‘Everything’s Perpetual’ - An extended interview with Synthetic Children 

Extended version of an edited interview originally published on Undertheradar.co.nz, June 9th 2023.

Tash van Schaardenburg chats with Synthetic Children about her album Everything’s Perpetual, #audacitygirls production, and Te-Papaeioa’s booming trans and queer music scene, bringing forth intimate insights into the euphoric unions of transness and electronic music, and demonstrating how safe spaces for trans people and allyship in our local music scenes can bring transformation to our communities.

Tash: I’ve listened to all the other Synthetic Children releases before and this album in particular felt like a really biographical journey to me. Did it feel like that to you too?

Synthetic Children: The other day I listened back to my early sets and I still know what all of those songs were about, and what they mean, even though they mostly don't have lyrics. But now there is way more direct sampling of place, it sounds much more directly like Palmerston North and all the field recordings are from places that I've been over the last two years around here. The songs have way more specific memories attached to them, rather than just being about just a biographical feeling.

Tash: Yeah I feel that biographical feeling pulls through much stronger in this album, it's got this lifelike resonation from where you are in the world within. I definitely notice what I feel like is a bit of Palmy flare in it. It'd be cool to hear a bit about the Palmerston North electronic music scene because that's kind of what I found you through in the first place. It really piqued my curiosity that there was this vibrant and unique sound culture existing in a town so much smaller than than what I'm used to in Tamaki Makaurau, and the other major music hubs, and especially the TinyClub scene, there really seems to be a unique, special, special thing going on there.

Synthetic Children: Since 2019 the Palmy electronic scene has really kicked into its own. Pre-Tinyclub people used to go to the electronic gigs because they were the afterparties to the bands. When I was 16 going to gigs, there would always be these after-functions, with artists like Takaro Techno Club (Hayden). Hayden would be playing these hectic hardware remixes of songs like "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard" and they were super cooked. Bass would rattle the outside of the building and it was so exciting. But it always had this vibe of being an after party, and that the bands were where the main listening was. Palmy's bands had a very distinct slowcore, and emo influence. There’s a proper scene now of live electro stuff. We just got a new manager at The Stomach and the first show under their tutelage was a May 4th Star Wars themed electronic gig. There are great bands still but it's kinda like electronic music is an equal now.

Tash: Star Wars themed 160 BPM electronic music sounds like a cool crossover.

Synthetic Children: Yeah, I think Palmy people love, love a party and they love a reason to go out and party because we don't have clubs. We don't have many cool bars or anything. So if you're gonna "go out-go out" and not just sit at home drinking beers then Palmy people enjoy a bit of a theme. So anytime we do a Tiny Club thing there's always a theme. It's usually an overly toxic theme; Sluts & Zombies and stuff like that. But it seems to work for convincing people to come out to shows

Tash: Do you feel like there's a deeper connection for you when you’re going to the club as a trans person - I know a lot of trans musicians find the club as a place of worship, and somewhere that brings them to a safer space. Is there something like that in Palmy where the hectic nature of the parties is connected to the freedom the trans community are finding in them?

Synthetic Children: Our mainstream nightlife is scary and unsafe in my opinion, so TinyClub and other venues like Snails and The Stomach have been real havens for queer people in our scene. We have some great allies running these venues, and particularly at Tinyclub with it being a semi-private venue it's been awesome to see very direct allyship protecting queer people from the rest of the nightlife while still having a welcoming vibe. You know, having older men be unashamedly and active allies at our gigs, who would kick people out if they were making dancers uncomfortable was so important to making it what it is now. So many of our friends have only had club experiences at Tinyclub, because they didn't have anywhere else that they could go for this experience. It was never intended to be a queer haven but it's just happened.
At one point, I remember looking around at a gig and noticing how many trans girls there were with me, and in my head I was like: This is Palmerston North, and there's all these girls here together, and this largely happened because of electronic music, and spaces like TinyClub. You can safely have a queer night out at these venues. There’s nowhere else you can really go for that. 

Tash: I feel like local trans artists have been dominating the Student Radio Network charts all the time at the moment, and a lot of electronic trans artists. I mean, you've been there twice now. Right? Everytime I check those charts, there's at least one trans artist on it.

