CURXES first appeared in 2011, releasing the ‘Precurxor’ EP in 2014 and an album ‘Verxes’ a year later.
Now comprising of Roberta Fidora, she offers: “Greetings from a house on a hillside by the seaside. If you’re fond of skippy drums, the kind of vaguely tuneful wailing you’d hear on a fairground ghost train and haunted electronics, then welcome to a small corner of the internet featuring all of those things”.
From her base in Ryde, Isle of Wight where she has been working on her boutique The Fidorium which sells her range of illustrative music-themed occasion cards, she is now back with her own brand of oblique electronic choral post-pop.
With a video directed by Rob Luckins for her new single ‘In Your Neighbourhood’ exploring obsolete technology, plus a new album ‘Gilded Cage’ and a four date tour opening for BLANCMANGE on the horizon , Roberta Fidora chatted to The Electricity Club about the new phase of CURXES.
So CURXES is just you now Roberta? What happened?
Well despite the initial waves of fear about having sole responsibility for something, I’m gradually becoming self-sufficient in the things I hoped we’d become when we were still a band. After the release of ‘Verxes’, we couldn’t really afford to go straight back into the studio to spend time on pre-production.
Creatively, I didn’t want to write music in line with trends or with anyone else in mind, so when that started happening, I felt completely at odds with it. Self-producing and changing up the sounds used on ‘Verxes’ appeared to be the next logical step yet those suggestions seemed to be met with a degree of difficulty. I just got a short email one day telling me I was on my own. I don’t mind though, continuing alone has made me feel more connected to music again. It’s been a fun, creative couple of years.
‘In Your Neighbourhood’ appears to be more overtly electronic than CURXES’ previous work, what’s was the song’s genesis?
‘In Your Neighbourhood’ was co-written with Andrew E Wright, who was previously a member of THE STRANGE DEATH OF LIBERAL ENGLAND, so you can hear that influence in the song somewhat. From my perspective, I was struggling with my surroundings and felt like I needed to be somewhere else, so I relocated to a hillside on the Isle of Wight, where from January to March, you can walk around the edges of the island and not see anyone. I wanted that decision to be audible and pursuing the electronic route wholeheartedly seemed like the best way to commit to that.
Subsequently, an independent arts trust on the Isle of Wight helped to fund parts of the album outside of the writing and recording, so I feel like I already owe a huge debt to here. It’s an unusual part of the UK owing to its musical heritage and old and new seem to exist in balance with one another, which has been well documented by photographer Martin Parr, plus you’re never too far from a beach, a forest or a model village.
Have your writing and production processes changed to suit the new CURXES set-up?
I’ve always been a lone arranger but the whole process has definitely evolved and I’ve written more in the last six months than in the previous six years. The room I record in is stacked with wall to wall junk I’ve collected, which is all colour coded. It’s a habit that’s reflected in the files for each song too, which resemble a digital jumble sale of multi-coloured boxes. Owing to a lack recording equipment available because of the move, I re-recorded some of the vocals in Portsmouth and at Brighton University with PJE Davy, who is an electronic sound / visual artist and part of a band called DELUXE FLAMINGOS with Mike James.
Mike patiently sat in on the sessions, made suggestions for sounds and stopped us from zooming in on a hi-hat for hours. On one occasion, his young daughter walked in shouting “I WANT TO BE PART OF THE BAND, PLAY *MY* SONG!” so not wanting to argue, she’s on the record too, playing an angry harmonica part that we detuned and slowed down. She’s already got a strong GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR angle to her playing. It’s amazing, really.
How would you describe the new CURXES album ‘Gilded Cage’ and how does it differ from ‘Verxes’?
It’s very different from ‘Verxes’ in so much as ‘Verxes’ was quite reactionary and aggressive, whereas ‘Gilded Cage’ is more focused on identity and whether nostalgia can be dangerous when used in place of rationality. I love retro graphics, architecture and music as much as anyone else, in fact I’m a terrible hoarder, but I wouldn’t use some bygone era as a template for my beliefs. I read a BBC article a while back though saying that people are more individualistic now than they were in the 70s and that technology had played a significant part in that, so I’m fascinated by parallels and contrasts of ‘now and then’ against people’s own perceptions of history.
