In 2017, ZETA absolutely blew everyone at the blog away with their self-titled, debut release. Composed of Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT), producer Katie Jackson, and Paul Ortiz (Chimp Spanner), the project channeled synthwave, indie-pop, EDM, and more into one cyberpunk infused series of absolute bangers. The project has since been silent (although more things are coming, see below!) but Katie Jackson has recently started posting more tracks under the moniker Static Angel. As you can probably tell from the tracks below, this project is a lot more focused on techno, EDM, and other electronic scenes than it is on synthwave.
And so, with ZETA stirring from its slumber and a new project on the horizon, what better time to grab Katie for a minute (or two) and chat about music, production, the scenes she’s a part of (or not, read on below) and her approach to composition and production. What followed is a fascinating dive into contemporary electronic genres, production, aesthetics, gender, and much more!
So, get to reading! And if I might make a suggestion, head on down below to Static Angel’s Soundcloud profile and put her music on while you’re reading. It’s guaranteed to enhance your experience.
Hey Katie! To get us started, our readers will probably know you from ZETA but I bet you have a bunch more stuff going on. Tell us about what you’ve been up to!
Hey! Well since lockdown happened, I’ve had a lot of free time, so I’ve spent a lot of it rediscovering my love of songwriting and producing. I go through phases with it and this has been the most productive time for me musically. When I properly get going I can have a tune done anywhere between 12-24 hours, from opening my DAW to exporting it, I’m honestly like a woman possessed.
I started my solo project, Static Angel, literally a month ago. It has all happened so fast and even I didn’t really expect this was going to happen- the universe just called for it I guess! I still need to do a bit more mixing on the tracks I’ve already done but I’m really pleased with them structurally at least.
Static Angel seems to be more entrenched in EDM and even some drum and bass than it is in synthwave. Was this an intentional departure or just a sound that you felt the project called for?
It was always in my mind that I was going to do something with a more modern feel as a solo producer, and I was just waiting for the right genre to come along that I thought resonated the most with what I wanted to produce.
Last year I stumbled across the video for “Ghost Voices” by Virtual Self, (EDM producer Porter Robinson’s side project), and I instantly saw it and just thought yeah- that’s exactly the sort of stuff I want to do, the aesthetics and everything are amazing. I think it was nominated for a Grammy actually, which is pretty crazy for a niche Neo-Trance track.
Shortly after that, I rediscovered Wave, an underground genre I’d known about for a few years but properly got into again. It’s a new-ish genre that isn’t restricted by tempo or even instrumentation really, so it’s a really freeing style of music to write in. It’s an amalgamation of all these other different underground genres like Trance, Trap, DnB, Dubstep and UK Garage, all to varying degrees. So you can really just do whatever you like with it, as long as it has this certain emotional feel and energy.
I’ve been a massive listener of all those styles for a long time, so with Static Angel it’s really just a labour of love of all the things I like the most about each genre I’m into. Synthwave is so ’80s orientated, I don’t think I would’ve been able to combine that sound with what I wanted to do- I had to make a full departure and fully get stuck into that futuristic vibe.
How is your relationship with the synthwave genre in general? I know it can be a very tough space for anyone who is not a cis-man. Do you feel a strong connection with the genre?
In terms of the attitudes people have towards women in a male-dominated scene, I get asked if I’m the singer a lot. It’s like, have you even listened to the record?! I also get asked “so what is it you actually do in the band?” as if the notion of a woman who isn’t there just to look good or sing is incomprehensible to them. I feel like Paul doesn’t get asked the same questions as a dude. Or the worst things is that sometimes I just get straight up ignored.
I know it’s not always coming from a bad place- it’s a self perpetuating thing. They assume those things because there’s not many women who write and produce underground electronic music compared to men, so they assume I must do something else. But the demographic is definitely changing nowadays, so hopefully the outdated attitudes will change for good as well. Writing electronic music isn’t a bunch of guys in a high-end studio writing together anymore, studio gear is accessible to everyone now and you honestly don’t need a lot or spend a lot of money to produce something great.
