DON'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING Andrea Parker says. At least not if she's talking about her own talents. The producer and DJ,who specializes in all things heavy and electronic, downplays her audacious musical abilities. She dismisses early forays into cello playing, for instance, despite many articles citing a childhood knack.
"I just had a few cello lessons and a few singing lessons," Parker recalls, speaking by phone from her native England. "I played things I liked the sound of, as opposed to reading the music. I did play cello, but very badly. I wouldn't have been asked to play with an orchestra."
ARO.space, Friday, March 26
After listening to her current output, however, you might decide that Parker's being falsely modest. As a producer, she's created jarring, challenging music that's simultaneously graceful and menacing, as if Beauty and the Beast came to life in song.
You can trace Parker's girlhood association with the cello in the string sections that creep alongside the lingering beats and bass on her album Kiss My Arp. The beats stalk the rhythms, themselves twisted up by hip-hop, electro, and techno. And Parker, the girl who by her own admission couldn't play cello and couldn't sing all that well, does just fine. As a producer, she first delved into electronic music because, she says, "I was tired of singing other people's songs." But Parker has evolved from knob twiddler to a singing, beat-making, one-woman show.
She may never be as well-known as other female producers—she wasn't, after all, a Page 3 model ࠬa DJ Rap, and she's not prone to making girly-girl music marked by commercially appealing diva vocals or histrionics. Instead, Parker opts for the understated and the surreal. Breaks rattle and roll over a glistening surface, shining with her own vocals, keys, and strings. Often, the sounds that serve as the bass or the drum are not what you'd think. Parker admits to her propensity for all things weird and wonderful. "I just go out and sample from mad noises," she explains. Gargantuan bass lines and high-hat ticks are created by miking the bottom of a car or dropping nails in a bucket. Anything to score a unique sound that's not pre-programmed in the latest machine.
"I really admire people who break the boundaries, or who are pioneers," she says. "I think nowadays it's so easy, with the technology we have to make recycled music, that no one—including record companies, not just artists—is trying new things. You can just sample a breakbeat, stick it in the computer, put some strings over it, and it sounds like 60,000 [other] people. That's why it can lose its soul. I think it's done either purely to make money or it's for the dance floor."
Parker's unusual methodology resembles another Queen of Darkness, Riz Maslen, a.k.a. Neotropic, who also creates sounds that grate rather than seduce. Like Maslen, Parker's music is commonly stamped with descriptives such as dark, depressing, and disturbing. Though she doesn't mind these labels, Parker says she considers her sounds more moody than anything else. "I don't think that my music is that dark. Maybe ball-breaking a little bit," she says with a laugh. "In my opinion, dark is someone like Gravediggaz."
Because Parker's music lurks in the underbelly of the electronic world, it's not surprising to learn that the artist has a fascination with film sound tracks, particularly the scores for thrillers. "I think that the strings in horror films are amazing," she says. "Jaws is a really tacky film, but that classic cello part that comes in—that's a fantastic bit of cello. If you were to take that out, then it's not going to be scary at all. And that's what I like about it. You can just play three chords and shit the life out of people." In turn, her music's been used in strange clips: in a video of a lunar eclipse for a documentary and juxtaposed against the Royal Ballet in a TV commercial.
Currently embarking on a DJ tour for her recently released mix CD in the esteemed "DJ Kicks" series, Parker warns potential listeners not to get their expectations up. Again, she's not to be believed. "When I started, I was using sound effects," she remembers. "I was playing in mad sort of chill-out rooms [where I'd] have something on one deck, strings on the other, and that kind of thing. It was never about beat mixing.
"I'm kind of crap, really." She adds, "I think that's what I'm trying to say. To be honest with you, I haven't got time to spend five hours a day on the decks. I'd rather paint my toenails."