- Zilka Grogan
A chat with Consumer Refund
One of the most captivating new voices in Berlin’s electronic music scene is Consumer Refund. A multi-talented artistic channel of various and diverse arts, her music – dark, ambient and shimmering – is as difficult to categorise as her artistic practice.
Here, she meditates upon some questions we posed to her following the completion of her latest mix, Patterns of Perception 20.
Consumer Refund is more than a music project. What’s behind it, conceptually?
Consumer Refund is like looking into a pool of water. There is simultaneously: your own reflection, and depth into something unseen, something that is collectively shared.
It is a research and art project collecting information on the flow of intuition or creative energy, from social perspectives, physical perspectives, from a mystical perspective, from a spiritual perspective. It is an ‘absurd’ channel to facilitate collective creative energy, addressing points of pointlessness and purpose in mass production, in art, in the way we think, and it uses the internet to do so, interacting with its participants.
C-R plays games… dedicated to the ‘nonsense of art’: I think it’s an interesting question, whether C-R is a commodity in itself.
I am considering the borders of self-expression as a form of the ego inherently acting in a capitalistic manner (ie: self expression, self promotion), as opposed to an artist acting as a potential channel of the common or collective unconscious. I do a lot of research with this project, into the psyche and into intuition, sometimes holding collaborative painting sessions and dreamwork sessions. It’s a project about playing with concepts of industry crossed with mythological self-help. For most of it over the last three years, the artist (me) has remained invisible, purely pulling strings around people to help them come into contact with creative energy… until now… 🙂
Although you’ve come relatively recently to music, you’ve been creating art in many different forms for a long time. Tell us about your history and practice as an artist.
Yes! I’m pretty new to producing electronic music. Everything takes me a very long time because I am also meticulous to the point of driving myself almost crazy.
Consumer Refund comes to music from something like a mix of natural progression and an interest/study of Core Shamanism. A particular drum pattern is used to journey, via a technique similar to practising active imagination. The journey is a tool for divination, a meditation and visualisations can be read, or asked of its ‘intention’.
I’ve been a friend of music, and dance, since I was very small. Picking up my old flute and touching the keys of the piano again, after over 10 years, was like rediscovering an old part of myself that I knew very well, but had forgotten. What actually bought me back to music was a few unavoidable big dreams.. I couldn’t deny the meanings.
My practise as an artist, that’s a big question. I have been through many different stages of making art and went through some years as a fashion designer, and graphic designer. Previously I’ve exhibited performance, happenings, video, costume, fashion, sound, object, have been in various art collectives, and ran an artist space for a short time. Nowadays, I am painting, drawing, musicing. I research a lot into myths and archetypes, and am also fond of curation/facilitation of art and collaboration. I have always been in search of the edges of creativity, asking “where does it come from?” and “how does it come?”, finding more purpose to the process than the product. I am most at home within multi disciplinary art projects, where I can output several different media, at once, all relating to the same concept.
Some big art influences are Paul McCarthy (the performance artist), Marina Abramović (her early work), and a lot of 70’s performance art, artists like Lygia Clark, who didn’t make work that was easily exhibited and commodified.
Your website features a “dream archive”. What’s that about?
Good question! Find out. Follow the instructions on the website. Consumer Refund likes games.
What does creating art, and specifically music, mean to you?
Creating art is communication, is exchange, between interior and exterior worlds.
Art (and music) is very special, it holds some kind of transcendent matter that can communicate in ways that language fails to. Holding charged symbolic matter, it touches each individual on a personal level and also on a collective level. Music, vibrations, they become the body. Feeling bass pulsing through the matter around you, it is a physical reminder that we are connected to each other, and the entire cosmos. I understand it that people who make art or music are picking up on not only their own subconscious matter, but also are picking up on the collective subconscious matter. It resonates. Artists are channels to help an audience feel and process current emotions that need to move through a society.
Lately with sound for Consumer Refund, I have recorded from live instruments: drums, flutes, rattles, and am very grateful to a fellow healer-friend who I recorded playing her gong. All of the instruments used are also instruments of healing practises. This is important.
You walk into an art experience, whether it be a museum, a gallery, a club, a film, a performance: you feel charged, reminded of particular things. Symbols and myths are allowed to be lived out within yourself. Art for me therefore is also: stories, emotion, reality, fantasy, life, health…
Your music is refreshingly difficult to categorise. What are your musical influences?
Yes, it’s weird for me too – to fit into classification systems without being reductive. Un-classification is an interesting process though because it allows scope to change.
A big influence for a long time has been Healing Force Project. I once read an interview from Antonio Marini and he said something like: “I don’t play a particular genre, I play just good music.” Simple. The personality in his sense of rhythm, texture and the colour of his music… it’s a multi genre explosion to the mind and soul. I love HFP.
There’s some obvious influences in this mix, not definitive and to me, not ‘so’ experimental. I included artists’ projects for what they stand for. For example Positive Centre: between shadow, spirituality and music. I didn’t pay much attention in this mix to catching up with latest releases although I had heaps of cool stuff which didn’t make it in. I chose tracks based on conceptual feelings of where myself and the dream archive are at.
Woob, Paul Frankland, is a favourite… He used to work in advertising before he made music in the 90’s… An interesting connection?
