Dubspot blogger Mike Steyels catches up with esteemed DJ and music producer Paula Temple for a discussion on creating techno music, breaking down barriers, and her live performance setup.
Paula Temple will not back down. Whether barriers thrown in her path are technical or cultural, she plows right through them. This could mean testing new software, creating new controllers, teaching kids the tools of the trade, or fighting discrimination. Either way, she embodies forward motion.
And her sound reflects this: The struggle against the status quo is represented by destructive sonics; the exploration of technological frontiers is displayed through a lens of pristine sound design and a bewildering live set up; her ceaseless progress is captured in an onslaught of pounding techno rhythms.
The kids out there can be forgiven for thinking she’s a new artist. Her single on the seminal R&S label early this year seemed to come out of nowhere. But she’s been making strides in electronic music longer than some DJs have been alive. Temple has been DJing for 18 years and she’s been at the forefront of music tech since Ableton Live 1.0, which she used to test the Grex MXF8 controller (the acronym stands for MIDI Cross Fade with 8 channels) which she co-developed and toured with starting in 2003. She had a popular EP called Speck Of The Future back in 2002, released on her own Noise Manifesto label.
Fast forward a decade, and she’s as future-bound as ever. Her “Colonized” single pushed the stylistic boundaries of techno, pursuing destructive aesthetics and unstoppable percussion. The record was made with a beta version of Ableton Live 9, the company even profiling her in a video to promote the software along with its Push instrument. And she was the first female artist to get a release on the storied R&S label in its nearly 30-year history.
Her live sets continue to blur the line between DJing and live production and remixing. She’ll play three tracks at once on average—ranging from 120-135 BPM—using her own edits and versions, combined with effects and samples she uses on the fly. Now and then, she’ll throw live virtual synths in there too. Sometimes she’ll take five to ten parts to make a completely new track and play around with them live.
And yet techno is not driven by technology in her eyes: “For me, techno is informed by attitude. Rejecting the pretty packaging of perfection, ant behavior, and the suffocating conformity that surrounds us. I mean, I love new tech, but it’s not always necessary to release the creative tension that exists within.”
Although Temple’s name wasn’t in the spotlight for a long time, she never left the cutting edge. In 2007, she co-founded a music technology education non-profit in the North of England. “We provided free creative technology to young people in the neighborhood, and developed job opportunities wherever we could,” she explains. “It was super hard work, especially during an economic crisis, but it was worth it.”
The classes covered many forms of creative technology, including DJing, music production, VJing, video production, and graphic and web design. She says that over the five years that it lasted, they educated over 1000 young people and employed over 60.
“It was amazing to meet so much young talent. At the same time, very saddening that so many young people had given up on their hopes and self-esteem. They had been let down again and again by the cycles of poverty and prejudices. We didn’t have much to offer other than energy and skills to share, but we wanted to see what we could do to change this situation.”
Her involvement with the organization she helped create came to an unfortunate end in late 2011 when a coworker began complaining that Temple held hands with her girlfriend, who worked in the PR office. Things took a terrible turn from there.
Photo by Tania Gualeni
“The staff member threatened my board, so instead of my board investigating this fairly, they simply decided to sack my girlfriend and take over my role leading the organization. They pursued this until in the end, we had no choice but to resign. They banned us from the premises, they stopped all the plans we had to develop the organization, they made up crazy stories to justify squeezing us out, and they faked documents.”
But Temple is not one to go down without a fight. So she sued. And she won. The judge who heard the case went so far as to call the board “cruel, oppressive, and malicious.”
“It’s the extreme opposite to what kind of world we originally wanted to create back in 2007. They actually taught the young creative minds coming to the organization that if they were different they are not safe.”
Now that Temple has resumed her role as an artist, or “noisician” as she prefers, she still sees similar problems around her. Granted, she feels more actively supported in Berlin an electronic music producer who happens to also be woman and a lesbian. And she’s had many embracing experiences with the people met along the way. But things are not so rose-colored on the whole: “It becomes obvious, when I zoom out and look at the bigger picture, of where there is persistent zero interest or less support from key events or tastemakers in my field of music, compared to my male artist friends.”
One thing she’s doing to draw attention to the issue of gender imbalance in electronic music was to join the female:pressure festival lineup.
“I don’t actually like the idea of having female-artist-only events usually, because ideally I don’t want gender to separate anything. But I’ve been away from electronic music for over six years, and when I returned last year I was surprised to find that it had actually regressed. I held a belief that the ecosystem of electronic music would always be progressing. In reality, just look at the current festival line ups and label artist rosters to understand it is not.”
Despite these hurdles, she refuses to be consumed by any of it, and prefers to focus on being a better artist and to focus on the many positive relationships she’s made doing so. But all of these struggles inform her artistic alignment with non-conformity, her devotion to underground sound and challenging aesthetics. Next time you hear those warlike distortions and battering ram drums, know they come from somewhere real.
Mike Steyels is a writer based in Brooklyn who focuses on forward-thinking electronic music, regional sounds from around the world, rap, dancehall, and more. His work can be found in THUMP, Vibe Magazine, No Ice Cream Sound, and more. Follow him on Twitter at @iswayski.