On 2011′s eerily compelling album W, Planningtorock came wrapped in mystery — not to mention an astonishing facial prosthesis. Designed to undercut the typical assessment of a female singer’s looks, the heavy brow and nose shifted Jam Rostron’s identity as much as her pitched-down vocals, making her look like a beautiful and terrifying cross between a Roman emperor and intergalactic queen. On third album All Love’s Legal, however, the Bolton-raised, Berlin-based electronic musician, producer and video artist strips things back, heading straight for the gender-political jugular with a sharpened sense of intent. Worried that the lyrical ambiguities of W weren’t reflecting the issues most important in her life, Rostron found a new directness in last year’s remix of friends The Knife’s track “Full Of Fire” — retitled “Let’s Talk About Gender, Baby, Let’s Talk About You & Me” — and the Misogyny Drop Dead EP. With all All Love’s Legal, she pushes her message into the pulsing heart of the dance floor: “I don’t want to wait/ patriarchal life you’re out of date.”
Victoria Segal Skyped with Rostron to talk about balancing the provocative and the playful.
What was the nature of the “creative block” you said you experienced after the release of W?
It wasn’t so much writer’s block as a massive rethink. W, I love that album, but I can see that record was a big transitional period for me. There are certain things I wanted to achieve with it that didn’t happen. At the time I thought I had to be more ambiguous, come round the side and leave a lot of space for people to interpret; after that record, I thought, “That didn’t work for me.” I questioned why I went about W like that. Was I afraid of being challenged, or challenging things? From that point of feeling utterly depressed I thought, “Right, I’m going to try and write a track about an issue and be more direct about it,” which is how I came to write “Patriarchy Over and Out.” That for me was the catalyst, the template for All Love’s Legal.
How has misogyny manifested itself in your experience of the music industry? Do women working on the more technical side still face prejudice?
Are you aware of the group Female Pressure? They collect data about the percentage of women and men among promoters, on music festival bills — anything to do with music. It’s always incredibly shocking to find out the lack of women on record labels. There are lots of labels that have no women on them and have never released a female producer, festivals that only have 5 percent women on the team. Being a music producer, in a gender-political sense I experience misogyny all the time. Male producers really support each other and there are lots of forums where male producers discuss each other’s work. It’s also a norm for men to be geeky and nerdy and into that and society is perfectly happy to imagine that’s what men do. Society does not make you feel that it wants to imagine that’s what women do.
All Love’s Legal develops your interest in dance music. How do the dancefloor and politics mix for you?
A funny thing happened after W — because it came out on DFA people just started to book me as a DJ without any idea whether I could DJ or not! I learned a lot from doing those gigs, though. When you play for four or five hours, you really start to see how people feel about dance music, and how powerful it is. I just think dancing and being with people in big groups in a room is a great way to hear something else lyrically. It was also important for me that All Love’s Legal was a happy record. Misogyny can be a very dark subject — it’s a word that’s always scared me. But dance music is a good sonic carrier for those kind of messages.
On the track “Human Drama,” you sing that “Gender’s just a lie” but also “just a game.” It’s both oppressive and playful.
I love this quote from [queer theory pioneer] Judith Butler where she talks about gender as just a performance, something you just put on. It’s a construct, it’s not essentialist at all. And once you start to think of it like that, it’s lots of fun. There’s lots you can do with it.
Visuals are important to Planningtorock’s identity, but did you worry that by playing with your image, you would escape one pigeonhole, “female singer-songwriter,” only to be placed in another, “singer with the prosthetic nose”?
It crossed my mind, but I talk myself out of doubts by saying this is a language — drawing, video, recording yourself, it’s all language. You have to maintain a really healthy playfulness to it, or you just get bogged down.
The new videos released have continued with the provocative visual element. In “Welcome,” one woman is shown sitting on the back of another; in “Human Drama,” Moe Tucker wigs and shades stand out amid the bursts and blooms of fluid colours. Can you talk about the ideas behind them?
There’s a lot of discussion at the moment — rightly so — about feminism being so white. A lot of feminists of color are challenging it, and it’s brilliant. So with “Welcome,” I wanted to make a little light comment on that. Also, just queering it a little bit, having my friend Dreea sit on top of my other friend [producer/DJ] Paula Temple. It was meant to be me being sat on, but I’m just so pathetic I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have any strength to be sat on! With “Human Drama,” I wanted it to have a strong presence and for me and Hermione [Frank, aka producer rRoxymore] to feel quite ambiguous gender-wise but also a little queer as well. In the end it was hilarious, we looked like these kind of beatnik-hippie-teacher-spy sort of characters. My friend Imogen [Heath] who shot it was like “Beatnik gender cop! Awesome!”
Do you feel you have kindred spirits, musically?
I produce on my own but I am surrounded by some very important friendships. Here in Berlin a couple of years ago I put together a studio with my friend Olof who makes music as The Knife with his sister Karin, and so we have this space together which has two studio rooms and a third room. The idea was we created an environment where we could invite friends to come and work, either on their own projects or with us. I’m not sure I’d work completely on my own again for the next record, but for this one I had to, as there was something so specific I wanted to achieve and I didn’t want any other filters. I wanted it to be finished as soon as possible and put it out, be a little bit punk about it. I didn’t want anyone to come along and say “You know, if you did this to this synth…” I didn’t really care. This is what I want.