Local Artist Spotlight: Hanssen

Local Artist Spotlight, Upstream Music Fest + Summit, Local Music
05/01/2017
Dusty Henry

Leading up until the Upstream Music Fest + Summit, a Northwest regionally focused festival with over 300 acts, KEXP will be featuring a new local artist from the lineup with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. Today’s post features Seattle electronic producer Hanssen, performing Saturday, May 13 on the Hush Hush Records stage at 6:15 PM.

Before Brit Hansen was creating sprawling electronic tracks under the moniker Hanssen, she was on the foundation of Seattle's rave and industrial scene as one half of the duo Jacob London. Hansen has continued to evolve as Hanssen – embracing an ever-growing list of influences and keeping themselves vital with new experimentations. On her latest record, Transit, Hanssen gives one of her most wide-eyed and fully-realized records to date. We caught up with Hanssen and got her perspective on the ever electronic music scene, working solo vs. collaborating, and the cinematic qualities of her music.You’ve been making electronic music in Seattle since the late 90s as a part of the duo Jacob London. What drew you initially to rave and industrial music?

As a young kid, some of my favorites from my parents record collection were Jean Michel Jarre, King Crimson, and the Meco records that took (mostly sci-fi) movie themes and turned them into spacey disco. So when my junior high school friend Dave (aka "Pezzner") had come back to Seattle from spending a few years out in the Arizona desert, I was pretty drawn to the Skinny Puppy, The Cure, and The Orb albums he brought back with him. This new music took everything I loved about those old records and kinda mashed it up with the Christian death metal I had been into in my early teens. The first rave track we ever heard – and fell in love with – was Church of Extacy's "Church of Extacy (Ooowee I Am Ready...!)", which was a pretty natural progression from the industrial music we had been toying around with.

How have you seen the electronic music scene change and evolve since you started out?

It's hard to tell sometimes how much of it has really changed, and how much it's just that I have changed. But, for sure, the genre-fication has been one of the biggest changes. One of the things I loved about making electronic music early on was that it felt like you could do anything. There were no sub-genres. When you went out DJs would play such a range of styles in a set (I'm thinking particularly of some Scott Hardkiss sets that were very influential for me.) Now, though...yikes! You have entire sub-genres and scenes popping up around one specific sound or production style and people rally around it and beat it into the ground until it's straight-up deceased. Then something shinier crops up and they move on.

What do you feel you can do solo as opposed to with a collaborator?

The only thing, really – and I'm not sure I count this as a positive – is that I'm freely able to indulge those multi-genre tendencies. I'm into such a wide range of music and my creative impulse is largely driven by a need to take things apart, figure them out, and recreate them with my own twist. I'm constantly having an internal battle over whether the next thing I do is going to be house, pure ambient, drum n bass, banging techno, or something completely different.

You’ve described your last album, Transit, as being about discovering yourself as a producer and as a human. What conclusions did you come to throughout the process of working on that record?

I have a hard time with making my music "about" anything, but that album was definitely written over a period of pretty intense change in my life. I had just come out to myself as transgender and was in the early stages of unpacking that and sorting it out. Along with that came a lot of reflection on authenticity, which definitely involved my creative process.

I noticed you recently did a remix for a Si Begg film score and cited the soundtrack for a video game as one of your favorite albums of last year. With how cinematic your music is, do you find that you draw influence from film and video games?

Definitely. I'm also a photographer and I have a long-term goal of being a writer and illustrator as well. And it's all highly influenced by film in general. Video games, probably not so much. But scntfc's 'Oxenfree' game soundtrack had earned a place on my 2016 best-of list well before I ever played the game (which is excellent and people should check it out).

Your music moves so well between danceable and meditative. How do you balance that in your live set and what can people expect from your Upstream performance?

In the past I've taken the approach of really leaning into the "danceable" for my live sets, making special versions of songs that weren't originally all that dancefloor-able. But I just recently saw Motion Graphics & Visible Cloaks play at the Timbre Room, and that inspired me to let my set be more free-form this time around. I've also really gotten into doing DJ sets of techno bangers slowed down to hip-hop tempo, so I've done that with some of my music as well. My Upstream set will be pretty adequately all over the place. I'm going to be improvising more than I ever have in a live set, as well as being joined by Seattle rock legend Rusty Willoughby on drums!

 

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