Sam Quealy Re-Imagines a Wild Night Out in “Groovy Jungle” Video

Sam Quealy in “Groovy Jungle” Credits: Creative director @alewm, photograph @wheresjd, styling @Annie_lavie, makeup @samanthalapre, hair @virginie_pineda

When we connect by phone on the Fourth of July, Sam Quealy is preparing to head back to Paris, where she has lived for the past four years, from Los Angeles. She’s been in L.A. for a week and change since the conclusion of her tour across the U.S. and Canada as opener for La Femme. In that time, she’s made two music videos, one for the single “Groovy Jungle,” which debuts today, August 31, and another for an unreleased track. Right now, though, she’s reflecting on the year that’s transpired since the release of her first single, “Sad Summer Daze.” 

“You’re always wanting to push yourself more and always thinking about the next thing, but it’s also really important to look back and and be proud of yourself as well,” she says. “It’s not just about trying to reach something.”

Quealy was born in Sydney, Australia and has lived in Hong Kong, the Philippines and the United States before her career as a dancer took her to Paris. “I was working in French cabaret, doing can-can,” she says. “Then I felt a bit restricted by the lifestyle of being a professional dancer and always doing the same show over and over and over again. It’s amazing, but I felt like I needed to be more in charge and that I had more to say, so I started writing music.”

Specifically, Quealy began making music that reflects her background in dance. Her style is eclectic, a mishmash of house, techno, hyperpop and ‘00s-style electropop all designed to make you move. “The dance aspect definitely is a big part of my performance and also my writing process in a way,” she says. “When I was choreographing dances, there’s a certain rhythm or a certain thing that I imagine should happen there in terms of accents and stuff in the music.” She approaches writing and making music in much the same way. 

For her most recent single, she dives into a deep house sound and themes of inclusivity. “I wanted to imagine that there was somewhere that you could go where they weren’t discriminating people and you had to walk through this jungle and it was just good vibes, queer-friendly, everybody there is on a good hippy vibe and this was a groovy jungle,” she says. “It’s just a sexy fun song.”

Lyrically, she has a knack for mixing sly social commentary and humor in a way that recalls artists like Peaches, Chicks on Speed and Miss Kittin. It’s a talent that’s most obvious on tracks like “Klepto.” 

“I wanted to make fun of consumerism,” she says. “We think that we need all this shit in our lives that really is so unimportant.” The character in the song was inspired by Winona Ryder’s shoplifting incident back in the early ‘00s. “She’s a famous celebrity, but she has this desire to steal something, whether it’s for attention or a rush of life,” she says. “I thought this was a really interesting concept, so I wrote that song ‘Klepto.’ This is one of my most favorite ones to do. It’s a joke, but it’s also a bit dark.”

It didn’t take long for Quealy to go from releasing her first single to embarking on her first North American tour. But, introducing herself to new audiences has had its challenges. “They don’t know who you are. They didn’t buy tickets to see you. So, you come out and they’re a bit cold,” she says. “They see me. I’m very Barbie-looking-ish. They’re probably like, we’re not going to take you seriously. Then, I prove to them, no, I’m fucking talented, I have something to say and you’re going to pay attention and listen. By the end of it, they’re jumping up and down screaming. I convert them.”

I walked in on Quealy just a few minutes into her opening set for La Femme at Los Angeles venue The Belasco and the crowd was already converted. They danced closer to the barrier between the floor and the stage, clapped and shouted with approval. She brought the set to a rousing climax with “Seven Swords,” an unreleased song slated for inclusion on her forthcoming debut full-length, that she performed with sharp, warrior-like moves that conveyed a theme of “killing an old part of yourself and rebirthing a new one.” 

“The dance and the song need to co-exist,” Quealy says. “When we made this song, this is what I imagined it to be. Even on a bigger scale, when I did it in Paris, I had four guys in high heels and G-strings and we made an army to that song, with swords.”

