One of Loula Yorke’s live shows, co-composed with a group of young girls who built their own DIY synthesisers, became an unexpected highlight of last year’s SPILL Festival in Ipswich. Ahead of her experimental performance at SPILL ThinkTank next Thursday, she explains why she wants to get mums and grannies involved next time
Musician and composer Loula Yorke didn’t study music as such. But it’s fair to say that the rave scene of the 90s had a profound influence on the 43-year-old. ‘I got into making electronic music by going raving in my early 20s,’ says Loula, who moved to Suffolk in 2009, with her partner, had ‘two lovely children’ and stayed. ‘I had put it all to the back of my mind until after having kids – there’s something about being a mother,’ adds Loula, whose daughters are now 14 and 11, ‘It brings you to ground zero and breaks your identity. It’s an incredible driving force. I just really wanted to make music.’
And she makes the point: ‘Technology is a really good way of getting into music if you’re not classically trained. I can play an acoustic instrument, but I really believe in technology as a way of into music for people who haven’t gone down the formal route.
Loula has been described before now as ‘one of the most interesting voices in analog electronics’ and ‘a DIY noisenik champion.’ She’s had radio play on BBC R3, R1 & 1XTRA, and coverage in Electronic Sound, The Wire, DJ Mag, and Bandcamp Daily.’ And in 2019, she started running DIY synth-building and composition workshops for girls aged 9-14: Atari Punk Girls.
She says: ‘I feel passionate about other people having a creative outlet in that way, especially teenage girls. It’s the time you can get your confidence knocked a bit.’ Around 80 young people went along to the sessions, in places such as the Shoe Factory Social Club in Norwich. ‘We did them all over the place.’
How would she describe the workshops? ‘Kind of quite anarchic and exciting,’ she says, before adding: ‘It was just fun and friendships were formed. It was about introducing kids to each other.’ What with the pandemic, the workshops did have something of a hiatus. However, her community-focused electronics practice was, at least, recognised with a Special Commendation from The Oram Awards of 2020 – the platform for innovation in sound, music, and related technologies.
Loula was funded by Arts Council England to develop the Atari Punk Girls concept into a staged show which took place St Clement Church in Ipswich last October, for SPILL, the international festival of performance.
It sounds as though the kids involved had the time of their lives. Loula comments: ‘When we did that first big show at Spill, I was able to take them to their first free party, without any harassment, drugs or alcohol – it was like a rave at 4pm!’ And it also sounds as though the audience was taken by surprise. ‘People didn’t think that 14-year-old girls were going to throw a really good rave!’ Some of the girls involved remarked that it was ‘best thing they’ve ever done.’ What she had created with Atari Punk Girls was a ‘safe space’, says Loula, ‘and a ‘really LGBTQ supportive space.’
Next Thursday Loula returns to Ipswich to do an experimental performance at SPILL ThinkTank: perception is a mutual embrace, which promises to be an audio-visual collage of laser beams, found film footage from the family archive, chaotic electronic circuits, and evolving musical patterns. ‘It’s going to be a sound and light show, basically’, says Loula, who has been named Sound Generator Artist 2022 – a new artist development programme from Sound UK.
She has just released her fourth solo album called Fluorescence. Created from improvisations recorded between January and May 2022 (the growing season of the wildflower meadow outside her window in Suffolk), the album explores a cyclical, creative and expansive interpretation of time, holding up a mirror to life as a mother: the stillness of winter, the drama of budding, the joy of unfurling, and the bittersweet sadness that comes with the arising and passing of stages along the journey.
As she says: ‘I use music to process the emotions arising from mothering and daughtering: the passing-through of big life stages which trigger ghosts to appear from my own experiences of growing up. I started learning synthesis after I had my two girls, after we all moved to this house on the green, everything feeds back in and the cycles repeat.’
And she’s looking ahead to more workshops, but with a twist. ‘The new work I’m making is based around mothering and daughtering.’ Referencing the Atari Punk Girls workshops, she explains: ‘What I found really interesting was, often their mums wanted to sign them up because they wanted to do it themselves. There will be no upper age limit (grannies can get involved!) and they can all make an instrument together.’
Loula hopes that, with Arts Council funding, it will result in a show for Autumn 2023. ‘It will be like the Atari Punk Girl workshop but switching up participants, engaging a new group, and switching up the technology.’
Loula Yorke will be performing new improvised experiment, perception is a mutual embrace at SPILL ThinkTank, Ipswich, next Thursday October 20. The performance will be followed by a Q&A session hosted by Artistic Director, Robin Deacon. Loula will also be supporting Rival Consoles for HARK at Norwich Arts Centre, on November 27. Visit @iamloula on Instagram and @loulayorke on Twitter.
Featured image of Loula York by Jeff Scott