In celebration of our upcoming As You Like It Three Year Anniversary w/ Jeff Mills, Kassem Mosse (live), and Daniel Wang, we’re honored to release an exclusive podcast by AYLI resident Christina Chatfield and a Mossmoss on Chatfield Interview. Quality.
Hello Christina, thanks sitting down to answer some questions for us here at AYLI. We’ve known each other for quite a while now, but there are some things about your creative life and musical background I may not know…
Tell me about your first memorable experience with music, and your first experience with dance music.
Music has played a major role in my life as long as I can remember, because all of my immediate family are working musicians. My mom is a vocal coach, my dad is a keyboard player, and my brother plays upright bass, all classically trained. Basically there was no way I was going to make it through childhood without learning some kind of musical instrument. I don’t mean for that to sound negative, because I’m really appreciative of all that exposure to the arts early on through my family. Growing up, I think the most “modern” music we ever listened to in our household was The Beatles, otherwise it was all classical music. My first instrument that I took lessons on was the violin, but it didn’t really “stick.” I dabbled with taking lessons on many different instruments, but I never ended up picking one instrument that was my favorite, one that I wanted to practice tirelessly for the rest of my life. I liked playing a little bit with all of them.
As I grew into adolescence, like most teenagers, I was rebellious. I wanted to do the exact opposite of my parents. Since my family was so entrenched in classical music, one simple way I could rebel was by rejecting all of that and instead, embrace music that was totally different and foreign. Honestly, I think I probably first started blasting Underworld and stuff like that to weird out my mom. Teenagers can be funny like that. But I also genuinely liked listening to it, it sounded really new and fresh to me.
When did you start creating music and what were the reasons that peaked your interest in the electronic dance medium?
Well, I guess technically I wrote my first song when I was a really little kid. It was a song called “I Wish I Could Fly,” — pretty deep material. I still remember how it goes. In terms of more recent work, I started trying to seriously produce music a little over 10 years ago. At the time, making electronic music wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision that I made, it was sort of a natural progression. It makes total sense when I think about it. Growing up I really loved writing music. I was always making up melodies on the piano or guitar, I also tried out flute and harp. But I never wanted to settle on one specific instrument, or one specific style of music because I liked a little bit of everything. Electronic music production allows me to make whatever sounds I want using the same basic tools, and I’m not restricted in any way. When you mix all those elements together: a passion for writing music, the desire to have creative freedom, a teenage rave career, and a special affinity for house and techno, the next natural step was for me to become interested in learning about electronic music production.
I know you have some history with music production at Berklee College of Music in Boston, tell us about your experience? What was the most important thing you learned, personally or musically?
Going to Berklee was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. There’s something magical about going to a specialized school like that because you’re all there for the same main reason: a passion for music. Being in that kind of environment, surrounded by so much talent and creativity is extremely invigorating. But early on, I was feeling pretty insecure because this would be my first foray into studying music technology, specifically synthesizers and sound design. I was accepted into the Music Synthesis program. Other students had mixed levels of experience, but I was definitely on the novice end of the spectrum compared to most. I knew I liked hearing synths in music, but I didn’t know anything about using them.
When I started taking Synthesis classes, I noticed I was usually the only female in the room. That’s when it dawned on me how much of a gender imbalance there is in the field of music technology. I realized that by studying music technology with the hopes of becoming an expert in the field, this highly unbalanced male:female ratio would likely be my professional future. I had to learn how to keep that from intimidating me, and it was hard in the beginning because I felt like I was so behind everyone else. But pretty quickly that intimidated feeling morphed into serious motivational fuel. Being the only female in a class made me feel like I had something to prove. I didn’t want to give anyone a reason to think I was unable to do this just as well as any of the guys, and it lit a fire under my ass in a really big way. I learned so much at Berklee and it wasn’t always fun or easy, but my time there formed the entire foundation for everything I do with music production now. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
Regarding the work you did as Monocle with Danny Patterson: how did the Monocle partnership come about, and how was the process different, if at all, than making solo work?
Danny and I first started collaborating when we were students at Berklee. We were in a class together called “Techno/Rave Ensemble.” Funny name, but the main point of the class was for everyone to experiment with collaboration and live performance together. I worked with Danny and our collaborations came out great, so we decided to keep the project going even after the class ended. That’s how Monocle was born. In addition to producing music, Danny is also a very talented software engineer. Back then he was really into C-sound and Supercollider. Both of those require knowledge of programming, something which I only sort of understand on the surface. With those tools, he brought a new level of sound design and technology into our collaboration that I wasn’t able to do. That’s one of the great things about collaboration. Working with someone else brings in a new element, a new skill or perspective that you might not have on your own.