It’s a dynamic performance that Quealy thinks of eventually expanding.  “In the future, I would love to have it with 20 other girls with swords, make it a really big army,” she says. “This would be epic. But, let’s see. Step by step.”

As it stands, Quealy has already done a lot within her first year of releasing music. She says, “I’m proud of myself that in one year, I managed to do all of that.”

Follow Sam Quealy on Instagram and TikTok for ongoing updates.

Kesswa Collabs with Shigeto on MOCAD-Commissioned Short Film “Is My Mind A Machine Gun?”

Photo Credit: Ian Solomon // Makeup: Jay Orellana

Is My Mind a Machine Gun? This is the question vocalist, songwriter and producer Kesiena “Kesswa” Wanogho asks on her latest collaboration with interdisciplinary artist and musician Zach Saginaw, a.k.a Shigeto. The audio/visual experience exemplifies two artists in their rawest, most honest forms, willing to experiment. Released exclusively on January 1st via The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s (MOCAD) brand new media platform, Daily Rush, the film gives the viewer a look inside the minds of the artists and finds chaos, introspection and growth. 

Mantra is at the center of Kesswa’s work. Highlighted by her 2019 EP, Soften, Kesswa has an inherent ability for distilling the most complicated of dreams, desires and anxieties into only a few simple words. Is My Mind a Machine Gun? starts with her chanting, “Oh my love, tell me now if you want me.” Slowly, she builds an entire world around those words, layering her voice to present a sense of urgency. It’s not immediately clear who “my love” is, which leaves space for the listener to reflect and insert themselves. Maybe it’s the voice of an artistic self left behind, coming now to reclaim its vessel. Maybe it’s our own voice, calling out in uncertainty to a love we’re afraid to lose. 

Whomever Kesswa is speaking to, she responds to her own question with calming reassurance – There’s no doubt about it – all while flashing lights, street view vignettes, and Kesswa’s body language suggest forward motion. The visual echoes Kesswa’s centering message: as long as you are true to yourself, you are on the right path. 

The ephemeral visual is accentuated with soothing waves of harp played by Ahya Simone; its sedative sounds contrast with the disorienting flashes of light, replicating the feelings of dissociation and anxiety that can accompany a dream. Slowly, the harp fades and is replaced by deliberate percussion. This sonic change seems to signal clarity and determination, as Kesswa transitions from repetitive chants to a string of crystal clear affirmations: “I’ve got a creeping intuition/I’m on a mission, clearly/It’s in my heartbeat and my eyes gleam/The stillness inside of me/I’m impulsive but I’m brave/Insisting on myself/I’m determined but I’m earnest/I am kind, I am worthy/Inherently.”

I caught up with Kesswa to find out more about the creative process behind this project. 

AF: Can you tell me a bit about the writing/recording process? What’s the flow of collaboration between you and Shigeto?

KW: The process with Zach and I has been really experimental and grounding. In the beginning of our collaboration, I was thinking a lot about finding my voice, which I think comes out in the composition of the track. A lot of our collaboration has been us just going with the flow of our lives and bringing our influences and emotional needs to the work. Sometimes, we jam. Sometimes we create structures to work within. 

AF: How did this piece in particular come to be? Is there a story behind the music and lyrics? The title?

KW: This piece has been evolving and still kind of is. The version in the video was made specifically for this particular commission. When we were working on the track, Zach felt it would be really awesome to incorporate a narrative, and I’m always writing. The title is an excerpt from Assata Shakur’s “What is left?” poem. This line really stood out to me, because I often feel like thoughts are things we can weaponize against ourselves without close attention. As a person who exists at the center of many intersections of identity, I find myself internalizing and reacting to the projections of the outside world on my body, my creative potential and my values. If my mind is in fact a machine gun, I want to point it towards the projections.

AF: The visual feels just as important to the story as the music does in this piece – did you have a visual in mind when writing the music? Which came first?

KW: The process of creating the visual component of the work was as free flowing as the soundscape. Zach was the director and camera operator, and Vinnie and Robert did assemblage and animation. Zach and I knew that we wanted to give some insight into the world we’ve been building. We wanted to create a visual language, and things kind of unfolded organically.

