The Sound Of: Alien Jams
London label Alien Jams has been releasing music that balances propulsive dancefloor energy with extraterrestrial experimentation since 2014. Alongside a mix from its catalogue, founder Chloe Frieda chats to Eoin Murray about the label's origins on NTS Radio, creating an inclusive platform for artists, and how moving away from vinyl has allowed it to thrive
Anyone who’s caught themselves in a moment in the corridors of a dark club — where propulsive, main room beats become muffled in the wash of ambient crowd noise and the enticing out-thereisms of Room 2 — has already felt the vibe of Alien Jams. In those moments of surfing suspense between rhythms, moods and temperatures, the dance feels dizzy with cosmic potential. It’s a feeling that Chloe Frieda’s label has bottled and sold across its 18 releases to date.
From the rumbling distortion and tape-hiss pulse of oMMM’s ‘Parallel Lines Converge’, which launched the imprint, to EPs and albums by rkss, Beatrice Dillon & Karen Gwyer, Wilted Woman and more, Alien Jams fuses techno, electro and EBM with noise, dark ambient and sound collage. The parameters of what constitutes music for the club and music for headphones are stretched to their limits across its catalogue, and the results are never less than thrilling.
Alien Jams has its origins in 2011, as one of the first regular shows on NTS Radio. Frieda, who had relocated to London from Bellingham, Washington a couple of years before, had previously held a residency on the university station KUGS FM, and wanted to start a new show exploring the history of electronic music.
Listening to early episodes of Alien Jams, the sounds of electronic pioneers like Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, Morton Subotnik and Kraftwerk appear alongside cuts of post-punk, minimal synth and industrial music; Frieda digs deep into obscure scenes, as well as introducing contemporary innovators. Gradually, her interests leaned further into newer sounds, which have in turn become the label’s focus.
“When I started doing the show I was doing a lot of research into technology developing in the ’60s and ’70s, and things changing in the sounds,” Frieda says. “I still have that as part of the show, and I think it is quite nice to have that background because it is this kind of backbone — but now, I try to give a platform to newer artists. I’m interested in just showcasing new stuff.”
The decision to launch a label came naturally. Frieda was discovering so much new, exciting music, right on her doorstep, that the popular impulse to reissue older underground oddities didn’t appeal to her, despite her admiration of imprints that do. “I thought, ‘What’s happening in London right now is quite interesting, so instead of obsessing about the past, why not see what is actually happening now?’”
From the hyper-kinetic dancefloor freakouts of YAWS’ ‘NEW’ and the aquatic grooves of rkss’ ‘Cutoff’, to the twisted psychedelic techno of Wilted Woman’s ‘Home Listener’ and Hoshina Anniversary’s coarse Japanese minimalism, there is variety at the heart of the Alien Jams repertoire — and even within releases themselves.
“I think it’s a gut feeling when it comes to choosing what to release,” Frieda says. “I can usually tell pretty quickly if it’s interesting. It’s something that you can't quite put your finger on, as far as genre goes... I like it when it’s a mix of genres and I try not to be super predictable — but then, also, to have this thread within it, so that it makes sense within the context of past releases.”
When Frieda launched Alien Jams, there were few electronic music labels in the UK being run by women. While she says things are “going in the right direction” when it comes to addressing the gender imbalance within the scene, there’s still, she emphasises, a lot of work to be done. Creating a platform that is representative of artists from different backgrounds and genders is important to Frieda; it’s become both an intuitive and deliberate part of the label’s process.
“I do find that I gravitate towards music produced by women,” she says, “and so, in some ways, it happens naturally. But at the same time, I do try to have a conscious aim to be inclusive, and to keep a good balance by reaching out to artists. Being able to see representation of people like you within the music industry is such an important thing,” she continues.
“If you run a label, that’s a position where you’re able to change things. It’s just a shame when that doesn’t happen, isn’t it? Because it would encourage more women to make music. Occasionally I'll get emails from people, especially female artists, and they’ll be like: ‘I listened to your radio show, and that’s what helped me get into electronic music’. That is just so amazing. Having somebody say that is just such a huge thing.”
With Frieda’s day job partially affected by the pandemic, she was able to dedicate more time to the label, and a strong run of releases in the past year has featured some of its most adventurous music to date. London-based Swedish artist aircode’s ‘Effortless’ was written over the course of a year of intense sleep deprivation: with disjointed electronic rhythms and dizzying vocal loops, it “reflects a period of disorientation, social claustrophobia, and the unbridled feeling of a loss of focus”.
Nexcyia’s ‘Crawl’ EP is a tapestry of disjointed club echoes and mesmerising ambience, with its six tracks being described by the artist as “meditations on posthumanism influenced by swings of loneliness, vulnerability, anxiety and — on a subconscious level — otherness”.
Nick Klein & Wilted Woman’s second collaborative release for the label, ‘Cafe Music 2: Werewolves of London’, was released in July 2020. The 25-minute, freeform electronic live set was originally recorded at an Alien Jams live showcase in Dalston’s Cafe Oto in September 2019. An intoxicating trip into kosmische sample manipulation, modular synth melodies and rib-rattling bass drones, it arrived as a timely reminder of Alien Jams’ vital live element, around which a small but bustling community of artists and fans has formed, an has beeen missed in the past year.
“I didn't actually realise that that was such an important side of the label,” she says. “Being able to physically see people... That's just such a joy for me that really helps everything. You feel like you're part of something. It was really great to have a chance to actually do more releases [this past year], but because it didn't have the live side, it felt really weird. You would have a release for an artist and then they couldn't really play it live. That's such a big part of it.”
Alien Jams’ most recent release — ‘Irmãs’, by Portuguese artist Serpente — was issued on cassette, as part of the label’s move away from vinyl. Since 2019, Frieda has focused on an almost exclusively digital infrastructure, with occasional tapes and prints providing a slimmed-down physical presence. The reasons for the change include environmental and financial concerns, but the move to digital has allowed the label to flourish, and to champion more artists in the process.
It’s something Frieda sees as an exciting prospect: not only for Alien Jams, but for creating a healthy and varied ecosystem for experimental electronic music in London and beyond. “It’s allowed me to do more frequent releases and to take a chance on newer artists,” she says. “Digital releases make it much more possible to start a label from a DIY standpoint, so I think as a result there are alot more labels that have started in recent years in the same world musically.”
As Alien Jams navigates this transitional phase of pandemic life, Frieda is taking stock before deciding on the label’s return to live events, but hints at more new music being announced soon. With the monthly radio show still in full swing after 10 years, and worlds of extraterrestrial sound waiting to be discovered in its catalogue, there’s never been a better time to lift off into the Alien Jams universe.
Below, you can hear an exclusive mix of cuts from the Alien Jams catalogue, recorded by Frieda and label affiliate Recsund.
Want more experimental electronic music? Check out KMRU's Fresh Kicks mix feature and Lawrence English's Bandcamp Selections
Eoin Murray is DJ Mag's deputy digital editor. You can find him on Twitter @eoin_murraye
Photo credit: El Hardwick
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