Lauren Duffus’ music is a lesson in exploding gracefully
Lauren attributes her musical inspiration to two principal sources: American trio Salem, and her old Yamaha keyboard’s classical build-ins.
Listening to her productions, it’s clear that the uncanniness of these inspirations is right on brand. Tangible are the bad-dream atmospherics, chopped ‘n’ screwed beats and irreverent tone which paint the witch house genre (grey); as well as the cinematic drill instrumentals typified by Chicago rapper, Chief Keef. But far from the codeine’d quality of Salem’s quasi-noise productions, the antagonism in Duffus’ music is often appeased with blithe glimmers, sometimes even choral singing. Her music’s equal proclivity for both caustic indignation and moments of tenderness justify previous comparisons to the likes of aya and Loraine James, both of which extend to her fusion of prismatic club beats and soft melodics.
‘From a very young age I was always drawn to sad or scary music’, Lauren reflects. ‘I remember loving the soundtrack for the fairytale, Peter and the Wolf. I love all genres though from black metal to pop but I will almost always only enjoy the songs that have a moving element. That’s why I love Chief Keef, his instrumentals almost always feel really sad to me’.
For Lauren, making music is a form of therapy, and satisfaction only comes with a production process informed by hardship. Her self-proclaimed inflexibility when it comes to making music solely informed by her own selfish inclinations doesn’t stop her hoping that people will share in the emotion she pours into its creation. Nonetheless, she finds less comfort in doing so herself. ‘After making something and putting it out I very rarely listen to it. Either I really don’t enjoy it and it tends to upset me’.
Pain is palpable in Duffus’ music. After boredom led her to download a free trial of Logic in the height of 2020’s lockdown, tracks quietly began to surface on her Soundcloud page, such as ‘Stir Fry’ which would later resemble one third of her debut EP ‘SULK’. The snideness of SULK’s title matches its tone. Unequivocal though it may be – this is an expression of pain – it is resolutely not an attempt at self-indulgence. Despite its melancholy (‘Soho Road’ is subtitled ‘Crying Song’ and is mainly composed of gut-wrenching sobs), Lauren’s music almost seems to laugh at itself, deftly conveying the coexistence of both devastation and self deprecation in depressive episodes.
Whilst Stir Fry’s choral singing, chipmunk vocals and dancehall-indebted rhythms bare stark resemblance to Sinjin Hawke’s symphonic ‘First Opus’ LP, the self-released ‘Anxiety‘ is distinctly cold, with brittle percussion and a playtime 173 seconds, as if not meriting anything more.
‘I’m still on the journey of learning how to deal with my emotions in a way that’s not destructive’, she responds when I ask about the description written underneath her AD 93 release ‘Dubplate 07’. ‘Exploding gracefully just means pouring that energy outwards as opposed to bottling it up and destroying myself’.
She admits the difficulty she’s found in compromising her own release schedules in favour of working with labels. ‘I want to share as soon as I finish a skeleton of a song because there’s so much pent up energy Ive just put into it and I feel like it’s squirming in my laptop needing to be let out’.
Lauren also struggles with attempts to categorise her music, admitting she sometimes gives into labelling tracks such as ‘Permanence‘ as ‘ambient’ given their pulselessness, despite the term not resonating fully. Her dual inspiration of both drill and classical music reaches its most prominent form on her third most listened-to SoundCloud upload: a monasterial remix of ‘Inner City Pressure’ – the experimental grime track by London producer, Cold.
When I asked whether she detected a sense of place in her own music – whether she considered London to be its natural home – she reflected that, despite the dancehall sounds she grew up surrounded by, that actually ‘the fact that I exclusively create in my childhood home which holds a lot of painful memories is more of a factor than the city I’m in. I can be a bit crap socially so I really don’t feel like any immediate community influences my sound’.
When we discuss her fusion of hard-hitting, industrial electronics with ornate choral arrangements, she meditates on classical music’s liberating tendencies. ‘It inspires me to not be rigid and have no rules – that probably sounds stupid because its seen as such a rigid, traditional genre filled with rules – but I like the constant tempo changes, the expression, and the movement within the songs that tell a story. It’s so fluid. I enjoy challenging myself to turn off the metronome and just play stuff expressively’.
Lauren’s penchant for story-telling translates into a desire to take up film scoring, so much so that she recently partook in an online course. ‘I just love the freedom it gives you in terms of structure and the challenge of not sticking to a tempo or traditional structure’, she tells me. ‘It was so much fun writing music with a visual prompt and hit points etc it was the most creative I’ve felt’.
Having only been producing for a matter of months when she created ‘Stir Fry’ – now her most notable release – it’s clear that world-building is something innate in Lauren’s musical inclination. It’s rare to find an artist whose music engulfs you in such a way as hers, and warrants comparisons to the enchanting immersion of Björk or the cinematic allure of Enya. At once appearing to bare all yet be fiercely guarded, it’s a deeply complex treatise on life’s hard times.