andrea header pic

"Anything that you just turn on with a key and have to wait half an hour for it to heat up is just a great piece of equipment!"

Exploring The Dark Side

Andrea Parker has been shaking up the electronic music "boys club" with her uncompromising electro-experimental sounds for the past four years. Now her love of analog synths is about to be demonstrated on her debut for Mo' Wax records. Will she have a future career in scoring Horror films? Phil Meadley investigates the methods to this dark sister's madness.

There is no-one in the music business quite like Andrea Parker, in fact there is probably no one like Andrea Parker full stop. When her startling debut album for Mo' Wax appears in the new year she is uncertain of what people's reactions will be, "I'm sure I'm going to be taken away in a straight-jacket by the time my album comes out. I'm convinced people will think I'm totally insane," she laughs in mock horror. But that's the big misconception about the wildly eclectic analog sounds that Parker creates. O.K., they are very dark or to put it another way, moodily atmospheric, but there's also a sense of humor which perhaps only surfaces once you get a chance to speak to her in person.
spacer Kiss My Arp is a culmination of over a year's hard work flitting between the ever increasing number of DJ tour dates and flying over to Bavaria to work at the studio of friend and co-conspirator David Morley. But her obsession with music started way back at the age of seven collecting Ska records and through her teenage years traveling up from Kent to London with her older sister to see hip-hop shows. The seeds grew as she learned to play the cello ('badly') and piano at school and hoped to do some session singing before immersing herself fully into the infinite possibilities of instrumental music. She relates, "I got so into the beats and old synth's that I completely forgot about vocals for a good six years." It followed her up to London where she worked at a hairdresser's shop purely because she knew that all the DJs went there due to it being bang next door to Blackmarket Records store in Soho. All the time she was giving out demo's and meeting loads of musicians before her big break came when she started working at the infamous techno haven, London's Fat Cat Records.
spacer DJing was never Andrea Parker's intended course, "I started collecting BBC sound effects years ago, I've got about 3000 now. I just basically used to get four decks set up, an old moog record going round on one deck, synths going round on another, a bit of African percussion on the next. I used to make my own tracks up until someone thought it was a great idea if I did it in a chill-out room." Her first DJ break came in 1995 playing sound effects over satellite footage of sci-fi guru Arthur C. Clarke at London's Heaven club. A regular slot at underground techno's legendary Lost club followed and since then Parker has never looked back. The culmination of years hard graft resulted in her being asked by one of her all time heros, avant-garde composer Philip Glass, to DJ with an ensemble over a body of his work at New York's Lincoln Center.
spacer On the recording front her initial tunes were very much on the techno tip. She's worked with Alex Knight as Inky Blacknuss, put out releases on the Sabrettes label and later conspired with David Morley as Two Sandwiches Short Of A Lunchbox for R&S and Infonet. However it wasn't until she sent Mo' Wax a copy of "The Rocking Chair" that she finally got the chance to pursue her vocal career, "I was expecting more techno labels to contact me but I think James (Lavelle) was at a point where he was looking for a darker vocalist with different abstract beats. In fact Mo' Wax was the last meeting I went to and I just walked in and put the demo on and all the CD's fell off the speaker when the bass came in!"
spacer The new album is called Kiss My Arp because of Parker's obsession with the Arp and the numerous other pieces of analog equipment that she has developed such a passion for. "I love it. Anything that you just turn on with a key and have to wait half an hour for it to heat up is just a great piece of equipment!" This obsession led to her stubbornly refusing to record anywhere apart from David Morley's studio in Bavaria. "When I walked into that studio it was just all analog synths-about 40-that I'd always wanted to get my hands on and use. Once I started to work in that studio that's definitely how I got my sound." Such a dedicated sound manipulator is Parker that there are virtually no samples (only a couple of sound effects) and no breakbeats used on the album. "All the drum sounds come off really old synths. We make a kick sound, a bass tone, a snare and hi-hat all off the analog synths one sound at a time and really build it up that way. With the bass on that album there's no way you'd get that sound unless you were using old Arps and things."
spacer Also addressed on the album is Parker's obsession with strings. Luckily cult string arranger Will Malone (check out the strings on Massive Attack's "Unfinished Sympathy" and numerous horror movie soundtracks for starters) was on hand to help with the live arrangements on several of the tracks including the re-working of the previously released single "Rocking Chair" and a new track, "The Unknown". A forty piece orchestra was brought in to accompany Parker's cello and vocals. "Will is a really innovative, really cool guy who's worked with so many mad people. A lot of other string arrangers are like 'oh no, we can't work with that because we don't know the notes' and it's all a bit stuck up. But he actually loves that, he's like, 'I have no idea what chord you are playing and I'm sure they're completely wrong but they sound all right so let's go with it!'"
spacer So what of the future for Ms. Parker? Well alongside a future collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto her ultimate ambition in life is to score a horror film, "then I could shit the life out of so many people. But I'd still be laughing in the studio whilst I was doing it. I wouldn't be gritting my teeth with veins popping out of my neck!" Truly the dark side has found a soulmate and the eclectic left-field a champion.
Phil Meadley

Originally appeared in XCLR8R 34. Copyright © XCLR8R