Finding the Emotion in EDM
Photos by Harvey K. RobinsonGreensboro-based DJ, Singer and Producer Quilla
There’s a gender divide in EDM. That’s not very unusual in the world of music, nor in the world at large, of course. But the electronic dance music scene is dominated by male DJs and producers. And yet the sound of women’s voices is central to many of the genre’s biggest songs. And women make up a large part of the audience.
Quilla “” a Canadian-born singer, programmer and DJ who’s lived in Greensboro for the last four years “” makes electronic dance music, and she’s critical of the ways that women’s contributions to the music sometimes get buried, overlooked or processed beyond recognition. Quilla, whose offstage name is Anna Luisa Daigneault, performs Nov. 14 at The Crown at the Carolina Theater in Greensboro on a bill with Ava Luna and Brick Pollitt. Her work counterbalances some of the gender demographics and near-standard production techniques within the genre.
“I started producing my own tracks just within the last couple of years, and I’m part of a growing movement of women making their own beats and making their own tracks,” says Daigneault.
As a singer and producer, Quilla has grown suspicious about the role that technology and computer manipulation are deployed to alter women’s voices. In a genre that’s practically defined by its inorganic foundations “” with programmed beats, samples and largely laptop-generated sounds “” Quilla strives for a recorded representation of her voice that is closer to what an actual human voice sounds like.
“The producers in the electronic music world “” it’s male dominated, and they’re eager to take female vocals and use them as a sample and use them however they want.”
It’s not that Quilla avoids or shuns computer processing, effects and Auto-Tune altogether. She stresses there are numerous tracks she’s sung on where the voice is almost unrecognizable as hers. “I don’t have an ideological boundary line,” she says.
She’s just arrived at a place where she’s concluded that not only is it perhaps worth asking why “” with a mind to larger cultural and historical issues “” women’s voices get treated that way, but she’s also come to believe that the human voice is in fact the organic essence at the heart of EDM, it’s the flesh-andblood nugget that makes the machine-music meaningful and that resonates with listeners.
“The songs that people gravitate to in dance music are the songs that have a strong emotional element,” she says. “I think it’s important to keep some of the things that people relate to in it “” and that’s melodies, the human voice, and it’s all the stories that the songs tell.”
Daigneault, 32, was born in Montreal, Canada. She spent formative years in the experimental and indie scene there as it exploded with the success of bands like Arcade Fire. Her work in the sphere of electronic dance music can be viewed as a return to the house and rave scenes she experienced as a teenager.
“I’m a reformed raver myself,” she says. Daigneault is possibly situated at the age-demographic sweet spot with regard to being an ambassador or boundarypusher for EDM. She’s old enough to have a connection to earlier scenes and to make dance music that can win over converts who’ve possibly stayed clear of the genre up until now. But, really, no relatively new eruption of youth music has much of a chance at achieving authentic resonance if it doesn’t successfully alienate older people. EDM seems to have that part covered, based on the often contemptuous dismissals of the music from Gen-X music writers and others. Not all older listeners are oblivious to the music’s appeal though.
“People who were ravers in the ’90s are all over it, because they know it and see the influences,” says Daigneault. “Mostly it’s younger people who are into electronic music because they’re using Soundcloud and Spotify a lot more. They’re paying attention.”
Daigneault has recorded under numerous names and in collaboration with many other artists and producers. Her vocals have been used on tracks by producers like the Dutch DJ Tiesto and others. She also hosts a weekly radio show on WUAG featuring EDM from around the world as well as home-grown dance music from North Carolina.
Daigneault also studied linguistic anthropology, which brought her to archeology sites around the world, which subtly influence her perspective on music. She’s studied North Indian classical music and opera as well as piano. In live performances she sings, plays keyboards and operates looping pedals as well, which is a level of hands-on real-time performance that also sets her apart in the EDM world. Her piano playing wedges in an almost baroque sensibility to some of her tracks. She also says that her early exposure to tango music gave her a taste for other ways of incorporating unexpected rhythmic accents into her music.
“I try to make syncopated grooves that are not necessarily what you’d expect, so that it’s a little off kilter, but it still fits,” she says. “I like using the rhythm of the piano in a way that’s a little bit strange for dance music, but it still works.”
She aims to push the subject matter of her songs beyond the standard realm of pop songs. “I try to bring themes from our ancient past, the cosmos, the inner world of each person, into my music, but it is very contemporary, electronic, and I spend a lot of time learning the latest music software. I try to use pop music as a platform to talk about bigger themes, not just love and loss and betrayal, but to explore other topics as well.”
But no matter how heady and vaguely academic one might get in a discussion about women and lyrics and demographics with regard to EDM, it’s still music that generally succeeds or fails on the dancefloor, at loud volumes.
“The true litmus test is to take [a new track] to a show and see how they react to it,” she says. “Do they instantly start moving or do they just do nothing?” The communal, ecstatic club-centric nature of EDM, as it’s often experienced, sets up a contrast with the solitary at-the-computer nature of how it’s produced. In a live setting “” and unlike some rock, folk, jazz or indie shows where audience members often don’t seem to know how to resolve their bodies’ inclination to move to the music “” the kinetic imperative of EDM is one of the music’s chief attractions.
“Everyone can rally around the beat,” says Daigneault. !
Wanna go? Quilla will play on the bill for the Ava Luna show being hosted by WUAG 103.1 at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14 at The Crown at the Carolina Theatre, 310 S Greene St, Greensboro. Tickets are $5 and more info is available at carolinatheatre.com.