In case you are not familiar with them, Hype Williams, Inga Copeland’s previous incarnation with fellow producer Dean Blunt, were a couple of subversive pranksters. Not only did they blatantly steal the name of the prodigiously talented pop and hip hop video director and confusingly use it as their moniker. Their shapeshifting, echoic, slo mo electronica was masked by all kinds of preposterous statements – they claimed to have joined the Nation of Islam, to have stolen racoons and to have sold music by putting USB sticks into apples and selling them down Brixton market. They even claimed their own names were a lie and it got to the point where no one could sift their fictions from the truth any more. Curiouser and curiouser.
So Copeland’s debut album comes as rather a low key surprise, both musically and promotion wise. Seemingly no fanfare of bizarre hype and art prank statements, just this very deadpan, very straight and straight up album of arid techno and plaintive songs. But then there’s the rather hilarious appellation Because I’m Worth It – a tag line, again stolen, from cosmetics giant L’Oreal. Just look at the picture of Copeland that accompanies this album – scrubbed free of make up with grungy lank hair. It couldn’t be more antithetical to the advertising aesthetics of L’Oreal all big celebrity divas, bouncy hair and radiant, fulgent make up. Copeland’s gotta be having a laugh again – right?
And in fact, that grungy black and white image of her seems entirely apposite for this music. Side A is four tracks of very stark stripped back unrelenting hammer and nails techno with some interesting textural effects such as interference and echoic bass. The second track is a collaboration with Actress, more deadpan (read humourous) advice for young girls, it sounds monotonous and verging on the psychopathic, like a modern day etiquette guide delivered by a serial killer.
I for one am really glad a woman is making this sort of electronic music though. For too long there’d been a dichotomy between ‘male’ and ‘masculine’ hard techno, (generally played by men and made by men) and more ‘female’ and feminine’ house and garage or ambient. When I lived in Scotland in the 90s male techno heads used to call vocal garage ‘pussy music’. And even the burgeoning new generation of female electronic producers from Peaches to Grimes and Maria Minerva to Empress Of has really failed to break down this binary opposition. But then here comes a woman – Copeland – who is seemingly pretty fearless in the music she makes, (albeit quite a barren and parched music) producing quite uncompromising hard tracks like the first four on this album, which you might imagine, on listening alone, had been made by a man. So well done for that.
Well done also for her songs and vocals, which feature on the second side. Again, there’s something quietly melancholy and low key about them – like Portishead stripped of the grandiose orchestration – because at times she does remind of Beth Gibbons – yet there’s resolutely no film soundtrack-y melodrama here. Copeland is undoubtedly a captivating singer but it’s unlikely this album will take her much beyond the cult environs that Hype Williams dwelt in or even to a Grimes level of indie-celebrity. I hope she does garner some recognition for Because I’m Worth It, however, we need more female producers with balls and talent like this – and not to mention humour too.
This piece was first published in Electronic Sound magazine