AF: Do the two of you have more projects like this one up your sleeve/in process? 

KW: It’s a surprise! But things are in process.

AF: I know a lot of your music focuses on mantra – is there a certain mantra you repeat everyday, or one you’re feeling specifically lately? 

KW: Great question! I’ve been sitting with the fact that my body is finite and paying attention to what feels draining and what feels invigorating. Using that awareness to free up some extra energy and let stale things [and] conversations go. Times are too heavy to be stressed about things within my control!

Follow Kesswa on Instagram for ongoing updates.

After a Decade in the Club, Dance Loud Celebrate Debut LP “The Moment”

Photo Credit: Belén Romero

Dance Loud’s The Moment has been more than ten years in the making. It’s what happens when an electronic duo whose career has been as energetic and careening as their namesake, has to pause — literally. Chicago-based artists Kristin Sanchez and Desereé Fawn Zimmerman were touring in 2017 when a semi rear ended their vehicle, landing the onstage collaborators and offstage couple in a month-long hospital stay. They’d spent a decade activating dance floors across the country with house beats layered with live music. But if life ended tomorrow, what would they leave behind? As they recovered, releasing an LP became their top priority.

On a phone call with Sanchez and Zimmerman, the women effuse positivity and laughter. It’s an interesting contrast to The Moment, which simmers with a melancholy optimism. The tracks feel meditative: field recordings of cyclical sounds like crickets, electronic drum rhythms that pump like heart beats, existential questions such as “are we as one?” repeated and stretched with echoes. Each song forces a range of emotions — anger and disappointment as much as excitement and longing — making The Moment a potent debut from two rising dance musicians.

Sanchez has been a house DJ since she was 18, and Zimmerman is a classically trained musician. They’re both multi-instrumentalists with audio degrees. Here’s what the pair had to say about the life and love that went into The Moment.

AF: There’s a lot of optimism and hope in how you talk and market yourselves, which seems at odds with the album’s darker qualities. Do you feel pressure to put a positive face forward? And if so, where does that come from?

KS: One thing we’ve learned [over time] is that you just have to figure out a way to be up. You have to program your brain to stop always thinking someone’s lying to you. You can’t be angry or hate all the time.

DZ: It doesn’t matter how good of a person you are. In someone’s story, you’ll eventually be the villain. I’m coming to terms with that. There’s always a reason people do the things they do and still sleep at night. Some of our brains get wired a certain way because of the culture we live in, but it doesn’t make them “bad.”

KS: For example, my mom grew up in a culture — she’s very homophobic. That’s really difficult for me, but I can’t hate my mom.

AF: I admire that you can put your mom’s attitude into context, but how do you find the energy for patience and compassion towards her? That seems like a heavy burden.

KS: I always say it took my mom about eight years to stop crying about me not being her dream child. She’s still slightly in denial [about my sexuality], but I was born in 1984. In high school, I would sneak out and hit the gay club scene [in Chicago]. I would do this nightly because I just had to escape. I stopped going to school. I’d only come home during the day because that’s when my parents weren’t there. We were in a cold war.

They took my car battery, so I went to the South Side and got my own battery. They’d hide my car, and I’d go rollerblading to find it. Then they put a club on my steering wheel. I tried to drive it with the club on while my parents chased me down the street. They were like, “Are you on drugs? Are you in trouble with the law?” But I knew my mom knew. She knew. She just wouldn’t say it. And finally I was like, “Mom, I’m GAY!” Once I said that, they took off the club and just let me go.

DZ: I’m from a small town, and I had to move to Chicago because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to be myself in this town. I was going to be outcast and treated poorly if I had come out of the closet there. When I was finally in a relationship and I told my mom, she was like, “Oh, just don’t tell anyone.” I don’t think she understood that that’s much more hurtful. There were points when I wanted commit suicide because I knew I couldn’t change it. I thought, I have to learn to love myself or I’m going to commit suicide.

