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Bubblin' Up: Phoebe Kiddo

  • Words: Nathan Reese
  • Photo: Vivia De La Chesnais (top image)

Producer Phoebe Kiddo's path toward releasing her debut LP, Artefacts of Broken Dreams, has spanned years, continents, and even consciousnesses (she's especially interested in the meditative effect that sound has on the human mind). Filled with syncopated rhythms, dark atmospherics, and copious sub-bass, her music fuses dancefloor rhythms with cerebral experimentation. "Moving into a space and creating another world—our embodied experience—can be influenced by sound. It's why I feel like it's one of the most powerful mediums to work with artistically," she says.

Currently based in Berlin, Kiddo was actually born in Australia, where she grew up in a family that surrounded itself with music. "Free-playing and jams were just part of growing up, as was being able to play instruments ourselves," she says. "My parents were reformed hippies and our whole upbringing was dotted with lots of parties and so on—lots of psychedelic rock and folk music." Kiddo's father even constructed his own instruments. "He's been through a lot of phases. Ukuleles and some banjos. Music has always been really celebrated, but nobody had any classical training. It was really kind of a DIY situation."

Like her parents, Kiddo was also self-taught, and her freewheeling household allowed her to develop a strong sense of musicality and rhythm. "I've kind of been trained in 'anti-music,' really. The opposite of traditional training, I guess. I've always been very interested in rhythm. Later, software, drum machines, and recording kept me interested." Though Kiddo is now known for her ties to the world of experimental dance music, it wasn't until her late teens that she began to discover electronic music. "Melbourne had a really thriving warehouse party scene [that] took a lot of influence from Detroit techno, and I got interested—as many young people do—in rave culture," she says.

Considering the conceptual vocabulary with which she describes her work, it makes sense that Kiddo wasn't always settled solely on a career as a producer. "I always pursued painting and other forms of art," she remembers. Kiddo's decision to focus primarily on music came as a sudden realization. "I recognized sound as an artististic medium in contrast to sound as musical medium, and that lead me on a discovery of a bit more far-out forms of electronic music."


(Photo by Dustin Delaney)

As it turned out, Kiddo's interest in electronic music dovetailed nicely with her goal of studying fine art in a formal setting. After enrolling at RMIT University (in Melbourne) with a major in sound, Kiddo's focus began to narrow. "I was like, 'This is the trajectory where I'd like my creative, artistic, and professional life to follow,'" she says. After completing her degree, she was ready to uproot herself and take off for San Francisco when she applied to the Red Bull Music Academy. "I was just finishing up my university degree and I had already applied to a grant [in San Francisco], so I was already packing up and getting ready to go over to the States. Basically a whole bunch of friends put a bunch of pressure on me to apply. I got my application in a great rush, packed my bags, and went off to the USA," she recalls.

After arriving in San Francisco, Kiddo spent time developing her visual arts side. "I was pursuing an artist residency there working on video sampling and fairly geeky, conceptual installation-type work. I wasn't sure how long I was going to spend in the United States," she says. However, she soon learned that she had been accepted to the 2011 Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid, and within a few months had headed off to Spain. As it turned out, Kiddo's last-minute decision to apply to RBMA proved to be indispensable to her evolution as an artist. "It was a really special experience. RBMA introduced me to a global community of people who are now very much my dear friends around the world, which was one of the things I really wanted when leaving Australia—to participate in a global art world," she says. "I'd already done so much and been involved in so many things that I felt like there was a roof where that experience and artistry could come from that environment. I really desired to go out into the world to see what was happening in other places and meet other artists and be a part of different communities in the world. Red Bull was very much a fast track to that." (As it turns out, her new album is seeing release via the Non Projects label, an imprint headed up by fellow RBMA Madrid alum Anenon.)


(Photo by Dan Wilton)

Now, nearly two years after her RBMA experience, Kiddo lives in Germany—a decision that she made based on the same intuitive method imbued in her hypnagogic music. After moving back to California following the Red Bull Music Academy (this time to Los Angeles), Kiddo took a trip to visit her brother, who had moved to Berlin. The city stuck in her mind, and soon she decided to join him. "This is going to be difficult to articulate," she says. "But a big part of what influenced where I went and what I did was based on intuition and dreams. We grew up with a lot of Jungian psychology. I had been having a lot of nightmares and it really felt like something was amiss in my psyche. This whole journey has very much been an exploration of intuition and seeking of growth and expansion of consciousness."

Listening to Kiddo's music, it's almost possible to visualize her nomadic biography. Both Tripping on the Wake of Goodbyes (a free EP released earlier this year) and Artefacts of Broken Dreams have an almost synesthetic aspect to their densely programmed sounds that could be traced back to Kiddo's history as a visual artist, while her songs draw parallels to a variety of experimental electronic artists. "Psyche" from the EP moves propulsively forward with an organic sound that's reminiscent of Gold Panda, while "When the Soul Lies Down" mixes murky synths with a skittering similar to something Machinedrum—a favorite of Kiddo's—might dream up. "I've played a lot in art galleries and nightclubs, but I mainly listen to music at home," says Kiddo. "I think I've used up my rave chi in my time. My experience is generally quite reflective, so I think my music is in that world."

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