunday,” visibly takes Bea back to childhood moments. “Being in the circus was my biggest dream. I used to listen to music while practicing on my trapeze, it added to my fantasy of flying around in the air. That aerial characteristic of music was very important to me. And that has never changed.” Bea’s adolescence reappears in her new video, encapsulated by the beauty of a colossal self-made oyster. “All I remember from being young and around music is being on the beach in England, playing with shells and singing my own weird songs about playing with shells. That’s my first memory of making music, somewhere between age five and ten.” She adds: “The oyster feels like something from the past, in a way. I like oysters because they’re super old; they’ve been around for ever but haven’t evolved that much. They’re set in time and haven’t really changed. And then the idea of being inside an oyster came up… I guess I always look around subconsciously for things that are beautiful. It represents a childhood part of me.”

Slowly but surely, BEA1991 is reaping and releasing the results of much hard work—a special collaboration with Dev Hynes being just one of them. A steady, determined place in this world is not what she wants or needs, however. “Every kind of extremist approach to life ends up being a nightmare. My utopian way of living would be to keep all doors open, to have options. The midway between being very ambitious and very laid-back is probably the best for me.” In fact, the singer would rather not call herself an artist. “A lot of the time when you’re making things as a creator, you really don’t know when you’re making something really good. Often you don’t know it. Music is the making of something that wasn’t there before. The same goes for someone who is very creative with making bricks or making a recipe for pancakes. Or making a baby, if you ask me. What is an art form? I think we’re overdosed by things called ‘art’. We can’t identify a burger from a plastic one, or being in love from not really being in love. The terms are so diluted, we don’t really know any more.”

What’s very certain is that BEA1991 is anything but an illusion. “I have no interest in that at all!” she stresses. “Being put in a certain category is so unhelpful, we’re mislead by terms and labels. I’m not the Tumblr girl people have been saying I am. Sure, I have a Tumblr because I need a website, and I do think it’s interesting what’s happening there, but where I’m going right now is a more organic direction.” Thinking aloud, she ponders: “Can you be a leading woman who makes good music, who wants to look good, who wants to look bad, and not be labelled post-internet or feminist? I think the most effective thing is to do what I do. I don’t want an alter ego, my music is exactly who I am. Maybe that drives you crazy once you get famous. But if that happens, I’d rather be driven crazy and enjoy it. If I had to represent anything, it would be the everyday human. My point is to enable myself to do this as Bea, not as someone I’ve imagined for myself. That character definitely doesn’t exit.”

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By Joline Platje & Leendert Sonnevelt

Photography: Violette Esmeralda—Eric Elenbaas Agency

Make-up: Yokaw—Angelique Hoorn management

www.bea1991.info

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