We’ve both come to terms with our parents. I think deep down, our parents still wish we were straight, but now I’m to the point where I’m like, I love myself, and I believe I’m a good person. If you think me being gay makes me a bad person, that’s a burden you’re carrying. I’m not.

AF: That’s a great attitude. It seems like you’re both spiritual people, and that really comes through on the record. Can you expand on where that comes from?

DZ: Well, my mom’s side was Pentecostal, my dad’s side was Mormon. I got in trouble in high school and got sent to Baptist private school. I’ve had a fair share of religion and realized it wasn’t for me. But I’m very spiritual person. I believe in balancing with the earth and not taking more than you need, so I think that that’s an underlying tone [to our music].

There’s a quote by [Nikola] Tesla: “If you wish to understand the Universe, think of energy, frequency and vibration.” Just being in audio, we have a really good understanding of how deep this rock can really be. There are octaves unknown. You can’t [hear them] with our human bodies. Imagine this whole universe has so many more octaves we have to learn about.

KS: A good example of this is sympathetic frequencies. Take two tuning forks that are tuned to the same number. If you strike one tuning fork, the second fork will start to resonate. But if you tune the forks slightly differently, you start to create a beat and a wobble. I think as humans, when we find people on our frequency range, we start to resonate from each other. We’re vibrational creatures, and even our thoughts carry frequency. People who are sensitive to frequency are empaths. You know, they just feel the vibrations of someone else.

DZ: Growing up, my parents were metalheads. I got really into jazz on my own, and I loved gospel drummers, but I realized that I just really loved high tempo [music]. It was more fun. And when I was introduced to electronic and house music — oh, wow! There’s a quote [by Eddie Amador]: “Not everyone understands house music. It’s a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing.”

AF: In what ways does being a couple help your music? And how do your disparate musical backgrounds complement one another?

KS: We have, like, silent designated duties. Living together, working together, doing everything together — we just know what one another is really good at. Desereé’s really funny, and she’s really good with tone. She’s got years of playing the guitar, and she’s great at trying new techniques. I’m really into drum machines and synthesizers and anything electrical happening with the sound. I usually take care of a lot of the production processing.

DZ: I think, if Kristin created music on her own — she’s very happy-go-lucky person. I think her music would come out very happy. And I feel the world. I have a lot of feeling. I’m a Cancer, she’s a Gemini.

KS: But I have a secret sad side no one knows about! [laughs] I kept trying to add cello to the record.

DZ: There’s definitely an underlying tone of emotion Kristin adds.

KS: But I grew up with almost no music in my life. All we had was a karaoke machine. I had a Michael Jackson CD and a Toni Braxton CD, and that was it. I got exposed to pop music later, but I didn’t try an instrument until I was older.

DZ: When I got sent to that Southern Baptist High School for being a troubled kid — like, not accepting myself and not caring if I lived or died — you couldn’t listen to music there. That was really hard for me. I went there with a guitar, and my art teacher — she was so sweet. She let me transcribe literally hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of pages of tablature so I could play the music I wanted to hear. And I realized that there was a very specific feeling to a lot of music [I was] playing. Just very melodic music with tones that make you feel. Kristin loved pop music growing up, but I wasn’t a big fan of pop music. So I kind of feel like you never fully stray from your roots, and we combine really different things in the studio. It hurts us a little because Spotify doesn’t know how to categorize us. We’re not just one genre. But I always think about it like Thelonious Monk. He put his foot down and said, “No, I’m not going to play the jazz you want me to play! In time, the world will catch up!” And it did.

Follow Dance Loud on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Interview: Anabel Englund on the Allure of House Music

Photo Credit: Nicole Pagan

Not too long ago, Anabel Englund was in what she describes as a “depressive state” – but luckily, she already had a cure in mind. “If you’re feeling down, all you have to do is get in your car, where there’s no traffic, and blast some house music and dance and feel sexy and sing along and it just feels so good,” she says by phone, offering a reminder of why she loves the genre.

