Exploring Wider Realities: FITH Interviewed
Earlier this year the Ransom Note affiliated label Outer Reaches – for the record, yours truly – released Swamp, an extended EP of ‘haunting, oneiric & macabre psychedelia’ by the fluid, multi-faceted artist collective FITH. In the months since the release – as we’ve lived with, and become accustomed to, the record – its significance has deepened.
Initially, parallels were drawn with the likes of Conny Plank, Tuxedomoon, Lucrecia Dalt and Coil. Yet a growing familiarity has thrown up a fair share more since then. Influences the collective have previously acknowledged – Dario Argento and Franz Kafka in particular – are present, but the way in which these touchstones, and others, are manifested only becomes perceptible with any great detail, once the record has been given a close and concerted listen. Swamp rewards a bit of investigation.
In a broad sense, the vivid irradiance of Suspiria and the disquiet and foreboding of some lost Kafka short story is certainly brought to mind, however there’s much more to pick through here. Swamp is both evocative and untethered. In other quarters, as if to illustrate the point, comparisons have been made to Angela Conway (AC Marias), Dome, Tolouse Low Trax, Toresch, the Decoder soundtrack, even Daphne Du Maurier. Additionally, Luc Ferrari, Goblin and Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England could probably be added to the equation here too. Yet even if the sum of these analogies feels accurate, there’s still the lingering sense of a record that evades definitive comparability.
Beyond reference points which ultimately only tell half the story, Swamp reveals a connection to an esoteric lineage that encompasses folklore, witchcraft and myth as well as neglected and alternative histories. These practices are combined in a way that suggests an original and protean arrangement. According to Dalia Neis (aka Dice Miller) – the writer, film academic and predominant vocalist in FITH – the record sits in an imagined temporal space, between an ‘ancient utopian past’ and numerous ‘utopian / dystopian futures’, thereby representing an amalgamation of imprints; not only of all these different practices and influences but of different histories and timelines too. A multiplicity that’s constantly shifting and overlapping.
Befitting the notion of time being elastic and collisional and of gothic and haunting qualities, Swamp was brought together in the caretaker’s wing of a 17th century castle in Normandy. According to Rachel Margetts – a solo artist in her own right, under the name Yr Lovely Dead Moon, and another prominent member of the collective – the recording sessions were tinged with an intensity that came close to mania, a state that might be expected, given the pressure, proximity and unfamiliarity of the setting. This environment, of overwhelming scenery and of intensive activity, appears to have had a considerable effect on the outcome.
The result is a work of enigmatic and formidable character that reflects multi-disciplinary interests, open-minded collaboration and expansive aesthetic diversity. It’s a record that feels like the consummation of what the collective’s output has pointed towards, since its respective members met in 2015 and began collaborating in various permutations the following year. Poetry collections, imaginary soundtracks, recordings of live, improvisatory sessions, and several other miscellaneous releases have surfaced in that time, under the banner of their Wanda Portal imprint. Our own first encounter with FITH came courtesy of their first self-titled LP. On tracks like Gist and Speed, there were stirring departures into ruminative, gossamer forms, and on Signs / Cornerstone the collective demonstrated an aptitude for affect and transcendence as much as dread and dislocation.
Ever since, after this material instigated a correspondence with them all, and several months after we initially released Swamp, we still believe FITH represent an endlessly fascinating creative project. And we still – stubbornly and begrudgingly perhaps – believe they’ve made one of the best records we’ve encountered all year.
As expanded upon in this conversation with FITH members Adrien Lamouroux (aka Enir Da), Dalia Neis (aka Dice Miller) and Rachel Margetts, there’s a predictably impressive depth to the conceptions that have informed their common trajectory. On top of that, Lamouroux, Neis and Margetts each originate from different backgrounds and have been shaped by contrasting upbringings and myriad formative experiences.