I’m listening at the moment to a bunch of old ambient, jungle, breaks, and abstract/leftfield techno and drum and bass… IDM, downtempo, dub… I appreciate ambient drum and bass with a peppering of mysticism. Also, some heavier stuff, noise and acid. But, just good music. I haven’t even really started digging to the extent of what I want, or where I want, yet… It’s an iceberg. I have big respect for long-time diggers.
You grew up in Melbourne, Australia, but have lived in Berlin for a number of years, now. Why did you move, and what keeps you here?
The concept of staying in one place my whole life was not for me. I moved to break out of my own constructed persona, all of those expectations you grow up enforcing on yourself in whichever city is called home city… sometimes that’s needed to be able to evolve as a human. So you could say: I moved to gain knowledge about humans, the world, and myself.
A creative city such as Berlin allows space for introversion and autonomy. The rhythm of the seasons, the scope of the art and music scenes, the aliveness of the night. There is liberal freedom and spontaneity here without judgement. The ability for an artist to live a somewhat open life without too many boundaries is important … it helps to access the true stuff.
I think that cities which have had a lot of destruction, change and creative migration in the past, hold a lot of residual emotion that can and needs to be worked with… in a way sensitive people flock to it to be ‘healed’ as the city ‘heals’. Spaces like this need to be cherished and protected.
Is gender relevant to you as a producer? What are your thoughts on gender in the electronic music scene, in Berlin and abroad?
Firstly, Gender is not a binary notion to me. There are both male and female energies within C-R, and within me, within everything. Both are needed. Balance and equality is a constant process. Yin Yang or the oúroboros, they are not static, they are in constant motion and conversation between light and dark, product and process, thought and intuition. The only constant is the flow of energy between the two.
The unfortunate thing is, it is clear that so much is out of balance in our societies – in politics, economics, in some of the basic human understandings of ourselves and of each other…
The topic of gender in every single industry cannot be pushed aside in the present day. It is extremely relevant, not only in electronic music: in every aspect of life.
I think for starters, basic empathy is needed to see how far inequality in general affects individuals, every single day of their lives, and society on the whole; how deeply it is implanted into the fibres of the glasses we then look through (our perception), and how this can affect people. Inequality starts impacting on someone’s life when that individual is born, of course, one tiny insidious fleck of an experience of sexism, racism, homophobia, can manifest to become core beliefs that continue to hold them back their whole lives. It can easily stop them from believing they have the right to their own voice. It is not only by the time they decide to make music, and want to be booked, that minority artists begin to battle with inequality.
In the industry, it is not just the bookers that need to be solely responsible. They are seemingly the ones who choose, but they are not alone, really, there’s also: press, the audience, the social media fan base (which does a lot of ‘indirect choosing’, if people book respective to the amount of followers an artist has), the labels, the clubs… if each of those sections are all a bit biased, down the line, it adds up.
I wonder whether female/LGBTQ identifing people feel as comfortable, in general, to self-promote, as their male counterparts. I don’t think there’s any point in blaming or pointing fingers, we could go eternally in circles, (and it’s boring). But the facts, they are pretty important to know, for me.
I’m lucky to be a member of female:pressure… and able there to channel some past experiences into positive work… I’m building up a kind of creative studio, co/re, which will focus more on ethics: working with artists/graphics/promotion for creative fair projects. I’m happy to be making some co/re graphic work for female:pressure, on a particular project organised by an extremely hardworking and strong group of female individuals.
I’m thankful for groups like sister, meet:up Berlin, happy to see parties like Lecken, communities like Room4Resistance, collectives like Mint, and now NoShade pops up! All focusing on female and queer spaces and run by cool, smart and thoughtful people. I’m glad to see a group of funding bodies in Berlin focusing on supporting young female producers with open call’s that have put preference on offering places to ‘female identifying’ acts.
This Consumer Refund mix features male producers. I do exist in many male dominated scenes, I listen to many male producers. I’m still in the middle of pondering what that means: I have produced a mix for Patterns of Perception that is pretty masculine…. How easy it is to propagate the inequality, without realising or intending to.
In the end, as Sarah, I’m absolutely a feminist. Yet Consumer Refund is genderless. It doesn’t matter which gender anyone is, or chooses to be, or if they even have a gender at all… at any given moment CR would rather be ‘everything, everyone, and nothing’: to be accepted as such, without so much as a batted eyelid… But: isn’t that very simply what we all want? To be truly accepted, as equals, ie: exactly the way we are…
What do you see as the future for Consumer Refund, the music project?
I’m at the tail end of refining a chunk of tracks at the moment. As to releases, I’ve had a few conversations here and there but haven’t set anything in stone yet, and the work is still in process. It takes time. I am keeping the process moving and creating more new work: if I focus too much on over-refining, I lose connection to the source.
There’s a radio show coming out soon in collaboration with Berlin-based producer Akkamiau, which I am very happy to be a part of. It features readings from Sylvia Plath’s diaries, focusing on female energies – the first episode will be coming out soon.
I’m acquiring more magical instruments and integrating that into live performance. The future is largely unknown, which is good.. I hope it will include me finding more opportunities to take your mind/body/souls to interesting places. I think it might.