Chances are that, if you also love house, you’ll recognize Anabel Englund. The L.A.-based singer/songwriter has spent the better part of the last decade collaborating with dance music luminaries, among them Lee Foss, Jamie Jones and MK. She’s also released solo tracks like “London Headache,” “So Hot,” and “See the Sky.”

With “See the Sky,” Englund delves into ideas about heaven. “In religious terms, heaven and hell is something above or below. To me, heaven or hell can also be lived on earth in a lifetime,” she says. “This song represents living a life in heaven.” She sings of family, connection, and, she explains, of living “in that realm of heaven where you’re surrounded by love and there’s no fear.”

When she released “See The Sky” in March, Englund followed it with an Instagram performance of the song featuring her younger brother and frequent live collaborator, Jackson Englund. When she performs live, he often mixes her sets and plays electric guitar. For acoustic performances, he typically plays guitar and sings background. It’s a natural collaboration, taking something that they had previously done together just for fun into a professional setting. “I like to work with him as much as I can,” Englund says.

Englund grew up in suburban Los Angeles in a performance-minded family (her grandmother is Cloris Leachman) and had been doing “little things” in music since her youth. “Because I came from a musical family, music has always been at the forefront of my mind, whether I intended it to be or not,” she says. A YouTube video of Englund singing “Girl From Ipanema” caught the attention of ABC Family, who hired her to write and sing for their shows. While she was making music for family-friendly television, Englund dove into Los Angeles’ dance music scene with her fake ID. “I was a little mischief-maker out here. I was so drawn to it,” she admits. She befriended older people who schooled her on house through DJ mixes and was hooked. “I just fell in love with the dark side,” she says.

Englund recalls the moment she was listening to a mix and realized that dance music was where she could find her voice. “It was just this internal consciousness – you can do this and you can make something of yourself this way. You have to do this. You have to give people the chance to hear you,” she says. “I think, from there, I was on this mission to sing on a track and make something because I knew the capability that I had to make something great.”

It was a mix of determination and happenstance that made Englund and in-demand vocalist. After sneaking into a party where Lee Foss was DJing, she and a friend ended up hanging out with the popular DJ. Foss asked to hear her sing.

It was a fortuitous meeting. The following week, Foss offered to introduce Englund to his friend, the DJ and producer MK. Almost immediately, Englund began work on her first collaboration with the two producers, the 2013 track “Electricity.” Not long after that, Englund headed to the U.K. to work with Foss and Jamie Jones on their album as Hot Natured, Different Sides of the Sun. Englund appeared on the popular single, “Reverse Skydiving,” as well as the track “Emerald City.”

“I knew what I needed to do. I knew I needed to get on these producer’s tracks. At the same time, they were all inviting [me] to get on their tracks as well,” she says. “It was divine timing. I couldn’t have planned that kind of thing. It was very serendipitous and I’m so grateful for it.”

In spending her early career collaborating with top producers, Englund learned how to approach her solo work. “First of all, I figure out who I like to produce with and what style I like. I know each one has their own vibe,” she says.

“Whenever I’m working with someone, I’m thinking ‘I like what they’re doing here… let me remember this so that I can implement it on this track that I want to make,'” Englund adds. “I’m always taking what I like and figuring out a way to blend it with my likes and dislikes and creating something new from what I admire in someone else’s work.”

Englund has maintained her collaborative relationships. Last year, her single “So Hot” was remixed by MK and Nightlapse. She dropped a new video for that track on April 12.

In late 2019, she teamed up with Jamie Jones again for the single, “Messing With Magic.” The video, released in March, takes Englund from downtown Los Angeles to the desert, where she dances with a monster covered in tinsel. “It’s basically about a journey to self-love, dancing, and being in this place where you don’t know what’s happening and it’s really dark and dreary and then finding the fire and grabbing it and chasing after it,” she says. “That’s what the tinsel monster represents: self-love and going off and dancing with that.”

