Secret Thirteen Interview - Pharmakon


Exploring the reality of physical existence - Pharmakon interviewed

Pharmakon's concise burst of crystal and intense energy was one of the highlights of this year's Unsound. It was an excellent pairing with Swans long meditative journey afterwards and exploded with aggressive youthful energy embedded in metallic scrap rhythms and ice-cold noise facades. It was a cold, but very intimate and personal performance - a young woman's experience put in abrasive, yet elegant soundscapes.

Pharmakon's show nicely revealed the moods of her recent album “Bestial Burden” released on Sacred Bones Records. The strong personal presence and the human element were always very prevalent in her art, where noise mechanics stay very close to bodily experiences, personal struggles and the abilities of her voice. Thus her music always balances between unhomely elements of our own physical existence and beautiful honesty.

This interview was done just before Margaret's show in Teatr Lažnia Nowa situated in a remote monolith suburb Nowa Huta in Krakow during this year Unsound. The brief conversation covered many diverse issues such as revisiting painful experiences, relation with audience, femininity in noise/power electronics scene and the origins of her art.


It would be great to talk a bit about your new album "Bestial Burden". You made the album after having serious health problems and it is directly influenced by it? Could you elaborate on the story of the album? Was it difficult to revisit the experiences after the recovery?

Well, it happened simultaneously, so it wasn't as much a revisiting as it was the way of processing it while this was happening. The lyrics of the record are the result of being stuck in bed for three weeks and having nothing to do, but read and write. And those writings became the lyrics of the record. Sound that I made while I was bed-ridden ended up becoming the song for the record so it was more the processing of it at the time when it happened.

After releasing the album do you feel better? Do you feel like you put your bad emotions and experiences into it and got rid of that?

Honestly no. I think there are certain realizations that you can know intellectually, but when you experience them in a way that affects you so that you can feel it imminently they stay with you. Of course I don't feel it as fervently as I did at the time of the surgery and the recovery, but then on tour every night I am saying these words that I wrote during the time bringing myself back to that place. I think this record was not about the acceptance of the moving on from these things, it wasn’t so much cathartic. It was almost a defeat or some admission of harsh reality of a human existence.

When you play live you have a very direct contact with public and try to engage with it emotionally. Have you ever experienced some negative reactions or clashes with public? Is it always easy to have a close contact with people who might be not always positive on what you do?

I don't think that the necessary reaction is positive. I think that some people who gave me the most negative responses in their actions are the same people coming after the show and telling me that it affected them, asking me questions and wanting to know why I was doing what I was doing. Those are the people that sometimes feel it in a way that is more sincere than just "Yeah, cool", you know, which is also a valid response, because everyone enters a live show in different stages of initiation and knowledge of what's going to happen and have different opinions about it formed beforehand. Hopefully by the end of the performance the only goal is that they have been honest with themselves in their reaction to the performance and that they felt something, were moved in someway. Even if they are like "I don't like someone making me feel this way". And you feel that they are not gonna listen to it again or they come away from feeling upset. I think that movement of another person's being is the goal.

Recently you received quite an extensive attention from more mainstream music media (like Pitchfork etc). Was it a big change? Did you notice anything different after this publicity?

It's weird, because both of the Pitchfork interviews were done by my friend Brandon. I knew him before he even started working for them and trusted him. We had conversations on same topics before it was ever reported that we will have this official interview. I don't read internet blogs or check-up on reviews or sales or anything like that afterwards. I let interview be like a conversation, because a lot of time reading it back is a bit disappointing to be honest. Press is something that I have a hard time with a lot, because it turns a conversation into sound bytes.

I mean maybe it has affected my career, but in my experience it hasn't really changed the way that I do things. I mean, maybe at my shows there are more people, but it’s hard to say that it affected the situation significantly.

Now going back to the origins, when everything started. What was the first trigger/impact, that made you enter the noise scene?

It was just hearing it for the first time. My sister had an ex-boyfriend, who was into noise for a while. After meeting me and having conversation he was like "you are very serious, freaky and miserable, so maybe you like noise, cause I like it and your sister doesn't." Now at the time she makes it too, but at that time she wasn’t into this music. I tried to show her and she didn't like it. So he made me a mix CD. And it was like the floor fell out from beneath me. I found the thing that I didn't know, that I wanted to make, because nothing else satisfied the urge of making art that was not just chord on the guitar and not just a picture of something. I wanted something that was more, but I was really young and I didn't know about it, which way to go, so when I heard noise it was just immediate fascination and obsession.