Synthetic Children: Yeah, it's pretty awesome to see. That was also part of why we wanted Tiny Club to grow in the way that it did. We started showing new people how to DJ and would quickly encourage them to play a gig. Heaps of people who wanted to DJ were queer, and then everyone would bring friends, bringing more people together. For finding tunes as well, I'm friends with Fi who worked at Radio Control and they introduced me to lots of trans club artists like Amamelia. It’s been important knowing that there are trans people in New Zealand who are making music that I relate to and succeeding as an artist.

Tash: That reminds me of the the final track on the album, the dreams come thru.

Synthetic Children: Lowkey the most trans track actually. Yeah.

Tash: It's so full of warmth compared to a lot of the album. The trans euphoria comes straight through loud and clear. Let's talk about the album!

Synthetic Children: It's a good place to start, at the end.

Tash: There's a lot of dark places that this album goes before finishing on this very euphoric note.

Synthetic Children: It became apparent when I finished all of the solo tracks, that even though this album is club oriented, it's depressive club - to me anyway. When I got to the collabs, I really wanted to work with more trans people and capture the flipside, the positive experiences I've had since I started transitioning. I've experienced significant depression in the last few years but by hanging out with way more queer people, and through some of the things that happened in my Body, I engaged a gender euphoria, and a whole new approach creatively and philosophically. I wanted to capture how much fun you can have being trans, and also something about dreams.... I was having these dreams about dying as a girl, oddly really happy dreams. Dying is usually a nightmare where you gasp and you wake up, but every time I would die in these dreams, I would be a girl, and I would think to myself: "Aw, that's kind of nice". So that's where the name for the track came from (dreams come thru).
I wanted to make it trancey and dreamlike, but at the same time, very real in its happiness. Sam/Impress was so good at translating all that bullshit into sound. I went to her house and we plugged my Volca FM into Ableton for the arpeggios, and we sampled Titanium by David Guetta as a joke. The vocals sound familiar in a cursed way, like how in dreams you see things and you're not quite sure what it is, just that it’s familiar. All these things were part of channeling my trans-euphoria realised through dreaming. It’s also a bit of a joke.

All the weird side effects are from this fucking Star Wars game that Sam has on PlayStation, and then it ends on a classic Grime flute sample. That’s because I showed Sam this horrendous Skepta track called Transformers, and the lyrics are horrific. The lyric is like "Transvestites, more than meets the eye. Transvestites, mandem in disguise.", and it samples the Transformers theme song. Sam and I just cracked up at the idea of this grime MC hating trans people, and we were like "Let's just invert that and make the gayest grime track ever.” The Track was probably made like 2003 - He might be woke now.

Tash: Before you called the album 'depressing', for me I found it really cathartic. I felt like so many of the tracks hit that sweet spot between a sad and an angry feeling, or maybe that’s a passionate feeling. How did the making of the album feel? Did it come together over a long time?

Synthetic Children: I spent 2020-2021ish writing new tracks on an Elektron Model:Samples that arrived just before the country got fully locked up. Then, I was still unsure about who I was and the lockdown era forced me to grapple with this, and some other repressed traumas. Subconsciously I guess I was coming to terms with myself via the drum machine.
The album tracks came to be projected onto specific locations. This notably happened at Beatcamp, an event hosted in February of 2022 anxd 2023 by the TinyClub crew - Hayden, Cam, Aidan, and myself. We took a bunch of music gear out to Āpiti’s remote Sixtus Lodge. It was a camp for experienced and new producers to learn from each other. I recorded 3 tracks at these, including sixtus dub in 2022, and it’s where lots of the field recordings are from.

Tash: Like the ruru at the end of sixtus dub?

Synthetic Children: The Ruru, and a glow worm walk for all the stream sounds and naturally reverberating cave sounds. Then there’s the metal gate to the lodge rattling. I got to Beatcamp before anyone else did and it was pissing down but I couldn't get inside. So I was swinging this gate and recording it.
When I went to record at BeatCamp, I was in a much better place mentally, around all of my friends. On the second BeatCamp, there were like six trans people there, which was awesome. So I was surrounded by all this lovely energy, and that made its way into the recording and the mixes of the album. 

Then I guess the third stage of writing was the collabs. I already talked about the one with Sam, but writing with Jess and Rosa was hilarious. They spent hours teaching me some music theory, because I don't know any, and Jess is a music theory nerd. Rosa had her violin and she came up with this cool progression, then right as I was going to hit record she dropped the violin and it snapped. We were just like: “What the fuck are we gonna do now?” Turns out that Jess's mum randomly had a spare viola collecting dust. So we ended up recording on that, and it was the most bones set up. I had no gear to record properly, so I just took a SM58 vocal mic, cranked the gain, and recorded the room. Then I sent it through a like 4 reverb and delay pedals, and that's why it sounds super cursed and ghostly, yeah…

Tash: That track really does lull you into some sort of dark ghostly place. You’re talking about u will hollow, right?