Early encounters with experimental film for Neis, a feeling of statelessness from a nomadic childhood for Lamouroux and an obligatory exposure to the restless artistry of David Bowie for Margetts, each had some bearing on their own approaches to creativity and their subsequent contributions to FITH. Besides many other factors.
After Lamouroux met Neis for the first time in Berlin, collaborative sessions were proposed, with the ambition to welcome others into the fold and to inaugurate a collective with a wider membership and an unfettered remit. Neis, later enthused by the fulcrum of activity around Salford’s Islington Mill and by her meetings with the likes of Paddy Shine (Gnod) and Michael Holland (of the Ono label), eventually met Margetts and was impressed by a monologue she presented at a Lydia Lunch writing workshop they both attended there. Ideas and projects have flourished between them ever since.
In the following, free flowing conversation we cover all of this and much more in detail, unravelling personal histories and their respective paths into art and music, the roots and foundations of the collective and the origins and stories behind Swamp, their latest and greatest record. Reflecting the multi-disciplinary spirit and exhaustive allusive inclinations of FITH there is a curated selection of images, both of the collective and of influences relevant to them, running throughout.
Also accompanying the interview is the final instalment in a trilogy of videos produced by the filmmaker Tatia Shé, this time for the title track from the record. As with Tatia’s previous videos for l'au-delà and Białystok, there’s an unnerving and mysterious quality to what she presents. On this occasion the impressionistic and cryptic domestic scenes of Shé’s prior visuals are supplanted by a focus on the heightened state and unpredictable movements of one person, in this case, the performer Mala Ray.
Shé cycles through a hallucinatory series of images as Ray rolls and contorts herself as if in a trance, faintly recalling Isabelle Adjani’s performance during the infamous subway scene in Andrzej Żuławski’s film Possession.
Swamp is out now on Outer Reaches and Dalia Neis’ new book Zephyrian Spools, a work which has interesting parallels and congruities with the record, is available to order from Knives, Forks & Spoons Press. More on that in the interview below.
Could you each introduce yourself and trace your beginnings in art and music?
Dalia Neis aka Dice Miller: I’m Dalia (aka Dice Miller). I have had a meandering, circuitous route towards music. As a child I wanted to act and sing but found myself drawn to filmmaking and made experimental films since I was 16 years old. I enjoyed structuring the films and finding ways to express peculiar rhythms and atmospheres. I suppose I have transposed this into music making, in particular with FITH. At the same time writing and reading widely has always been important to me and has fed into writing lyrics to songs and exploring wider realities.
Adrien Lamouroux aka Enir Da: I have been introduced to music at a young age I suppose. I started playing the piano when I was 5 for about 10 years, until I decided I wanted to play something different. As I could not play drums because I always lived in flats, bass naturally came to me as the best option, and I was the only bass player among my friends. I quickly started playing together with people and discovered I was not interested in playing covers, so I started composing a bit.
Rachel Margetts aka Yr Lovely Dead Moon: Haha, when I was 11 or so I got really obsessed with David Bowie after my Dad played me Ziggy Stardust in the car. I guess because of Bowie’s wide musical contexts and collaborations, his work led me into lots of cool stuff, I guess in the end experimental music actually. I was playing guitar as a teenager and clarinet earlier. Later I had some bands and started playing gigs. Also, lots of going out and free parties too had some kind of influence. Writing and reading too, have always been very important to me, as Dalia already said, as a way to explore and expand the world.
How did the FITH collective and, by extension, the Wanda Portal imprint originate?
AL: I met Dice in Berlin. I wanted to make music with her after a night jamming with friends.
I sent her a few tracks a while after, asking if she would be up for adding lyrics. That was the early beginning of FITH.
To be honest we had a vague idea in mind of making music for some kind of comics but we quickly put the idea aside and decided after five tracks to go for another five and make an album.