Melodically as well, there’s variation in the sounds that I feel was lacking slightly from ‘Verxes’. There’s also a lot of manipulation of vocals throughout that either sound really disturbing in a high-pitched, horror film way or like Mr. Blobby’s nightmares. Andrew Hung’s ‘Greasy Strangler’ OST is probably to blame for that as it made me completely rethink how vocals should sit within a song. It’s become one of my favourite records for the unconventional way the voice is used and I can’t wait to hear his new album this year.
I get a sense of that too, in some ways, because the songs were recorded months and even years apart, so it doesn’t sound as cohesive as it could do. ‘Verxes’ was presented in a very direct and actively confrontational way and I didn’t feel it was completely representative of its subject matter in places. Hearing it back a couple of years on, it strikes me as perhaps sounding too polished and metallic because we didn’t make the mistakes useable, which may have given the album a more human quality.
Was there a key track on ‘Verxes’ for you?
I always felt that ‘Run from the Funeral’ would have been a better choice of single than ‘Valkyrie’ because of its subject matter but it didn’t pan out that way. It was centred on how the digital world occasionally brings out the absolute worst in people and seeing a hollow acknowledgement of a celebrity death is something that both fascinates and irks me. When people feel like they’re watching their childhood die all over again, you can completely understand the emotions running high, but it’s grating when people use a time of reflection or celebration as a sentimental point about how all culture is shit now.
Maybe I’m just overly-conscious of a lack of funding for grassroots venues and cultural organisations, currently reading about problems like exclusivity in the arts and a gatekeeping of the technology that was supposed to make things more democratic for us all. There are so many brilliant examples of journalism, film, TV and storytelling through sound now hidden in plain sight because of this and often those points aren’t addressed because it’s easier to romanticise previous decades and project our opinions onto deceased idols rather than create a better, more visible environment for promising writers, actors, directors, etc. who embody their spirit.
In hindsight, do you think it may have been a misjudgement not to include the earlier material that was released as ‘Precurxor’ which gained CURXES their initial audience? What would you do differently now?
You can always say that you would have done this or that, but from an archival point of view, it’s interesting to hear a sonic transition with each album and it meant more releases to pick from.
It can always be revisited further down the line or in a live context. Maybe I’ll go back to ‘Precurxor’ with a brass band or redo the vocals of ‘Verxes’ in Simlish five years from now.
The Electricity Club had the impression that CURXES got a bit disillusioned with being lumped into among the new wave of Synth Britannia influenced acts like MIRRORS etc?
I think for me personally, I was never disillusioned with being compared to other Synth Britannia-influenced musicians. The only thing I suppose I’m slightly wary of is the term ‘revival’ because it has strong implications, suggesting that the new ‘new wave’ is devoid of any modern elements or experimentation. The word ‘revival’ makes me think of tribute bands or really expensive vinyl reissues. If pushed, I’d suggest that maybe CURXES is more broadly electronic, but I do say that knowing there’s an EP and third album after ‘Gilded Cage’ which are both very different to anything else previously released.
But won’t supporting BLANCMANGE this Autumn expose CURXES to those labels again or are you less precious about it this time?
I saw that MOBY and JOHN GRANT are fans of BLANCMANGE which is a real testament to their songwriting and hearing the recent FADER project as well, they’ve always been more on the side of leftfield synthesizer music with an indie sensibility or experimental pop to me. Neil also has an excellent taste in music, highlighting innovators like LONE TAXIDERNIST and HANNAH PEEL not to mention championing support acts.
It’s important for people to be able to use whichever music labels are relatable to them, but speaking for myself, I was never concerned or precious about being called anything in particular. Anybody who feels in a position to dictate terms to an audience is misguided.
These BLANCMANGE live dates will be your first in a while, what will be the format and how will your nerves stand up? What can people expect?
They’re the first in two years, which is fairly daunting but I’m rehearsing in the basement of an old church at the moment which really fits the mood of the new album. The eventual intention is for certain elements to stray from the recording in a way that suits each different live setting. There’s so much you can do with Ableton and I’m excited to look at the possibilities of expanding the album’s sounds and meaning as I go along. I’ve got far more to say this time around.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Roberta Fidora
‘In Your Neighbourhood’ is available from October 6th 2017 and the album ‘Gilded Cage’ is released digitally on 20th October 2017, further information at https://curxes.bandcamp.com/
CURXES open for BLANCMANGE on the following ‘Unfurnished Rooms’ tour dates:
Brighton Concorde 2 (5th October), London 229 (6th October), Southampton The 1865 (20th October), Bristol The Fleece (2nd November)
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
10th September 2017