Synthetic Children: Yeah, it's a Dark Souls reference

Tash: I always feel there are distant ghostly dance floors throughout the album. Dark Souls dance floors?

Synthetic Children: Yeah, I'm a massive burial fan so the distant dancefloor thing is probably that influence rubbing off on me.

Tash: I remember when I first saw you play a set I was a little surprised by your hardware set up for how detailed and textured a lot of the sounds are that Synthetic Children performs and how big the sound are. I hadn’t seen people using Volcas to make music like that before and you produced this album on Audacity too? Tell me more! Is it that we all have been looking down on Audacity as a DAW and it's actually more complex and got all these great ways of doing things we don't know about?

Synthetic Children: Absolutely not. I have great admiration for people who actually have the patience to learn software like Ableton but I've never done music in any sort of educational setting. I've never had access to it and I felt like I didn't have the money previously, or the time now, to go and learn that. I find Audacity forces me to forge my sound on the hardware so that I don't rely on external processing. I really enjoy the tangibility of hardware and the clunkiness of its limits. I think it forces you to be creative, and that's the same with Audacity. For example, if your DAW doesn't let you sidechain properly, then either you're going to figure out an alternative, or you're going to make something that sounds completely different. I still struggle with confidence in my mixing, when especially my sub bass doesn’t hit as hard as I would like, because I haven't used Ableton to process it and blah, blah, blah. But, I am also proud that it sounds like me, and captures my messy live sound. It doesn't fall into those kinds of genre mixing tropes, it doesn’t sound cloned. Outside of music I often feel a bit alien, like I do things differently, especially from what most people in Palmerston North are used to. I kind of think it's crack up that there's a parallel to that with the way I produce and the way things end up sounding because of that. You should see the EQ settings that are on Audacity though, it's horrible.

I don't think I can make music not on hardware, to be honest. The process closest to it that I've ever come was on dreams come thru. But that was still hardware for the main synth line, and I couldn't have done any of that without Sam. She clearly feels comfortable in the software environment and can use it very expressively.

Tash: Can you name drop some of your favourite local trans musicians who we should be listening to?

Synthetic Children: Obviously Impress is the number one because she features on the album. She just put out her first thing on Bandcamp called DJ, thank you so much. It's a bunch of hilariously good ambient trance edits of hip hop tracks. That's a whole world of music that I am not in, but when Sam makes it, I want to be in that world. I think there's big things coming soon from Impress, possibly on Bankrupt Records. So keep an eye out for that.

Skye is a friend of mine in Palmy and she's a really cool trans woman, and she hasn't released anything on her own page yet. But there was a compilation that my friends did called felt cute, might delete later on Morris Street Network and Skye has a track on that. Her artist name is Cactus and she has a track on there called unfuckable, and it's dialled. It was a big inspiration for me in rewriting Body. Body was a track that I had originally done on my first album and it used to be just a weird synth sound that lurks and there was no beat at all. But then I heard Skyes unfuckable and I thought, “Wow, she's made a club track about dysphoria”, and I really wanted to do that. So, that was a big part of why I rewrote Body. A collab is coming in the future.

I feel like mentioning my own band Bitch Whistle. Jess doesn't have a solo project yet, so this is my way of shouting out Jess. Bitch whistle is Jess, Fi, and myself. I think if I had been sixteen years old, and seen a band with three regional, specifically regional, trans women; not the typically cool Wellington, Auckland, queers; but regional trans women. If I saw that when I was sixteen: three people on a stage making a lot of beautiful, aggressive music, and expressing themselves and being openly trans, I think that I would have changed my life a lot quicker.



Image Credits: Exhibition Texts: Sarah Callesen - exhibition poster

SoundBleed is an online journal of critical writing around sound in NZ/Aotearoa – a forum for discussion around sound-related activity and practice.



SoundBleed is an online journal of critical writing around sound in NZ/Aotearoa – a forum for discussion around sound-related activity and practice.

Image Credits: Exhibition Texts:
Sarah Callesen - exhibition poster