How to make an album the Mx Blouse way

Mixed bag? There is definitely more magic than anything mundane on Mx Blouse's latest album.
picture: Aart Verrips
Mixed bag? There is definitely more magic than anything mundane on Mx Blouse's latest album. picture: Aart Verrips
  • Elementality is Mx Blouse's debut album. 
  • The album was recorded over a two-year period in between the artist’s previously released projects, spanning features, EPs and a few standalone singles. 
  • Through Elementality, the artist attempts to reconcile differences between kwaito and techno music to make a dance album that fosters community.

"There wasn’t a day where I woke up and said, 'guys let’s start working on an album'," says Mx Blouse in conversation with Arts24 about their freshly released debut album. Instead, the music heard on Elementality was recorded over a two-year period in between the artist’s previously released projects, spanning features, EPs and a few stand alone singles. 

It began in 2018 while Mx Blouse were working on their EP Re: Mx. After producer Eye-on Feather approached Mx Blouse with a captivating instrumental, the artist recorded Yesterday’s Nostalgia. "I loved that track but it just didn’t work with the EP, so I left it out." And so they continued, archiving tracks without a solid plan of what to do with them. 

After realising that they had set aside 14 songs over a two-year period, Mx Blouse shortlisted the most cohesive eight, before calling Jumping Back Slash to mix and master them into Elementality

Although Yesterday’s Nostalgia was a passive influence, it strongly served as the thematic and sonic foundation for Elementality because it made the artist "want to make more songs like that". Seeing that the artists has had "some struggles with connection", Yesterday’s Nostalgia opened up a door for them to use their music to imagine the various stages of human connection including infatuation, affirmation, conflict and resolution.  

As a foundational track, Yesterday’s Nostalgia sounds like the comfortable hours of an intimate house party; where those in attendance have warmed up to being in each others’ presence. The song, much like the rest of the album, feels like a place free of social pressures and safe enough to allow for sincere connections to be made. And like a good groove, the 25 minutes that it takes to get through Elementality sound like one expansive and indulgent song that ends too soon.

"I like that you say that it sounds like one song! It was very important that the music on the album was concurrent in theme and sound. I wanted it to flow." 

From a production standpoint, some of the producers in the album’s credits include Micro Pluto, Bakai, Eye-on Feather, Chad Aden Whitby and Sean Ross. These producers are best known for their work in house or the underground electronic music scenes. Although kwaito is none of their forte, Mx Blouse chose to work with them because the artist doesn’t "think it’s possible to create something fresh without exploring things that aren’t already in the mainstream. It can’t sound exactly like the kwaito we know". However, there’s a sonic gap between the techno music that Mx Blouse is drawn to and their desire to take the profile of kwaito music forward. 

In order to reconcile the differences between the genres, one of the prerequisites for producers working on Elementality was to ensure that the beat they deliver keeps to a tempo of between 100 to 120 beats per minute. Apart from needing to make sure the album’s eight tracks sound like siblings, the songs had to keep to this tempo frame because of Mx Blouse’s certainty that "kwaito is like techno music with a slowed down tempo".

Being precise about details as fine as the beats per minute are skills the artist has acquired in studios interactions and relentless research such as music journals, articles and podcasts about other artists’ music making techniques. "One of my favourite podcasts to learn from is Song Exploder: an artist talks about how they made a specific track from conceptualising all the way to mixing and mastering, it’s fascinating." 

While they aren’t technically trained in music, Mx Blouse say they are constantly finding new ways to equip themself with the technicalities of making music because it’s important for them to be actively involved and considered when decisions are made around their music.

"I’ve had people offer me beats and when I ask them to change things they become very precious about it. I can’t work like that. I need to be directly involved in the process." 

Apart from the synergy between the album’s tracks, Elementality sees Mx Blouse approaching the body of work with a more stable flow. With past projects the artist’s approach to putting words on tracks would oscillate between hip hop and kwaito territories. This time around, the deliberate decision to stick to one of the two came from the artist’s decision to study their previous work in order to ensure that their voice sounded more certain about what it is and where it fits into the country’s music landscape.

"What I do is rap, sure. But that doesn’t make me a rapper," Mx Blouse laughs. 

WATCH| Mx Blouse - Is'phukuphuku

According to the artist, the distinction between a kwaito and a hip hop voice lies in the artist’s storytelling pace, the tone of their recital and where they are writing from.

"With hip hop, I was trying to create these mega metaphors and rhyme schemes to express myself. Knowing that a hip hop approach isn’t for me has allowed me more room to write from a place of feeling, instead of a place of thinking. The moment I started doing that the metaphors brought themselves to the party."

Through their efforts at trying to make their debut album a solid offering, Mx Blouse produced a dance album so deeply entrenched in kwaito music that, before it calls for a sweaty groove filled with waist-winding, it calls for us to protect the sanctity of community.

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