And then after that you soon started making your own music?

Yes. Very shortly, in a couple of months. And the thing that was so exciting is that you hear the stuff and you have no idea how these people are making these things. If you hear a rock band, you know how it is made as you just hear drums, bass and guitar. And I think that that makes approaching these instruments in a weird way, because what you creating is not that, but it is noise and you have no idea how these sounds have been made and you just make up your processor and there is no right or wrong answer until you find the soundset. It's just being open to possibilities.

I was always interested in the femininity aspect in noise and power electronics scene. For example, I heard some women in power electronics scene saying that femininity is sometimes still an issue here. Do you feel that? Is it true?

I think that this specific project is so ingrained in my own understanding of myself and it's inextricable for me as a human being, there is no difference between my project and myself. So to deny any aspect of femininity entering into the project would be a lie, it would be fake. And I think it is an interesting aspect for dynamics to bring into the genre that is typically extremely masculine. But I hate describing it into that way, because I don't know why masculinity gets to claim the things that are dear to my heart and the thing that I talk about, because they are true to me too. I think that what is considered masculine energy is human energy and everyone has a little of both of them. Maybe I have a little more masculine energy, but I’m still a woman.

How did you get involved in touring with Swans?

I have been playing a lot of shows in the past two years, but last year we did a tour together. It was short - maybe a week or week and a half in the USA. And I just got an e-mail with an offer to go with them and I really really enjoyed it. It felt right, it was a good pairing. So when they asked me to come around this time, I just jumped into this opportunity, because they are really cool people. I think it is a good pairing, because we are so opposite projects in certain ways, but also maybe there is a common thread of the salt in the music.

You had quite an extensive involvement into European scene with your recent collaborations with Posh Isolation guys, Var etc. Was it an accidental thing? To which continent you are now more connected?

It was accidental in the chance that we just met each other when they were in America, because they tour constantly and I tour constantly, so we were lucky enough to meet each other when touring America or Europe with our respective projects. My group of friends was doing something very similar to what they were doing in Copenhagen and everyone has told us about each other like "these guys are just like you". So when I first met them it was an immediate likemindedness. Then we just keep seeing each other over and over largely on purpose. So we find excuses to be in the same place, so that we could exchange ideas and work on.

When you play live do you rely on improvisation and accidents?

No, it's all composed. The songs are composed beforehand and practiced over and over and over again until they are memorized and you don't have to think about anything technical or boring while you play, so the ideas could transcend these boring movements, because it is just gear and you just let these sounds go into another place that is separated from that. So I practice a lot. I usually change the songs a little bit when I record them, because they should be different as it should be a separate experience to listen to a record than seeing a live show and the tracks should be altered according to how they should be experienced. But yeah, I play the same set every night. But while I’m playing I have to decide whether I will play that song next to that song depending on the energy of the crowd and how I’m feeling and how long certain sections go, so there is a little room for reacting to the crowd, but it’s never accidental. I'm not that good at that. Very few people are actually.

What would be those people?

I think Emil Beaulieau does a lot of improvised stuff and he is a complete genius. You should look up the thing "America's Greatest Living Noise Artist". It's this video of him playing and it is just like the most perfect performance. You should just see it. My words won't do justice.

There are just rare few, but that was never my intention, because the way it works for me is that I think of the song in my head first and find the way to make the sounds that I hear, but they don't exist yet, so I have to make them. So that does not lend it off to improvisation as the improvisation is about not knowing what’s next and my brain just does not work in that way.

After the album and the tour, will you take some rest or do you have some more upcoming plans?

I will be touring a good bit of this year I think. I already know what I wanna do for the next record, but I think it requires instruments that don't exist yet and I have to make them and skills that I don't have yet and I have to form and it's gonna take a little more time this time I think. Maybe there will be a little break, but that does not seem very hopeful.

More about Pharmakon: discogs - facebook

About Author

Paulius Ilevicius is a Secret Thirteen journalist, editor and occasional DJ focusing on more dreamy and melancholic soundscapes. Born in post-industrial town of Pavevezys, currently he lives and works in Vilnius, Lithuania.