Englund says that she has a collection of new tunes that she hopes to release over the coming months with a “lengthy” EP to follow later this year.

Follow Anabel Englund on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING DETROIT: Moon King Adopts Detroit Dance Music on Voice of Lovers

Originally from Toronto, Daniel Benjamin has been hopping from city to city for the past ten years. The longest time he’s stayed in one place were the three years he spent in Hamtramck, Michigan – a multicultural haven tucked within Detroit’s city limits – and that period ended up having a heavy hand in shaping the sound for his electronic dance project, Moon King. His latest record, Voice of Lovers, was released last week and is a testament to the imprint Detroit’s DJ scene has had on his creative process.

The record sashays between decades and genres, all unified by its undeniable head-bopping feel. A far skip from his first release, Secret Life, Benjamin explains that something clicked when he set foot in Detroit. “I was going out a lot and listening to really great DJs and seeing the way the music affects people,” says Benjamin. It’s no secret (to most) that Detroit is home to some incredible DJs and electronic musicians, and Benjamin took full advantage of all the city has to offer; Mondays at Motor City Wine, Freakish Pleasures parties, and dancing to a particularly influential DJ for him, Scott Zacharias.

“I think he’s inspiring for making music and collecting records and stuff,” says Benjamin. “He can play synth-pop and disco and music from South America and Pakistan or Turkey all in the same set and have it aesthetically fit together and get people dancing – that to me is amazing. I didn’t realize until I came to Detroit that that was a thing.” Benjamin’s adoration for mesmerizing dance music is evident throughout the record. Lyricism takes a backseat to rhythm but still strings together a narrative of Benjamin’s nomadic lifestyle and trials of trying to live in the US as a Canadian Citizen.

“USA Today” can be read as an ironic title for an interpretive dance track, but the urgency in both the beat and the repetitive lyrics feel like Benjamin is trying to manifest his own destiny. After multiple failed attempts at getting a green card, Benjamin was forced to leave Detroit, one of the only places he’s ever felt a true sense of community. “I felt at home there. The community of people that I found myself surrounded by, I feel like they really want me there,” Benjamin explains. “I don’t really feel that way anywhere else. Life’s a bitch.”

But Benjamin didn’t leave Detroit without making lasting creative friendships along the way. In fact, Detroit’s own Vespre (Kaylan Waterman) makes an appearance on VOL and will join Benjamin for his Detroit show on June 22nd. For now, it’s back on the road for Benjamin until July, doing what he does best – making the world dance.

Listen to Voice of Lovers in full below.

PLAYING DETROIT: Humons “Underneath”

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Photo by Andrew Amine & design by Ellen Rutt

“Dream house” voyager Ardalan Sedghi is Humons, a kinetically electrified project whose atomic beats swell in “Underneath” the debut single from the Spectra EP due out this fall. Although Sedghi isn’t entirely new blood on the scene, “Underneath” delivers a freshness that rises with a palpable and cosmic humidity and is best experienced with hips magnetically fused to someone else’s: a symbiotic gravity grind.

Although Humons is technically one huMAN it can’t be ignored that the seamless production is a vital component as to why “Underneath” works as a living, breathing, pulsating soundscape and not just a party jam at a hazy house party in Southwest. Produced and mixed by mastermind Jon Zott at the Assemble Sound studios, the track lends itself to explore various abstractions. Consider an animated sci-fi journey riding the tail of a comet or a microscopic view of anatomical fascinations like blood cells bumping against artery walls, fighting illness or a time-lapse of vultures picking apart a freshly deceased roadside meal. Mixing staccato guitar with clashing synths and clapping wave-to-shore-like drum machine beats gives Sedghi’s breathy, minimalist vocals space to float. What this track masterfully accomplishes is its “choose your own adventure” vibe. It can be sad and brooding if that’s what you need or it can be your sexually ravenous anthem. Either way, “Underneath” ushers us from Summer to Fall and into territory undisclosed.

Get spacey with Humons latest below:

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