At that moment we did not know if we wanted to play live, it was not really the idea. Dalia rather suggested we should start a collective, meet people, get inspired from one another, involve people in a process of collaboration rather than focusing on FITH as a project on its own, which gave birth to Wanda Portal.
DN: Wanda emerged out of FITH. It became clear that we all had overlapping projects that we wanted to explore and bring out into the world. At the same time, I was meeting a lot of musicians and artists along the way, particularly during my time living in the Islington Mill in Salford. The Islington Mill was the home to an eclectic group of artists and musicians. It was there that I met Rachel who later joined FITH. She gave this mesmerizing monologue at the Lydia Lunch Workshop. It was there that I also met Michael Holland who ran the Ono label and Paddy Shine from the band Gnod. It was a very active, deeply collaborative and inspiring time. And somehow things took off with Wanda: a collaborative release with Ono; guest radio slots with Andreas Reihse on NTS (Michael Holland and Paddy Shine’s Onotesla show) and other overlaps and collaborations.
RM: Yes, I met Dalia at Islington Mill and we kept in contact somehow, sending each other poems and music. I moved to Berlin and joined the band almost immediately thereafter! Early Wanda ideas started in Berlin with me and Dalia collecting lots of music, making mixes and writing the manifesto. The first release then happened with Ono in Manchester.
Where do each of your respective interests / specialties lie and how would you describe each of your contributions to the collective?
DN: I suppose I do have recurring themes that keep creeping into my work, whether through film, text, or music. I am drawn to minor histories or rather ‘under the radar’ stories, feminist histories, heretical figures and even places from the past that blast out alternative languages of desire, or visionary modes of existence. I think my contribution is about foregrounding these worlds, ways of thinking, and excavating figures from the past or creating imaginary characters from the future, building atmospheres and soundscapes that invoke these places and histories – hopefully in a rhythmic way, haha!
AL: I guess Wanda is a good way for each of us to present our work and collaborations in a solid way. For instance, I released an album [entitled Accalmie, released 2017] some kind of soundtrack, through Wanda.
RM: My contributions were organizational early on, now I contribute through making works.
Where do you all hail from originally? How much do you think that environment / background has informed each of your own works / contributions and the general dynamic of FITH?
AL: I was born in the south of France and I live now in Montreuil next to Paris, but I lived acroad for 13 years in between: China, Sweden, a bit in India, Germany. I suppose having lived different experiences in very different environments, cultures and traditions had a huge impact on me, to the point I felt a bit lost when I was younger, not really knowing where I belonged. But I have learnt to adapt to different situations. Learning from people and from life situations is probably what shaped my way of composing and hearing music. I am a dreamer so what I live and how I digest it, influences the music I make, for sure. I would say making music is a way for me to keep on traveling and to escape a certain reality to some extent. And when you look at FITH, we are coming from different backgrounds, having different influences, musically but not only in that sense, and we use that originality to make music together. We never really know what is going to happen, who will be joining when we say yes to a gig, but we go for it and enjoy it, which makes each one of our gigs very special. It is not always an easy process, but that is how it works with FITH.
DN: I am from North West London originally. I grew up in a modern orthodox Jewish background, quite sheltered really and family focused. I suppose I draw quite a lot from Jewish folklore and myth, and various ancestral history lines. London as a place certainly features in all my creative output, maybe not in an obvious or overt way, but it is somehow there.
RM: I’m from Durham, in the North-east of England and my family are all from Cumbria (where the mountains are ha). I think the remote landscapes of the Pennines are used as a narrative setting for some FITH texts, Dalia also wrote a lot in her PHD about a special wind there (The Helm Wind). I’m also still inspired by northern cities where I’ve lived, Newcastle and Manchester, the people, the histories, a leftist politics.
You’ve highlighted Lucrecia Martel’s 2001 film La Ciénaga as a significant inspiration, even naming the record after the film. How would you describe the film and Martel’s work to the uninitiated? Can you trace your own personal connections to the film? What was its relevance to the music you made for Swamp?