You’ve lived a few places across the United States. We met in the old rave days in Cincinnati, Ohio. Did those early experiences help shape your sound, and if so, how?
Without a doubt, my time living in Ohio played a huge role in shaping not only my music, but my overall taste in electronic music. I grew up in Dayton, and I spent my teenage years at a whirlwind of raves all over the Midwest. And of course due to the influence of Chicago and Detroit over the whole region, house and techno were staples. So when I started producing music myself, that’s just what came out… probably because house and techno are the sounds I’m most familiar with and most comfortable with. I experiment with other genres too, but in terms of the music I perform and release, it’s mostly house and techno.
In hindsight I still can’t believe some of the music I was exposed to in Dayton back in those days. For example, the first time I saw Marco Carola was at a rollerskating rink in Dayton. If you were living in a major city, I’m sure headliners like that were standard but this was in Dayton, Ohio! Another time, I saw Magda play at some tiny dive bar in Dayton for $1. Literally, the door price was one dollar! Crazy. Those were such fun times though, lots of great memories. I also made many friends made for life. It’s great to reconnect with Mattie here in SF after sharing a lot of the same experiences as teenagers.
Do you have a routine when you sit down to make music?
Yes, and I’m trying to break out of it! Having a routine for writing music can be both good and bad. The good side is that establishing a regular routine for music production is basically the same as the runner who runs every day. The more you produce music and get into a routine, the better the end result will be, and the faster you’ll get at writing too. But the bad side is that any regular routine can start to feel a little monotonous after awhile. Right now I’m trying to shake things up a bit, change up my workflow to make it feel new again. I figured one obvious way to do that would be to migrate away from one of my primary tools - my computer. So I just bought my first hardware sequencer in hopes that it’ll help me do that.
Do your two cats have any positive or negative influence?
When it comes to working on music? Negative! Definitely negative. Have you ever seen what happens when you put a cat around a bunch of cables? It’s a disaster, they treat cables like yarn. One of them would even pull the knobs off one of my keyboards and swat them around on the floor. Cats also really like to sleep on stuff that is warm. If I let them into my workspace, that warm spot is usually on top of a synth or on my computer keyboard. They can’t be trusted around music gear at all. We have a strict ban on cats in the studio for that reason. Outside of the studio, I love them both to pieces and they bring loads of positivity into my life. Anyone who follows me on Instagram is probably annoyed with all the cat pics… But I can’t help it, they’re so cute! I guess I have crazy cat lady tendencies, just not in the studio.
Lets focus on the pure enjoyment of sound design for a second. What is your favorite piece of equipment or software to use to creatively design sound?
That’s a hard question to answer! It really depends on what I’m going for musically. Over the years I’ve figured out what each of my synths does best, and I’ll decide which one to use based on that. Some of them are super easy to program, like the x0xb0x (the 303 emulator). There’s only so many things it can do, and you pretty much know what you’re gonna get: Acid. I’m up and running with that synth in just a few minutes. But on the flip side, I have other synths that are pretty deep like my Andromeda. That thing sounds amazing, but I can’t say it’s exactly a joy to use. You almost have to go into a zen-like state when you’re working with it because it can take hours to dial in a sound. But once you’re there it’s incredible, and the fact that it’s such a monster means it can do things my other synths can’t. Lately I’ve also been introducing more FX processing hardware into the mix, like the Eventide Space reverb pedal.
As far as software is concerned, I use Logic and Live almost equally. I’ve also been getting back into the world of plug-ins. In the past I preferred hardware when it came to the sound of synths, but these days soft synths are sounding pretty awesome. One of my current favorites is Diva by Urs Heckmann. The filters on that plug-in sound just about as close to real analog as anything I’ve ever heard. And you definitely can’t beat the price when comparing it to a hardware synth. Now that I’m buying more software plug-ins again, I’m seeing the real benefit in being able to work anywhere with only a laptop. It’s definitely better than limiting myself to only working in the studio with hardware. I do still enjoy the tactile experience of working with hardware though, that part will always be fun to me.
What has been your most exciting gig to date?
