Sabine Brix – best known as Brixx – isn’t afraid to plunge into the dark and embrace the sense of being lost and alone in the moments it takes to adapt to a new reality. The Melbourne music producer, composer and DJ repeatedly disorients and recalibrates herself – and listeners – on her forthcoming EP Conversion Therapy, out September 20 via Heavy Machinery. Despite the title, it’s not specifically about the brutal, enforced measures taken to try to deny people their sexuality, but it definitely addresses the liberation in accepting queerness in a world that is mostly designed for, and by, the heteronormative.
“I’ve had absolutely no experience with conversion therapy,” Brix clarifies. “It’s about transformation… I suppose it’s about embracing queerness and moving away from the perception of who we think we should be to evolve into who we actually are. So, it’s a transformation and a conversion of self.”
Born and raised in Melbourne to German parents, Brix’s queer identity emerged in her formative high school years. While other girls had plastered their school diaries with images of muscle-bound men from Manpower (“Australia’s Thunder From Downunder”), Brix’s choice of adornment provoked questions from fellow students.
“I had Drew Barrymore and thought it was strange that they all had men on their covers and I’ve got a half-naked woman on mine,” she recalls. “What’s wrong with that? But I remember a friend asking me, ‘Are you gay?’ and I said, ‘Well, no’ but I was quite defensive. Why was there this defensiveness, why wasn’t there more an openness? Like, maybe I am?”
It wasn’t until after high school that she understood and embraced her sexual attraction to women, freed of the claustrophobic ideas of what a gay woman might look like, or act like, since the only openly out girl at school was androgynous-looking and there were no other evident role models. Eventually, music became a tool for expression.
“I’m quite influenced by Electronic Body Music, techno, New Beat, breaks; anything with heavy percussion and a heavy bass line, that’s always at the forefront of what I do,” she says, adding that she’s constantly asking herself, “How do you express yourself emotionally without using the voice? I think that’s why I was interested in cutting up samples and having some references to homosexuality and pain, different little bits and pieces so that it’s audible that this is a queer release, so they dig a little deeper. Often with electronic music, if there’s no vocals or samples, you don’t know what that person is trying to achieve.”
In May last year, Brixx unleashed five tracks of darkwave-meets-New Order ferociousness via Parfé Records, in the form of her debut EP Corporate Punishment. If the Cocteau Twins were asked to DJ a warehouse rave in a dungeon, it might sound something like the icy stab of synths on “Mansplainer.” The robotic voice that injects its unwelcome opinions sums up the experience of being the victim of mansplaining perfectly.
Conversion Therapy is much more lush, atmospheric and dynamic than its predecessor; its first single “Double Axe” is immediately more inviting and enveloping than the snarling chill of Corporate Punishment. Though Brix’s signature dark undercurrent courses through, snaking invisibly around the basslines, there’s also a sense of romance and brief glimpses of ecstasy. Fans of Depeche Mode, Belgian electro act Front 242 and Ministry might hear remnants of those influences in the reverberating, haunting synths, that repeat like a mantra – hypnotic and somehow soothing.
The EP came together in three months, which was the time frame demanded of her by Flash Forward, an initiative of the City of Melbourne and the State Government of Victoria, in which 40 musical acts were partnered with a visual designer each to release a vinyl album through Melbourne label Heavy Machinery Records. Physical copies of heavyweight 12” black and white marble effect vinyl EP featuring original cover art by Bootleg Comics will be available in limited edition of 300.
“The Flash Forward project came up really quickly. I had to create an EP within three months, when my previous EP took two years. I thought, ‘I have no idea how I’m going to manage this!’ becauce I only had one track,” Brix says. “It really forced me to push myself and… I think people would be surprised at what they can do when they’re faced with a challenge.”
Brix relied on her abilities as a storyteller – she studied film scoring in Sydney for a year, and her professional background is in journalism and writing, though she left full-time writing work five years ago – to communicate ideas and create a narrative within sound. Over four tracks, Conversion Therapy tells a story with an overriding theme of acceptance and celebration of queerness.
Beginning with “Shock of the New” – a cinematic ode to exploring sexuality for the first time – the story doesn’t follow a clear trajectory, exemplifying the “rollercoaster ride” of coming out and embracing the self. A fan of David Lynch’s ambiguous masterpiece Mulholland Drive, Brix made some elements crystal clear, but there’s so much left up to interpretation, too. The final track on the EP, “Metamorphosis,” features her friend, DJ and producer Black Dahlia. The track is eerie, driving and dark. Brix was aiming to instill a sense of uneasiness in the immersive and hypnotic drone that reverberates through the track.
“I really wanted it to be a journey in terms of coming out and then going towards self-acceptance. There’s a sense of hope closing it out, so that it’s not all kind of dreary,” Brix says. She met Black Dahlia last year, connecting over their mutual love of Electronic Body Music. They began to send each other WhatsApp voice mail messages, which they still do: snippets of vocals, found sounds, snatches of basslines.
“We like to create music where we’re making ourselves vulnerable,” says Brix. “I sent her a particular bassline, and told her some of the themes of the album, and she just came up with these vocals. She kept repeating this one line, ‘You tried to bury me, but I’m the seed’ and I just thought that was really beautiful and really played into the ways that I felt about coming out… burying toxic relationships… or homophobia. But then there’s also this uprising that can occur once you discover who you are.”