DN: Martel’s Swamp figures in our album in an almost surreptitious, subterranean even ‘swampy’ way (forgive the pun!). Its presence is there in that I personally was deeply inspired by the terrain in which she shot the film. I was hooked by the film’s premise: a petite bourgeoise family has a comfortable home with a swimming pool, almost oblivious to the lurking presence of the swampy terrain, its primordial presence haunts the film. I liked the idea of a swamp in both an abstract and material way, as an essence and as a presence.
La Ciénaga (2001, dir. Lucrecia Martel)
Similarly, you’ve cited Franz Kafka and Dario Argento as figures who shaped the trajectory of the record in some way. What drew you to their work? What kind of impact did they have on the aesthetic direction of Swamp?
DN: The album has lot of cited and un-cited presences, figures and influences. It’s teeming with them! Kafka and Argento being only a part of this constellation. I loved the idea of composing a soundtrack, a kind of imaginary Argento soundtrack. I am quite drawn to the Baroque, ecstatic, and sensual quality of his films. The title track Swamp is meant to be such an example of one these soundtracks! Kafka figures in it for me as an interesting minor figure, standing in for the German Jewish minority in Prague at the time. He took a stand through his writing in ways which continue to inspire me. We randomly opened a Kafka book and worked with the passage that you hear in Pound. Somehow it felt important to recite it in the German original. For one, we are now based in Berlin, and we needed to recite it in our own flawed accents; it recalls Yiddish for me – another minor tongue that was spoken by the Jewish community, a kind of hybrid language of the vernacular.
RM: I think Kafka’s ambiguous presence as a narrator is interesting, as a shapeshifter, or observer of Line of Flight.
Suspiria (1977, dir. Dario Argento)
There are references to l'au-delà (the beyond) as well as Białystok – a town in North-eastern Poland – on Swamp. Was there anything explicit and intended in these titles? Is the naming of these tracks situated in any particular connections / experiences?
DN: Some of the song titles happen accidentally or even serendipitously, which we enjoy very much as a process. Others evolve from the themes or stories and atmospheres of the track themselves. Bialystok is the name of a town in Poland – yes; it is where my grandfather is from. I dreamt up a story of women escaping a pogrom through magical means, a kind of witch tale. This story also features and overlaps with a piece of writing from my upcoming book called Zephyrian Spools (Knives Forks and Spoons Press). There are a lot of overlaps between my writing and lyrics, and sometimes they feed off each other.
Speaking of Zephyrian Spools Dalia, what’s it about? How did the research entailed, and the realization of the book relate both to your work in FITH and to Swamp as a record? Equally how would you differentiate these projects?
DN: The book emerged out of my thesis on wind in silent cinema. The thesis was initially supposed to be an essay film on wind with a theoretical component, then I dropped the film and begun to be more interested in writing an unfilmable script. The book follows the path of a character who wishes to adapt Victor Sjostrom’s silent film The Wind in Cross Fell, Cumbria, where the Helm wind blows. It then diverts into many places and times, and multiplies characters, winds, and cinema histories, and I’m hoping it has a whirlwind effect to it! The writing process of this book and the three FITH releases (debut LP, Signs / Cornerstone, Swamp) all emerged simultaneously with the writing. It was a really organic process. I imagined atmospheres for the album through writing scenes of the book and vice-versa. The musical component for FITH is a condensed translation of the book. And the music itself is collaborative so it generates a world beyond the book of course, but retains threads, lines and lyric refrains from the writing. The live element of FITH also takes things further; the role of spoken word in the music brings the text into a new light.
There’s a similarly allusive approach existent on previous work, namely the reimagined soundtrack you created for Barbara Loden’s Wanda. How did that approach originate? Are there other forms and figures who have been fundamental in shaping the direction of the collective as a whole?
