The New Anxiety
The 300+ year technologies built to capture, understand and connect the world - from maps through geostationary satellites to contemporary algorithms and big data collection - have been exposed as weapons-grade systems that pluralise reality and destabilise the present. How does living in this new anxious world feel, and how deep do these systems take root?
Amidst the tumultuous present day, moments of self-care and caring for others are more vital to the human experience than many may let on.
Care is survival, and this core understanding ripples through the work of performer, producer and vocalist Iceboy Violet.
The Manchester-based artist has garnered a swift following amongst the UK experimental underground for their signature live sets, where they redirect the aggressive toxic masculinity associated with Grime music in order to enact triumphant - and vital - queer catharsis. No Iceboy Violet show comes without the feeling that these outpourings of club-ready noise, overbearing physicality and gut-punching lyricism are necessary for the artist's survival, as if we - the audience - are clambering through the blizzard with them as they shed emotion like a rocket re-entering the atmosphere.
VIRTUALLYREALITY's artistic director Michael Brailey spoke to this rising star over e-mail, where they discussed world-building, escapism in the club, a queer perspective on Grime and more.
photo by Anastassia Radtsenko.
"I want the audience to completely lose
themselves. That's the definition of
euphoria for me ... it can be a literal
- Iceboy Violet
[MB] I’d really like to get a sense of your headspace during your performances as an overwhelming sense of emotion comes through. What's going through your mind on stage?
[IBV] Ideally, nothing. Thoughts often get in the way of emotion and as an anxious person, I feel like moments of surrender and bliss can quickly get eaten up. During my set, I try to just let go of myself and let all my shit out. Playing shows is one of the only times I feel at peace and I hope the catharsis I feel is shared with the audience. Most of the thoughts I do have during a set will be about trying to create a narrative that the audience can sink into, or looking around the room to see who/what I can interact with. The talking I do between songs is mostly improvised around things that have been on my mind lately, which I play with and extrapolate because it's not really all about me. Those parts are the most conscious I get. They’re emotional for me and I have to choose my words carefully, but then the beat drops back in and we can all just stop thinking for a bit.
[MB] Is that important to you - to create room in the club for people to not think and to just get lost?
[IBV] Yeah, definitely! I want them to think or find strength in what I say afterwards, but in the moment I want the audience to completely lose themselves. I think it makes for a better show for everyone. I think all musicians want the audience to be lost in the moment while listening to their music? That's like the definition of euphoria for me and it’s one of the biggest stress relievers, the best way to get a message across. It can be a literal life saver.
[MB] I wondered if you could speak about the creative process that went into creating your debut release 'MOOK'. How did this record take shape, and what were your reasons for making it?
[IBV] This project is probably unlike everything I'll ever release again, which is sad because I'd love to make more noise music, especially for live shows as it can be really effective and cathartic. It was made during a very specific time in my life when I was sleeping on my friends' floor, eating like shit and actively hating myself. I was in a really dark pit and the only thing that distracted me from my obsessive thought patterns was noise music. It was the only thing that could overstimulate my brain to the point where I couldn't think those thoughts for a while. I was also listening to loads of Grime at the time and saw within it all this pain that's kept hidden by the pressures of hyper-masculinity. It seemed like the same pressure I was feeling, the same inability to cope with my weaknesses - pain turned into anger. I made my own noise out of this music which symbolised when I felt most weak and most powerful, and I found they had a lot more in common than I thought.
[MB] In that case, where is you mind at now, and where does that leave you when making new music?
My mind is a lot more stable now. I self harm a lot less, I take much better care of myself and I have a limited, but existent sense of direction. I’m still embracing the messier, darker side because it's always there. I just don't want my music to be used to self-perpetuate sadness, so I always try and at least hint at a light at the end of the tunnel. I had an important experience when I saw SOPHIE play in Manchester when I was super depressed and suicidal. I danced my heart out and afterwards I walked up to SOPHIE and just burst into tears, struggling to get the words out - she was really lovely about it all. That experience gave me hope; it reminded me of the transcendental and sublime beauty in the world and it gave me direction.
