Back in 2014, Khaela Maricich and Melissa Dyne, the two members of the lo-fi indie electro duo The Blow, left their home in the bustling concrete jungle of New York City and spent some time in New Mexico—where Dyne attended college—to reconnect with friends and recuperate.
During that time, the pieces of their most recent record, Brand New Abyss, began to come together, as the two started writing songs that eventually would end up on the album.
“People say that there’s an underground crystal formation,” Maricich said of the state. “Like that the bedrock is actually made of crystal stretching from Mexico up into New Mexico, and that people are honestly tapping into it.”
And in a sense, it feels like Brand New Abyss was borne out of that energy too.
As they tell it, New Mexico is full of soft, pastel landscapes and “deeply nice” New Age-y people, making it one of their favorite places to play.
“It’s so quiet, so you really can get deep with the frequencies,” Dyne said.
As the album-writing process unfolded over the next couple years, the two traveled to unlikely places to write, largely focusing on the idea of presence.
“We didn’t listen to anything while we were doing it,” Dyne said. “It really was like, ‘Well, what if we were just influenced by each other? What happens if you shut the door and shut the windows? What would we make?'”
This shift was a new way of doing things, but it was also partially a reaction to the world we live in today, which can sometimes feel abstract and disconnected.
“Everything is so algorithmically removed from a sense of immediacy,” Maricich said. “And we just want the sounds that we make to be constructed in the moment we make them. We wanted this organic process, and also this kind of freedom.”
Together, the two created a set up of modular synths and other analog gear—including a Prophet 2000—which was designed to be portable enough to accompany them on the road, which means the way the album was written and recorded is nearly the same way it’s performed live.
But one minor difference between the album and the live show is the fact that the Prophet 2000 was too bulky, expensive, and temperamental to bring across the Atlantic, so Maricich and Dyne switched it out for a different sampler and keyboard instead.
“To us, it sounds extremely different, even though I think it’s very very minimal…I don’t think anybody else can actually tell,” Maricich explained. “[But] we’re like little canaries in the coalmine of sound: One little change and we’re like ‘That’s totally different!'”
On that note, longtime fans of The Blow might also have noticed that Brand New Abyss doesn’t ooze with the catchy pop hooks and preprogrammed sounds that Maricich and Dyne have come to be known for. But this shift toward more minimal electronic music is married to the idea of creating all the sounds themselves.
“Because we have done things that are really pop, I feel like the music that we’ve made with this record is really being judged totally through this lens of like, ‘Well, it’s not very good mainstream pop,'” Maricich explained.
“[But] we didn’t want to make a mainstream pop record!” Dyne added.
That’s one of the reasons The Blow is so stoked to be touring in Europe.
“I’m excited that we’re making experimental electronic music in a place that has a really strong foundation of experimental electronic music,” Maricich said. “It already feels like [there’s] more of a sense of understanding.”
And not having to explain themselves or justify their choices is important to The Blow, not only in regard to Brand New Abyss, but also just as musicians in general.
“Sometimes as women making electronic music, there’s a little bit of an assumption that you don’t know what you’re doing,” Maricich said.
Dyne, the gearhead of the group, nodded emphatically. Both she and Maricich are all too familiar with sound engineers at shows treating them as if they don’t know how to play their instruments or manage their setup. And they’re certainly not alone in experiencing this, which is one of the reasons why they decided to launch WOMANPRODUCER.
“It started as this idea that as we were making the record and we were really getting into synthesis, we realized that…the beginning of synthesis is really, is kind of non-binary. There are a lot of women, there are a lot of trans people, there was this whole world that wasn’t being written about. And I was like ‘Why don’t I know this?'” Dyne shared.
“I was having a really hard time with Google,” she continued. “I was really frustrated with their algorithm of how they file people, like this click and serve kind of idea. And I started to realize, the more you click on something, the more it stays around in the ether, [and] the only way to get these people seen is to make it really easy for people to click on the information.”
So first they began compiling information with links to pictures and interviews to establish an archive without an editorial voice. But then it began to evolve—to a label for releasing and promoting music, and also to a platform for women and trans or non-binary individuals doing their own production to connect with one another, create community, and build a sense of kinship.
“That’s what happened when we did a live version. We did a series where there were performances, and then we did a panel, and it was Neko Case, Zola Jesus, Miho Hatori from Cibo Matto, and Suzi Analogue,” Dyne said. “It was so cool to get all these people together and talk, because we’re all from different genres…the algorithm wouldn’t ever have us together. And here, everyone had everything in common, because everyone’s producing themselves, and no one’s getting credit for it.”
And indeed, with Brand New Abyss, the production skills of Maricich and Dyne shine, but their live show takes it a step further with a DIY production rig made of hacked synthesizers and samplers that allow the two to play around with raw frequencies and pure electronic waves on stage.
“We brought all this really amazing analog electronic gear [on tour], and it’s a total hassle, but it’s so fun to perform with,” Dyne said. “We get to do everything. We’re patching and we’re changing the knobs [and everything in between]. And it’s a wild ride. It’s always a little different.”
The Blow plays April 9 at Kantine am Berghain in Berlin. The show begins at 20.30.