DN: When I saw Barbara Loden’s film Wanda, I was deeply moved. I couldn’t believe that such a film existed; it felt like the best film ever made! The whole aesthetic really inspired me, it’s liminal, ‘wandering’ aesthetic – a woman walks across the coalmine, that image stays in my head. I thought it would be good to name the label after her film, to find a way to explore a liminal aesthetic between film and music and writing. Well, it’s quite informal actually, we are a group of friends and we all support each other’s projects through Wanda.
Wanda (1971, dir. Barbara Loden)
Swamp was recorded in the caretaker’s wing of a castle in Normandy. How did that come about? What was the routine of recording there like? What did a usual day there resemble?
AL: It is quite a luxury to say but we actually have a secret place in Normandy that we can use as a place of inspiration. It made sense at some point to gather there and concretise the work we accomplished after having played live for over a year, by making an EP.
Recording there was quite challenging as we have different personalities and as we never get to spend much time all together. It was also really intense because we only had a week to record the material we needed, so we had to be looking at the clock. The good thing is that there was literally not much else to do there than working on the album.
The routine was about gathering in the morning and thinking about what we had to record through the day. Sometimes we would work on a part all together, but we were mainly recording one after the other. Basically, each one of us had some time to contribute to a track with as many ideas as possible until the next one's turn. We would then decide what to keep for the track we were working on.
RM: Dare I also say, it was full of strife and I don't think we realized at the time that we made something good. Spring was coming, we were going a bit mad.
By extension some of you are usually based in different regions and countries. How do you negotiate the practicalities of that? How would you describe your working relationship in terms of writing, rehearsing, recording etc, with that in mind?
AL: We generally meet when we have a gig. We take some time off to rehearse before and decide where to meet according to what makes sense. For instance, we will meet in Normandy in September as we will be playing in Holland and Paris.
In terms of recordings we usually record demos and work from that. We send each other ideas and record them again and add layers when it is needed.
How did you come into contact with Alexander Paulick Thiel (aka Kriedler)? What kind of effect did his mixing expertise / general input have on Swamp?
AL: Andreas Reihse (also of Kreidler) who is Dice’s friend, introduced us to Alex when we were looking for someone to work with on the first album. All of the tracks had been recorded in our bedrooms and we needed a deeper production and mix, and Alex worked with us on that.
The recording process/production was different on Swamp, but we wanted to keep a similar colour to the first FITH release. We thought it would make sense asking Alex to mix the EP as well, especially as he understood the general texture we were looking for. We needed him to give a bit of relief to the production, get the general sound a bit tighter.
How does Swamp sit within your work to date? What kind of connections / divergences can you draw between Swamp and your self-titled LP, Signs / Cornerstone, and the soundtrack you created for Barbara Loden’s Wanda?
AL: I would say there is a real evolvement. Each FITH release is a new phase coming from new relationships that emerged from previous works. The first LP was Dice and I meeting, Signs / Cornerstone (which will actually be part of a tape release compilation of a new label called Too Soon Tapes, originated by Manon Torres) was Dice, Lianne Hall and I, playing together for the first time as FITH. The Wanda soundtrack was the first Wanda release, so it was a way to show the direction of the collective.
Swamp is a new turn for FITH. We are playing like a real band now; we are five musicians who create something special involving new influences and sounds. To me, Swamp sounds different to the rest of the material we have done so far, because it is the result of what we originally wanted to do: a collective, involving different people coming in with their own sound and conception of music! And the cool thing is that we have no idea of what will come next!
DN: Swamp continues our mutual, overlapping exploration of wider, unseen realities. We have a mutual interest in cinema and in tuning into hypnotic states. The Wanda soundtrack is just an instance of this and moves fluidly beyond FITH as a group, to methods of collage, mixtapes and hybrid audio essays. Ways of combining voice, texture and music together in unexpected ways. A homage to a forgotten filmmaker. It both connects to FITH and goes beyond it to other types of soundscapes.