I’ve had a few gigs that I will always remember. The first one that comes to mind is the first time I played for AYLI. It was only my second gig ever as a solo artist. It’s very humbling that Bispo had enough faith in me to book me for that party even though I had only recently debuted my live set. It was at the com# which had one of the most state-of-the-art sound systems around, and I was given a desirable late-night time slot. That was a massive opportunity for me as someone who was launching a brand new solo live PA. The late time slot pretty much gave me free reign to get deep and weird, which was a first for me at the time. The com# was one of those special intimate venues where the audience would get really into it, and as the artist you were in the center of the room. I was so nervous leading up to my set, I could barely talk to anyone. But once I started playing and eased into it, my nerves calmed down and I actually started having fun. I will never forget the crowd response that night, it was amazing.
The Beretta showcase at Bunker in NYC was definitely another highlight for me. The whole Beretta crew was on point that night from start to finish, and the room we were playing in was going off. Bunker is also just a really dope party in general. Big sound, dark room, great crowd… lots of fun to play there. Detroit and Chicago both hold a special place in my heart too. I’ve had gigs in both of those cities that I will never forget.
How does the feedback you get from your audience help you create new music when you get back to the studio?
Every time I incorporate new music into my live set and perform it for the first time, it’s taking a risk. I have no idea how new music will go over with a crowd until I actually try playing it out. I can usually guess which tracks will be “peak” moments in the set, but sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by the crowd response to a different track. It helps me select which tracks would make good potential candidates for an EP.
Tell us a little bit about your interactions and beginnings with AYLI in San Francisco, and who is your favorite resident, other than yourself? *Wink wink.*
I first met Bispo at a Metro Area party at Mezzanine several years ago, so it’s very serendipitous that he just had me open for Metro Area recently. We immediately hit it off as friends and got along really well. Then he offered to book me for the first AYLI live PA showcase at the com# that I mentioned earlier. That gig was really special, and people seemed to respond really well to my set. It was a turning point for me, both individually and in terms of my role with AYLI. I remember Bispo hitting me up shortly after that showcase and saying “I think I want you to be a resident… what do you think?” I was blown away by the offer because I hadn’t really heard of a live act being a offered a residency, but I was so flattered that Bispo had once again shown a lot of faith in me. I also knew it would be a challenging role for me to accept because I would need to make sure my sets stayed as fresh and interesting as possible each time. The last thing I’d want is for people in SF to see my name on a lineup and go “Yawn, we’ve already heard that set 5 times.” So being an AYLI resident keeps me working and constantly writing new music, which is great. It keeps things interesting for me, and hopefully for the audience as well.
As far as who is my favorite resident — that is an unfair question! And I don’t mean to give a cliché answer, but I really do think each resident has something special to offer. Mattie, Sam (Sassmouth), and Rich are all DJs I’ve known and respected for a long time, even before we became AYLI residents together. Bells & Whistles are totally killing it, I’ve loved hearing the progression of their sound since they first started playing around SF. And Briski’s sets were always a treat, I miss having him on the lineups since his move to Europe. I don’t want to play favorites, all of my AYLI peers are very talented!
What’s on the horizon musically and personally for you, any special trips or projects you are currently excited for and where do you hope to be in five years, ten years?
Musically there are more releases with a couple new labels on the horizon, and I hope to release more music with Beretta as well. Personally, I’m about to head to Japan for Labyrinth festival in 2 weeks. I’ve been wanting to check Labyrinth and Japan out for a long time, so I’m very excited for this trip. And as far as the future is concerned, who knows what’s in store! So much has happened in the last 5 years, I can’t imagine what’s in store for the next… But I hope to release music more regularly, and continue working with new labels. I’d also like to get some new collaborations going. And hopefully I will be debuting an all-hardware live set with AYLI — but I can’t speculate exactly when this will all happen, just keep your eyes and ears out! I’m also looking forward to seeing what’s in store for AYLI, who has been on an upward trajectory since day 1. AYLI’s future is looking bright, there’s no doubt about that. It just keeps getting better and better every year.
From all of us here at AYLI, thanks for constantly wowing us with your music and taking the time to answer my questions! See you soon!
Thank you Mattie, and many thanks to AYLI for the constant support over the years. Without it, my music definitely wouldn’t be where it is today. And thanks to everyone who has supported us over the years too! A proper party needs a great crowd, and we’re really fortunate to have so much support from electronic music fans all over the Bay Area.