I feel like there’s a bit of gatekeeping going on by the bigger Synthwave artists, and if I cared enough about it then it would taint my love of the actual music, so I don’t let that happen. ZETA isn’t as purely Synthwave as a lot of the other artists in the scene anyway, I’d call it more… Synth Pop? Indietronica? Either way, it’s got its own thing going on, and I feel like Synthwave is way too homogenous a style for us- wherever ZETA takes us, we go with it. So I think that’s why I’ve personally kept a bit of a distance from that scene, but not so much as a consumer of the music.
Saying all this, I’m glad the Wave scene is so welcoming. There’s tons of cis and trans women making really sick Wave as well, and we’re all inspiring each other. Nobody really seems to care what identity you are. I’m actually really surprised, since electronic music spaces I’d previously been involved with like Vaporwave were sometimes a bit toxic, but I can’t speak for many others to be honest. I think Vaporwave attracted the most weirdos in its heyday, including me. The whole political lore that surrounded it was so absurd and hilarious, I loved it.
Continuing the previous line of inquiry, how conscious are the cyberpunk influences on your music? Are you a big fan of the genre and its aesthetic beyond your musical projects?
It’s not really something I think about too much. I don’t sit down and think “right, this is gonna be something cyber or futuristic”. I just try to create something that I personally like and that I would listen to. And it so happens that it goes really well with that aesthetic.
In my head I’m living in a small apartment in Neo-Tokyo in the distant future, so I suppose I’m mostly influenced by wherever and whenever I am in my imagination. The genre has found a bit of mainstream success with the Blade Runner sequel being pretty popular, Cyberpunk 2077 coming out soon, and with the political landscape changing. People are wanting some escapism from the current time period. There is an element of that in its appeal to me, but I mostly love the dark, neon, cozy dystopian look of it all.
I remember when I first played Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I wanted to live in Hengsha so bad even though it’s a dive. But it’s not all just about the aesthetics, there’s a lot of social commentary to get into. In DE:HR it was all about the conflict between the “augs”, or augmented people who were often rich and could afford cybernetic enhancements, and the “purists” who were against it or were too poor to afford it. It addresses the divide between the privileged and non-privileged. Even Hengsha itself is split in two, privileged at the top, non-privileged at the bottom, in perpetual darkness and sprawled right underneath the rich city.
You’ll find various themes of social dichotomies in a lot of aspects in Cyberpunk culture. It’s harder to portray those ideas through instrumental music, but the principle is there.
How did ZETA come about? It’s such a cool collaboration and while Daniel has definitely never kept his influences beyond metal a secret, I never would have pegged him for a synthwave person.
I know right? I was surprised too! But Dan is really open minded when it comes to his listening habits, he just loves music for what it is, no matter what it is, as long as it’s good. I think that’s why he’s done so much work in so many different projects, and also because his voice is incredibly versatile.
ZETA started after Dan got in touch with Paul because he loved his work in Chimp Spanner. Paul is a pure musical genius, so I can absolutely see why he wanted to get together and see what came of it. At that same time he had just set up my first DAW for me, and I was just fiddling around and writing some basic electronic songs to get the hang of everything. I thought they were basic anyway. I think I was going for some kind of Future Garage type thing, but they turned into this sort of weird Enigma sounding ambient electronica with a Garage beat.
Paul casually reposted one of them on his own Soundcloud, and Dan thought it was one of Paul’s until he told him it was actually me! But thank god Dan liked it, otherwise ZETA would more than likely never have happened.
Lastly, tell us a bit about what the future holds for you. Is there a Static Angel release on the horizon? More ZETA perhaps?
I’m planning on releasing a 5 track EP with Static Angel, and I’ve done 4 that I’m really happy with so far, so its release is imminent! I’m really excited to see what the response will be as it’s the first time I’ve released anything I’ve done solely on my own, into the wild. I can’t blame anyone else for any mistakes can I? So it has to be as sick as possible.
As for ZETA, Paul and Dan have been busy with other musical endeavours recently, but the ZETA hype is starting up again. So after I’ve released my solo EP, I’m putting my ’80s hat back on and finishing this long awaited second album. I know people are really excited for it and I am as well- I can’t wait for people to hear what we’ve come up with so far.
We had a bit of trouble figuring out which direction to take it at first, but I think we’ve all agreed on a feel for the album now. We want it to be interesting with a mixture of moods, yet still cohesive, like the debut album. Introspective and moody in some places, fast paced and cheesy in others. I think we’re going to carry on with that theme of versatility for sure. However it turns out, I hope everyone loves it!