“We Just Have this Insatiable Desire to Make Things”: An Interview with Huxley Anne

Ben Grenrock chats with Huxley Anne about her upbringing in Utah, her Low End Theory residency, and her forthcoming LP.
By    February 28, 2018

Two weeks ago. Thirty minutes past midnight. Wednesday.

It’s the awkward interchange between acts at Low End Theory. Members of Penthouse Penthouse are still fighting their way through the crowd and away from the stage, their headlining set having seen the room packed with humans all doing a commendable job of dancing whilst stuffed inside of each other’s armpits. A tide of bodies surges out of The Airliner, towards nicotine, cannabis, some rolled-up ratio of the two, or sleep.

Perhaps, fifty percent of the crowd stays put. Their eyes are trained on the stage, where a woman—grinning almost maniacally—slips on her headphones and sets up her laptop, plugging and unplugging various plugs as Daddy Kev gives his weekly shpiel about the clunky moments and perfunctory stage banter using “UnstAbleton Live,” almost guarantees. The speakers cough bass. Ableton’s finally working. Kev introduces the night’s final performer as, “Huxley Anne.”

“Like Aldous? Trippy,” muses a backpacked silhouette somewhere to my left. The manic look of spritely glee hasn’t left Huxley’s face. It stays put as she begins to send ambient threads of sound through the space. It remains there minutes into her set, when those cinematic threads have done little more than waver and pulse. It’s intriguing, but as the tension builds and builds, the crowd starts to get antsy. (Keep in mind, this is a crowd that has reliably danced harder when “Do The Astral” has inevitably dropped, every single week for probably the last seven years. They know what they like. They know the script.)

When it seems almost unbearable, the Doors of Perception-reading silloutte says, “Damn, I hope she pays all this off.” It’s pretty much at that exact moment that Huxley Anne begins to. She starts to bring in bass, textures, proto-rhythms. Sound builds with a tantalizing slowness, like some awesome beast uncoiling itself into such an impressively terrifying shape you forget to run away.

Too late. Huxley lets it drop, slamming the full brunt of the drums on our heads. Matter spontaneously swaps places with dark matter. The atoms of the Airliner wear nano-screwfaces. The crowd lets out an almost post-coital moan of appreciation and begins to nod their collective head to hip-hop, to techno, to U.K. drum and bass, to dubstep, and to some of the grittiest, grimiest beats the beat scene has to offer.

The following week. Half-past. Wednesday night.

As MNDSGN finishes up his headlining set, I have a better idea of what to expect from Huxley. Once again, she takes the stage, tears it down, and builds it right back up again. Practiced skill as a DJ, an ear for dense sound collages, and an attention to narrative all radiate off the stage. For half an hour she dunks the entire crowd into a garbage disposal made of 808s and we emerge mangled and rapturous.

She absolutely kills it.

Having a rotating monthly resident is a relatively new format Low End Theory has implemented, ostensibly to keep the music rumbling through The Airliner’s sticky-floored sweat-box fresh, and to showcase emergent artists. Huxley Anne is proof positive that it’s working on both counts.

This Wednesday will be the last iteration of her February residency at Low End. A producer as well as a DJ, she has a sophomore album to spend her Wednesday nights writing and recording. For her final night as a Low End resident she’ll be bringing a live band along with her, to riff off of and to reimagine the industrial haunted house of sounds her DJ sets lead listeners through.

Before watching her pummel the Airliner one last time, I sat down with Huxley Anne to talk about her expansive musical influences and what it was like growing up in a small, Mormon nook of Utah. We ended up nerding out over magical realism, Spanish spirit possession, and jazz. —Ben Grenrock

Where did you grow up?

Huxley Anne: I’m originally from Logan, Utah, a little tiny town in northern Utah. It was ninety percent Mormon. I’m not Mormon, and neither is my family.

How was it growing up in that kind of environment?

Huxley Anne: It was pretty terrible. I don’t know. Very alienating. I never really felt part of anything or connected to where I was from at all. I used to beg my parents to send me to London to go to boarding school—like crying begging being like, “I hate it here! Let me go to boarding school.” Of course, they were like, no [laughs].

Did you ever make your way to London?

Huxley Anne: No.

But you’ve always wanted to go since you were little?

Huxley Anne: Yeah. I’ve always had a thing with London. When I was in school I studied electronic composition as my minor and my professor was always like, “You have this London mixing style. You should go to London.” I was like, “Ugh.” I’ve pretty much known that forever.

When did you move to L.A.?

Huxley Anne: 2014. After I finished college in Utah.

What’s something that L.A. has that you didn’t have back home?

Huxley Anne: L.A. has music. In my hometown there’s not even a real venue. No venue! I was obsessed with music from a really young age. No one in my family is a musician, and I was like, “We need a piano.” [I was] downloading music on Napster in fourth grade. Torrenting music. Very devoted to my iPod. So the reason I moved to L.A. was for music. Entirely. There was no other reason.

