She’s not a healer. But her music is medicinal. The revitalizing melodies and rhythms of Philly-based techno musician W00dy enter the personal and communal consciousness of her audience, targeting trauma through a sort of frenzied, dance-driven catharsis. Her live shows have created a kind of musical safe space, satisfying the hunger of the marginalized for an experience that is memorable, tangible, and genuine. Pedal Fuzz spoke with W00dy just before she travelled to Raleigh for Hopscotch 2018.
Pedal Fuzz: You’ve evolved from mostly vocal solo performance to producing dance music. Do you prefer to disappear?
W00dy: Up until fall of 2016, I was making experimental pop music where I would sing during my performances. It was getting increasingly hard for me to write lyrics and I was becoming frustrated with performances being centered around me as a vocalist. I was listening to so much techno and dance music that I had an epiphany--why am I still making "pop"? It was clear that I was more passionate about dance music so I dove in full force. I hope to maybe incorporate vocals in my music again someday, but playing this style of dance music feels very genuine.
PF: How are marginalized groups responding to your work?
W: I'm always humbled and excited to see that people are connecting with my music, especially with movement...healing through dance. Creating space for marginalized folks is something that has always been extremely important to me as someone who struggled to find my own place in the electronic music community as a queer woman.
PF: Is the final mix in mind when you’re developing an idea?
W: I’ve realized that I can't really go in with any expectations. As of late, the goal is the same: making fucked up but danceable rhythms. One of the most exciting parts of exploring dance music is the rhythmic possibility. Growing up I was classically trained on melodic instruments, and I never felt that rhythm was my strong suit until I started using the computer to make music. I try to always challenge myself with complex sounds and rhythms that I wouldn't expect on the dance floor.
PF: How are you getting those sounds?
W: Some might laugh, but I'm still using Ableton Live 8. All my music starts in Ableton, and then I run ten channels from Ableton out of an audio interface and into a 16-channel mixer. I have three different delays and a distortion pedal as aux sends in the mixer, and a midi controller that controls Ableton. I also use an Korg ER-1 Electribe (she's moody and doesn't always work right) to transition between songs.
PF: Is touring through the South different from going other places?
W: I think right-wing conservative people in the south are more open about their backwards views because that rationale has been normalized in the South for centuries. Driving around there it's clear that racism, xenophobia, transphobia, and homophobia are alive and well--just based on the conservative propaganda all around the highways. It's important to note that I am a white cis-woman. The South is significantly less safe for a person of color or a trans person.
PF: How do you keep spontaneity on stage?
W: The music is very preset, but the way I perform the compositions and process the effects can be totally different each time. Each song has its own customized patterns in Ableton: 20-25 clips that I play through. I design my own effects racks, which completely transform the original sound. As a classically trained musician, it took me years to figure out how to play electronic music in a way that feels tangible--like a real instrument.
Dustin K. Britt is a Durham-based performing arts critic and award-winning theatre artist. He is the managing editor of Chatham Life & Style and provides content for IndyWeek and Carolina Parent. In your spare time, you can stalk him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.