At the moment I’m talking a lot about my own confusion regarding my identity, but try and frame it - alongside all the sadness - in an empowering way. I want to use a lot more fragile sounds, small but powerful sounds, sounds that shatter, break, split and disintegrate into something entirely new. There's beauty in breaking and being put back together, there's beauty in being weak, fragile and vulnerable. I want to glorify the reformation, not the destruction.
[MB] What is most important to you within the electronic music communities you are navigating at the moment?
[IBV] The circles I operate in are probably still in their infancy. I think a lot of us believe in the utopia of the club and are figuring out how to make that a reality for as many people as possible. Really though, my favourite thing at the moment is being in Manchester. Like seriously, everyone is killing it right now, has been killing it for time and will kill it indefinitely. I've gone to parties in Manchester and looked around and it's just overwhelming how much talent and love you're surrounded by. Everyone is so supportive as well which just cements that magic. You really just need to come down for the weekend and experience it for yourself - as long as you finish at The White Hotel, you've probably done it right. Shout out to Tom Boogizm, Strange Riddims, Faktion, Finn, Swing Ting, Club Romantico, NTS MCR, Hesska, P13, Kiss Me Again, Chow Down, SK Resi's, The White Hotel, the Soup Kitchen staff and events team, Limbo, of course boygirl and Mutualism and everyone else who keeps Manchester bumping 💜.
"I'm still trying to figure myself out,
and I feel like trying to present
a solid image of something liquid
is pointless. Identity is fluid and I
want to reflect that."
- Iceboy Violet
Iceboy Violet performing for SIREN / The Shape of Sound at Somerset House, 2018.
[MB] Privately, you have spoken about 'world-building' in your music. Could you expand on how and why you wish this to take shape?
[IBV] When I started out, Iceboy Violet was supposed to be a character who would inhabit a world, and there would be lyrical references to things that happen inside that world. For example, I envisaged myself having a pet snow monkey called Ekko who symbolised all sorts of things for me. Anyhow, I'm not fucking MF DOOM, I don't have the brain space for it and I'm not good at making things impersonal. Mx Violet turned from being something I could use as a barrier for shielding myself to something to make me way more vulnerable, and I massively prefer it like this.
I still think the concept of world-building is valuable for my live set so it's something I bear in mind with my productions. It’s very much tied into the collective catharsis that I keep going on about. I figure that if I can bring people into a sort of bubble where for 30/45 minutes they're somewhere else and we're all safe in a little queer world where everyone can let their own barriers down for a little bit, then I’ve succeeded.
[MB] I ask because the 'identity' - or more crudely - the 'brand' of Iceboy Violet seems so meticulously considered. Do you consider yourself to be fleshing out a world for the listener, a world whose boundaries are already pretty fixed in your mind, or are you blindsiding into uncharted territory and hoping we cling on for the ride?
[IBV] I’m really happy with the visual identity of Iceboy Violet and that's mostly down to Anastassia Radtsenko being an incredible photographer and occasionally striking gold myself. Generally, however, I'm making it up as I go along. I’m still trying to figure myself out, and I feel like trying to present a solid image of a something liquid is pointless. Identity is fluid and I want to reflect that, even during this interview typing 'Iceboy' over and over again is making me feel a lil dysphoric. My insta is fun but slow because I don't spend a lot of time on visual stuff - I'm going to try work on that though. It all ties into the vulnerability I want to get across; I'm not a super cool person, I'm cute and lame and sometimes funny and pretending otherwise is boring. I also love shitposting on Twitter and I don't think about my brand when I'm on there. I can be honest… building a fixed public identity isn't honest.
[MB] Where do you hope to creatively take your performances in the future?
[IBV] Tough question. Firstly, I want to be adaptable, to play on stages with hardcore kids, club kids, performance artists and more as I really respect that kind of flexibility and would love the challenge. I'm also planning on releasing another performance video similar to what I did for Siren, something a lot more conceptual as I've always been super interested in that side of things. On the other hand, performing without people looking at me all the time is also something I value. Each set I plan is unique so depending on the situation, the set may lean more one way or another. I can guarantee that an Iceboy set will always be a performance, however. I want to make people feel vulnerable, able to feel, able to cry or be angry and not have to hide it, so however I can do that, I'll figure it out.
Catch Iceboy Violet perform at VIRTUALLYREALITY
presents: Care @ Soup Kitchen on the 13th May 2019.