Did you have any connections in the music world set up when you moved out here, or was it a leap of faith?

Huxley Anne: I had a FaceTime call with this touring company…they’re one of the largest touring companies in the world. They told me, “If you come out here we’ll find you work.” One FaceTime call…and that was enough. I ended up being the first woman they’d hired in [that company’s] tour sound department in L.A., which was insane. They didn’t have a woman’s restroom in the office. They had a men’s restroom and a guest restroom. But it was really cool. They do worldwide arena tours and I got really familiar with P.A. systems and outboard compressors and consoles and mixing on a whole other level. I’m super grateful for that. That was really dope.

Is that an experience you feel like you run into a lot? Being one of the only women in the spaces your career takes you into?

Huxley Anne: Obviously there’s not a lot of us, but I have girlfriends who do it, like Dot, Astronautica, Tokimonsta. When I first started I felt [alone] like that a lot more [than I do now]. I DJed for probably two years before I played a set with another girl…it was like two years of bills with dudes. I was so excited about that show with a girl. I was like, “I’m playing a set with another girl! This is amazing!” I think she was kind of creeped out by me because I was way too excited about it.

Growing up, did you hang out more with guys than with girls?

Huxley Anne: Yeah. It’s always been like that, I think, in my life. And that’s why I don’t give it too much thought. The question of being a woman or a man, or black or white, or gay or straight—it informs your art, but the idea of being an artist is the same for all of us. We just have this insatiable desire to make things. So that desire or that drive to create is not impacted by me being a woman. Being a woman is just something that informs and inspires what I do, what I’m making things about.

You’re one of the first people I’ve heard to bring techno and U.K. bass music into Low End Theory and blend them so well with more traditional beat scene sounds. What are some of your influences?

Huxley Anne: There have been a couple of times where music has broken for me, in my life. The first time was when I heard Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, when I was twelve.

Where I’m from the radio’s very censored. There’s not hip-hop playing. It’s a very clean, sterile musical vibe. My mom would take me to the bookstore and let me pick out a CD once a month and it was this great, wonderful thing where I got a new CD.

I loved the album art on Bitches Brew so much. So I bought it—at twelve [years old]—and got home and put the CD on and it was like music broke. All I’d known about music was just shattered entirely. I didn’t know music could sound like that. That moment is very clear in my memory because I didn’t know that was possible.

So Miles Davis has always been a huge influence in how I look at music and how I look at other genres. I’m never afraid to include any influences, or to go and listen to a techno set by Paula Temple or study Brazilian Tropicália or something. I don’t try to restrain it at all.

I was obviously very influenced by the beat scene. Flying Lotus and Teebs. I love Teebs’ intricacies in his music. He was a really big influence, especially when I was younger. And then, when I started making heavier music, EPROM was a really big influence.

EPROM is this producer from Vermont who lives in Portland and his music is evil. It’s so evil. I don’t know how to describe it. He has such a massive knowledge of synthesis and sound design…He was probably my biggest influence when it came to that heavy bass sound.

What was your relationship with Low End Theory before you first played there?

Huxley Anne: I’d always loved Low End Theory. I started listening to L.A. beat music when I was fourteen, fifteen. Like 2006, 2007. At the beginning. I heard 1983 and was like, “What is happening? What is this?” By the time I graduated [from high school] there was Shlohmo, Daedalus, Tokimonsta, and Ras G. Everyone had these albums out and I was listening to all that stuff in Utah. I’d always known about Low End Theory and looked up to them and the nightclub vibe that they’ve curated over the years. When I came to visit L.A., before I moved here, I made it a point to go to Low End Theory. And that was a crazy, surreal experience. I couldn’t drink, I had Xs on my hands, and I was like [in an awestruck whisper] “This is Low End Theory.”

[Once I’d moved to L.A.], before I played there, I would go. Not all the time, but I would go pretty frequently. I went to Joker, one of those first times I was at Low End Theory—which was kinda recently in Low End’s epic decade-plus-long journey—and Kamasi Washington was dancing to Joker. I just remember looking over being like—first of all, Kamasi? And he’s like, getting down to U.K. dubstep, and I’m like, “This is so dope.” Like, I know you’re such a jazz cat, and this guy is such a U.K. dubstep cat, and you’re both fucking down. It was cool. That’s the reason I’ve always loved Low End. It’s a melting pot of influences and genres and you can do whatever you want with yours.

So how does it feel now to be not only playing there, but a monthly Resident?

Huxley Anne: It’s so crazy. If you would have told me that when I was fifteen or sixteen, when I was first listening to this music, I would have told you to fuck off. I wouldn’t have believed you. But at the same time it feels like there’s no other way it could happen.

When I was listening to this music, no one where I lived was listening to this music. People were confused when I showed them what I was listening to. Or they were like, “What the hell is this Gina? Put on some mountain folk music please.”

Sometimes in life I feel like what calls to you is a give and take kind of thing. You both attract each other like a gravitational force, and that’s how I feel about Low End. It feels natural. It feels dope and amazing. I’m very honored. But at its core it just feels natural.

How’d you start listening to genres outside of the local mountain folk in the first place?

Huxley Anne: It was because of jazz. I got into beat music because of jazz. Exclusively.

That’s so interesting because the opposite is happening to so many people now. So many people are getting into jazz—

Huxley Anne: —Because of beat music! That just seems to me like: Of course.

When I first heard that Miles Davis CD, I obsessed over Miles Davis. I was reading his biography when I was 15—it’s this dark, kind of horrifying story about being Miles Davis. I remember being at a party in high school and someone put on the song “Life,” by Proof, that Dilla produced. It has this sample of “Blue and Green,”—“Blue and Green” is a Miles Davis song from Kind of Blue—and I heard “Blue and Green”’s piano part start and there was this beat over it. And I freaked out. I was playing a game and I just ran over to the person who was playing their iPod through the speakers like, “What is this?! Why?! How?! What’s going on?!” J Dilla produced that track, so I started listening to J Dilla first. Around that same time is when 1983 came out.

I remember having a clear idea of having to realize that Miles Davis was dead, that that scene was dead, when I was thirteen. I listened to it and I got so obsessed with it, but I was like, “This isn’t alive anymore. It’s very dead. All the people making this music are dead.” Then when I heard Dilla sample Miles Davis, I was like, “Ahh! Ok! It’s not dead! These people are keeping it alive.” So yeah, that jazz ethos is like the reason I found hip-hop.

How does it feel right now to see jazz resurrecting itself and to see young people falling in love with it independently of hip-hop and sampling?

Huxley Anne: Fucking great. So great. I go to these places in L.A., there’s this one, 1642. On Wednesday nights they have this house band called The Hi Fi Honey Draw. They’re not even the jazz style I really love, but they play bebop jazz, like ’20s jazz, and—it’s kind of sad because it’s on Wednesday’s which is Low End—but I really love going to that. I’ve been to jazz out in Leimert Park. Obviously, I love Kamasi and the West Coast Get Down.

It’s, like, sad to say, but I really listen to old jazz. I go see jazz live, that’s always been a thing. My mom’s family is from New York and we’d go to New York for family reunions and we’d go see jazz. I’d listen to the players live and that was enough. But I listen to that old ’60s, ’70s shit in my time. Like, I’m obsessed with Ron Carter right now. Obsessed. Ridiculously obsessed. It’s bad. I’ve always listened to that old stuff. It’s kind of sad. I should probably dive more into the new jazz scene.

I’ve been writing a lot. I’m working on a second album. And whenever I get into writing phases I don’t listen to much new stuff because I’m writing. Then at the end of a session all I want to hear is that. I’ve been in that phase for about three months now.

How’s the album coming along?

Huxley Anne: It’s going well. I’m really stoked.

How is it different from your first album, Illium?

Huxley Anne: It’s more of a concept album. Illium was a very personal story. It drew on some pretty mythological influences. I love mythology. I dive into mythology a lot when I’m writing and it’s really important that I have a story that I’m working with when I’m writing music. This record is more not my story, but a story I came up with. A story made up with different characters. One of the really fun parts of writing this album is trying to put myself into that character’s emotional state. Like, what would they be feeling?

That makes a lot of sense that your process is structured around narrative. The sets I’ve seen you do during your Low End Theory residency have felt really well planned and thought out, scored kind of like a movie. Can you talk about what the stories behind some of the Low End sets you’ve done so far have been?

Huxley Anne: Yeah. So each set has been very different, in my opinion. Two weeks ago, that set was inspired by Johann Johannsson. He’s the composer—he recently passed away, rest in peace—[who] did the Arrival soundtrack, he did the score for Mandy. He scored a bunch of beautiful things.

When I was watching Arrival, there’s this one scene where the woman first sees these alien heptapods and there’s this sound that was just this eerie, beautiful sound. I stopped the film and just played the sound over and over and over again. That’s pretty rare; I’m a film junky—it’s bad, it’s a problem—so it’s pretty rare that I’m watching a movie and I stop it for the score.

So when he passed away that was more of an experimental set for me. I started with a little edit I’ve done of some of his music and then an edit that my homie Ash Koosha did. I wanted to play these songs that came out right after he died, because he affected so many electronic artists. He was like one of us in a weird way. He was like a leader.

It was really a set where I was trying to push this idea of dark experimentalism interacting with hip-hop and bass music, and not being too drastic, you know? A lot of times I have these whole sets of experimental music that can really derail very easily and I’ve always found it really challenging to interweave what I think are very emotional experimental electronic tracks into a set at a club.

You said you were fascinated by mythological concepts, and I’ve read that you’re particularly interested in the idea of “duende,”—which is this both a Spanish word for a sprite or spirit and a concept popularized by the playwright Frederico García Lorca in which the sensation of experiencing art or inspiration possesses and overcomes a person. When do you feel most possessed by the spirit of creativity? Do you feel this way more when you’re performing or writing? Is there a time of day or any other circumstance that facilitates that state?

Huxley Anne: So duende is a concept I’ve been studying and learning about for years. It’s this…soul-boiling, blood-boiling, inner soul that comes through in art and directly speaks to you. It comes through mostly in live performative art, like music or dance. And it’s traditionally thought of as something that’s in Spanish music and flamenco and Iranian deep song—ancient forms that speak to this emotional break.

I feel very pure on stage. I feel very not possessed. Very much myself. I’m very happy. On stage I feel almost like a white-out state. Even now, I have a really hard time when people ask me what did you play after this, or what did you play from this to that, or what was that song? And I’m like, “Oh shit,” I white out. It’s like I’m so in it I can’t really remember or do anything. It’s just this pure moment.

But I definitely feel possessed when I’m writing, usually late at night. I’m a firm believer in all sorts of strange spiritual ideas. Definitely have felt possessed, usually past midnight, before six AM. The deep, sacred nighttime.

What’s your favorite book?

Huxley Anne: My favorite book is Jitterbug Perfume [by Tom Robbins].

Great choice!

Huxley Anne: Jitterbug Perfume is where Huxley Anne comes from. [In the book] she’s [Whiggs] Dannyboy’s daughter. The little girl. She’s a very small character. She doesn’t really have a role. She’s mentioned like four times in this three-hundred and fifty page novel.

When I read that book, I really liked Dannyboy’s theory of evolution. I thought it was spot on. This was right when I was starting to release my own electronic music. And I liked the idea of riffing on the kind of concepts he deals with in that book.

It’s been a while, refresh my memory about Dannyboy’s theory.

Huxley Anne: So Dannyboy writes this kind of ethos/theory that’s not really in the book—the book stops and says: “Dannyboy’s Theory,” and it’s a few pages of how he feels humans evolved. It starts with: We were reptilians, and in the Reptilian age we got our logic and our reasoning. And then we were mammals and we got these ideas of territory and home and family. Then it argues that we’re now in a floral state of consciousness, where we’re capable of pollinating other planets and other people’s ideas and all, like, blooming and not interfering violently with each other. I really liked that concept.

And when Huxley Anne—well there’s this kind of divine-esque figure, Bingo Pajama. He’s a jasmine dealer. And he’s murdered. But he lived in New Orleans and he had a hive of bees on his head. And [after he’s murdered] the bees go on this rampage, like attacking New Orleans. Then when Huxley Anne gets to New Orleans the bees land on her head, and her father freaks out and they disappear forever.

I like this idea of riffing off this character who had this idea of floral consciousness given to her, but then disappeared as a child. Her story wasn’t done, you know? And I wanted to continue it. I didn’t want her story to be over.

I read a lot. Between reading and watching films I take in a lot of stories.

If you could inhabit any fictional world in from a movie or a book what would it be?

Huxley Anne: I’d live in The Handmaiden. It’s so beautiful and luscious. I’d live in that universe. But most of my favorite books and films, I wouldn’t want to live there. All of my favorite directors make dark, fucked up movies. I would not want to live in their universes.

You’ve said that you’re into Game of Thrones. Who’s your favorite character?

Huxley Anne: Arya. Just the story of a little girl becoming a killer—that’s so bold. She’s the most badass character in my opinion.

Arya’s is my favorite story as well. But the character I feel like your music most reminds me of Melisandre. She works with darkness and dark magic, but usually with the intention of trying to bring about what she sees as positives and to usher in a world of light. Your music can be extremely dark and gnarly at times, but when you’re dropping it you usually have this bright smile on your face, you’re dancing, and when I look around, the crowd is beaming. Where does the darkness in your music come from? Do you know? Or is it just the natural thing that comes out?

Huxley Anne: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I feel like there are kind of camps, almost like the force in Star Wars—you know, the light side and the dark side. There are artists who make happier, lifting you up music; and then there’s artists who make dark, evil music. I think I’m just in the dark camp. It’s always been like that. Everything that I’m into is dark. I live in that darkness. I breathe it and it’s great. It’s wonderful.

And I like that comparison to Melisandre because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a light in the darkness. I think that’s a great place to be. You can’t have a deep understanding of life if you don’t accept the darkness in it. And I think the further you can get in accepting that negative, dark side of humanity, the further you can get to a place where it’s in balance with light, where it doesn’t have the power to overtake you.

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